How to get the PCs to go exploring


A couple years ago I started a sandbox campaign with the premise that the PCs would be part of an adventurer's guild and go on missions into the wilderness. I also told the players that, over time, the campaign would evolve to a point where they could pursue establishing their own kingdom or settlements in said wilderness.

Initially we had 2 druids, a wizard and a barbarian. This changed over time as PCs were retired and swapped out, died and got replaced, or the roster expanded with additional players. Currently I have an Investigator 6/Wizard 2, a Druid (Swamp Druid)8, Barbarian 7/Bard 1, and a Bloodrager 4/Brawler 4.

These PCs have lots of skills based around Survival, Knowledge: Nature and Knowledge: Geography, among others. They also have several utility spells and the ability to Scribe Scrolls using found materials in the wilds (homebrew rules). With all of this, you'd think it would be a no-brainer to get the characters out into the wilderness as was the thrust of the campaign.

At the start I made a hex map for the campaign and established "civilization" of some sort in 5 hexes, representing the main city and hinterlands to the south, west and north. Outside the main city hex the other 4 are mostly settlements anywhere from a Thorp to a Large Town, scattered sparsely around the area of the hexes. This was to represent that the kingdom (more firmly established far to the north) had only a foothold in the region. Again, no-brainer, right?

So far the PCs have explored only 2 other hexes of "wilderness" in all of the campaign. These only happened when the adventurer's guild that I use as a proxy to hand out missions and spur the PCs into action required them to go and manage things in those hexes.

Since its a sandbox game I try not to force the players into missions or plot threads. I offer lots of smaller quests which develop into big adventures. Between these adventures the PCs have used their Downtime to create businesses in the main city or at least that main city hex (in the case of the druid's grove) that keep them tied to the area.

So, how do you motivate your players to just go and explore? I've seeded out several items like whispers of a cult gathering in the moors, a newly rediscovered megadungeon called Irongate that promises riches and a Blodeuwedd Queen's realm to the south but the players aren't biting.

Not only do they not explore but they're really bad at self motivating. One of the players keeps a log of all the plot seeds they know of currently. Even when reviewing these the players tend to wait until either the adventurer's guild sends them on a mission or an NPC coerces them to choosing one plot thread over another.

So how do I get these players to get out of their comfort zones and go traveling?

I would talk to them. This is more your game than anyone else's, and you've got a right to run the sort of game you enjoy.
Just point out how much work you've put into the game, the kinds of things you have prepared for, and ask them why they haven't shown much interest.
It could just be a matter of communication; they might not realize that it's an option. But if they simply don't want to do what you do, there's not much to be done. An emotionally charged epic doesn't go over well with players who only want to increase their DPR. A bloody crusade isn't going to be embarked upon when your players want a murder mystery.

The Exchange

Ask the players. edit - Ninja'd! I type to slow

Approach each of them individually, or in groups, and maybe even show them this thread and ask them what would motivate them - or for that matter, if they feel the need to be motivated to "go exploring".

Some more possible plot hooks...

1) Local group of young adults goes missing - and the families involved appeal to the PCs to look for them. This could be a group of "Adventurer Wannabes" who are modeling themselves after their "Heros" - and have gone off on an adventure and gotten themselves:
a) lost,
b) trapped in an old crypt/mine/well/cave/island/pocket dimension,
c) kidnapped, - this could tie into any of your other hooks, or something new

2) Visitors passing thru need some help -
a) Showing VIPs/hunters/politicians/bards/researchers/real estate developers around,
b) helping a high level NPC find obscure spell components/treasure/historical sites,
c) making contacts with travelers (Storm Giant family in a castle on a cloud are passing thru and they discover they have vermin in the castle walls that they want to PCs to remove)

3) Invasion from outside their lands -
a) Dragon/big monster moves in...
b) Orcs/Goblins/Hordes/salesmen/something invade and are a threat to everyone/everything/someone/local desserts
c) Extra-planar beasts start showing up and the PCs need to find and close the rift in reality they are coming thru.

that's a few I have used in the past ...

