Gms, are your players losing focus? Do you struggle to keep them invested in the story? Do they like to run rampant for no reason at all?
How do I keep them on track (mostly)?
One of the easiest things you can do is to simply award “story experience points” to you players. I have known a few DMs and GMs to do so while others stick to only CR-based experience points. Both ways to play are fine, but if you need that extra little push to keep your players on track, reward them for it. This push tends to encourage players to not just seek out the nearest monster or lair. With additional points being handed out, the players are less likely to spend an entire session grinding out experience points.
So how do you award the players?
Well, there are many ways to hand out the story-based experience points. I like to stick to a rule of “if it advances or evolves the story-line/plot, then reward the party.” These awards can range from maybe just 50 XP for something small, or even 1,000 XP for a big goal. Finishing an adventure, quest, or campaign arc all are worth extra points (just in time to possibly bump the players up a level for the next adventure).
Example #1: “Players are needing to go do _____, but they seemed to have missed your obvious hints. One player decides to check back through his notes and catches the name of an important person that might hold a clue. They go and find the person and then find the answer to help them move forward.” – Something like this would hold a small reward, 25-50XP. You do not want to encourage them to routinely ‘miss your hints’; however, because they took the initiative to get the group back on track, hand a small reward to the group.
Example #2: “After grueling months, surviving long sessions, and delving many dungeons, the group finally faces off against BBEG and wins. The group takes their prize and returns home to await the start of a new campaign.” – I would really monitor the total experience points of the players. I would aim to give the players around 1,000 experience, but if they need a touch more to get to the next level, feel free to give them the loose change. Your players will thank you for the boost, and your adventures and campaigns will thank you by opening up newer challenges right off the start.
So how do you handle your experience points? Are you greedy and force your PCs to beg for scraps? Or are your pretty liberal? Regardless of how you hand out your experience points, remember, keep the story moving. You and your group will have less hiccups if you can get them involved in plot-development.