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I am running a Pathfinder 2 Westmarches-style campaign, mainly through vocal chat+VTT, and it has been around 4 months since the beginning.

As time goes on I am seeing a drop in the average investment of players. This was expected since the beginning, so it is not a problem in itself, but still I asked my players how they feel about the whole campaign, knowing that I can certainly improve upon it.

One of the remarks I got looks very weird to me. Reading it I feel like the problems the player is having have very little to do with what he wrote. Still I'd like to make the game cool for everyone (and that includes not letting him without taking care of these remarks).

This player is a friend of mine I have played with several campaigns (although I never had him as player when I was GM). They are far from a beginner in RPG. He has been very active for several months of the campaign but is progressively starting to drop off: never being the one to launch sessions and being in general way less enthusiast.

His remarks are as follows:

  1. "I don't like Pathfinder because my actions are heavily limited"
  2. "The downtime system gives too little for too much investment, asks for coordination between players, and is too important for the game while we didn't agree on that during session 0"
  3. "I have to ask for rolls to get the information, and sometimes we even get punished for not asking"

Now here is the reason why I don't think they make sense:

"My actions are heavily limited"

The same player didn't mind DD5, where the actions are way more heavily limited. I noticed that in Pathfinder he barely uses their class abilities: he uses most of them as movement to walk around and do actions that other players would be better at. Yes, it often fails, but it would have been the same, if not worse, in most RPGs. I honestly don't get what their problem is here. I know they are able to make simple tactics such as "do not split the group so that we can easily reach for each other": they don't rely on the system being Pathfinder 2.

The downtime system

This downtime system is a simplification over the "normal" one: everyone gets one activity per week (in real time) and I resolve all of them on Sunday night. I assume that those who don't post anything just use their time to subsist and I let them succeed without a roll. The other ones have to spend some money or resources.

Those money/resources were intended to be an issue early on for the characters, but by now the PCs have access to enough gold to buy food for everyone for years.

The "coordination" he is talking about is because some PCs have the Forager skill feat that helps them save resources on subsisting, so he wants to be able to react to those player's results before they decide what to do.

About the importance of this subsystem, my session 0 document (as it isn't really possible to have a "true" session 0 for a Westmarches) is clear: seeing the settlement evolve is one of the features of the campaign.

The subsystem itself is also not as important as he makes it sound: most of the resources come from regular game sessions anyway, as does all the xp.

"I have to ask for rolls to get the information"

In Pathfinder 2 there is an action called "Recall Knowledge". I am usually very lax with its use: I let players roll openly instead of making it secret, I pick the best skill if there are several they could use... But indeed this remains an "active" action. As a GM on a Westmarches I can't have in mind anytime all the skills of all my players, so I can't remember Bob is trained in "Lore: sailing" when they come across an old pirate flag at the bottom of a dungeon.

"Sometimes we even get punished for not asking"

This was followed by two examples:

  • one of a fight where the players got stomped by an enemy too powerful for them: this fight happened two months ago. I have admitted that on this occasion I could have made it clearer how strong that foe was, but -at least from my knowledge- it has not happened again since.
  • one of a time where the players got lost because they didn't record their hexmap correctly. I honestly don't see what I could have done better here: when they noticed something was off I let them have a survival check, which they critically failed, and thus they went on the wrong direction.

So...

I already explained most of that to the player, before he wrote those remarks, as he already told me about those issues. Reading them let me think the problem is somewhere else.

Is there anything I can do to bring back this player's interest for my game?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Have you talked to this player outside the game? I wonder of anything else is going on in their life that is demotivating them. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 9, 2023 at 16:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ @indigochild yes, and afaik there is nothing special going on \$\endgroup\$ Feb 9, 2023 at 16:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ @AnneAunyme what systems does this player have prior experience with? Simply 5e? Also, have all your past games been in the same format (virtual voice chat, vtt, west-marches)? Also, what class is this player? And level? Also, are you running mixed level groups? There are a few specific PF2e-isms that mix up the traditional west-marches formula (as I understand it) that can be sneaky \$\endgroup\$
    – ESCE
    Feb 9, 2023 at 17:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ESCE he played many different things: some OSR, a ton of WoD, many one-page stuff. I have played a bit of many different things with him, not all in virtual, and only one was a west-marches. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 9, 2023 at 18:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ESCE He is playing bard, currently level 3. I have mixed levels, and use "proficiency without level" to help lower level characters to stay relevant, and a different xp scale that makes lower-levels cost less xp (like in Pathfinder 1), so that a difference in levels becomes irrelevant if characters keep playing at the same rate. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 9, 2023 at 18:19

3 Answers 3

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Diagnosis And Treatments

It's difficult to tell exactly what is going on, obviously, without talking with the patient themselves. I'm a doctor*, not a psychic!

