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This is mainly just a question I decided to ask out of curiosity because sometimes I can get bored of a campaign and I wouldn't want to end it because the players could still be enjoying themselves. The players have mentioned they liked combat scenes but would appreciate more opportunities for them to express their characters with role-play. With being a very inexperienced DM I know next to nothing about good ways to add changes to the campaign.

I'm currently just playing in the Eberron world with a homebrew questline and I don't really have a fully set idea what the players should strive for. (mainly because I cannot think of anything enjoyable)

I don't really want to end the campaign but with no new ideas coming into my head to spice up how the game is played it's really hard to bring back the enjoyment from when the campaign felt fresh and new.

For me, the combat appears to drag on too much and that limits opportunity for roleplay. I have discussed with the players and gotten mixed responses. Some like the combat and some want more roleplay.

As DM, I would like more roleplay - but I also want all players to be happy. How can I adjust my campaign to do this?

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Difficult Situations and staying happy

I feel your pain and you're in a tough spot. My own history of DMing has gone through this. My groups when I played were just about 100% combat and we had a ton of fun. As I started to DM, that was the same game I ran.

As we kept playing, I thought that my players wanted more roleplay. It was something that I wanted to do and when I asked about it there was some interest.

So, I tried to introduce some longer term goals, characters, and stories that would require more thought than tactical combat. What I found was they didn't engage. Of course I did keep trying, but it wasn't something that they actually engaged with.

That left me fairly bummed, but it got me thinking about new things to do and different ways to approach the sessions and combat itself.

Player investment

For me, the issue of investment in the greater world is the key missing piece with roleplaying. In my general playing everything took place in the standard Forgotten Realms-type world. And that was a world I didn't know much about and didn't have enough of a lore interest to start reading it. And without the rest of the table (and DM) using that lore, it seemed like a pointless exercise with regard to our campaigns.

In addition, when I did try and introduce longer stories or situations, the threads were not picked up on. If an encounter could have led to opportunities, they were generally thwarted by a player opting to use violence before even trying to use words. That left me dismayed.

So, I felt like I needed to approach this in different ways and I feel like I've had personal and hopefully table success doing so.

Shared world

For the first time with one of my groups, we added a game of Microscope to help us create a world and history where every player was involved. We then picked a specific time for us to engage in with our 5e game.

Since then, our games have become a lot more fun - and generally still without longer storylines. Roleplay has happened naturally just because we have a larger idea of what's going on and we're more invested in the world itself. This isn't a panacea, and we're still very focused on combat, but it's scratching my itch to do something beyond combat.

This is still something that you can do, even without using a game like microscope. The game sure makes it easy, but you basically need to develop your own 'area' with in Eberron that is wholly owned by your table and where you generally stay. This gives you a sandbox that you can play in and work on creating your own part of the world that everyone can get excited about. Maybe it's a city, maybe it's a terrain. Talk with your group and come up with something that is interesting for all.

Short stories

Don't worry about the long play stories for right now. Don't even worry about creating specific roleplay encounters. Think more about setting scenes and short 1-3 session arcs.

This took a lot of pressure off me and let play around with different ideas for stories -and kept it simple for players to engage without needing long-term thinking :) I'd plan a simple story with hooks that were easy to engage with and easy to end.

During this time I also did run some official modules, all of which absolutely help generate new ideas for me and give me sources to 'borrow' other ideas. Running the modules both helped teach me about different things to do as well as give me specific things to try and provide me a solid platform for making new ideas.

Riff off your players

Another big thing that's helped me is building ideas off of the players themselves. Whether you do it based on the characters or on their actions in-world, your players can provide a lot of ideas for you. And if you pick up a thread that they found, then they are also more likely to be invested because it's something they started.

Don't be afraid to shift your plans after player engagement, this a shared story and not just yours - let them help tell it!

Player narration

One of my groups just started playing Avatar Legends, and we're discovering the joy of player description of scenes. Letting players add elements to a scene that they can interact with turns out to be a lot of fun for our group, and maybe yours.

If there's an encounter in a town square, let the players fill in what's there as they interact. If they want something to interact with and it makes sense to have it in there as they narrate their actions, let 'em! Giving them some control over the scene also has helped our group all buy-in to the story.

Combat

And there's still always combat. Your group has said they do like that, but you can also work with encounter design to be more 'interactive' for you. Have them try and do more then just 'kill' the enemies. Create tasks that need to be done or consequences later. I've used hostages, escort missions, rescue missions, etc. If you can provide more than just 'interact with monster to kill', you'll have some more fun in those encounter - but the key is consequences for the story should certain things happen or not happen. Give your players autonomy, but make it clear that their actions in the encounter will affect something later.

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TPK is only one tool in your toolbox!

Is there a way that you could end a campaign without ruining the players experience and not just killing the party?

Sure there is! TPK is a nuclear option that can burn bridges. I am not a fan of it. Your Toolbox as a GM to fix or shift a campaign is bigger. There are many ways to bring a campaign to an end satisfactory for all sides. A TPK isn't usually satisfactory, but I learned some things from running a campaign that ran for about a year to get through the plot:

Get out the red pen!

If as a GM your campaign feels stale, you can always change it. If you don't enjoy the lengthy dungeon crawls, shorten them. If you don't enjoy the politics scenes where you talk your lips off, cut them and summarize what happens. Reallocate the experience planned in there to other obstacles they actually challenge and nobody will be the wiser.

In my case, I hate running wilderness and travel encounters, so when in my campaign they had to travel, I glossed over the whole travel. In effect, I tried to skip whatever part I didn't like. In effect, I gave them the required XP to get them to for the spot they could face the next major challenge for enduring a longer narrative, so I didn't have to face running the hated sceanage, and cut out about a dozen challenges.

