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Alright, so I've been gaming for...er...well let's say that I'd be a neurosurgeon if I had spent as much time studying as I've spent playing this blessed game. Anyway, my point is, I'm no newbie. And for the majority of the time I've been playing, I've been DMing. But for the first time ever, I personally have a group that cannot focus to save their lives (literally -- I've already logged several legitimate kills because they're just not paying attention to what's going on in the battle, e.g. that the party thief is standing RIGHT IN FRONT OF A PORTAL WITH DEMONS REACHING FROM THE OTHER SIDE!). Anywho, the players start talking about all kinds of crap during melee: the newest mini at the table, some new DnD book a member of the group has purchased, etc. Now, I understand that this stuff happens at every table to a certain extent, but it's gotten so bad that we'll only get through an encounter or two every 4-5 hours. It drives me as a DM to sheer boredom and insanity. I have considered that we have 6-7 players, so they might be getting bored between turns, as well, but I'm hesitant to turn anyone away. No one seems to have their planned attack teed up when it's their turn, I have to manage the initiative keeper CONSTANTLY, and someone is always looking at their power cards adding up their bonuses as if it's the first time they've ever played. It's driving me nuts, so I'm taking it to the Forums - HELP ME!!!!!

I spoke with my bro last night and he mentioned a few ideas he's used with his group in Utah to do everything from keeping players on their toes to making them extremely paranoid. For example, he once had a PC's pack get hit by a curse that made it continually spew out random objects (a chair here, a goblin there, a hundreds of rubber balls once a day, etc.). These are the kinds of ideas I'm looking for, but specifically for combat encounters. When offering suggestions, please keep in mind that the group's ADD presents itself primarily in a combat/melee encounter.
I cannot recommend your brother's techniques; what you have is an out-of-game situation, which cannot, CAN NOT be solved by doing this to their in-game characters.

First, you need to talk to your players and tell them that their lack of attention to the game itself is bothering you and making it less fun for you.  Not in an accusatory tone, not angrily, just tell them "Guys ... we really need to focus more on the game.  We don't get anythign done, it takes forever to wind up a fight."

All you can really do is encourage them to prep.  Ask them to pay attention between turns so they know who's where when their turn comes around, ask them to use that between-turns time to plan their moves, and have everybody write down all their bonuses BEFORE the game so the math is all done beforehand.

Also, I recommend scheduling some time at the start of the get-together to catch up on the week's goings-on and news and to socialize, and perhaps another break in the middle of the game for same, as well as for some players to go to the bathroom or refresh drinks and such.
Another day, another three or four entries to my Ignore List.
Make your own personal notes of their attack bonuses (which should be pretty much the same for all the attacks of a given character) and defenses and tell them all they need to give you is the d20 result. Then you can be the one to tell them that they hit or missed, or were hit or were missed. That won't fix everything, but it will reduce some of the paper shuffling.

When you let them know whose turn it is, let them know who is "on deck," and keep one eye on that player. You could even say that if a player doesn't have their attack ready when it's their turn, they get to make a basic attack, but that might just make them resentful.

Players not giving the same weight to imaginary events as the DM describing them, is a classic problem. Aim for better descriptions, if you can, but I don't see a much better way to handle it. If they're a younger group, take heart in the potential for them to focus more as they mature.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

How bad of an idea is a timer? Like that hour glass thing I have floating around from my board games?

How bad of an idea is a timer? Like that hour glass thing I have floating around from my board games?

Only that those kinds of timers are hard to reset. But a timer in general is not a bad idea. If the DM judges that you haven't made a a focused effort toward completing your turn by the time it goes off, you make a basic attack and move on. I've heard of people doing this, with some success.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.


How bad of an idea is a timer? Like that hour glass thing I have floating around from my board games?



A timer that I use is my hand flashing a big 5-4-3-2-1 in their face. They have that long to start telling me what they are doing or else they delay their turn. They don't lose it, but I move on to the next player until they figure out what they are doing. I don't always remember to do this, but it definitely helps the ADD type players pay attention. The bad news is that it requires a bit of paperwork reshuffling unless you are using combat management software like DM battle screen (Which I highly recommend, precisely for this purpose). I generally also give a heads up to who is on deck when a player starts their turn.

This strategy works on multiple levels, since it keeps the game going, rewards players who are paying attention, and doesn't punish players in a way they might resent you (they still get their turn and often times they will actually put more thought into it). Salla's advice for the other aspects is good and you should follow it as well.

Now this next piece of advice is highly situational on your group dynamics, but in my campaign there is a player who is the de facto party leader and I use him as a go between for me and the rest of the party. In situations in which initiative hasn't been rolled yet or even during combat when a major decision needs to be made, I will address him and him alone, and let him seek out the advice of the other players and give general direction for what the party does next.
Give your players awesome loot: Loot by Type
While I try to avoid the use of timers as much as possible, it sounds like it would really keep things moving in your game sessions.  You should start tracking initative yourself behind the DM screen.  If you want you can also use a Red and Blue Poker chip.  Red to the person who's turn it is and Blue for the person who knows they are on deck.  The players now have a physical activity they have to keep track of that prevents them from handling other things and let's them know where they are in the turn order.

