It is fair to say that in any long-running group, boredom will set in. Dungeon-crawls become more procedural and less exotic. Monster-slaying is blasé, and most certainly less of a threat to the party. Yep, the campaign has become too easy; stale. What is a DM to do?
There are three solutions – they aren’t the only ones, but these will get you thinking. Consider two-hit or three-hit monster combos; train a new DM within the group; or switch up the character-creation. I can already feel you thinking, “Wait you charlatan! What does any of this mean?” Don’t worry. I have you covered.
Two or three-hit monster combos means throwing complimentary monsters in the way of the party. In a previous AD&D game I ran, players – 6 total – complained that my dungeons were ‘too easy.’ The next campaign, I gave a party a request to stop a handful of iron golems from sacking the local town/village/dell/whichever. The party thief had a very difficult time tracking the golems – who were wearing dark blue clothing from head to toe, making them difficult to see without some serious focus.
The thief led the party to a cave that led to a not-so active volcano. The party thought very little of this: you need a lot of heat to create an iron golem. In the dungeon were a few iron golems, but not the five that kept ravaging the town that commissioned the party. Also in the dungeon were medium to large fire elementals – a lot of fire elementals (current CR of 3/5). Along the way, the party finds the journal of a gnomish engineer. The volume is full of hateful rants, and how his golems will bring an end to the ‘big jobs’ that made his life a living hell.
A smart party would retreat for now and re-equip, possibly anticipate fighting five or more iron golems. The wizard and cleric would prepare some protection against fire spells and some water spells. This specific party did not do this. They heard ‘gnome’ and thought it was an easy target.
The hook here is that upon arrival in the rather humongous antechamber, there was no gnome. There WAS, however, a very large, old red dragon that was chased out of his previous lair by another party and saw a volcano with a tactically inept gnome who made a nice snack. Meanwhile, the gnome made three dozen iron golems that now stand between the party and the dragon, who sends five of them out every night to gather gems, gold and whatever to rebuild his treasure pile. The dragon is pretty weak from his last encounter and honestly can’t take a six-man party at around level 5.
So you have a huge to humongous dragon aged between ‘adult’ and ‘old.’ Red dragons have a line of fire breath weapon. Anyone who has read a monster manual knows that fire heals iron golems. If you really want to take the screws to the players, allow a random chance for one of the fire elementals to ‘suicide bomb’ the party, causing a mild explosion that may or may not harm the PCs, but will heal the golems.
A couple campaigns like that, and they’ll beg you for the old days…or maybe that’s the challenge they wanted in the first place.
Bringing in the DMs
Bringing on a new DM is hard, but it’s refreshing for everyone in the game. Any group who has gamed for a long time should allow a DM to say that she’s tired of running games and wants to set up alternating DMs. I have yet to find a party that says no to this. A group that is reluctant can be easily coaxed into doing it by having new DMs get trained by the existing one. ‘Teach a man to fish,’ as they say.
Have the party create brand new, level 1 or 2 characters. Make sure the fledgling DM knows the ‘house rules.’ Our popular house rules included ‘level 1’s never die,’ or ‘ignore encumbrance until later on.
Show the DM how to do a one-session contained campaign. Something akin to ‘get the troll that’s eating my cows.’ Groups are forgiving of a new DM, and will not hesitate to give their own input as well.
After a session or two of guiding the new DM, assign him to create a CR 3-7 campaign. Allow the person to set their own pace, but be ready to suggest some ideas. The new DM could realize she has a knack for this, or maybe the budding DM needs a lot of hand-holding. Remind the new DM that running a game is more of an art form than an exact science. There is always room for a DM to set up their own rules. Every single tabletop RPG has a line that talks about the rules being ‘guidelines only.’
Roll up a character and enjoy being a player. The change will be good for everyone.
Mix up the Classes
I was in a gaming group where the same seven people were always cleric, barbarian, monk, ranger, mage, and thief. No matter how many times we rolled up characters, it was always this assortment, always. After a year, I gathered the character sheets and showed the party that the only different between some of these characters were innocuous physical traits, names or occasionally races.
I made a decision I rarely made: by fiat, everyone got to play classes they don’t frequently touch. I made everyone roll up level 4 clerics…except the cleric, who I made roll up a fighter (who for the sake of RP, I allowed to be a devout follower of Corellon Larethian). The party griped a bit, and it’s not a popular option making players engage in a class they find unappealing. I did this after politely asking the players to try something new and they refused.
Maybe this option is too extreme. ‘Softer’ options include setting a class ‘quota.’ “Okay everyone, we need 3 combat classes, 1 and only 1 magic user and a support class.” This means someone can still take the barbarian, a ranger, and a monk, but the mage and cleric players need to debate who gets what.
New classes have a different feel. Clerics can chose between close combat, or medium-range magic users. Rangers are close or long range – a balanced one can do both. Changing these up makes people see how the other classes fit – this also has the added bonus of bring in more group cohesion (if needed) by having people play in other player’s shoes.
Ideally, your group never gets in this rut. I love playing magic users and have had to take ‘fighter’ clerics or barbarians to keep things fresh. I was in a group that had 9 people and everyone had different ideas on how to play, and it rarely got stale. In short – I got lucky. When I ended up running that group, it was down to 6 with half of them being new people.
Keeping things fresh is a shared responsibility of the PCs and the DM, but since the DM is ‘leading,’ the onus to instigate change is on the DM. Obviously, your mileage may vary, but these can all bring in a fresh feel to a group that thinks everything is just a little ‘too easy.’