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Describe cool things they can see in the distance when they get near the edge of the known area. A dragon flying around in a pattern as if it's searching for something, a castle made of glass, a green glow in the distance, troubling clouds of smoke, whatever.

Oh, and discourage swapping characters out if you can. That tends to lead to less attachment to the characters, their goals, and the campaign in general IME.

I am currently running a Kingmaker campaign that has finished "Book 2." I basically completely redid Book 2 because I felt that just more exploration was not the right answer. The party did a decent amount of exploration trying to find resources, but it all ended up tying into a big thread involving an encroaching First that was spreading from a certain area as well as an imminent hag-led Orc attack.

The players clearly need a little more structure. Generally, I push my players down the first step of the path and then just modify what I already had or made things up on the spot in response to their subsequent choices. The players also clearly need stronger stakes. You've got a cult or a fey realm that might start threatening your a result, the players need to gather resources or forces (undead army or constructs) from the dungeon you introduced.

It's also possible that with all the plot threads that have been introduced, the players are suffering from a bit of decision paralysis. Narrowing down their choices and indicating that they all have some sort of connection as they progress is a good way to make the players feel that they HAVE to progress in some direction(s).

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Alter you GM style a little. From you description it appears that your players are not keen on a sandbox style game and may be just happy to be lead by the nose to adventure.

Use the guild you have already established to have them investigate more external activities that make them go into the wilderness. Use the excuse that they have stabilized your home region enough that lower level adventurers are sufficient to handle the small issues that arise but their skill and power are now needed to handle more difficult issues that have arisen in the wilds.

If I am reading you right they will be fine with this. Sometime as a GM you need to alter your plans to motivate the players if they do not motivate themselves.

I must admit that from the OP's description I see no impetus to explore the area.

If the campaign is literally wander around the wilderness until you bump into a random monster then there isn't much motivation to leave home.

Some obvious hooks would be:
1. Party accepts a commission to survey the area for potential resources.
2. Humanoids or a monster is raiding an area and the party is commissioned to find and exterminate the raiders.

The most obvious one would be to make it personal. The cult has decided that one or more of the characters' businesses are required in some shape or form to further their goals. What this is will depend on the business and the cult's goals but the cult would force the party to react and hopefully you are on your way.

It sounds more like the PCs want to stay in the city rather then explore. Odd since they are playing wilderness type classes. While they agreed to play in your campaign maybe they just don't care for those types of adventures. It happens. I had a dear friend who loved most campaigns, the only one he hated was high seas adventures which ironicly I loved.

Well, if you want to bait your players into becoming settlers then maybe you should set a trap?

When your party returns to town they find a large group of well dressed and obviously wealthy young nobles throwing a party in the town square. They've paid for several cattle to be slaughtered and spit-roast in the center of town. Each person is given 2 loaves of bread, free ale is offered, and baskets of seasonal fruits are available to all. A dozen youthful nobles are in a slightly sectioned off tent celebrating. If anyone in the party looks half decent they'll be invited to join them and the youths want to brag about how the second prince has been given a writ to settle his own lands beyond the border of the kingdom. Technically the Prince could take over this town if he wishes but the youths laugh and say the Prince has better plans than that.

The group of 12 youths and 50 men at arms and servants leaves town 3 days later. Have the party do an adventure. When they return they get summoned to the guild. One of the youths has returned just a day before the party arrived. He managed to escape from a monster stronghold where the Prince and the survivors of his expedition have been made prisoners. The monsters haven't sent any ransom messages, and the guild leader fears the worse. He wants the adventurers to mount a rescue mission immediately.

After defeating the monsters, all that remains of the Prince's party are 6 men. The Prince and 1 of his noble companions are all that remain of the 12 nobles that went on the expedition. The Prince seems to have taken his losses hard. He plans on returning to the court where he will announce that he is going to renounce his title and join the priests of Pharasma to atone for his lost companions.

