Gamers who don't engage with rules set

Hi all.
I have been running a trophy gold game for some friends who are all DnD gamers originally. The performance has been leaden at best. My biggest issues seem to stem from players (especially those who are familiar with DnD, this is a reoccuring theme i would say) staying close together, not engaging with anything, not taking risks etc.
If I tell them they see motion out in a field, there’s clearly something going on, their response is to sit around the campfire etc. and not go out to find out whats going on, despite the fact that they are hired essentially to guard a caravan. It is very frustrating. They had an encounter with a troll who, though dangerous, was by no means actually threatening them. They didn’t ask one question of him. They didn’t try to learn about him. They basically stood around and waited for prompts.

Do you have any pointers on enhancing player engagement.

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When you were playing D&D, what sort of thing did they engage with?

Also, I’ve only played Trophy Dark but could you hook them through the stuff on their character sheet? (Occupation, background, and drive in TD).

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I’m assuming that they are taught to be railroaded, and expect that the game master should sit and entertain them. I had players like that, and I play a lot on conventions where I sometimes stumble upon groups like that.

If this is the case, I would say that you need to start breaking habits. Pick up another game, and tell them how to play it. It doesn’t have to be true in how you should play the game, but you will at least get the chance to inject how you want to play the game. You could also play games that are involving the players more, like Lady Blackbird or InSpectres, that have a game master, but will leave space to the players to fill in with their own ideas.

Another thing to do is to create a successful Session Zero. I pointed out “successful” because I recently had a session zero that stated nothing about the world, nothing about the characters, and nothing about how we should roleplay, communicate with each other (in and off game), and what we expect from the game. It was merely a pitch for the adventure. So talk to your players, tell them what you don’t think is working and how you want the session to be played.

A third thing is to break your own habits. I don’t know your habits, but impose clues to them. Let nothing happen, unless they start acting on the clues, and then you give them more information. You’re basically rewarding them by acting. So if they don’t do anything, let them sit and rot on a the tavern they started in, watching the world pass on by. And don’t ever throw them into danger! You want to reward them, not punishing them. The reward could be a magic item, but they shouldn’t have to go through danger to get it. Let them figure out things, puzzle them together. Play intrigues and mysteries, where the consequence is happening to other people or the setting itself. If they puzzle good, good things will happen. If they don’t puzzle at all, the world will start burning more and more. In either way, good/bad, shit will happen but it will happen because something they did.

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It’s a bit of a cop-out (and as result doesn’t answer your question) but, when introducing DnD players to other styles of play, my approach is now to pick games much more detached from DnD. It’s following a similar experience to yours running Dungeon World for DnD players.

Despite their clear differences, having DnD and DW (in your case Trophy Gold) set in similar settings results IMO in players (and even myself as GM) falling on similar expectations, reactions and tropes.

It’s counter-intuitive as you’d think that the similarities help rather than get in the way. But no, I think it results in confusion.

So nowadays, I’d introduce DnD players to Masks: A New Generation, Against the Dark Conspiracy, Brindlewood Bay, even one-page RPGs, rather than a narrative take on dungeon-crawling.

After they’re used to that “alternative” way of playing, I’d eventually go “Hey, how about we try this system/approach for a dungeon crawl?”. This way, they’ve build habits and an understanding which they can apply.

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Asking players questions about the world and then incorporating their answers is a practical way of disavowing GM ownership of the world. It may not teach them how to interact with the world, but it should loosen up their sense that the world is entirely independent of them and moves according to a fixed pattern no matter what they choose to do.

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@ OuiPatron - in previous DnD games one GM had a strait dungeon crawl, but then ran a very open doppelgänger hunt. All of them are GMs so I would think that they are capable of doing this. I’ve also run two of them in a game of TD and they seemed to get it making the leaden performance last week difficult to fathom.

@Rickard & RolistesPod- I really feel that they WANT to be railroaded. Which, the game I am running is a bit like being on a ship, they are in a caravan so they go where the caravan goes, but then when they have the opportunity to interact, they seem to only want to role play (not a bad thing) and then hit things. We have played DW previously with fairly good results, and monster of the week. I usually do a pretty clear and up front how to session zero. I will do a second session zero this weekend in our next game. see if I can break the third wall with them.