First Steps: See a Specialist

The best thing to do when you have an uncertain diagnosis is to see a specialist - in this case, talk to your friend. You've been playing with him for several campaigns. He'll know what's wrong better than anyone else! As always when dealing with a (game-enjoyment) health issue, a wise doctor approaches the conversation with both compassion and clarity. Something like:

"Hey [friend], I'm seeing some things that make me think you're not enjoying the game as much as you or I would like. I've seen your concerns about the system and how our campaign is set up, and I'm working to address them. But I wanted to double check and see if there are any deeper concerns you are having. It's my job as a Gamemaster to Optimize Fun™, so I want to make sure I know as much about what's going on as you are willing to share. I've really appreciated having you in so many campaigns, and it looks like from my perspective you are losing interest. From what I've observed, you're launching less sessions than I'm used to you doing. And, while I'm less confident in this, it looks like to me you are less enthusiastic about the sessions you do participate in. Is there anything else concerning you or going on that you'd like to share with me? Again, I really want you to be enjoying this campaign, and appreciate having you as a player."

Or something like that - probably best to write it yourself so it doesn't look like you copy-pasted it from an RPG question and answer site!

X-Rays of the Specific Complaints

While I can't say for certain these problems are actually the problems the player is having (see my last section in this answer for thoughts on when the stated problems aren't the actual problems), as a good doctor*, I'll take a closer look at where the patient says they are hurting. So... let's run some x-rays of his specific complaints!

X-Ray 1: Heavily Limited Actions

For this complaint, I'll refer you to my incredibly handsome assistant who looks exactly like me (and is definitely not a clone, simulacrum, or from a mirrored realm of pure evil). Take a look at the similar question and my answer that are asked here.

Prescription Option 1: A Perspective Shift, or perhaps introducing them to some feats they aren't aware of.

For your specific case, it could also be that the player's idea of a Bard doesn't align with the system's, since you mention the player "barely [using] their class abilities" and "[doing] actions that other players would be better at". PF2e Bards are full-casters with strong support vibes, and not really the best in melee. Perhaps your friend would be more satisfied with Fighter with the Marshal archetype, where running around to keep allies in his aura is helpful (and hitting things is great!).

Prescription Option 2: Rebuild the character to do what your player actually wants to be doing.

It's also possible that your player is overwhelmed by the amount of options PF2e gives a player - my professional* opinion is that this isn't likely the issue, but PF2e gives way more player options than 5e, and I've known many people to be overwhelmed at first when transitioning. Offer to walk through their character, explain the system, or point to helper content. Or to rebuild to a simpler character (e.g. a Barbarian). Or make small flashcards that describe various actions. The options are fairly limitless here. Maybe the options will be too many, and it just won't jive with them - that's okay. PF2e is by far my favorite TTRPG, but it's not for everyone - some people don't want to mentally engage with the system to the degree it takes to shine. Those people can have fun with RPGs too! Just maybe not PF2e.

Prescription Option 3: Explain the game/character to help reduce complexity

X-Ray 2: The Downtime System

Unfortunately, without reading the entire set of rules for your West-Marches game, I cannot comment specifically since you use a homebrew system. And a good doctor* knows when they are speaking out of their expertise, and I assure you, I'm definitely a doctor*. However, I have some potential simple fixes:

  • Prescription for "too little for too much investment": double check the rules for downtime and try to make sure yours are in alignment. Skill feats, Earn Income, Crafting, etc. are all based around this system. Ideally, streamline any homebrew system you have, or provide tools to make it easier to navigate. The existing downtime rules are pretty simple (aside from Crafting imo), so it's possible the player is turned off by additional, out-of-session complexity on an already complex system.
  • Prescription for the coordination issue: This one seems a bit easier. Let a player declare a downtime action with a single caveat of "if I'm being fed." This gives them a chance to try to do what they want without having to wait on other player's results; if the foragers don't forager enough for everyone, then they can attempt to forage for themselves (or just pay for it). Alternatively, if anyone gets (or crafts!) a Wand of Create Food they'll have guaranteed food. And if you're also making them drink water, there's Create Water. I'd guess you have those banned, though, if people haven't already started doing that.
  • Prescription for the too important but not agreed on issue: On the surface, this seems to contradict the downtime giving "too little" claim. I would ask the player what their perception was - perhaps they'd simply rather go on quests to build up the town (playing sessions) than choosing a downtime activity to do so (assuming that you've homebrewed that). Regardless, I'd ask the player, as this is too contradictory for me to provide solid advice.

