Dungeons & Dragons Online

Unsure how to procced with campaign

Hello Hivemind, I come seeking advice as is the purpose of this sub. So I’ve been Dming for roughly twelve years. There’s been some big gaps due to having no one to play with, moving, work, etc. My current group is a bunch of friends my wife made in college and they’ve become my friends too. They all have a mix of experience levels. Two of them have a good amount of experience, one of them has played before, my wife who has played 3 times in AL, and one person almost has the monster Manuel memorized because they dm for a different group. We play once every 3 to 4 weeks because we’re busy adults.

We just had a review to make sure everything was up to peoples expectations. I do general checks at the end of each session just to make sure no one has any issues that could lead to problems in the future. But this time we spent like 45 minutes discussing stuff.

Our first two sessions were somewhat railroaded. I was following the layout of this Reddit post and only gave them the option of going forward. There were no hallway splits or anything. It was great character development and trying to get the group to come together as one. Now I had originally planned on that to be one session but it got split up into 2 and a little bit of a third.

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This last session, was before our review, they defeated the boss and were freed from their dream like test. It was at this point I gave them options to do stuff. They could talk to someone who may know what had happened to them. They could just walk around town and ask around about if this happens to other people, if there’s a new drug on the streets. They had a sandbox. My players felt lost and confused because they didn’t know what to do, they had no clear path before them. So they basically asked me to railroad them again at least till we get to the main campaign hook. One player even suggested adding a NPC to help guide them.

I’m wondering what advice my fellow DMs have for this situation. I know that railroading is a frowned on thing, and I agree with that to a certain extent. Otherwise I wouldn’t have done it in the first two sessions, except it made sense that there be no other choices in dream.

The questions I have are, do I hardcore railroad them, no options only one way forward again? But let them turn around and decide to abandon the quest for something more urgent in their opinions. Do I softly railroad them, still give them options but limit to like 2 or three with back out plans? Or keep sandboxing and work on making my hooks sharper?

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Do I create that NPC or as I would call it a DM PC. If its suppose to stick with the party for an extended amount of time and not just one quest or an encounter, it’s a DM PC in my opinion. Also just to make it clear, I would make sure to keep the light off this character as much as possible because it is not his story that I want to explore it’s my PCs and how they interact with the things presented.

Any help would be very appreciated.

TL:DR: D&D group, of good friends, asks to be hardcore railroaded because they are newbies and unsure what to do with sandbox. Also one asked for a DM PC. Do I fight my instincts and go with it, or try something else?

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