Red pen is mainly a way to shorten the campaign and get to the end faster. This implies, you had a larger plan for the campaign to begin with, and now set it on fast track: cut all the not necessary stuff.

Reorient on the run!

If you feel like you can shift the campaign to a direction you like more, try rewriting the whole campaign on your notes, salvaging the background but tossing the plans and changing how the outlook of the campaign will be. It's more extreme than just using the red pen to cut content, and there's no guarantee that this is satisfactory to all. But if you start reqriting that hard early enough, you have a headstart!

I experienced adventures that started with one quest, but then it went totally sideways, and you literally could tell that the plot was re-written as it went. The players started to investigate a minor event in town, but it escalated within some sessions into a world-spanning thing... because the GM was bored and added to each and every found NPC a connection.

Reorienting is a way to fix a running campaign. You also need some ideas to do it. For those, you can at times ask the players what they want.

A system change

Your players expressed interest in social RP, for which D&D actually is the wrong game: it has little to no system for social RP. The open offer to change to a system they want to try might open the way for a gentle wrap, all parties finding a nice closure, and possibly a switch of positions for you, if you want.

A new system means everyone can try to express themselves anew and differently, new chances - and usually also new ideas.

If you just can't do it: pull the plug!

Then there's cases where people just pull the plug, because it's just no longer working. This by the way works from both sides:

When a GM tried to raise themes the group wasn't comfy with, the group I was with pulled the plug on them twice: once with a warning not to do that again, and the next time months later we pretty much fired them from their position and turned the adventure string into an IC Bad Dream the characters had been trapped in together, to keep the characters in the main campaign without need to re-calculate to before that GM's stint.

In a counterpoint, I also encountered a GM that ran a couple games in his favorite setting, but a particular player ran his ire because he happened to foster Murderhobo attitudes in the others. One day, he simply didn't put his game on the schedule anymore, and when asked why, he just pointed to the player and said "He ruined your playstyle. Maybe later, when I'm back in the mood." He stayed off that setting for some months, then started a reboot.

Pulling the plug is ending it right here and now. It's the nuclear option. It should be the last step.

Should you completely end a campaign if you aren't enjoying it but the players are?

This depends on a lot of factors. But in all cases, there's a mandatory step one:

Communicate

Talk to your players. Tell them "hey, I am having trouble with this aspect. Is there anything you can think of to make it more fun for me?" or "People, please, I know you love the campaign, but topic is dragging on. Can we make this more enjoyable for me too?"

A tool that can help is Stars and Wishes, to tell the players what kind of stuff you wish for, though a house cleaning is possibly needed.

Communicating wishes for you and from your players, and being on the same page about what is fun is key to try and push the campaign. The GM doesn't have to be the driving force of the campaign, players might have plans for their characters, and knowing those offers a totally different GMming style: Catering to the player's wishes can lessen the burdons of coming up with ideas. They want to invade the clockwork museum at night to steal the golem matrix? Sure, I can work on that heist-adventure. They want to take the steamtrain to the next town over? Then you can plan for social stuff on the train, maybe turn it into a Muder on the Orient Express (though D&D isn't good at murder mysteries). In any way:

Talk to your players. ALWAYS.

Take a break!

The other GM I told you about above? he took a break from GMming that setting to get his head back into a good condition. In the longest campaign I ran kinda West-Marchy, I had taken a couple of weeks off to get back into being a player in a totally different game.

Slow plug

Taking a break can become softly pulling the plug too. Take a couple weeks off, let players cool down from the game. And if they found something else in the meantime, it can become a way to pull the plug softly without throwing the towel into the face of the players.

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It sounds like your root problem is this:

I'm currently just playing in the Eberron world with a homebrew questline and I don't really have a fully set idea what the players should strive for. (mainly because I cannot think of anything enjoyable)

You're playing a very sandboxy game where the players don't have anything to do other than kill things.

The lack of roleplay you're seeing may just be a reflection of the lack of content in your world to interact with.

Consider playing a module

One easy solution is to find and run a published adventure. Many adventures will come with "hooks" -- ways to get an existing party into the adventure. I've done this, and I've also spent a lot of time adapting adventures to make them my own, and I can tell you that I usually get a lot of enjoyment out of this.

Some modules are better than others, of course, and some have more or less roleplay in them. Advice on what module you should play is outside the scope of this question (and may be outside the scope of this site, unfortunately) but reading reviews on dmsguild.com might be one way to get started.

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Create NPCs that have goals that don't (necessarily) involve fighting the party

I observe two issues being flagged here. First, the campaign has no direction. Second, you and some of the players want to de-emphasize combat. Both of these issues can be addressed by ensuring that the PC come into contact with NPCs that have goals of their own. Note that for this discussion include every sentient thing the PCs encounter as NPCs, even creatures typically considered as monsters. By giving them goals of their own, you create more opportunities for non-violent interaction. Where the NPC's and the PC's goals align there's an opportunity for cooperation, or a scratch-my-back type of exchange. Where they conflict the conflict is over the goals rather than just over their existence.

The more you know about the PCs the more you can customize the NPC's goals around the PCs backgrounds, flaws and bonds, but even putting out NPCs with fantastical goals may draw the players in -- either to thwart them or the aid them.

For me, the idea of Fronts from Dungeon World was eye opening in how it structured the idea of establishing "characters" that are dynamic and have goals. Outside of that game, the same idea can be applied to individuals and factions in your D&D world.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Can you talk more about how you’ve used fronts from dungeon world? That would be a great example and addition! I’m also not sure other players want less combat, just that they were on board with OP being interested in role play. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Commented Jan 31, 2023 at 22:38

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