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I want to ask a question about an issue I'm seeing in my current D&D 5e campaign but I'm not sure if it'll get closed or not so I figured I could try workshopping it here first.

Background:

My players have missed a reoccurring "theme" in our campaign. I've dropped maybe 6-7 (relatively subtle) hints about it existing but they haven't picked up on it. Knowing the hint will make some future events clearer, but it isn't a be-all-end-all scenario and they can make it through without realizing the hint, it'll just be harder.

As an example, imagine that there's an ongoing motif of there being four things. Four-sided-icons, four pillars in the temple, the god has four names, etc. The quest is to find the god's missing magical macguffins. If they know four is a theme here, they know they're looking for four items. Otherwise, it's going to be rather nebulous from their side and make long-term planning difficult.

The Question:

I think my question is "If my players have missed all my hints for a non-critical story element, should I spoon feed it to them?" but that's pretty opinion-based. Basically I'm trying to figure out if I should cave and tell them the hint out-of-character to make sure they get it, or if I should just let them proceed without it.

I know there should be the typical "looking for DM and players' opinions based on experience" disclaimer, but is that enough to keep the question open?

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Yes, that would be opinion-based and closed. Asking us "should I cave or should I let them proceed?" is fundamentally a matter of asking us for our opinion and prompting discussion. That's the kind of things for forums (I've been told my question is better suited to a forum, but where should I go?) or for our chat.

You may instead want to ask us how to deliver clues and/or help them piece together the clues they've seen so far, or help them recognise you were dropping clues at all.

See for example this question: How can I help my PCs remember clues that they found?

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Any question that contains the phrase "should I do X" is opinion-based and "should" be closed. The primary problem is that this way of stating a problem pulls low quality answers.

Usually what you mean to ask is either

  • "How can I effectively do X in my situation" (define effectiveness per your values), or
  • "What are the pros and cons of doing X"? (Teach a man to fish...)

Obviously good answerers will answer a "should I" question as if stated as "pros and cons" so sometimes this happens naturally. But it also draws all the people out of the woodwork that want to say "yes" or "no," turning off the parts of their brains that consider that there may be other playstyles, that something might work in some cases, some groups, some games but not others...

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