I've noticed a trend lately. One that was so slow it snuck up on me. Yet its a problem that persists at many game tables around the country: Dungeons & Dragons has become boring!
Low Effort PlayersMany players these days, young and old, have adopted a video game mentality when approaching challenges in D&D. It's no longer about trying to solve a complex puzzle, negotiating your way out of a tense situation, or describing in detail how your character disarms a trap. Nowadays its "I made a knowledge roll", or "I want to make a perception check". Boring! How about we all get off our cellphones (I've been guilty of this myself), and pay attention?
Solution: Ask the players to write a two page biography about their characters, so that they know who they're playing, at a more than "sheet-deep" superficial level. Next, ask the players to put away their character record sheets, and truly role-play using nothing but the descriptions from the GM and their own wits.
Hand Waving Away the MinutiaeThis is an epidemic everywhere. Encumbrance? Gone. Components for spells? Dead. Meticulous research of magic spells, scribing in spell books, and quests to find all-important focal items? Slashed and burned. When was the last time you tracked time? Or a torch burning out? When has your character began to starve, or develop major blisters on their feet for somehow hiking 20 miles cross-country with overburdening packs and no pony or wagon?
Nowadays, players & GMs alike have the wrong attitude. They think all of this "stuff" that makes the game is a chore, so they simply ignore it away, then wonder why the balance is out of wack.
Solution: Read the rules, follow the rules, as the author intended.
No True ChallengeIn modern times, Game Masters have lost sight of the adventure because all they focus on is the campaign. Gone are the days of true excitement when you and your buddies had all Friday night, all Saturday, and some of Sunday, to overthrow the Lich Council that is pouring forth thousands of undead wizards. When the GM would pump you and your friends up with visceral descriptions of how epically awesome the weekend was going to be. Everyone ordered pizza, brought snacks, and drank entirely too much soda. No sleep was had because you and your forces marshed against a true evil that, in all likelyhood, was probably going to take over the world. You only had 24 real-world hours to save the day!
Instead, this fast burn has been replaced with a gradual warming. Your character is supposed to grow from level 1 to 20, which will take years, so slow down there partner. Don't get too excited. You've gotta grind some rats, kobolds, and street thugs down by the docks. The party pinballs from one sorta-important quest to another, with no lasting consequences whether they're successful or not.
Worse yet, the Game Master holds your hand the whole way through; dropping obvious directional markers for the players, fudging poor rolls, and padding the adventure with low-level grunts and plenty of rest time. And since resource management is gone (see above), everything has devolved into a mindless slog that makes no difference if you miss a week's session or not.
And ever since 3.X to 5E, dying isn't really a thing anymore (unless a monster gets a massive one-shot hit), thanks to plenty of potions, healing & reviving spells, healing rests, tons of HP, and several rounds of rolling dice when your down (designed to give the party time to get to the downed adventurer and save them).
Game Masters even give out XP when certain "milestones" are reached, rather than making the party earn their XP from monsters slain, hordes hauled, or secrets revealed. The players just have to show up and they get rewarded (whether or not they make any effort at the table).
Solution: If the players aren't in a dark, weird, and truly dangerous world; you're doing it wrong. Make the party fight tooth and nail, stack the deck against them, and truly try to kill them all off. The players will complain at first, but quickly understand the terms: band together and survive, or perish and let evil prevail.
Build real suspense and make lasting memories from a session that truly matters, and isn't just phoned in. Every character's strengths should be needed, and every weakness exploited.