@ Symbolic City - I will absolutely ensure more paint the scene in this Sundays adventure.

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To make the change of gaming paradigm more evident, ask questions from them, for example, if it’s a troll, you could ask “what marks this troll as different from other trolls?” or even “what language that any of you know did the troll use while it attempted to communicate?”

Also, you could have consequences on the caravan happen when they ignore thing, and NPCs saying things like they are bad protectors.

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Hello, to enhance player engagement, you can work with techniques, change the rules, or adjust the social contract.
There are already good techniques like painting the scene and the lore up in the thread.
You can agree to change the rules to get a middle ground with your players. Like establishing the structure of a game session is always known in advance, as in Monster of the Week. Mission play is great for this : the caravan halts, there’s a problem, go fix it adventurers.
Session zero helps adjusting the social contract. but if it’s a regular group you can adjust the contract by talking about your respective expectations about the game and others. In my experience, talking about game content does not solve but the most glaring mismatches. https://dereel.itch.io/e-cats
My BoGo deal of the day : is to suggest you do a reboot session when the caravan enters a totally new place. Like : you arrive at the capital, or an island, it’s a total game changer. What are your expectations on the way there ? How do you picture the area of power ? What areas do you know nothing about ? What are the rumours ? When do you first hear of it ? Let’s play that scene. And while doing this, during the whole session, each one has to be on the lookout for what the others want, even if they won’t phrase it clearly. In my experience, terms of the trade are often power words (“catch all” if you like) that won’t help, that’s why you need the game content discussion alongside, to point at concrete examples. This is hard work, and I suggest you share it with everyone at the table. To me, one person not sharing the workload at that point is already a sign that the game will be driving with the brakes on. You don’t have to plead for your kind of fun as long as it hurts none (at which point, pleading won’t do anything).

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Well…

I had a second session zero. I prepped for it by calling one of the players and asking him to really push the limits in the upcoming game. And he did which helped get other players into the groove. Basicallly i summarized the points i wanted to hit on (listed below) in a document on my computer, and while doing session two I went right down the list and pitched it to them again.

Session zero round 2 = repitch the session to the players
What’s your take on the game/what would motivate you to engage more?
Trophy is designed for Lots of player input, especially fictionally.
Narrative Authorial control- you have it. Use it to achieve fictional positioning in the game, Use the narrative to your mechanical advantage since it contributes /enhances the story.
I really engaged with their drive/ and asked them to really engage with their possessions
Make each player engage with the risk roll. Call on them by name so that they didn’t shirk their part of making the game sing.

It was a much better game, and i totally learned a lot from it. My takeaways.
I’m not going to tell the PCs how many more set goals there are. This led one PC to just decide that the game was broken since there were only two sets left and three players each with two hunt tokens. Why not just end the game. We debated this and i encouraged him to if he really wanted to. This is habitual play for this player, as their focus is on Winning games and breaking them if they can. So, I think not sharing how many sets there are might be good, and including a magic item or something towards the end of the adventure rather than at the start to encourage players to stick around might be good.

I am going to be a little more liberal with my handing out of conditions. I only handed out one condition in this game. I can see where conditions would really be of a great benefit

Overall, thank you. game play was much more interesting. there were a few really good story beats and i learned a lot.

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Thanks for this little session report.

It’s nice to read that it went well and what Inspirations you’ve drawn from that experience. :slightly_smiling_face:

Glad the second second approach better. One thing did jump out…

I’m not going to tell the PCs how many more set goals there are. This led one PC to just decide that the game was broken since there were only two sets left and three players each with two hunt tokens. Why not just end the game.

I may not tell folks how many sets there are in an incursion, but in TG the answer to the mechanics answer to that question is "do you have enough gold to pay your expenses? If not, your character is dead if you just end the game. If you do, gold is how you improve your character and recover from any damage - if you don’t have as much gold as you can, you’re likely dead on the next adventure. PLUS the whole game is about trying to get enough gold to get your drive, so you will never “win” this game if you don’t try and get as much excess you can. Plus spending hunt tokens on set goals is explicitly giving up gold to do that - and you can solve the sets if you just try. The game’s called Trophy Gold. That’s a clue. "

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