Keeping Players Engaged

Hello and welcome to Only On Tuesdays! This week we are going to discuss how to keep your players engaged during your sessions. In this world of technology and distractions that we live in, keeping your players engaged can be a very challenging thing to do. But, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to keep your players engaged and attentive. Learning how to engage your players and keep them focused is a great skill to have as a DM, and eventually, you can even get good enough at it to have them begging for more.


Learn When the Player is not Engaged

As a DM, there are a lot of things you have to juggle. This can make it easy to not notice if one or even multiple players become disengaged with the story. Spotting this lack of interest is very important as it highlights that the player is currently not having fun. Learning when your players get disengaged can help you become a better Dungeon Master, as it gives you the chance to not only revitalize the session, but it also shows you where you need to improve and hopefully make things more fun in the future.
How can you tell if someone is not interested? Here are a few things that I believe may show disinterest:
  • Keeps on checking their phone even when their character could be relevant in the scene
  • Doesn’t react to what’s going on (e.g. doesn’t laugh, smile, shout, etc.)
  • Has to ask what is going on whenever it comes to their turn
  • Is chatting with other people about things not relevant to the game
  • Doesn’t maintain eye contact
This isn’t a definitive list by any means, and sometimes, even these things I mentioned may not represent a player not paying attention. For example, someone drawing will not be maintaining eye contact during the session, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t paying attention. For some people, small things such as that can help them to keep focus, and maintain interest in the game. It is important to understand how your players show engagement and then handle it accordingly.

Re-engaging Your Players

You’ve noticed your players have lost interest in the game, and are no longer immersed in your world. How do you bring them back? One of the simplest methods to get interest back in the game is to directly ask your disengaged player(s) a question. A simple “what do you do” can kick-start a series of events that will bring your player back into the game without any further encouragement needed from you. By directly engaging with the player, you show them that you care about their input, and want to hear what they have to say. Oftentimes, players will begin to lose interest if they aren’t in the scene. Asking them a question can help to keep them focused, even if the spotlight isn’t on them.

 

If after asking the player what they do, they give a simple response and go back to being distracted by whatever was keeping their attention before, then you have a more difficult situation on your hands. This is a sign that your game is simply not entertaining them. Don’t take that as a personal attack either, sometimes during sessions that last 4-6 hours, there will be parts that aren’t entertaining. Learning that your game isn’t entertaining can be a valuable lesson, and can give you the chance to recapture the attention of your players.
Image result for shadowy figure with a gun
One thing that I like to do when players aren’t paying attention is to have a man enter the room with his sword drawn.┬áThis simple concept follows the rule of Chandler’s Law. “When in doubt, have a man enter the room with a gun in his hand.” Inciting action in the scene gives your players an immediate task that they have to deal with. It feels urgent and dangerous and gives your players a sense of purpose. Chandler’s Law is even useful if the players are already in combat. If your players are getting bored of the current fight, shake it up and introduce a third element that neither side knows anything about. The point of Chandler’s Law is to introduce an element that demands attention. This should hopefully bring the players back on track.
If after attempting all of these things and your players are still distracted, the next best solution might be to simply talk about it. If phones are the primary distraction, politely ask your players to pur their phones away while they are playing the game. If something else is distracting the players, talk with them and see if you can find a solution to the distraction. Most issues at the table can be solved with a simple chat, and asking your players why they are getting distracted might provide some beneficial insight into how you can solve the problem.

Keeping Them Engaged

Getting their interest is easy. Keeping it is the difficult part. Maintaining engagement throughout the entirety of a session is not easy, and should not be expected to happen all the time. Dnd sessions can last a long time, and it would be ridiculous to ask for rapt attention for the entirety of it. It takes a lot of practice and knowing your players, but it is possible to keep your players entertained for an entire session, and even get them begging for more.
The trick to constant player engagement throughout an entire session lies in pacing. Pacing is vital to entertainment in general and is an excellent tool for DM’s as well. The concept behind pacing lies in how you handle the intensity of the game. As cool as it sounds to have a game at 100% intensity for the entire game, that can be exhausting for your players. Introducing points of rest in between points of action gives your players time to breathe, and mentally prepare themselves for the next point of action.
Photo Courtesy of Gamasutra
Pacing is vital to player engagement because of the way it hooks them into the game. Pacing done right can keep your players engaged because it sets up a flow to the game that will have your players constantly awaiting the next encounter. After they have a chance to take a breather from their last confrontation, the next one is already beginning to build up the tension, thus keeping them hooked until they can achieve closure with the next scene. You can keep on repeating this, building the tension, even more, each time, until finally, you hit the climax, and let all of the tension release.
Of course, if you want to be evil to your players, you could always let the tension build up to its crescendo, and then announce that you will be meeting again next week. As awful as that sounds, cliffhangers are great for building up excitement for the next session and will have your players thinking about the game constantly. Used sparingly, they can create a ton of interest in your game before it even begins.

Conclusion

Player engagement can be a tricky thing to spot and manage. Learning how to see it, and deal with it is a vital role that the DM plays. Even the most vigilant of players will eventually get distracted or bored of the game, and learning how to rekindle their interest in your game is a great skill to have. The next step is learning how to keep them engaged throughout the entirety of a session, and through the use of pacing, it is possible to not only keep them interested but also hopelessly hooked throughout your adventures.
Thank you for reading, have a great week and an amazing Tuesday!

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