Content of the article: "Why PCs Don’t Care About The NPC You Put Hours Into; Why They Love That Random Goatherd You Made Up On The Spot; Why They Ignore Your Plot; And Why They Do Weird Things"
Every DM has this experience. Either you put a lot of work into something and your PCs just don't care, or the big thing they care about is some random inconsequential detail that doesn't matter at all in the big overall story. Or both!
There's a single concept that explains this. It comes from improv theater.
When an improv actor says or does anything new, that's called an offer. I did an improv class one time where we just practiced accepting offers. I said "Let's invade Kentucky!" and this other guy said "I'll get my camo hat!" The idea is just that the first person would put out an idea and the other person would pick it up and build on it.
D&D is not like that, but D&D does have offers, and they mostly come from the DM, especially when a game is getting started. If you say to the players "you discover that Count Vampire McVampire from Bonjovia is behind the murders!" this is an offer. People often think that it is guaranteed that players will care, but it is not guaranteed at all. And if the players ask a guard for a directions, and you randomly mention that the guard has a mustache, that is also an offer. You might assume that it is guaranteed that the players will not care about the guard's mustache, but you will learn otherwise. The mustache is an offer, and some PCs will ignore the BBEG and seize on the importance of the guard's mustache.
Often the best way to have a good game is to rebuild your entire plot to be a conspiracy about mustaches, because that's what the players have chosen to chase now, and they will chase it whether or not it exists.
If you think of D&D as a thing with a plot and a story that the DM provides to the players, the whole mustache conspiracy factor will exhaust you.
So don't think of it that way. That mental model is unfortunately a reasonable interpretation of the way people write up adventures — but it'll just make you crazy, or at least tired.
Instead, think of D&D as an improv game where every player can put out offers to the other players, but most offers are going to come from you, the DM, and the players are going to reject most of those offers.
The number one mistake that DMs make, especially beginning DMs, is assuming that the players will take the "right" offers and ignore the "wrong" offers.
Instead, just say "I'm going to throw out a bunch of offers and see where the PCs want to go." And instead of planning a whole storyline ahead of time, build out a few different directions. If they take up the Count Vampire McVampire offer, have a followup offer like a vampire hunter looking for a magic amulet, or whatever. But be prepared for them instead to want to find out more about who the victim was in the latest murder, and set up an offer there as well — maybe a widow seeking revenge, or something.
The big win here is if you set up a couple different offers per game, but they don't take you up on every offer, you'll have a bunch of extra stuff ready for those weird occasions when they get obsessed with the guard's mustache.
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