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So running my first campaign (technically second, but the first never finished as the group dispersed). I'm running four PCs through Curse of Strahd, currently at Death House.

Things were going pretty well, following a modified guide (Fleshing out Curse of Strahd) and hit a bump where basically they were going through the house and not entering any rooms. They were all a bit too scared and if a basic scan from the door didn't reveal anything no one opted to go in closer or investigate any of the descriptions.

So we got to the third floor and no one discovered the route to the attic. They went back downstairs and everyone seemed to be pretty... stuck? They did start to do a bit more exploration, but I could tell where they were headed would have a lot of dead end/frustrations. So I had one PC roll off for a memory from the knight fight and guided them to the secret path to the attic. Once there, I basically let a rogue pick a lock with cutlery he pilfered from the kitchen to move things along.

My worry is, should I have let them, roam around more? Did I push in a way a DM shouldn't? No one seemed to think too much of it when I asked for feedback afterwards privately, but I want this to be as much their story and not me misreading queues and shuttling them through.

Afterwards I read some modifications include NOT making the attic entrance a secret. In any event, did I push? In the future, should I let them go as they will and try all the things? Or do something else?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Oct 29 '21 at 1:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ Interesting question! Could you clarify what you mean by "had one PC roll off for a memory from the knight fight and guided them to the secret path to the attic"? I know what you mean by "knight fight," but what did you tell them that they remembered? And how did you "guide" them to the attic? It seems like that's the part you're asking about, but how you did those things could change an answer. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 29 '21 at 14:49
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What you did was fine. The most important thing about being a DM is to make sure the game is fun. You did what you had to do, to make the game fun.

Of course it would have been better if you'd found a more organic way to let them discover the secret room. There's an article called The Three Clue Rule about this; basically it tells us that, if there's something the players need to find to progress the story, you have to include lots of different ways to find it.

Another way to solve this might have been to have them discover a map, or a note that mentioned "the secret attic entrance", which would have pointed them in the right direction.

But, once the group was clearly stuck and getting frustrated, it was correct to do whatever you had to, to get them unstuck.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for the feedback and that resource. I'll check it out. I think one think I could have also done, reflecting on what you suggested, is having the twins state more clearly that their room was in the attic. I think when I was RP them I only stated they were in their bedroom on top floor or upstairs. I'll review the resource, thanks! \$\endgroup\$
    – Poken1151
    Oct 29 '21 at 1:18
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I think you did the right thing! If players aren't exploring enough, it's always good to give them a gentle nudge (or a push, depending on how lost they are) in that direction. Here's some tips to get them to explore more next time:

  • Include a scared or friendly-sounding voice coming from where you want them to go next
  • Have a character spot something shiny (like a coin or a small piece of treasure) that you know they'll want to investigate, and it just happens to be where you want them to go next
  • Have an NPC the characters care about, respect, or have to follow tell them to go to the adventure location
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You have taught your players the wrong lesson

They didn't want to explore, but they wanted to move forward, so you gave them what they wanted even when they didn't engage the content. You have shown them that no matter how little they do, or how many key places they avoid they can't fail, and that they can pick and choose what content to interact with.

I think that will come back to haunt you.

Giving clues when people are genuinely unsure is fine, but this group were not unsure, they were overly cautious, and got rewards for it.

Talking is your best way out of this, but I would explain to them that you gave them that hint because they seemed stuck, but you won't do it again. Next time you expect them to explore themselves and actually open doors and interact with content. Or maybe they should go watch TV and not play an interactive tabletop roleplaying game.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Elitism isn't really what we want to be teaching new players/DMs. Some people need more guidance - telling them to go back and watch TV if they're playing cautiously really isn't helping. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 29 '21 at 9:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ So you pick on the last sentence and miss the point. Well done. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Oct 29 '21 at 11:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ I read the whole thing, the last sentence just summarises the stance held in the rest of the advice. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 29 '21 at 13:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ The last sentence is really out of place but the rest seems OK to me. I think that players that get everything they need on a silver plate grow bored after a while, but those who need to input ideas and try something different are rewarded with a better experience in the long run, even if they're a bit frustrated by their momentary failure. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zachiel
    Oct 31 '21 at 17:25

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