To reward the party he'll hand over his royal writ to create a settlement. The way it is worded, its more like a non-interference agreement and that any titles given by the new lord will be recognized by this kingdom's court.

He'll also hand over an enchanted manuscript written in Azlanti that tells the tales of a powerful Azlanti Wizard who explored an area that has several landmarks that appear to be in this area. In the area there should be an ancient dwarven stronghold, a hidden Elvin Palace, and a mystical glade where Nymphs freely gather in an other-worldly hot spring tended by Treants who craft their own wine.

What nobody knows is that the manuscript is indeed preserved by magic, and written during the height of the Azlanti Empire by a somewhat powerful wizard. But...the entire content are lies. The Wizard just wanted to impress his friends so he made things up. He also intentionally kept the locations vague just in case anyone did try to find the place. The landmarks just happens to match up with this region.

I have a similar campaign going, a neighboring empire ransacked the kingdom save for a barony in the corner and said empire with drew in haste when another empire invaded behind them. The current campaign picks up months later, the kingdom is in shambles, post boards with in the commons of the keep have multiple notices of jobs/works, local news, and inquiries. I just print out on card stock what's the current listings with brief descriptions, and then go into detail when they check in with the noted NPC. Some of the postings stay up either due to no interest or reappear because some NPC Adventurers failed to return. If the PC's build up contacts in the community that could be a resource to use as well.

That is a good question, that could be answered on character creation, why are they going to adventure? why are they looking for ? why they build and staty as a group ? all answers are leads to use.

If your players, like some I have, are just creating PCs as a bunch of well organized numbers, they have no reason to do anything, so they will play the game and wait for you to create something, give them a direction and a loot potential (to move numbers).

You may have two way to handle that, either you talk to them and ask for their players motivations, and answer to it.
eg. we want to fight monsters and loot magical stuff. We want to fight a mighty battle agains evil...

They might say, we don't know you are the GM it's up to you to create a scenario we can play.

So you are know free to use anything to create motivation, and motivation for someone who doesn't know what he wants is constraint.

- They got poisonned, with no idea about why or when, and have a limited time to find a way to survive. They might found out that a cure can be found somewhere in the wild.
- They got arrested wandering around doing nothing and carrying weapons and have a chance to show their the wild.
- They got stolen something, by someone or some group, and the search lead them to the wild...
- A merchant is ploting to claim the property of some areas uncontrolled in the wilderness and he need some hands to clean some areas, and bring colons to live in little village. Each community created with an alliegeance to the merchant is worth a good amount of gold. Of course the merchant will betray them as they are expendables...

If you are ready to play with their emotions (be careful) you can use a situation that is a consequence of inaction.
- A little girl/boy is crying over a dead body in the street of a city. If they react, they discover that the body is a parent, working in the wild to farm some ressources for the nobles, and is part of the poorest people of the city, chased by the guards and invisible to the nobles. They cannot fight all nobles and all guards. But they can help in the wild.

If they do not react, the girl/boy is snatched by a Guard and hang on a lamp post, so fast that they cannot do anything against at that point. They can learn the same information after (from the Guard maybe)

Have you tried telling your players you have cool wilderness adventures planned out and asking them to try venturing out of the city?

Sometimes your obvious clues aren't as obvious as you think they are. Instead of fuming about why they missed them, just say something.

"Why didn't you follow the elf?"

I thought it was a trap.

My character really wanted to look under the barrel before we left.

I think elves are stupid.

I want to fight undead.

Great, now you know. And all it took was asking.

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Players need goals. If they dont have goals of their own they are pursuing as the story teller/GM you have taken on the responsibility to provide some. What is the point of your campaign? Heroes come into being in order to champion a cause or fight an evil. Do these things exist in your world.

