CRB is a repository of all the creative things that float through my mind about the RPG Pathfinder. Two major features are random character generation and building characters based on the god they worship. Anything that seems like it adds to the creative aspects of the game will pop up from time to time, including location descriptions, adventure ideas and even short stories. CRB won't just be my own creativity, it will open the floor to anyone who has an idea sparked by what I present to you.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

May I Have Your Attention Please

I always tell folks that playing RPGs is like telling a story. You have protagonists, antagonists, and plot elements. The thing that separates a RPG from a standard story is the players. For many GMs the whims of the player are easy enough to work around;  you adjust the plot as the players affect the world. What isn’t easy to work around is keeping your players interested.

So you’ve set up your game for the week. This session is supposed to be thick on horror. You aren’t just throwing monsters and demons at your players, you’ve carefully chosen music and evocative descriptions of the area. You don’t just give your players sights but sounds, smells, and even emotions. You describe a room and then one player says, “Sorry, I wasn’t listening.”

The thing about players is they each have different levels of attentiveness as well as differences in which moods evoke what for them. This means the guy who’s super interested when you’re in the ruins and discussing the mosaic on the wall and its history may not be the guy who’s interested in why he has a chill in his bones while walking through a haunted house. You just aren’t going to be able to capture everyone at every turn.

When writing a book you don’t need to worry about the person reading it, they can pick it up and put it down on a whim. When running a game though, you are trying to keep the attention of a handful of players and that’s no small feat. The larger the group the tougher the feat is. I cap out at six and even I can’t always keep everyone focused. As a GM it can get frustrating.

The question becomes how do you handle this? The answer isn’t simple or one size fits all. Some folks get bored when they aren’t the center of attention. This is probably the hardest group to deal with because in a group setting you cannot always be the center of attention. Assuming these people aren’t otherwise disruptive players, a reminder to stay focused will usually suffice.

The second type of person returns to mood. Some people just don’t enjoy certain types of moods or themes. As a GM you need to know your group, not just as a party but as individuals. In settings where you know one or two players aren’t going to be into that theme or that mood you may want to keep that portion of the game shorter.

Sometimes the hardest person to deal with is the one who doesn’t do it on purpose. I play with plenty of younger players as I enjoy teaching the game. I also find that some of the older players may have ADHD or similar traits. When not immediately invested in something, or after long (which is relative) periods of time these players will just naturally lose attention. I find that breaks help a lot. Knowing how often to give breaks is more of an art than a science but after a while you figure it out.

We’ve all heard horror stories about the guy at your table who sits with his nose buried in his phone while you’re gaming. And this guy could be any one of the three types of inattentive players I’ve mentioned. Now multiply that exponentially when you play online. Your players are setting in front of the biggest time sink on the face of the planet with all the information known to man at their fingertips. It is incredibly easy to lose their attention.

Now don’t get me wrong I love online play, my games are almost exclusively online now. I have a Shattered Star game I run, imperfectly, and the Rise of the Runelords game in which I play an investigator. While I find online play adds quite a lot of positive aspects, it does come with its own pitfalls. Keeping everyone’s attention is one of them.

Whether you’re playing online or in person I think the single biggest way deal with attentiveness is through talking. It’s easy to get frustrated as a GM and if a lot of the online discussions I see are any indication there tends to be a combative tone between many players and GMs. At the end of your game, talk to your players about what they liked and disliked. Knowing your players is key to keeping their attention. During these discussions is the time for you to express your feelings as well. It is perfectly OK to say, “Hey guys I put dozens of hours into this and it feels like some of you aren’t paying attention. It’s a little frustrating to me. Are there things I could do to help keep you invested?” Talking will always be your single most valuable tool.

So GMs new and old, it happens to all of us. As a player I’ve also been the inattentive one, some days you just don’t concentrate well. Remember the keys are to know your players, assess where issues are on your end, and talk about the issues you are having with your players.

Have you had issues with player attentiveness? Have you been a player who hasn’t been able to stay invested? How do you address these issues in your game, as a player or GM?

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