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?
3 thoughts on “Hey – It’s Your Turn Again”
I don’t have any good stories or tips really for keeping a players attention. The normal “Hey, it’s your turn” really has been about it for the games I’ve done. However, I have had to deal with obnoxious players and keep others from wanting to punch them… but that’s a different topic.
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I apologize in advance for how long this is likely to be:
As a very story-centric DM, I really struggled with this until recently. I want to say part of it is knowing your players, but really that is all of it. I have a few players that get really bored unless they are in combat, while a couple of the others begin to wander as combat drags on. I’ve taken on a specific way of setting up each session to engage each player. Let’s say, for example, the players are on the tail end of a major story arc and there is a bit of downtime. I had no combat planned for this session, so I instead had a festival. I knew this might be an issue for a few of our players, so I set up games for them to participate in, such as archery contests, an arm wrestling competition and most importantly a gambling table (it’s safe to say they have a weakness for gambling). They didn’t bat an eyelash at the lack of combat and they were all engaged as I weaved more story in between games. I also try to incorporate minor story pieces for each player in every session, be it hinting at unanswered questions, or raising new ones. This keeps me feeding them bread crumbs and helps keep each player hanging on my every word, hoping for that next clue. It’s really a balancing act that I find myself struggling with each time we play, but as I practice and become a better DM, the easier it becomes. The final thing that I’ve felt has helped the most is I’ve asked each player to give me a detailed back story, resplendent with friends, relatives and some conflicts they’ve had. I have shamelessly built my entire campaign around these histories. There is absolutely no better way to get your players to buy in when they helped build this world and these characters. I even had a player aim some colorful language my way when I ended the session on a massive cliffhanger. I’ve never been so happy to be cussed out. Anyway, my advice would be to figure out what they like and shamelessly build your sessions around those likes and dislikes and do not be afraid to push their buttons!
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Wise advice. I’ve rarely ended a session on a story-designed cliffhanger, but now I just might. Players beware! I tend to build the story plot and find a way to weave the characters into it, however with my newest story I am looking at doing just this – building it more strongly on the player characters. Once the story begins, we’ll see what stories I have to tell. Thank you for the great input and welcome!