Dungeons & Dragons Online

I’m looking for advice on how I can respectfully tell my players what I expect from them

TLDR: How reasonable is it to expect your party to work out solutions to the situations you make for them? Alternatively, how can you respectfully tell your party to pay more attention and try harder to solve situations you put them in?

I did the TLDR because this will be long but boils down to that question. I’m playing with three friends. Me and one other have been playing for about three years, the other two are all one year. They are great players and very into roll player and am very happy with them, but I was a little disappointed in our last session.

Another TLDR: here is a short metaphor to describe the story below:

You as DM set up a whole bank heist filled with Oceans 11 twists, set pieces, multiple moving parts and pages of dialogue. You finish giving the floor layout to the party and one of the players is like

“I shoot a fire ball at the safe.”

“Uh wow okay. Roll damage.”

“40”

“That’s not enough. It doesn’t open and now the city guards are here to arrest you.”

“This was an unwinnable situation.”

How can you respectfully tell the player that they need to try harder?

I’m running my first home brew campaign where I dropped the players in a Wild West sort of region. The characters are not familiar with the region. Last night, the players stumbled on a logging settlement in the woods. The Lumberjacks were being attacked by Treants and mysterious vines, so the party stepped in to help.

After the fight, the leader of the lumberjacks tells them his story: his people come from a town in the region that is oppressed by a classic early industrialist corporation that was working his people, including the children, to death. They eventually packed up and moved into the woods where they could live free. Things were going well for a few months until the attacks began. He then told them that he thinks an old legend about a mythical lady of the wood might actually be real and she is responsible for this. He hires the party to find out who is behind the attacks and deal with them.

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The party goes off into the woods with two lumberjack dmpcs where they are eventually confronted by an ancient dryad living in the forest. She is able to sneak up on them (+9 Stealth and pass without trace) and capture them using wall of thorns. She immediately separates the two lumberjacks from party and offers to talk, as the party are outsiders and not involved in the quarrel.

She explains that she has lived in the woods for thousands of years and considers the lumberjacks to be killing her children. She says that the only compromise she is willing to make is letting them leave the forest alive if they “pack up tonight and walk out, planting acorns and apologizing to every tree they pass.”

After some deliberation, the party basically just agrees to do this. They go back to the logging camp and try to convince the lead lumberjack that he needed to plant magical acorns the dryad gave them and then pack up his shit and hit the road. When he refused to do so, a member of the party argued that it was either that or die.

I had him roll a persuasion check and he got a 17. I had the lumberjack say something like “you’re telling us that we should apologize to the monster that’s killing us and then give up our home? You say the situation is hopeless but the dryad is willing to send you back to deal, so she’s clearly not as all powerful as she claims.” The party just kept insisting she would roll over them and kill them all, and eventually I ended the session with the dryad seeing the negotiations have deteriorated and showing up with her forces and attacking.

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Afterwards my players were like “it seemed like we were destined to fail. We told them they were going to die and they still didn’t want to leave. They were being unreasonable. Nothing we could do” which is really frustrating because I had a lot of different ways they could tip the balance. They could have used insight to see that despite her confident front the dryad was looking worn out and exhausted from all the fighting. They could have negotiated to bring back the two lumberjacks, or hell even one of them as a sign of good will, but they left them to die. They could have done a bunch of things, but instead they treated this negotiation like I, the DM, was telling them “all the lumberjacks will die if they don’t leave” instead of a character bluffing.

Alternatively, they’re seeing not getting a peaceful solution as them losing. I made it to be a moral question they had to work out: you are confronted with two groups on different sides with good reasons to hate the others. If you can mediate that, well done but it will be hard. Instead, they did the bare minimum and now it seems like they think I did a shitty job writing the session because it was unwinnable.

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I want to be like “guys the dryad is LYING!! She’s got a CR of three! She’s using impressive spells to intimidate you and if you tried just a little bit you have a chance to see past the ruse!”

But I also don’t want to prompt them to have to do these checks. They should be the ones thinking “this weird lady is telling us she can solo a camp of lumberjacks even though she’s been attacking them for weeks and hasn’t driven them away yet… I’m gonna do an insight check to see if there’s something she’s not telling me.”

I don’t want to be unreasonable, but I also work really hard at writing these and I want my players to give me the same courtesy.

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