Player attention – sometimes it can be a bit difficult to maintain at the game table. Players aren’t always in the game 100%. There are unavoidable interruptions – pets or children want attention and sidebar discussions take place. That is okay – real life matters. When a group sits down to play though, there’s the expectation that adventuring and role-playing will take place. Stories are meant to be told, after all. Stay with me on this…
So what is a Dungeon Master/Storyteller to do when an avoidable interruption occurs? What do you do when a discussion or joke detracts greatly from the game session or worse, halts the game’s progress? That depends largely on you, your players, and the overall tone of the game. For the most part, I favor humor and talking at my table. I also pay attention to the players. If the game seems to have their attention and they are mentioning something in passing – who cares, right? Let it go, unless it gets truly disruptive. What about someone who decides to pull their phone or tablet out and start sharing music or videos in between turns? Let’s not forget the player who spends half their time at the table texting or scrolling through social media.
For those players who want a seat at the table, but have the attention span of a Gnome when the focus isn’t on them – you have many options. I prefer to keep the attention-grabbers in game and use them to add to the story. If necessary, I will pull the player aside or speak to them at the end of the session or beginning of the next. As a last resort, I have no problem calling the player out and asking them to leave the table if they’re being truly disruptive or disrespectful. Thankfully, I’ve only had to do that once.
For most of the situations that may arise there are simple fixes. A list of any house rules is a good idea: Dice that fall on the floor must be re-rolled, no Facebook at the game table, etc. Boom – problem solved (hopefully). If not, having an NPC (non-player character) kick in the door and take a shot at their character instantly brings attention back to that character (and player) and calls for them to act. Another option (and one of my favorites), depending on the game’s tone, is to mention something cryptic or threatening to the character and immediately pass to the next character’s action. Mentioning that a character has the feeling they are being watched or hear a strange, unnatural sound behind them and moving on to someone else’s turn is a good way to get a player pondering what is about to happen to them. Having a player roll dice and then not saying anything to them about the result is also a good way to bring a player’s focus back.
The bottom line is you’ve got to know your players and this often comes with time. Knowing the best way to maintain their attention means knowing what interests them in role-playing games and also having a good story to tell. If you’ve ever had a player’s attention slip, what has worked for you?