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I am running the Baldur's Gate: Descent into Avernus module and my players are taking very long to approach certain situations. To set an example: There is a gate with two guards who are checking everyone who passes through. They need to get inside (because of their own choosing, and also their own choice to do it through the gate specifically).

At this point the most talkative member of the group starts rattling over all these different strategies, some of the other members (2/5) are joining the discussion on how to do this. 30 minutes later we're still at the gate having done nothing to get in but discuss strategies.

It can often take hour(s) to decide on a strategy.

It seems like all of them love the freedom of play and strategizing how to approach a situation like this. Sadly, though, at the end of the session when we talk about that particular session they seem to all agree that that was boring. I don't want to remove this RP encounters since I know some of them like this more than the combat but at the same time if all of them agree it's too long I felt like I needed to do something.

I tried the following so far:

  • Making these RP encounters a small tad easier -> the players felt patronized since it felt easier than the rest of the campaign
  • Having an NPC who was following them help them -> can't really bring up any ideas with inside information at which point im just in the middle of the discussion slowing it more down than speeding it up.
  • Use the environment to force them into a decision (gently) by RP'ing it (e.g. The guards see you mumbling in group and they grow suspicious, if you don't do something they will come and investigate) -> they didn't like that so they just moved away to discuss somewhere else.

I am not sure how to handle this and since they literally all are in agreement that these long discussions take too long I do wanna try and fix it, and yes telling them to keep it shorter if they don't like it is something I did, but that resulted in a long discussion about wanting to keep all the freedom in the player's hands.

I feel like 2/5 people in the group don't really partake in these discussions (they seem a bit more shy) and the rest of the group simply feels bad for them yet doesn't want to admit that and therefor claim they don't like the long discussions either. So I'm just completely stuck...

I'll gladly answer any questions and all that, and I'm still considering other options but any help or suggestions here would be greatly appreciated.


I want to thank everyone for the awesome replies left to this question, various ideas were given and after trying some it became clear that the answer I marked as correct (real life time limitations) worked best for my group. That being said some other options were also really awesome!

Once again, thank you all for the time and dedication to help us. <3


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  • \$\begingroup\$ Have you considered playing a game like Shadowrun that suits this style of play better? \$\endgroup\$ – nick012000 Oct 9 '20 at 5:53

10 Answers 10

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Put a real-life time limit on the discussions.

Waiting to get in at the gate? Great, the party is Xth in line. Every few minutes, do something to indicate that the line has moved up, it's important that they both know that it's happening, and that they have a visual reference to represent it, both because they can't be expected to remember it, and also because their characters would be able to tell at a glance how far he line has moved.

Minis on the board in a line, paper tents with numbers, a bell, whatever works for you. When they get to the gate, the guards start the routine inspection and/or questioning. If they aren't prepared, force them into it, by just talking at them in character as the guards.

  • "Reason foah entreh?"
  • "Wots that you got in yore pocket theyuh?"
  • "Why do youse got so menneh 10' poles?"

Once they start engaging with the NPC's, the face (if they have one) will have to lock in on a course of action pretty much immediately.

Silly overdone accent optional.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Good answer, but it should mention that the GM should warn the players ahead of time. And ideally use it in a low-stakes situation the first time around. \$\endgroup\$ – 3C273 Oct 8 '20 at 1:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 Good answer. Except the non-standard phonetic spelling in quotes makes it harder to read for no apparent benefit (especially for non native speakers) . \$\endgroup\$ – SilentAxe Oct 8 '20 at 9:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SilentAxe: I would have put an upvote just for the non-standard phonetic spelling because it made me smile. Although I'm pretty sure the accent I'm reading it with comes from Family Guy. \$\endgroup\$ – MichaelS Oct 8 '20 at 23:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ Wouldn't most players then just decide to leave the line and continue their discussion without the time limit? \$\endgroup\$ – Nijin22 Oct 9 '20 at 12:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Nijin22 Then you put in a constraint where leaving becomes a non-option. If they leave the line, they won't be able to get in at all, or something similar. \$\endgroup\$ – RevanantBacon Oct 9 '20 at 12:45
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I would frame the problem differently: that the players are too afraid of failure. The long discussion is likely because they want a plan that is perfectly safe; every point of failure addressed; no risk.

