5E Player's Attention

mortwatcher

Explorer
Orcs attack. Seriously, just throw some monsters at them, that ought to get their attention.
Or give us more context, because I can't help you with what you posted.
 

nobody69.420

Explorer
Well, I'm planning on doing waterdeep dragon heist adventure with them, and it doesn't have a whole bunch of monsters.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
First, ask for them to pay attention, then ask them what about the game isn't holding their attention.

From your own observation, what parts of the game are they tuning out on? What can you do to minimize those parts of the game or make them more interesting?
 

mortwatcher

Explorer
It is a city of humans, the worst monsters of them all.
Alternatively, have them chip in. How do the NPCs look like, which fraction they want to get in touch with and why.
 

nobody69.420

Explorer
First, ask for them to pay attention, then ask them what about the game isn't holding their attention.

From your own observation, what parts of the game are they tuning out on? What can you do to minimize those parts of the game or make them more interesting?
Thanks!
 

Ralif Redhammer

Adventurer
I’d say ask them what kind of things they want to do in the game – do they prefer combat, role-playing, political maneuvering, etc. Players need to learn to share when people have different styles at the table, but it doesn’t hurt to play to your audience as a DM.

Another trick can be to loop them in on worldbuilding and description. It can be as simple as saying “you find an object about the size of a melon. Describe it to us.” Or more complicated, like “The chancellor does not trust you, and has a hidden agenda – why doesn’t he trust you and what does he want?”

Another thing you might want to do is take a 10-15 minute break, especially with longer sessions. That can help people refocus, and it’s not a bad thing to get up and stretch your legs.
 

dnd4vr

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!
The biggest issue at our table is players not paying attention when others are acting out their turns. Our DM is almost at the point of taking cell phones away LOL!
 
I noticed the following:
2 players.... very calm and attentive play.
3 players.... attentive play, some joking around.
4 players.... more jokes (bigger audience), some small chaos ensuing but still okay.
5 players.... players start talking to each other about unrelated things, just manageable.
6 players.... unless it's their first D&D session, not recommended.

I prefer 3-4 players, do not really like 5+
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
The biggest issue at our table is players not paying attention when others are acting out their turns. Our DM is almost at the point of taking cell phones away LOL!
How long are people taking on their turns? One thing I've noticed at other tables is that players are planning what to do on their turn instead of acting, which is a huge no-no at my table. Your turn is for acting, not for planning or stalling by asking 20 Questions (another common player tactic when they haven't planned off-turn). I think a turn is 30 seconds or less, ideally, which means your turn comes back around in less than 5 minutes. If they can't stay off their phones for less than 5 minutes, they may want to check into getting help for smart phone addiction.
 

DM Dave1

Adventurer
For my next campaign, I'm seriously considering setting a paper-character-sheets-only rule. That immediately eliminates the temptation of flipping from DnD Beyond or electronic character sheet to just take a "quick peek" at the latest Pavlovian notification. In fact, I might ban all electronics at the sessions, except at set breaks. I'm fortunate that the player pool where I DM is large enough that I can screen out the, er, screen-addicted. Or maybe such a rule will help some of them break the habit, if that's what is going on.

I mean, it seems self-evident that practicing mindfulness, practicing presence, allows one to extract the greatest joy out of the game. Allow yourself to be immersed (however you like to define that term). Listen carefully to what the DM and the other party members are saying. Think about how your character would think/act/feel in response. Then be ready to tell us about it when your turn comes around. It's really easy to do this as a DM because you literally have no time to think about anything else other than the session. If you drift off as DM often, the game is ultimately going to fizzle out. It's in the DM's best interest to be completely present at the table. At the very least, it is a matter of respect for the players to do the same. Don't get me wrong, I love me some good puns and pop-culture references and silly jokes at the table that might break "immersion" for some - but to me that is one signal that you're engaged and present and paying attention. And that's really what I'm at the table for: to have fun and get stuff done (to paraphrase one of ENWorld's gurus of DMing). Be there with me at the session, people - the internets can wait until we take a break or until after the session.
 

dave2008

Legend
There are a couple of things that can help keep players attention, depending on what the issue is. Here are some suggestions:

1) Time limit for a players turn: 60 sec max. (maybe even 30 sec. max). If there is only 2 minutes between your turns, you tend to pay more attention.

2) Setting / mood music / sounds. It has helped keep players engaged at times.

3) Consequences for not pay attention paying attention: If they are not pay attention when you describe a scene / environment / scenario, provide a consequence for missing the important information. Some possibilities:

  • They simply miss important info. Explain to them later that they missed an important clue. Either directly or through context later.
  • give disadvantage on relevant check for not paying attention; or give advantage on a check when a player uses your description to inform a check or action they want to do.
  • give inspiration when a player uses your description to inform a check or action or similar

4) Players make all the rolls. There is a DMG option for players making saving throws instead of the DM rolling for attacks. I don't like to do it (as I, the DM, like to roll dice too), but it has been very effective for keeping wandering minds engaged during battles.

5) Be demonstrative: It is awkward, especially at first, but be more dramatic in your presentation. It took me a long time to work on this one, but I think it is very effective. I don't do voice acting very well or often, but I will raise and lower my voice, use sound effects, and slam the table if needed for dramatic effect. If I am entertaining, the players tend to be more engaged.
 

