Player focus

In the recent Fear the Boot #168, the guys on that podcast focused on how to keep a player’s attention during a game. The arguments for wanting players to stay focused are good ones, and I can pretty much summarize them with the following statement: “people have limited time to game, and everyone has agreed to spend some of that time gaming together.” There was some back and forth about how much time at the table should be spent gaming vs table chatter and when those instances are okay or not. I am on the side of table chatter is good because I’m there to relax and have fun with friends. But I like to keep it contained because I want to accomplish something in-game as well (for me is fun and relaxing).

There are two consistent times when I feel my attention wandering while the game is going on. Either during combat when its not my turn in a long round or during an role-playing encounter when my character is on the sideline.  On analysis, these two are the same situation: I have nothing to do and what’s going on doesn’t affect me. One the hallmarks of a successful board or card game is that each player doesn’t have a lot of downtime. Since the activities in D&D are quite varied and DMs differ a lot in style, downtime isn’t inherent in the system, and so there are things that can be done to minimize (but not eliminate) downtime. Less downtime means less time for loosing focus and playing Wii while someone else is acting.

For better or worse, the DM is the de-facto leader in most groups and so most of the blogs, books, and podcasts out their give DM advice for helping players stay focused and keep the game moving. I personally like keeping an explodeable cart on every street corner as way of drawing players back into the game.

Here are suggestions to my fellow players on staying focused and keeping the game moving:

  1. Respect the other players’ time. Come prepared; know your combat powers and rituals. Spend the time between rounds preparing in your head an A action (and a B action in case the situation changes). In an non-turn situation limit your time spent dominating the RP.
  2. Provide hooks in the conversation so the DM can pause it or bring in other players. After striking up a conversation with the barkeep, take your drink back to a table and sit quietly for awhile. After prying information out of the lord’s chamberlain, take a while to look at the nice tapestries.
  3. Don’t ramble on constantly and monopolize the game time.
  4. Bring in your fellow players. If you’ve got a rogue, take him with you to scout out the rooftops. A wizard? Suggest that he go to talk to the town’s archmage. If two characters are charsima-y, do a good cop/bad cop routine on a prisoner. Of course that’s just sharing the spotlight with one other character. I’ll to take more time to figure out what you can do for a whole party.You can also bring in another player unwillingly. If two of you are out scouting the town together, punch the guard and you both wind up in jail. Speak on behalf of another to an npc, or start a little something like stealing the halfling’s breakfast ration. Player’s note: only do these things sparingly. Some people won’t take kindly to you forcing their characters to act or being negative towards them, and even a tolerant group gets sick of one player’s jackassery.
  5. Get a combat buddy. Pair up with the guy next to you and help him plan his turn. Of course you have to make sure he/she is amenable to this type of gaming. It’s not about ego, but instead working together to solve a challenge.

What other tricks do you do help your fellow players stay focused?

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2 thoughts on “Player focus

  1. I’ve noticed that D&D games involve too much soda consumption and not nearly enough booze. Why is that? Is that a stupid non-gamer question?

    • While everyone has been responsible with their drinking, I don’t think my recycling bin supports this soda vs alcohol argument. Beer, wine and hard cider are frequent companions to the game and we occasionally break out a mixed drink or two. I particularly enjoy a Dark & Stormy. I find such beverages aid the creative process. 🙂

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