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I GM a campaign for a newbie party. For now everything is fine: they roleplay well, they don't solve their problems with violence, etc.

In their scenario, they came from a relatively small city sealed off from the world for a long period of time — one day the seal just vanished and their adventure began. The city was attacked by enormous, highly organised ants, and the City Council sent various parties, including one made up of the player characters, to search for allies. I imagine being cut off from the world for so long, the player characters would be a bit interested in what the outside has to offer them.

They're curious and ask questions about local lore. For example, they met a tribe of evolved ape druids who used the tactic of fleeing and hiding to survive these ants (not ideal allies for fighting, but good for scouts), befriended them, asked them to be allies, and upon learning of their tactics they just carried on with the search. They hunted with them though, exchanged presents, participated in rituals, formed blood bonds and so on, which went really well. They asked about gods, way of life, and so on.

However, the problem is they aren't asking the right questions. They didn't ask about the ants, or about other tribes, and so are missing out on information about those things. I fear them repeating this and continuing to miss out on this information.

(I've spoken to one player: it seems they forgot they came from an isolated community, so next session I'll remind them of this, and explain the standard mind-set of a normal citizen of the City. I'll repeat this on the beginning of every session until they understand -- they are really forgetful and don't write anything down.)

How can I get my players to ask the right questions to find out this information, so they don't miss out altogether?

(Note this is separate to How to get players to be curious and ask questions?, given they're not having trouble asking questions altogether)

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It sounds like your players are engaging with the NPCs, they're just not asking the questions you want so they can get the information you've prepared that will help them. Doesn't sound like disinterest so much as they interact differently than you would, or than you'd expect. It's unlikely that you'll be able to change the way they act, at least not directly, so you're probably going to have to change your style a bit to correct the mismatch.

In general terms, you may have the classic problem that often arises in mystery RPGs; the players miss the clues, don't ask the obvious questions, and otherwise fail to extract the appropriate information from the scene to move the plot forward. It's a common disconnect, usually due to the fact that the GM has a lot more information, so connections that seem obvious are actually much less so to the players. To counteract this difference, you'll need to put a bit more window dressing around the points that they need to discover that are critical to the plot.

I recommend reading Justin Alexander's essays on the Three Clue Rule. It gives some great advice on how to improve the players chances to ferret out what they need from the setting without just handing them the info. Ultimately, if there's a piece of information that was important enough that you've actively called it in your setting notes, you're going to need a couple of back-up opportunities for the players to discover it, because they're going to miss the first two glaringly obvious opportunities to do so.

A last tidbit that I find works for some groups is profiling,, i.e. put stuff where they look. Pay attention to the details the players engage with and try to get a feel for their patterns. Maybe they tend to engage with shopkeepers but not people on the street. Maybe the wizard is always looking for cool wands. If you want them to ask the locals for more info on the ants, put a cool wand proudly displayed in the local shop. The shopkeeper will tell them it's not for sale, but he'll ramble on a bit about the wizard that created it, and how he lived here to study the physiology and tactics of the ants. As one of three clues that they can get more info to help in their fight, it starts to give you a chance to get the message across.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you, I guess this and a little talking-too will do the job \$\endgroup\$ – Invader Zim Mar 12 '15 at 12:52
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I think the crux of your problem right now is two fold. One, your players are still new at this and improving. Two, your players right now may be stuck in the "do what the NPC tells us" mode of play. Let's address both of those.

Yes, sir. Thank ya, sir.

For a new group with a new campaign, your set up of having an NPC faction (the government of your starting City) establish a goal for your group to achieve is a good thing. This gives the game direction, and gives the players something obvious to do. However, something like this also discourages exploration by the players implicitly because they are focused on achieving this goal. That means that they are expecting challenges to overcome and obstacles to be in their path toward finally getting enough "allies" to fight back against these giant ants. Perhaps they are expecting to be lead around a little bit to find these allies. Maybe they figure if they explore enough they'll encounter all types of different factions. Either way, it makes it so that these characters have no reason to care about the lore and history of these factions, so long as they achieve the goal of making these guys allies.

As BESW says, How to get players to be curious and ask questions? is a great place to start in making your lore something that players want to explore. But I think there might be something else you can do.

Aw man, I LIKED that guy.

One of the best tools you have for making the players care about the world is your NPCs. Make some really likable NPC characters- people who the players will feel an affinity for. Don't have them push an agenda on the players, or bother them with too much exposition. Just make them likable- for my group this would be a joking, sarcastic character who will poke fun at the ridiculousness of their current plight/situation. Have them be able to tag along with the PCs for a bit if needed, and also be able to dispense information when the players decide it's time to ask him.

Example: maybe one of your Gorillas is the old LoreKeeper or something, and has old fables and stories. Make him a Cool Old Guy(tm) that is able to help the PCs tangibly in some way. (Healing power, cool enchanted weapon, concealment magic in keeping with your "run away" theme). If the players like him enough, they'll start talking to him. Then he can tell them a story or fable. Maybe one of those fables concerns an old Gorilla man meeting a Lizard man, who is just a myth at the moment, but who knows?

Optional

Then kill him by the ants. If the players were just doing this job because the government told them too, well now they have some emotional investment in seeing the monsters stopped, cause darn it I LIKED that guy. Don't overuse this option. If the PCs have too many of their friends die, they won't befriend anyone out of fear that they'll kill them via Plot.

Be patient

You told us your party is new at this. It seems as though you have a great foundation for a new party that is willing to role play and interact with NPC's and not just be a "hack and slash" party (not that there's anything wrong with that). The next step in that evolution is wondering about the world around them. Gently guide them toward that wonder by leaving hints as described in the link above, or by giving them engaging NPC's who have interesting things to say.

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Advice for NPCs: don't have them be shy about asking the player characters to do things!

If there's something the party should be investigating, those ape-druids should be asking them about it. "Hey, do you know where these ants came from? Do you know anything about their strengths and weaknesses? Maybe you could fetch us some live samples, or some ant eggs, or something, so we can investigate and see where they're coming from? Hey, do you know what's up with the tribe of tiger-rangers that lives next door?"

This reminds the players that there's something here that they're supposed to be investigating.

An alternate solution: how about that City Council that sent the party on this quest? Are they checking up with the party at any point? (Perhaps even through a dream spell, if anyone in the city is high enough level to cast that.) They should tell the party they've done good work so far, but then ask a bunch of additional questions as followup.

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This is something I normally have a problem with.

My suggestion would be to drop hints among your other tribes. The apes mention seeing a Lizard type man fighting the ants or something of the sort.

If you tease them the information, for me at least, it normally gives them the interest that I want them to have and they ask more questions.

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A suggestion would be maybe during these blood bonding and these rituals after your PC's hunt and bond with the Ape tribe you could have one of the tribe brooch the subject in an attempt to get your PC's to question it. For example they could state that the ant attacks have become more bold and maybe drop a morsel for the group to ponder.

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