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I've been running HotDQ with a group of people for about 9 months now (about 20 sessions; we're on Ep 6.)

My current frustration is that things go along OK as long as I'm narrating and asking occasional questions. But when we're in an area that's less THIS IS THE PLOT, and more freeform - like right now when they've mostly-successfully infiltrated a stronghold, and business will continue as usual while they explore/until they make something happen - it's like pulling teeth to get them to do anything.

I've formally surveyed the group and almost unanimously, they said they were extremely interested in accumulating cool powers (and hence levels), advancing the story, and exploration. And fully unanimously, they said they're having fun, but the pacing of the game is too slow... and yet any time I try to sit back a bit and say "OK, it's up to you and your characters to decide what happens next, so go for it - I'll just respond to whatever you tell me," the game slows to a crawl. (Combat is also slow, but that issue is well addressed elsewhere on this site.)

To be clear, it's not like they're timid in-character - they're fine with throwing themselves into dangerous situations and even being a bit reckless when it's in character, and they're not actively searching for traps or anything (though I think there might be some subconscious hesitation about the consequences of making decisions one way or the other.)

Two of the group are relatively new to roleplaying, three I've been gaming with for a few years, one more has played other games of DND a bit, but not with me. So it's not like they're totally new to RPGs, though all could probably be classed as novice roleplayers. I think it's more a basic personality thing - most of the players are the type who, in a classroom, wouldn't raise their hand or volunteer unless called on. When I've played with some of the same people, but with an additional player who, like me, is more assertive, more extroverted, and more comfortable with formal improv, everything went much faster because she was more decisive about making things happen - though she did tend to steal the spotlight, as one might expect in that situation, so there were times it felt like the two of us were the only ones really playing (and we got this feedback from other players as well).

I could, of course, just grab the reins more - "Ok, sounds like you're good to move into the next room. This one has a large desk you'll probably want to search. Roll Investigation." But that feels like taking too much away from the players; I really want them to make their own decisions and be actively involved.

So here's my question - given that we've talked about it, and everybody wants the game to move faster yet can't seem to make it happen, how can I get my players to act less like passengers waiting for someone else to tell them what to do, or discussing every little detail in committee, and more like heroic adventurers who can make a plan and confidently execute it until something significant changes?

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Give them a few options, with the last one being "or do something else."

Your players are a group of people with other stuff they're thinking about who are simultaneously socializing with each other as players and trying to play a game. They don't have the story and setting in their heads like you do, so you're doing them a favor by exposing your view of their goals and approaches to them.

When I GM, I find it effective to periodically say things like "So it sounds like your plan is to either do X or do Y," or "At this point you could do A, do B, do C, or do something else." Think of your campaign as a choose-your-own-adventure game where there's always an "other" option that's picked half of the time.

You can also simply reiterate their goals and their situation: "So. You know that you need to find the Foo. You're currently in a Blah room and there are two doors you haven't explored." Since you have hesitant players, you can just pick one who hasn't contributed in a while and say, "Sue. What are you doing?"

When the players are hesitant, the GM can always describe the situation, list the immediate options (leaving an "other" option to avoid railroading!), and pick someone to put on the spot. In the worst case, another player will come to their rescue and perform an action to get the plot moving.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I like to do this option myself. Keeps things moving much more quickly :) \$\endgroup\$ – user27327 Mar 16 '17 at 4:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ I also use this particular strategy. Though....HotDQ.... that has some pacing problems even without timid players. Like the entire caravan chapter....Tyranny is a favorite of mine though if worked on. The end is...super epic. \$\endgroup\$ – Airatome Mar 16 '17 at 7:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ There's a customer service rule that says give 3 options. 2 feels like too few, more than 3 can cause delays as there's too much choice. \$\endgroup\$ – Separatrix Mar 16 '17 at 9:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ I like doing this, especially at the beginning of the session or after a long break as part of a recap. If it looks like the group is delaying too long, I will recap what they have discussed. If it takes a really long time, I will have something "happen" \$\endgroup\$ – Marshall Tigerus Mar 16 '17 at 13:31
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Give actionable details during freeform play

It seems to me that you have two problems here: the first is that when you open things up to the players, they don't have any ideas on what to do, and the second is that they spend a lot of time dithering about doing nothing.

In the first case, you should focus on actionable details. As a player, I don't have nearly as good of an understanding of the surroundings as the DM does. While my character has lived in the world, and knows how things work, I only know the things that the DM has told me.

For example, if my DM says, "You guys arrive in town. What do you do?" I have no idea what my options are. On the other hand, if my DM says "You guys arrive in town. You see a ramshackle general store, a busy tavern, and a handful of street performers playing the hurdy-gurdy," I know the things that I can potentially interact with. Similarly, instead of saying "You've cleared the fortress. What do you do now?" you can say "You've cleared the fortress. As you search it, you find a set of large locked doors that you can't open, a well-stocked pantry, and a stack of papers in the captain's quarters."

As you can see, giving the players this information suggests certain courses of action without necessarily locking them into a limited set of actions.

Make the actionable details rewarding

It's important to make these choices meaningful. If the players decide to investigate the locked door, you could hide some interesting lore or loot behind it; if they look through the papers, they might find useful information on their next enemy. Giving rewards for following through on these small details makes your players more likely to be more active in their investigations. You'll have to figure out what motivates your players, as each group is different. Personally, as a player, I love being able to use my character's abilities, so a chasm that requires flying over or a puzzle that requires me to cast a particular spell is rewarding for me. Others might like magic trinkets, or et. cetera.