Going forward with a plan that hasn't necessarily been completely thought through -- that might even fail and spiral into chaos -- is a good roleplaying move. Chaos and failure lead to fun stories, often more fun than simple success! Failure in the game is not a disaster in real life! Keeping the story moving prevents boredom!

The question of how to help your players overcome this is a separate and harder issue, unfortunately. "Rushing in" isn't necessarily something every character would do. The in-universe stakes may feel too high. The players may identify so strongly with their characters that failure feels personally painful. Unlike most video games, D&D doesn't have a save/load feature where you can go back from a decision you regret.

I would discuss this framing of the question with your players: why they feel like they can't move forward with a plan that has a chance of failure. I would encourage them to try taking risks that they wouldn't take in real life, and see what happens. Correspondingly, as a DM, you can ensure that when failures happen, that they aren't catastrophic but do throw up new challenges that the players have to creatively solve -- if they fail to get in the gates now, for example, maybe they'll find someone willing to smuggle them in for a price. It might even be a good idea to tell your players that in so many words: that if they fail, they'll have an alternate course of action, even if it's harder.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ reminds me when I have a boatload of freetime during gaming, I talk to every single npc 2 3 times in a town just to be safe and sure that I won't miss anything. \$\endgroup\$ – encryptoferia Oct 8 '20 at 6:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ I wouldn't necessarily say this is "fear of failing". If the party is planning a heist, planning for contingencies is what a smart or experienced party would do. I don't have criminal experience, or much planning experience, but I am a programmer: handling every case that could come up (or at least those that I can think of ) is second nature to me. \$\endgroup\$ – sharur Oct 9 '20 at 7:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ "Chaos and failure lead to fun stories, often more fun than simple success!" this may be true for you, but not for everyone. For instance, I have certainly encountered my fair share of plans getting trainwrecked somehow (such as a deal with the local thieves guild turning into accidentally robbing the thieves guild), yet I would be (and have been) absolutely pissed if someone tried to force me to just rush into something headfirst without trying to come up with a good plan before. DM-initiated ingame time pressure is something else, but going "ah, doesn't matter if we fuck up" is annoying. \$\endgroup\$ – PixelMaster Oct 9 '20 at 21:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ Players could also have the failure of their character be personally painful not because of identifying too much with their character (as my social circles tell me I should stop doing in order to have fun) but because it is actually their failure, as they weren't smart enough to save their character from bad consequences (which is what I really do, and oh, how I wish my social circles perceived the difference - even if I probably should stop that anyway if I wish to have fun.) \$\endgroup\$ – Zachiel Oct 10 '20 at 10:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ Just reading this and 'if they fail to get through the gates now, maybe someone will smuggle them in for a price' is EXACTLY the reason I spend ages formulating a plan. I don't want that complication in my life. Honestly if I can't get through a gate it best be for a good reason that is interesting, not just an opportunity to make me expend a resource on a failure. The reason for denying entry should be a plot hook in itself, or at least expand on worldbuilding and get my interest. \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Feb 22 at 14:08
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In the real world, time waits for no-one. You were on to something there with the guards growing suspicious and making them move elsewhere. But moving away has its downsides, too. They're farther away from their goal, and if something happens at the target location, they're not there to prevent or respond to it. Don't hesitate to penalize them for wasting time.

The simplest way of doing this is by lighting a fuse: something bad is going to happen at midnight unless the PCs can prevent it. Every moment they waste is a moment closer to zero hour. Time them in their discussions, perhaps using a 2-minute sandglass. Make every turn of the glass represent 10 minutes game time. One half-hour of discussion time means they've lost 2½ hours in-game.