You tell me that there is a rediscovered dungeon promising wealth, but they havent explored it. Make it a threat. The ground rumbles and quakes awakening an evil in the dungeon that demands something be done to stop it... the same thing of the cult. The Queen extends an invitation to someone of note in the town and they need escort. With or without said escort they are attacked and the consequences actually AFFECT what is going on.

Make the world alive with or without the players and allow them to observe the consequences of their actions.... Murphy's laws of combat states: Everything you do can get you killed including doing Nothing.

Make something happen to point them in a direction... you dont want to shoehorn them? point them in 3 different directions and let them choose what to handle. Make that choice matter to your world. They escort the noble or he is attacked. But if the escort the noble they are too busy to stop the cultists from awakening the evil in the dungeon.

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Ask is one possible answer. This can be done either of the player(s) out of game or in-game by an NPC.

What are the PCs doing during their downtime? A slew of robberies start happening including some of their businesses. Connect the robberies to one of the locations in your wilderness. Make it personal as Hugo mentions.

At times I've done something really random, seemingly unconnected to anything going on already. Example, while running a Traveller campaign (Sci-Fi RPG) I had a body crash to the ground right in front of one of them having fallen from waaay high up in the building they were walking past. Maybe the PCs find out there's been a rash of stolen chamber pots ... (An Otyugh with unusual tastes??)

As Screaminjim said (roughly), have things happening around them. Remind them the world and events happen regardless of their interaction with the world.

Steal the PCs logbook (of plot seeds). Why was it stolen and by whom? What clue was in the logbook that made it a target? The theft needn't even be successful ... ransack their room while they're out, but nothing appears stolen. What were the thieves after? Signs (divinations if attempted) point to the logbook. Makes it personal, which general motivates most players more strongly.

Have a retired PC murdered/assassinated. Or more off the wall ... a dead former PC is discovered to be wandering around. Maybe they are undead or maybe alive but with total amnesia of what happened. Again gives it a personal connection. Clues, of course, point to something in the wilds you've prepped in any scenario.

PS: After thought. Many Players/PCs don't like to do what they're told to do, i.e. what might be called the "Don't push the big RED button" syndrome. So make them HAVE to stay in town. Put it under plague watch or similar so they're not allowed to leave town. They'll either sneak out or perhaps go looking to get paid to solve the problem. Naturally that leads to adventure in the wilderness.

Have an NPC or monster steal something/someone important to the PCs and escape into the wilderness with it. They'll presumably go after it, and this can lead them anywhere you like. This needs to be handled a little carefully to avoid their feeling that you're railroading or victimising them. Let them find the McGuffin, but not before they've got entangled in a few more side plots that might lead to other things.

Hugo Rune wrote:

I must admit that from the OP's description I see no impetus to explore the area.

If the campaign is literally wander around the wilderness until you bump into a random monster then there isn't much motivation to leave home.

Some obvious hooks would be:
1. Party accepts a commission to survey the area for potential resources.
2. Humanoids or a monster is raiding an area and the party is commissioned to find and exterminate the raiders.

The most obvious one would be to make it personal. The cult has decided that one or more of the characters' businesses are required in some shape or form to further their goals. What this is will depend on the business and the cult's goals but the cult would force the party to react and hopefully you are on your way.

You're partially right HR Puff n Stuff; currently there's no impetus to explore the wilds.

When the campaign first began, the mandate from the adventurer's guild was that the characters were to expand the area which they monitor, positioning the adventurer's guild as a kind of police force.

Since then, the guild has monitored (with the characters' help) and then called them in for missions: the party initially explored one hex, found a ruined tower, and conquered it over the course of a few sessions. When they returned to the city they

1. Set up businesses in town

2. Investigated a cult from one PC's backstory, that was operating in a civilization hex

3. accepted missions from the guild that dealt with civilization

As I've said, they've explored one other hex. This was because I suggested that "fey energies" were seeping into the world and the portion of the hex they could see into seemed to be noticeably more wild than it should've been. They found an evil plant creature in league with the fey, stopped it, and then returned to their missions from the guild.