Use a stopwatch or other such timer.  Most cell phones have a timer function somewhere in their tool set.  Give the player a minute to complete their turn action, or to be making their move.  Don't be a jerk about enforcing this, but do enforce it.  If they haven't selected their action and are executing it in under a minute, they delay and you move to the next player.  If they end up delaying the full round they take no action for that round and combat moves on.  An example of not being a jerk, if a player 'On deck' has selected their powers and is all set to go and the acting player does something that now makes the 'On deck' player have to rethink their move, be a little leniant with the timer.  I'd consider having the timer behind my DM screen, so I'm the only one who really knows how long anyone is taking.

Have them roll their attack dice and their combat dice together, this will also speed up combat.

If combat is moving faster they will have less time to wander off and do other things or allow other destractions to creep in.  I'm sure you're doing it already anyway, but try to keep other destractions off the table.  As a side note, let the group play catch-up for the first few minutes before game, and also take breaks during game to get snacks, bathroom etc.  They can hopefully get some of the side conversations and stuff done during break time, if they don't then just politely ask them "Hey, we're running something important, can we save the side chatter for another 20 minutes and then we'll take a break?"

It takes some practice to get in the habit of keeping attention, this goes for any subject or topic, even things we enjoy.
Tolkein was a jerk. Seriously, what DM sends 9 Wraith Lords at a Lvl 2 party of Halflings. The only 'correct' way to play D&D is by whatever method is making the group you have at that session, have the most fun.
Table talk is a natural and desireable aspect of a social game, such as D&D.  However, it can get out of hand, as it looks like is happening in your game.

I've had the same problem sometimes in my game, and I go with a "lighter touch" approach than others have recommended.  Specifically, if it looks like the conversation is side-tracking the game, I'll jump into it for a little bit, and then use my magic word: "Anyway . . ." to shift it back to the game.

Does this mean that the game gets side tracked more than I would like?  Yes, it does.  But the fact is that one can never really know how things will play out when you start a "We need to talk . . ." conversation.  So if you can avoid it and still mostly solve the problem, I would.

Of the other suggestions that I've seen, allowing social time before the game and during breaks, having people roll attack and damage together, doing the math before hand, and letting people know when they are up next are all good ways to speed things up.  The timer thing is bit extreme, so I would only suggest that as a last resort: it will breed resentment.

Although this is not an option available to you right now, you should consider nudging your players towards the martial classes from Essentials for future characters.  Because those characters have a more limited range of options each turn, they can help reduce decision paralysis.

Understand that not all players are going to have the type of attention span that you would like, and that to a certain extent that is something that is a part of that person's nature-you need to find ways to accomodate that without making them feel defensive about something they may not be able to control.
Tricky situation and there are not any really easy ways out here is what i do with my group.

First when the show up around 5 oclock i usually have food finishing up, (I'm a chef and i make food every week). The foor gives up a nice way to gather at the table talk about where we are in the session and start the game slowly.

Next if people are dragging combat I will make bad things happen, IE if your not going to worrk about the rolling ball of doom coming down the hall, start taking damage, not saying kill them but usually that helps keep things moving. This may not work with your group if they are as bad as your rogue however.

Also i recently had a player and ex DM who started using folded note cards with our names lines up as initiative trackers THEY REALLY HELPED i cannot explain how much difference they made. I now even incorperated them into my gaming table.



If a player does not keep up in thier initiative And it becomes an Issue i personally would skip them. The game will go quicker if they want to continue playing and it just might be motivational to miss a round of combat or drop back in initiative order until they say something. (like "Hey i haven't gone yet and that goblin is hitting me a 5th time wtf")  I gaurantee the palidin in my game does not spend time playing pac man on his phone anymore.

I definitely agree with Salla and Barvas here. They've said the majority of what I would recommend.

Here's yet another option that might work: Make combat more engaging.
(Just to be clear: I am in no way implying that you aren't already doing this.)

You can do this a number of ways:
1) Roleplay in the encounter.
Whether it's intelligent creatures condescending to them in a fight or creatures making snarls and mad lunges toward their characters, they pretty much have to pay attention. This gets them invested in the encounter.

2) Add in-depth descriptions to get their imagination running.
"The beast's rotten teeth tear into your flesh. Your blood begins to run down your arm."

3) Shock value!
If the fight opens up with an explosion (metaphorically although literally works too) or something dramatic happens a few turns in, they'll be all ears.

4) Mystery.
Adding cryptic events or clues to something much larger whether it be in or out of an encounter will definitely get them curious.