Push the players along if they're just faffing about

If your players waste too much time debating options and can't come to a decision, you should create a sense of urgency. The easiest way to do this is to make something time-sensitive: the goblins are rapidly escaping with the princess, or the door is slowly closing, and so forth. As they deliberate, keep dropping hints that they're running out of time. Alternatively, you could have something evolve over time. If the PCs spend too much time formulating battle plans, you can have a day pass, and now it's nighttime, which will change their plans. If it's really bad, you can simply force your players to take a vote on their plan of action (this isn't great, but it's happened to me a few times).

Essentially, this is the opposite of the rewarding actionable details. You're punishing the players for spending too much time doing nothing. Hopefully the combination of these tactics will train your players to come to decisions more quickly, and spend less time facing decision paralysis.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Instead of creating urgency (the goblins are approaching) you can also give a vivid description of nothing happening. They stand in that room, you described the interior, the players don't know, what to do - talk about the fly, slowly crawling over the desk, while the players just stand there - open mouthed - staring at the ceiling and the cupboard. Two guards pass the door, the characters hear a short, meaningless part of their conversation, before they are out of hearing range again. The players still stand there, staring at the wall with the nice tapestry... \$\endgroup\$ – Till Mar 17 '17 at 11:05
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Poll the players

Talk to them about the game, but in a purely meta-game way. I've seen confidence issues crop up for several reasons in games:

  1. Not familiar with the genre-specific tropes of the game system / setting.
  2. Not familiar with the mechanics or characters, so not sure what they actually can do.
  3. Not comfortable taking the lead; "passive" participants.
  4. Not comfortable with each other / you; social anxiety.
  5. Used to computer RPGs, where games tend to be more multiple-choice and less free-form.
  6. Not truly comfortable with the story arc / campaign / plot / their character.
  7. Can't remember what the story line is; forgot what happened at the last session(s).

In my experience, quiet gamers tend to fall into one of those buckets. And it is entirely possible that your players are in more than one bucket, or even in different buckets on different days.

But knowing where the hangup is / hangups are will help you work with the players to bridge the gaps from a meta standpoint and to work on the game itself to help as well.

Perhaps they need a session that's outside the main story arc to get familiar with the campaign / world / game rules / tropes. If your discussions with the players indicates this, provide a session that's "off the books." Everyone gets to have a game night where the events don't carry over to the next session. Perhaps it is a dream sequence. Or different PCs vaguely similar to their regular ones. Or lower-ranking NPCs they've encountered somewhere, doing something only tangentially related to the main plot. But a safe game. So they can try things with less risk to their central characters.

Perhaps it is a social anxiety thing. I'm not sure how best to bridge that, but hopefully you can talk with them and work to help boost their comfort levels within the group?

Perhaps they're more used to the railroad-style from computer RPGs. So they're not really up on how open their choices really are. There's no "right" choice, just actions that are in line with the story and/or their character concept.

Maybe they haven't developed that synergy with their character that great gamers seem to have. If so, encourage them to develop some back story that's outside the game's timeline. What did they do before starting the campaign? Who taught them their class skills? Friends? Family? Give them a template with some standard questions that helps flesh out their non-mechanic character story arc. This can also help vest them in the story. If Ranger Bob's favorite Great Aunty Bo is suddenly in the story somehow, then Ranger Bob's player might be more directly interested too. Or if the big boss enemy finds out that Wizard Jane has a brother back home, that brother is now at risk... These can boost player involvement, if they're not overplayed.

If there are gaps between sessions, and your players are forgetting the story arc, then have them write "journals" between sessions. Treat it as in-character diaries/journals/memoir notes. Have them send you the sessions before sharing with the other players. Use this as a chance to correct obvious errors ("No, that NPC's name was Ranger Bob, not Ranger Pob! Sorry that I didn't pronounce that clearly. Here, fix that in your notes..."). Encourage them to fill out character thoughts and even flash-backs to prior events in the character's lives. The campaigns where we gamed once a month or less, we did this to keep up with what was happening; I'd re-read my journal before the next session to remember what happened. To encourage this, I usually house-ruled that a well done, in character, journal entry for a session received XP at up to roughly 10% of the session's XP award. We defined well-done as entertaining and feeling like it was written from the character. We had an illiterate barbarian who's journal was done as hand-drawn pictures. In crayon. It was hilarious, and it worked.

Basically, you can't solve the problem until you talk to the players to find out what the problem actually is. So work with them to figure that out.

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This is not exactly subtle, but verbally and in game reward the proactive behavior you want. Gently nudge them towards it. To begin with , just praise them when they show initiate, saying things like "Awesome, I love it when players step up and take charge" , then afterwards, award small but notable XP to those who showed initiative, say 1% of level for each occurrence.

To push them, set up situations where initiative is clearly rewarded, ie they enter a room with an open door on the side, which can be locked, and one monster rushes in, but they clearly hear more monsters coming down the hall, and give them a countdown, that nudges them along "you feel the orcs are 10 seconds away what do you do? (talk talk talk) you feel the orcs are 9 seconds away, what do you do?

Then immediately praise and reward the quick thinking and action. "Nice! good thinking, and by acting quickly your gain the advantage of "? Then let them play out with that advantage clearly affecting the combat or scenerio. Once they've got the habit on combat, do it more in non combat situations.

When quick action gives them immediate in game rewards (tactical bonuses, more information etc) they will want them. remember 90% carrot, 10% stick.

Finally consider that since you are more aggressive and verbal, you may just be stomping all over them by being too impatient to talk. Take a moment when you want initiative, and stop and ask each player, "ok Bob, what do you wan to do before the Orcs get to you" then stop, don't jump in and give them time to figure out what they want to say. They may just be the type that likes to think things through before speaking...

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