[RPG] Could a campaign become demotivating, if there are too many options?


For our last session I decided to put in a sidequest for my group expecting them to just finish it as they get it.

But they were in different interests, while some of the characters (or actually the players?) wanted to do the side quest, others didn't realize it and aimed for the main quest line. Luckily, the group decided to collectively finish the side quest first, leaving me not to worry about it. But this made me rethink the way I was planning to design the campaign after this adventure finishes.

In the progress of the current adventure, the characters will acquire shares of a business. Where in the next adventure, on some occasions I'm planning to make a side quest which requires actions whose outcome has an impact on the business. Also the adventure itself has 2 main questline(ish) events that will later interweave. But at all this would mean the group has (in the beginning at any point) at least 2 primary quests to do, while there sometimes might be even a 3rd semi-optional quest which also shouldn't be ignored for too long.

So as the last time the party was on a point, they had to decide how to go on between just 2 options and it felt to me more like a discussion as like a game, I'm now worried:

Is this adventure design fine to go with for DnD5e?
Or are there any design problems that could reasonably cause moments of dissatisfaction in the adventure, caused by too many choices of the ways to take?

Best Answer

I've DMed in a lot of different ways over the years, and I love building sandboxes, but often players get confused and lost if there are too many options. I've evolved a way of keeping the sandbox feel, which make the world feel real and evolving around the players, and keep my own sanity for preparation and the players not feeling overwhelmed, in a few simple ways:

  1. I pepper the world with things that could be entry points for quests or adventures (plot coupons). The barmaid that looks troubled....that mysterious scroll you found in the last dungeon....the weird laws in the last town you entered...the goal being that all of these things are out there, but aren't things I'm actively pushing towards (see point 2). At any point the players could get curious about them, and spend time investigating them (and I'd be ready to roll down that pathway) but they won't pick up on most of them, and won't care about most of them.

  2. Give the players options when they feel lost. I like to recap the last session by bookending it with their motivations. E.g. When we last played the party was investigating X. insert action recap here. So what do you want to do? Continue further into the dungeon to try to find X, or escort the prisoners you've found back to safety? Now, they can definitely do anything else and I'm not railroading them, I'm just reminding them of their options (and usually whatever they discussed last time to get the discussion going again). If it comes to a point where the party is just undecided and can't make up their mind (happens more with new players) I'll remind them of one of the many plot coupons they have picked up. (e.g. They are worried about fighting the dragon they know is ahead, so I remind them that they just picked up a strange dwarven sword, and the smith in the last town seemed to know a lot about runesmithing).

For your particular concerns with the business, I would make it a set piece that generates x money every week/month. Eventually the players will want it to generate more, in which case you tell them about ways to do it (quests). Alternatively, if you really want them to focus on their business, have them go to collect their money one day and find the windows smashed in or boareded up, and the workers scared because they had been robbed (or have the guard come and question the players because of the same).