Alternately, you can let them know there's another party who's also got the same goal, and every moment they waste, this NPC party has an opportunity to sweep in and steal all the gold and glory that should have been theirs. (Or warn the villain, or anything else that would mean defeat for the party.) Do not be afraid to enact penalties for failure.

In return, you give them what they really want when they drag out discussion ad nauseum: information. People make these paralyzing analyses and waste precious time because they don't know what they're up against, and they don't know what is likely to work or not. Give them hints. They're talking about distraction tactics for the guards? Let them know that the patrols only sweep every half hour, so tactic A will work, and tactic B is unnecessary.

In-game, you can say that someone heard a rumor from a reliable source, and they remember it. Don't make them roll to remember, just let them know. (The exact amount you should reveal or hide is partly a matter of taste and partly a matter of the scenario's needs, but in my experience, most games would be improved by giving players more, rather than less, information.)

If you impress upon them the idea that time is a limited resource, that will focus their discussions.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The idea of letting players suddenly remember rumors (without needing to roll a check) seems good. Have you used this before? I do have a concern with your first suggestion, though: Unless the DM has seeded the idea of a rival party or of something bad happening at midnight before the point that the party is discussing how to get through the gate, how would this information be revealed to the players such that it makes narrative sense for them to suddenly know it? \$\endgroup\$ – Rykara Oct 7 '20 at 21:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1. Choice is good. The players can choose to act now, with a cost of poorinformation; or choose to wait and get more information, at a cost of losing time and letting opponents get ahead of them. \$\endgroup\$ – Greenstone Walker Oct 8 '20 at 3:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Rykara: I run what I like to call a high-information campaign.That doesn't mean I tell my players everything, but it does mean that they have a good idea of what they know and what they don't know (the so-called "known unknowns"). There's a lot of "unknown knowns" that I'm happy to impart to them when I think the situation calls for it. \$\endgroup\$ – amp108 Oct 8 '20 at 4:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ There's also an obvious option to link these two ideas, even in the absence of a hard time limit: After 1d3 flips of the sand glass, the guards do a sweep. Three more flips (30 minutes) and they do another. It's up to you whether you want to just keep having a sweep every three flips and wait for the players to catch on or at what point you want to point the pattern out to them. \$\endgroup\$ – Dave Sherohman Oct 8 '20 at 12:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ @amp108 This worked well until my players started finding ways to escape the 'punishment' I tried inflicting when they wasted time, at which point we were wasting even more time. Besides this I did use this option a couple times and still will here and there in the future when it fits the situation, thanks! \$\endgroup\$ – Rafael Lambelin Nov 16 '20 at 17:18
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The short hand rule I use is if players are arguing for too long, game time passes or something bad happens.

My working philosophy is not to discourage planning, but to discourage planning without action. My players sometimes spend an entire session planning which is fine as long as they are doing things as part of it, they scout areas, go out to gather information, bribe people, purchase equipment, ect. Sometimes these can be quests of their own. These are all actively furthering of their goals and should not be discouraged. If on the other hand, they spend an hour debating in circles, something bad happens. Somewhere a building in town explodes putting everyone on high alert, or someone beats them to their goal, the weather turns against them, ect. sometimes it can be as simple as the weather changing or as complex as their goal having to change.

Something I have actually used

"after spending what you realize was most of the morning arguing about what to do you hear shouting coming from the gate and you watch as two extra guards take station by the gate, seemingly on high alert." (unbeknownst to the players a thief has be spotted inside rousing an alarm.)

If they investigate they may catch sight of a fleeing thief or maybe get arrested (the guards did see them hanging around a lot casing the joint)

If they don't investigate, maybe I move the goal post, the mcguffin gets moved or stolen, maybe the enemy gets reinforcements or players get noticed.

