One of the most important abilities of a Dungeons & Dragons player is to understand a plot and be able to navigate through it. As a Dungeon Master you have to be able to recognize when new players need the aid in figuring out what to do. This blog gives helpful hints in how to help new players traverse a plot or campaign.
Without a plot or questline Dungeons & Dragons becomes a fighting fest without rhyme or reason. While some people might enjoy this style of play, most D&D players enjoy something a bit more interactive. As a Dungeons Master you either use modules with pre-built quests or derive your own. Since running a quest is one of the more fun aspects of Dungeon Mastering, it also falls upon you to make sure the players are able to work their way progressively in the plot. New players sometimes have trouble figuring out how to progress through the plot or easily get distracted from the true quest. Each of these situations has different ways of stepping in as Dungeon Master.
The most common problem is newbies not knowing how to progress through a plot. This can be due to the timid-ness that arises with learning the boundaries of D&D. If this is the case then the problem will most likely solve itself as the players become more comfortable with the game. Before they reach this comfort level the best thing for you to do is help them along with either an NPC that you control or by creating quests and plots that have little wiggle room in what the PCs must do next. Quests such as exploring a dungeon or cave will suit new players better than those that involve high levels of player NPC interaction and manipulation (such as solving a mysteries robbery which does not have direct step by step interactions).
If you run into the other common issue with new players, players that dick around and do not follow the quests that are obviously laid before them, you might try some of the suggestions above or you can use what I call the 2nd edition method. The 2nd edition method plays off D&D 2nd edition where the Dungeon Master was the be all end all of rules. If you find your players ignoring your quest line to goof around you can strong-arm them into it. Feel free to break some rules like putting all their characters to sleep (even if they insist on some kind of saving throw) or having NPCs or Monsters convince them that your quest is the best option.
While some Dungeon Masters and Players prefer to just mess around when playing and have no direction (which is a perfectly acceptable way to play) most do not and it is important to figure out which of your PCs might enjoy playing this way and which do not so that future conflict of interest while playing can be averted.
You will never be able to force a player to play a quest they have no interest in. Be aware of how your players feel about the quest. If all your players are cutthroats and thugs and you try to feed them a quest that involves saving the Kingdom from an Evil ruler, the players might not be able to get comfortable in the quest as their player characters lack purpose. Always try to make sure the characters the players use have a purpose or desire for going on the quest you are Dungeon Mastering to avoid this problem.
Most importantly when it comes to getting your players to play quests and plotlines is to be versatile. Adjust where you need to and improv on the fly to bring everything back to the quest and plotline. Player characters that are thieves and thugs might not care about a revolution against an evil ruler, but they might care about the riches that come with pillaging the rulers castle. Players might think that going around the cave instead of through it is a more reasonable path, try to accommodate this rather than getting of the quest and plotline.
In the next blog I will discuss teaching new players the intricacy of conversation and NPC interaction.