BookBarbarian

Expert Long Rester
The biggest improvement I saw at my table was to switch form asking the group "What do you do?" to asking individuals "What do you do?"

Now every player knows that in a given scenario they are gong to be asked what their character does, they can't just sit around let the bigger personalities at the table make all the decisions until initiative is rolled. So they spend more time thinking about what their character is going to do and the phones just took care of themselves.
 

Ralif Redhammer

Adventurer
#1 is definitely a killer. A battle can be rolling along and then when you get to a player that just stares silently, wheels turning in their head, that’s when you start hearing side-conversations, phones come out, and dice start getting stacked. I don’t mind when players have some questions on their turn, but it’s not fun for anyone to sit and wait while the warlock takes three minutes to decide whether they’re going to cast Eldritch Blast or not.

As for #3, I'd recommend concentrating more on rewarding the behavior you want to see, rather than punishing. Advantage is great for that. Disadvantage, on the converse, might only increase the disconnect.

1) Time limit for a players turn: 60 sec max. (maybe even 30 sec. max). If there is only 2 minutes between your turns, you tend to pay more attention.

3) Consequences for not pay attention paying attention: If they are not pay attention when you describe a scene / environment / scenario, provide a consequence for missing the important information. Some possibilities:

  • They simply miss important info. Explain to them later that they missed an important clue. Either directly or through context later.
  • give disadvantage on relevant check for not paying attention; or give advantage on a check when a player uses your description to inform a check or action they want to do.
  • give inspiration when a player uses your description to inform a check or action or similar
 

DMZ2112

Chaotic Looseleaf
1. Set appropriate expectations. 100% focus is unattainable for the vast majority of groups. Aim for playing three out of every four minutes of a session. If you can do better than that, you're in good shape. If you're falling way under that mark, then worry about making changes. Pro session streaming has really inflated dungeon master expectations of what is possible at your average table, and even for the biggest streams, the jokes and 'downtime' are still a big part of why folks tune in (and what makes roleplaying fun!). I recommend watching some streams that don't have name recognition -- I think you will see more realistic play dynamics.

2. At your age it is hard to pick and choose your players, but one lesson it took me far too long to learn is that you don't have to roleplay with your friends and you don't have to be friends with your fellow roleplayers. Friendship is a great reason to game, but it is also an inefficient one. If high player focus is important to you, the best way to get it is with players who don't socialize outside the game. Conversely, if you want to play with your friends, be prepared to sacrifice for it.

3. Consider carefully what it is that is bothering you about the distraction at the table. Do your players seem bored? That is bad, and requires fixing (and is probably the subject of an entirely separate thread). But if your players seem to be having a good time -- just without you -- consider taking a deep breath, acknowledging that they would not be coming to your sessions if they weren't interested in what you have to offer, and considering that investment increases over time. Be patient and stay relaxed. Focus on running a good game. Player attention spans will improve.

4. Involve the PCs in what is going on. Strive to learn about what is important to your players and their characters and weave it into your story. It's a lot harder to get distracted when the dungeon master is making eye contact, addressing your character personally, and asking potentially threatening questions.

5. Be circumspect about getting medieval. I find that banning electronics or other distractions from the table works for some groups and not others, and needs a delicate hand. I've had players spend whole sessions daydreaming and wasting everyone's time who have never pulled their phone out once during a game, and I've had players who play Nintendo through whole sessions and somehow still maintain a clear grasp of what is going on and always have an action ready on their turn. The game goes on.

The most relevant point, I think, is that digital play aids have become a way of life for a lot of players, and I've seen groups turn ugly over dungeon master mandates like this. I used to run a game on Sunday afternoon, and got tired of the constant banter about football scores. I put my foot down, hard, and now I don't run a game on Sunday afternoon. :) The game didn't fall apart because the players demanded the right to discuss football -- it fell apart because too many of them depended on their laptops for their sourcebooks, character sheets, and even die rolling. They did not want to play my way, and that was it for us.

If you have players whom you know are abusing the presence of their gadgets to surf the Internet during the game, make the time outside of the session to ask them why and if they'd mind stopping out of respect for the group, but be prepared to be flexible.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
The biggest issue at our table is players not paying attention when others are acting out their turns. Our DM is almost at the point of taking cell phones away LOL!
Honestly, banning phones at the D&D table (barring emergencies) is a pretty reasonable policy.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
The biggest improvement I saw at my table was to switch form asking the group "What do you do?" to asking individuals "What do you do?"

Now every player knows that in a given scenario they are gong to be asked what their character does, they can't just sit around let the bigger personalities at the table make all the decisions until initiative is rolled. So they spend more time thinking about what their character is going to do and the phones just took care of themselves.
This is a great idea, I’m going to try it.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
I also found it helped my players get more equal spotlight which has been a huge bonus to me game too.
I think this will help with my group’s indecision problem too. It reminds me of the thing where, in a crisis, if you say “someone call an ambulance,” everyone waits for someone else to do it, so you have to tell someone specific to call. It’s the kind of advice that, once you hear it, seems obvious in hindsight. Which is usually the best kind of advice.
 

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