Sometimes it can be as simple as "Bob with your passive perception you notice the weather is starting to clear, if you wait much longer sneaking in will be much harder." or as extreme as "you hear a thunderous crash and round the corner to see a dragon attacking the citadel"

After a few times of this my players are much better at holding themselves to a time table, even if it means taking the suboptimal path, because they recognize that the game world is not going to wait for them.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Yep. If you run the kind of game that uses random encounters or events (I do, but I know a lot of people don't), you can roll event checks based on the passage of real time and, after some amount of discussion, something will happen which changes the situation, whether for better or worse. \$\endgroup\$ – Dave Sherohman Oct 8 '20 at 12:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for "the game world is not going to wait for them." This seemed like the obvious solution to me when I first read the question and was surprise how far down I had to go to find it. \$\endgroup\$ – InternetHobo Oct 8 '20 at 16:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ @John, I had a situation where they were debating how to tackle a torture situation of an innocent civilian and both during and after the discussion I made clear to them that the torturing was putting the civilian's life in danger. After a long while the civilian died, causing them to not get important information and the paladin in my group (who is lawful good) was punished by his god. \$\endgroup\$ – Rafael Lambelin Nov 16 '20 at 17:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ @RafaelLambelin your nicer than me, I would have had the person either rise a vengeful revenant later or a some kind of ghost, after all horrible deaths in dnd often leads to undead. \$\endgroup\$ – John Nov 17 '20 at 3:58
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In addition to RevenantBacon's very good solution for how to keep the game moving,

Listen to what they are saying and use their ideas to enrich the encounter

As a DM, I am quite familiar with what you're describing. One thing I learned to do was to listen to what the players are saying because they usually explain what potential problems they are afraid of encountering in the interaction ("What if the guard recognizes our rogue from the wanted posters?").

Use this.

The party is accidentally giving you ideas for wrinkles you can throw at them to make the encounter more of a social/RP puzzle. I've found somebody will also usually offer up a solution to the problems the first player raises. Both will help you craft a richer encounter.

I don't necessarily use the ideas exactly as they are presented but, instead, often use them as a springboard for ideas of my own. In the example above about the party's fear of having their rogue be recognized, I might let the guard make a check to recognize the rogue. Alternatively, I might:

  • Have one of the villagers in line with them turn around and recognize the rogue. Suddenly, they are forced to confront the issue they are debating on unexpected terms and before they might have been ready. But they might have more options available to them with a villager than a guard. Can they bribe the villager more easily? Does the villager resent the guard and whatever faction s/he represents?

  • Have a villager in front of the party be falsely identified by the guard as the party's wanted rogue and taken away to be imprisoned. Does the party intervene? Does it try to break the innocent npc out later? Do they do nothing? How do they deal with the morality of this decision?

Your goal as a DM is to build a living and evolving world for your players and they're in the perfect position to help you do that, whether they realize it or not.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ this is an amazing idea and makes a ton of sense, I hope to one day use this in my adventuring. It would really make the world feel more alive, tons of respect for thinking of it this way! \$\endgroup\$ – Rafael Lambelin Nov 16 '20 at 17:22
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(I haven't looked at 5e in forever so adjust the answer accordingly. This is catered more to the general RP game flow.)

Break the encounter down into RPG mechanics.

You want to enter the city? What options are you considering?

Sneak past the guards? Roll a disguise check for the group. If it fails, a timer starts before the guard hollers for backup and they don't have a choice. Before the timer is over, they can choose to run, fight, talk their way out of it, etc. If it succeeds, they're in.

Climb the wall and open a sewer grate? Acrobatics and stealth checks for the climber to get over the wall, then a stealth check to open the grate. If they fail, a timer starts before the guards notice and backup comes.

Find a hay wagon to hide in? Stealth check so the owner doesn't notice, luck check on whether the guards randomly search that wagon, and a stealth check once they're inside to see if they get spotted jumping back out.

No matter which option they take, there's in-character difficulty involved, but there's no need to strategize for an hour because it still boils down to the same checks. And all they've done is get into the city. They still have to figure out how to find the Cleric of Doom without raising suspicion, get to the cleric's tavern room past armed guards, and convince the cleric to hand over the Wand of Salvation without a fight.