X-ray 3: Getting Information

Sometimes, a doctor like me* has the simple task of informing a patient they've been overlooking something, such as simply not getting enough sleep. Is your player aware of the Investigate exploration activity? Moreover, are you? If they're investigating (or describe their actions like such), they should be getting some free Recall Knowledge checks when you determine so. You could even have the players roll them so that they're aware it's happening, or you could simply tell the players "you try to recall some knowledge about , and you ". That way they know that their skills are being put to use.

Prescription Option 1: Use Exploration Activities, especially Investigate.

But let's handle the specific pain areas the patient is calling out, and dive into the specific situations where the injuries occurred:

  1. You admit that you could of done better - apologize to all the players if you haven't done so already. Perhaps make it more clear somehow that certain zones of the West-Marches are for higher levels, or add gates that make them impractical to access until the players reach an appropriate level (such as needing a Fly speed, or needing to dive underwater, etc.).
  2. In this case, I would have simply provided the player with the correct hex map. The player is not a world-traveler adventurer (most likely), and they aren't seeing the world in the same way. Their character is! That's a very silly mistake for a world-traveling, experienced adventurer to make. As part of RPGs, we constantly play characters that are way beyond our capabilities, and while physical traits (such as extreme strength) can be handled with narrative and mechanics, it's a lot harder to do the same with mental traits (such as proper map making). If their character had failed to create a proper map because their character made a poor check earlier, that's one thing - but this is causing the character to suffer simply because their player made an easy mistake. That's breaking the fourth wall. Just like an 24 Intelligence Wizard should be better at riddles than a simple doctor like me*, it's okay to assume the characters are better than the players at map-making and give them a hand. I would also apologize to all the players for this.

Prescription Option 2: Public Apology (n.b: no one is a perfect GM, this is very normal and I've done it several times).

Final Step: Visibly Implement Feedback

TTRPGs are a collaborative game, and if your players see you implementing their feedback, they'll become more invested into feeling like it's their game as well, and thus become more invested in general. You mention that you've already explained your counters to the player's issues, but don't mention any changes you've made in response to them, nor do they seem to think their issues are actually non-issues. So if you implement any feedback in response to this players complaints, let everyone know (without passive aggressively calling out the other player). Like "hey, I heard that some people were finding the downtime system a bit more complicated to coordinate, so I'm doing <solution, see above>". Importantly, don't be defensive - if your homebrew system isn't perfect, that's okay. None are. It's not a slight on you, it's a statement of your humanity (or goblinity, or koboldity, or...).

Final Final Step: When Nothing Else Works

Doctors can't cure everything, obviously I'd know that*. Should the player's desires be irreconcilable with the campaign, you face a couple options:

  • If the player is actively dragging down the group, then you'll want to politely ask them to step out of this particular campaign. West marches isn't their style - that's fine. You'll both leave on good terms, knowing that you'll enjoy playing together in the future but that this campaign isn't meant for him. It'll be good for you to provide him a graceful exit - perhaps he is simply staying in the game to support you, because he likewise has enjoyed playing campaigns with you in the past, so offering the option (as an option) is a good thing.
  • Sometimes, you have to eat your vegetables to get your dessert. Maybe the player enjoys the rest of the campaign enough to partake in the unsavory (to them) part in such a way that it's not a drag on other people. If so, that's fine - maybe things will get easier for them as they get more used to it, or they'll even grow to enjoy it! If this is the case, then you'll both need to take extra effort to make sure y'all are in consistent and regular feedback loop so that things can be made more enjoyable for everyone when opportunities arise for such. The prescription in this case... eat your vegetables ;).

What Are Your Credentials, Doctor?

I'm active in multiyear DnD 5e and PF2e campaigns, as a player and GM respectively (with some opportunities to play in the latter). The 5e campaign is online via Zoom and Roll 20, while the PF2e campaign is in person (aside from a miserable stretch in 2020). I've never done West-Marches, but I have done voice only (before my 5e group went to Zoom). I've also played in several other systems, some rules-light (Horror Rules was my introduction to TTRPGs) and some... not (e.g. the Pathfinders). I've never played OSR nor World of Darkness. I do prefer higher-complexity games with a lot of options and depth (sign me up for a Gloomhaven TTRPG), just so all my biases are on the table. At the end of every section of my PF2e campaign, I send out surveys to each player and diligently work to incorporate the feedback, so I've got a decent amount of experience with that too (which it sounds like you are doing).

