I apologize in advance for the length of this post, but things are complicated!
We just finished playing a 3 year long, evil PCs, highly detail oriented, deeply immersive roleplay style game. As the Storyteller (Chronicles of Darkness), I allowed mostly character driven plot, with occasional information drops to keep the "main plot" going. The players had a lot of control, and really enjoyed planning and minutiae. We covered about 6 months of in-game action in those three years.
We've moved on to a brand new game - good (ish) pcs, who work together (yay!), who are basically at level 1 again. We decided to experiment with a new style of play - basically 3-6 session story arcs, to give the game a more episodic feel. We wanted to build towards a group of world renown 'troubleshooters' who get contacted to deal with all sorts of problems - missing persons, contentious inheritances, murder mysteries, etc.
I started the first story arc, intending for it to be about 4 sessions long. We're on session 16, with no end in sight. I AND my players are used to long, open ended gaming. They all swear they're fine with the pacing, but I - as the ST - am not, completely.
The basic plot is this: the employer of their intrepid group came to them saying they thought a close friend was soon to be poisoned by someone. He wants the group to ensure this friend's safety/prevent his murder and locate the culprit, if any.
They were rocking along great, but I was really wanting them to hurry things along, so I threw in a REALLY POWERFUL ENTITY that is a danger to the party, but obviously (I thought) too strong to confront directly. I wanted it to scare them into wrapping up their business as fast as possible. Instead, they've fixated on it completely, and it's become this massive red herring that they can't let go.
Part of this is my fault. We just got done with a game with 'really powerful entities' that they could face and conquer, so I guess I should have expected them to tackle it.. but I didn't, and now I don't know exactly how to get the game back on track..
I toyed with the idea of doing a time skip forward to the next relevant point in the main plot, but they're so embroiled in the small details of this red herring, that I feel like no one would be happy with that. Should I come up with a reason for this entity to disappear, or for its danger to be nullified? I don't want them to feel like they can defeat it, or else I'll be stuck with a three year campaign of "oh the world is in danger, again.. ho hum." I definitely want them to feel like small fry dealing with small fry problems, for a little while. I also want them to get used to the idea that not every 'hint' dropped is relevant to the solution - especially since we want a murder mystery style.
Any advice or idea is welcome!
Edit for more info:
So.... The PCs are headliners for a Victorian Era circus, currently preforming for a couple of weeks in Istanbul, leading up to the Ottoman Emperor's 30 birthday gala. The circus owner (who is also their go-between contact for the jobs that need 'troubleshooting') is personal friends with the Emperor. During a feast some weeks prior to the story, he witnessed a 'death by heart attack' of an old advisor, but swears that something's up and it was really poison. He turns the PCs loose on the palace, under the guise of the performance, in order to get to the bottom of it all.
After interacting with the setting for a bit, they find out that the heir to the throne has grown 'suddenly sick' in the intervening weeks, lending credence to the owner's suspicions. Through investigation, the PCs successfully ferreted out that the boy has tuberculosis (wasn't poisoned). They were present, however, when a suspiciously similar second death happened. The palace doc said it was a heart attack too, marking him as either incompetent or complicit. They did more snooping, figured out that it WAS, what the poison was, who had bought large amounts of it recently, but then they bogged down on knowing how to make a plan to figure out who was doing the poisoning
This is where I goofed badly, and introduced the huge entity, in a vague fashion. We'll call it a spirit, for lack of a better term - and the idea was that it is consuming supernaturals and spreading its influence throughout the city. They fixated on it as opposed to continuing to solve the poison angle, so:
I came up with a shadowy underworld character with suspicious ties to the palace, named Iskendur. He's sorta of a morally grey Robin Hood character. I used him as an info dump to try and point to the real murderer, but they did the thing that PCs so often do where they're suddenly spinning their wheels and doubting everything they've heard so far, and the conclusions they came to.
I had Iskendur give them answers which were pretty freaking blatant about where to look next, in exchange for finding out more about the spirit's nature/motivations.
So now I'm stuck in this wierd limbo where they've got this thing breathing down their necks, starting to make off with circus members (cause I thought "make it more stressful, it wasn't stressful enough the first time around. dumb) and an arrow pointing towards where to look next for the poisoner's identity.. only they're after defeating the big spirit thing..
So much so that the doctor PC who has featured heavily in the last few sessions suddenly feels disconnected from the story, which really bothers me.
So.. I'm thinking.. maybe give the spirit an "easy" to find weakness, or a way to seal its influence away long enough for the PCs to 'solve the case' and get out of dodge. Maybe Iskendur can come forward with something more like blatant proof if return for the task of finding this weakness?