By making each of these encounters a simple series of checks (ideally challenging different characters each time), you remove a lot of the needless agonizing over pointless details, while still enabling players to decide which approach makes sense.

Combining this with the various other answers on how to enforce time constraints, you can essentially make non-combat encounters take the form of combat encounters.

Every X minutes is a "turn". The game moves on without the party if they don't act. Roll for "passerby recognizes the mage who burned a barn full of pigs alive" or "guards returning from their shift at the crossroads watchtower notice the group of suspicious mercenaries" at the beginning of each turn.

Each goal is an encounter. Breaching the city walls is like clearing the entryway to a dungeon. Finding the cleric is like navigating to the boss enemy. Failing at an objective just changes the objectives. Maybe the party needs to escape town. Maybe they're caught and need to escape the gallows.

By simplifying each step, you're shifting the focus from the minutia to the greater mission. It doesn't take away player agency; it just pushes character skills to the forefront for the little stuff and allows player strategy to be used for the big picture.

By enforcing time constraints, you're shifting the action from perfectionist strategy-building to real(ish)time tactics. By having many opportunities to try different options, the players are building out-of-game experience that will allow them to intuit the best strategy later, while remaining fun right now.

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It depends on the group's assumptions and play style. Talk to players about how much GM intervention they want in case of party mistakes:

  • Do they want high-risk, high-payoff adventures? Are the players okay with PC deaths? Do they want something that feels "realistic" and "dangerous"? If so, go with one of the time-constraint options described by other answers.
  • Do they want something that feels like a typical comic book or action movie? If so, go with @Louis Wasserman's answer addressing their fear of failure or one of the other "add complications" options. If they make a choice and completely narf the situation, ask if they want a ret-con.
  • Are the long discussions rooted in disagreements between players, their play styles, or player-side personality conflicts? If so, you may need to explicitly address the personality & style differences. You can also put an explicit flag in play to show what kind of solution / scenario you're expecting: "Guys, this is a talk-your-way-through-it scene" or "This is straight-up combat; position yourselves." It breaks the fourth wall, but if you make sure everyone gets a chance to shine and everyone can go with the general parameters you set out, it can smooth play.
  • Are the players getting bogged down in discussions that just don't matter? Cut them off and declare a cut scene: "Ya'll are really nervous about the guards catching you, but they don't recognize your rogue from the wanted posters, don't seem to be paying attention, and wave you through into the city without trouble."
  • If they're hashing over something for too long and everyone's frustrated but they don't see a way out, explicitly hand them the option you had in mind. (Sometimes players come up with consequences or fears the GM didn't think of, or which the GM finds uninteresting. You can spend a lot of time chasing down every possible failure mode.)

Most groups that I've played with run with the tacit assumption that the GM won't screw them over too much as long as their characters are taking the situation seriously.

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Most the other answer here so far is saying to put some form of time constraint on the group but I think there might be a different approach. The problem is the group is over strategising the issue. Maybe they think they need over the top solutions to simple problems. What I would suggest from personal experience is to create a scenario that has a simple solution but is disguised as a big puzzle.

For example YouTuber Zee Bashaw has a video (The Countdown Puzzle) where at the start of a puzzle heavy dungeon he had a room with a button surrounded by liquid.

On entering the room both doors shut. The solution? Press the button and wait 20 seconds. But as it counts down the numbers start flashing, the lights go out before starting to flash. It all builds up and the players think there is something else they need to do. But in the end, the door just opens and the lights come on. Like the YouTuber discussed this scenario essentially tells the players to not overthink what is to come.

Now I'm not suggesting to use that exact scenario as it might not fit the campaign but if you essentially give a scenario similar it signifies to not over think everything and hence they will have an easier time solving their issues and should (from experience myself) make the discussions shorter as they are no longer over thinking every possibility. As a benefit they want the freedom and you are not removing it, you aren't saying hurry up, you are just providing a scenario which informs them to not overthink it. It was a simple solution with a simple answer and once that is understood then that mentality generally seems to be maintained. (at least from what I have experienced)

Let me give a personal example of how I've used a scenario following a similar idea.