*Also, I'm not a doctor.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You're ESCE, not Bones... or Bones! But as a medic, I suggest an application of Stars and Wishes. \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Feb 9, 2023 at 23:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ Most of those things I have already done. Of course I already talked to them, and that's how I got those feedbacks. I wasn't asking this player in particular, just all of them, but this one is the feedback I simply don't understand. Same goes for admitting my mistakes and implementing feedback (but it hasn't changed the issue) \$\endgroup\$ Feb 10, 2023 at 1:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ My downtime system is actually a simplification over the normal rules (because I don't want to handle day-by-day activities for 10-ish players) and it basically only require those who want to do something to post, anytime during the week, a description of their action (some are very direct to rule: "I use Forager to feed everyone", some require a bit of work from me: "I excavate the tunnel so we can access the dungeon"). Anyway I use the official downtime rules as a benchmark. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 10, 2023 at 1:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ None of them have used Create Food yet and honestly I won't mind if they do. Getting basic food isn't supposed to remain an issue for the whole campaign, just during the early stage. I also agree that there seem to be a contradiction between the system being too important and not giving enough, this is one of the reasons why I think I can't take this feedback as it is. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 10, 2023 at 1:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ (I feel like I have more things to say but this is already a lot and I am getting tired, I'll see tomorrow) \$\endgroup\$ Feb 10, 2023 at 1:52
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First, figure out whether he wants to continue playing a Westmarches-style campaign.

His descriptions feel very familiar. I assume you have a player who feels tired of the involvement that a functioning Westmarches-style campaign tends to require of its players. Sometimes players want to show up and not think too much about the session out of game; they don't want to deal with downtime activities, they don't want to feel like they have to coordinate their goals instead of flying with the punches — they might desire an easy ride where the entire burden of making the game-world and planning depends on the GM.

I've run several Westmarches-style campaigns, and these are typical pieces of feedback (articulated in many different ways) I've received when players want a less sandbox-like game. I can't guarantee that what I describe is what happens, but I suggest talking about whether he'd prefer a non-Westmarches-style campaign in the near future. Alternatively, talk about whether the concept burns him out. I think my advice will narrow down the root of the problem, which we can address in another question.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This gets to the heart of @AnneAunyme 's latest comment (on my answer) - +1. \$\endgroup\$
    – ESCE
    Feb 12, 2023 at 17:27
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The "I have to ask for rolls to get information" sounds like typical adjustment issues coming from a strong class-based system like D&D, (or WoD). In those it's easy for a DM to say "As a cleric, you would know..." And even when it's a skill roll, you know most warriors have athletics and so on. Moving to a system with more freedom -- where a warrior can be a much better sailor than a rogue -- it's more on the players to remember "oh, wait, I'm a sailor" when they see that pirate flag. Or oftentimes when the GM asks "OK, you're examining the flag. Do you have any relevant skills?"

For the rest, this is obviously super-opinion. They probably just aren't used to PathFinder yet, which resulted in a character they aren't happy with and being overshadowed (by those superior foragers). Maybe they aren't using the PathFinder bard class features since they wanted to play a D&D-style bard. A common fix is to allow rebuilding the character mid-campaign, when they know the system better.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ World of Darkness is not a class based system at all. If anything, it is splat based and each splat can fill any role in a group. \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Feb 12, 2023 at 8:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Trish As far as knowledge it's easy to use WoD clan as a skill catch-all, like "as a Ventrue you've heard about the mayor's plan to...". \$\endgroup\$ Feb 12, 2023 at 15:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ Which is entirely not supported by the actual rules in most cases. You always have to argue with the skills and backgrounds you actually have, not with "I am a fianna". There's no "because you are X you heard" in the rules. Heck, there is a specific "I know stuff about my own kind of supernatural" skill called Lore! \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Feb 12, 2023 at 15:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Trish You want people to play V:TM the right way which is great. But OP's friend, especially coming from a D&D background, is probably playing the wrong but obvious way where the GM and everyone else figures Toreadors know Art and so on. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 12, 2023 at 23:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't say it's right or wrong (groups can do what they want) but the rules as written do not support your argument for WoD. \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Feb 13, 2023 at 0:04

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