Our lives are full of distractions and the game table is no exception. Whether the group meets in a game shop or the game master’s living room, they’re constantly bombarded with everything from cell phones to children, significant others and work emails. A big challenge to the modern game master is keeping their players’ attention over the din of this constant bombardment to the senses. By applying some of the same principals used in public speaking in business, game masters can capture the table’s attention and keep it despite the worst distractions their players can dream up.
As a game master, nothing is more discouraging than watching my players check out of the game. Sure, they’re at the table and rolling my dice, but I can really tell when they just aren’t feeling the game that night. Cell phones or handheld games come out and the players have left the proverbial building. There are a few things that I do to grab their attention and keep it, when I really want them focused on the Dark Necromancer instead of the disgruntled avain.
1 – Address any player issues first.
Especially if it is just one player who’s drifting off, make sure there’s not something going on outside of just a general zoning out. If it’s something personal, don’t pry but cut them a little slack. If they have a problem with the game – whether it’s a rules call you made earlier or an issue with the environment – you should address it before the game continues. This should go without saying, but I’m often surprised at the grudges players will haul around about minor things.
Sometimes it is an ego thing, as well. If the players feel you’re not paying attention to them they will return the favor!
2 – Put the big prizes up front!
Sometimes, the players just want to hear what’s in it for them. On those nights, you’ve got to change the way you present things to move the relevant information up front. Like a carnival game huckster, you have to put the big prize just within their grasp, then ease it back slowly until you’ve got their money.
Describing a room? Start with the treasure chest on the back wall and work your way toward them. By starting with the prize and then describing the obstacles they must overcome to get to it, they’ll hang on your every word from the start.
3 – Make it about them.
When a player starts to slip away, draw them back in by directing things their way. Body language like leaning forward or making eye contact can pull them back in. Lowering your voice will often draw them in as well, if they think you’re revealing a secret.
If it is more than one player that’s slipping away, consider having them roll a die! If I feel like my players are getting bored, distracted or just in general starting to zone out I’ll call for an Awareness/Perception roll or just roll a random die or two (or 12) behind the screen. I’ll sometimes have random passers by in the game shop roll and compare the result against an imaginary chart just to get a rise out of the players!
4 – Use their emotions against them!
When they’re emotionally committed to the game, they’ll be more likely to pay attention. You could introduce a bit of humor with a blundering monster in the dungeon or an obvious trap or ruse to get them chuckling. Or tug on their heartstrings by threatening a favorite townsperson or making the big bad’s actions more directly conflict with their character’s personal code. Maybe the vampire burned an orphanage to distract the fatherless hero or the hagmother is using the dwarf’s wife as a shield?
Whatever you do, drawing the players back in will yield a more engaging and enjoyable game for everyone at the table.
What do you do to keep your players’ attention when their minds wander? Let us know in the comments.
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