The party was trying to get into a mansion that was hosting a party. Their goal was to take out a specific target but the door to the mansion was guarded by a big beefy bouncer. My group spent a long time deciding how they were to get in via the door (they didn't think they would have much luck any other way) In the end they decided they were going to try disguises and talk their way in. But as soon as they approached the door, the bouncer just opened it and welcomed them in. He wasn't actually a guard he was just a greeter. After this the party stopped trying to think of complex ways to solve issues. The entrance was simple and in the end they just poisoned the targets wine and left.

My group is a weird bunch and this probably won't work for everyone but this is just one example where a simple solution was needed for something that seemed misleadingly simple and once this was understood they stopped over thinking. This carried on for the rest of the session and everyone enjoyed it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I like this answer but it may not be getting much traction given OP said making the encounters easier made the party feel patronized. Only the warlock should have to feel that way. \$\endgroup\$ – InternetHobo Oct 8 '20 at 16:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ Sorry I mustn't have explained all that well. The point isn't that we are making it easier. Yes the solution is simple but the method they work it out isn't. After that feel free to crank it up. The whole point of this is to make them stop over thinking so when they encounter harder stuff they aren't in an overthinking mindset. \$\endgroup\$ – The Grand J Oct 9 '20 at 0:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ @InternetHobo : +1 for "Only the warlock should have to feel that way" ! :D \$\endgroup\$ – breversa Oct 9 '20 at 8:46
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Sometimes you can engage the players who aren't in the lengthy plotting session. "Obviously" the heavy discussion is taking place back at the camp where they won't be overheard, and equally as obviously the characters not involved have gotten bored and wandered off.

You can narrate to them how much the guards are checking people. Or maybe some kids bored of waiting in line come over to talk. If a merchant in town has an odd item for sale cheap, they may be waiting in line and try to sell it to the player right then. And then sometimes, if you're lucky, the player will latch on to something you describe and decide to go do something -- walk through themself, or check out the gates they see on the East side, or push some button on the statue.

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Are they are playing D&D or using D&D as the means to play another game?

Many of the answers already given are excellent suggestions working from the assumption that the players want you to resolve this difficulty.

However, it may be that they actually do not.

Taking your two statements at face value,

at the end of the session when we talk about that particular session they seem to all agree that that was boring.

and

they literally all are in agreement that these long discussions take too long I do wanna try and fix it, and yes telling them to keep it shorter if they don't like it is something I did, but that resulted in a long discussion about wanting to keep all the freedom in the player's hands.

I would be concerned that players are, whether or not they realize it, trying to engage you in a game of "Why don't you - Yes, but" as described by Eric Berne in his Games People Play.

In Berne's theory of transactional psychology, what appears on the surface as an exchange between adults and equals, is in this case actually an exchange between you as a parent figure and your players as child figures, with their ultimate goal being to 'frustrate the adult by showing them that they are powerless to resolve the child's problem'. If they agree that the session was boring, but insist that they don't want you to intervene and remove their freedom, they might be playing this game. If they blame you for the session being boring, but resist you doing anything to advance the action when they play, they likely are playing this game.

The anti-game (refusal to play) to "Why don't you - Yes, but" is "I know that you are smart enough to figure this out yourself." If you suspect that your players might be trying to play WDYYB, talk to them about your role as a GM - you are there to enable their own fun, but not to provide them entertainment yourself. If they felt that the last session was boring and they would like you to help them move things along, you can give them a number of different suggestions (found in the other answers here) and ask them what they would like you to implement in their game. Be clear that you will put in place whatever strategy they choose, but it is up to them to decide, not you.

As far as my experience with this, I have three actual children and have played WDYYB more times than I can remember and have sometimes been able to successfully implement the anti-game.

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