I don't want to keep handing out missions.

I definitely think I need to get a tad more "fantastic" with my game. One of the reasons most of the PCs' missions involved civilization hexes was because I took a fairly realistic, formulaic approach to their genesis.

In other words field agents of the adventurer's guild would either notice something and report it or a request would come from locals. Humanoid bandits; an evil cult; paganistic heresies coerced by the fey. All of these were things that affected real people in the area that the characters were charged with stopping.

At this point, the people are either safe for the moment or there are more level-appropriate NPC field agents dealing with these lesser threats. I need to broaden my "danger notification" system to include mid-level spells, random visitations by outsiders/powerful fey, etc.

One other thing, and here's where I kind of clash with my players, as a GM and a player I kind of accept a bit of curiosity getting me into trouble. Like, in our Reign of Winter campaign when I was a player I talked with every NPC, wandered the area around villages, followed random tracks one time, all while having no intel to go on other than what the scene provided me.

This isn't the case with the players in my homebrew.

They like missions b/c the reports and intel from the guild gives them a starting point. Once a mission gets accepted there might be an hour of gameplay up to an entire game session where the PCs are consulting libraries, hitting up contacts, reading old church writings etc, to gather every last fact about what they're dealing with.

When they finally arrive in the midst of the threat the druid and investigator kick it into high gear. The druid might Wildshape and scout for an hour in Tiny animal form; the investigator uses Fast Stealth and perhaps Invisibility to look over the immediate area. There are an abundance of monster knowledge checks, geography, and so on.

Only once the PCs feel they've exhausted every possible means of reconnaissance does the "adventure" get underway. At that point it usually degenerates into a preset formula of attack methods that maximize success in battle, tons of half-moves, Perception and Stealth checks to ensure traps and secret doors are discovered, Scent on an animal companion, See Invisible and Detect Magic are kept on deck to ensure there are no other surprises, and then they neutralize the threat and go home to collect their reward.

So yeah... maybe I just need to change my play style and accept what my players like, now that I just wrote all that out...

Yeah, it sounds like they want to play a different type of game. Not everyone is good at open sandbox-style games.

They could probably use a good ticking clock or two. "Find this ancient artifact before the cult of doom destroys the world". Or "the kobold tribes are attacking! We must find the shaman that can restore their idol and convince them to resume peaceful relations".

Stuff like that. Players often have trouble developing their own motivations. When in doubt, play lots of the Kingmaker CRPG and just steal their storylines.

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Hi Mark, it sounds like you have two issues, both of which are quite easily solvable. The first is motivation, which as previously mentioned can be solved by making the antagonists' plans impact the PCs or their businesses personally. The second is a lack of urgency; there are no time pressures on the PCs so they can be ultra cautious without consequence.

I recommend that you take each of your antagonists in turn and write out a timeline for their plans on the assumption that the PCs don't interfere. If/when the antagonists' plans cross each other, work out what would happen. As the campaign progresses alter the timelines based on the impact of the PCs actions. If the players are always too late to intervene then they should get the hint to speed up their actions.

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Are you not personal friends with these people?

Can you not begin the next session with, "Are you guys having fun?" and "Most of the stuff I've prepared is out in the wilderness, is there a reason you haven't explored more?"

There's definitely a time for immersion and finding in-game reasons to do things. But there's also a time for taking a step back and just being friends.

Maybe one player has been dropping hints that she wants to try GMing for a bit and doesn't want to start a big arc as a player. Maybe another player is going through personal problems and he just wants to vent about his family for a bit. Maybe another has a few drinks before the session and isn't really paying attention to all the words.

You can spend the time to divine what everyone is thinking from their in game actions, but if you're friends, it's quicker to ask. If you're not friends, then you have to resort to trial and error or whatever to figure out peoples' motivations.

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