5) Ask questions.
If they're not actively paying attention and it's their turn then simply ask them, "What is Melira doing?" You want to make sure to use their character's name in most instances. They have to react and respond if you're actively asking them what's going on.

There are plenty of other ways but I hope this helps.
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It sounds like the core problem is the players are OOC socializing during the combat encounters, and it's affecting the length of the encounter, and focus of the group. A few questions:

1) Do your players often see each other outside of game?
This can be a big contributing factor. My group rarely sees each other outside of the weekly game, and there is often a bit of side-talk as people catch up on stuff they've been meaning to talk to each other about.

2) Do you take any breaks during your game?
Combat encounters tend to be rather tense, especially the good ones. After an encounter, it's not a bad idea to encourage the players to step away from the table for a few minutes. Usually, our DM has to go reset the map (we use a wet-erase map sheet), so the rest of the group uses that time to wind down and banter amongst ourselves, then when he gets back and is ready to start the narrative again, we're usually ready to get back into it, as well.

3) Do you have pre-game time?
This is an INVALUABLE tool. It solved literally every problem my last group had. Game sessions were lagging for pretty much the same reasons you mentioned, people were chatting instead of paying attention. When we realized the underlying problem that was causing those symptoms (#1, above), we implemented a pre-game. Basically, set your game session's window to start later than normal. If everybody is available by 6:30, set your game time at 7, and encourage people to start showing up earlier. If you're hosting, set up some snacks (chips, pretzels, whatever) and let people know if they're going to be grabbing dinner on the way that they can bring it and sit and eat at the table, instead of having to scarf it down on the road before they get there.

Pre-game can be essential. Not only does it give the players a chance to socialize outside of the actual game session, but it helps bring the group together into a social group, instead of just a hobby group. Further, as people get mechanical/rules questions, they're more likely to bring them up during pre-game (ostensibly the actual reason for such time), which also reduced time taken away from the session to look up rules and figure out how things are going to be ruled on and worked out.

Post-game, also, can be very useful. It's nice to have time to wind down after game, so if people have to start cutting out by, let's say, 11, then by 10, try to get things winding down for the night. That way, people can spend a bit of time socializing afterward, winding down, maybe even helping clean up a bit(!), and ask any other questions that they can think of then, but won't remember next week.

Most groups I know don't actually use pre- and post-game times. We didn't until we noticed the problem, which was after it had already become an issue (one week we barely managed to finish one encounter before our time was up. 3 hours for one encounter!). Now that we use them, game takes a much more "in-character" tone. 

"Not only are you wrong, but I even created an Excel spreadsheet to show you how wrong you are." --James Wyatt, May 2006

Dilige, et quod vis fac

Alright, gents, this past week went waaay better. I confirmed that it's the younger players who are extending encounters and defined the number of players as a secondary problem. They see each other quite a bit outside gaming sessions, so decided to keep initiative myself. While it was another thing for me to keep track of, it went much better. I'm going to integrate these other ideas into this week's session, too. I'll be sure to let everyone y'all know how it goes.

-sj 
I totally sympathize with you man! My group is unfocused as well. I've tried all manner of methods to get them on track without screamingYOUR BEING TOO SLOW AND DISTRACTED! To their faces. But I guess all I have left to do is just tell them. I'm DMing a group of younger players and they hate timers, think I'm being dumb when I try and role-play in combat,and they all play like it's their first time. The fact that they can only get one encounter done in a session is really slowing down the storyline of the campaign.
What has helped tremendously for me is having these pieces of paper hung over my DM screen. Everyone knows when their turn is coming up, so they can prepare their turn ahead of time, and usually have.
Also, the pieces of paper have lots of the PCs stats on them, like their defenses and passive perception and insight. This way I don't have to ask them if 19 will hit their AC. I can just look it up.
And if you're really having trouble, ban things like iPhones and such. One of my players was using one last session and it slowed down his turn quite a bit. Looking back at it, I was really annoyed by that iPhone.
What I do is that if they don't start describing what they are going to do in a couple of seconds from the moment I tell them it's their turn, I delay their turn. It's happened only once. The player wasn't happy about it, but afterwards he understood why I did it and accepted it.
And I strongly suggest you tell them to write down their bonuses to attack very clearly on a piece of paper. 
Get your Microsoft Word Monster Statistics Block Template here! My Campaign

Also, the pieces of paper have lots of the PCs stats on them, like their defenses and passive perception and insight. This way I don't have to ask them if 19 will hit their AC. I can just look it up.



This only works if no PC has an immediate power that can raise their defenses.  If you don't announce the attack roll, they don't know if they should activate the power, and it is the intent that they know then those powers can negate a hit.
Another day, another three or four entries to my Ignore List.

Also, the pieces of paper have lots of the PCs stats on them, like their defenses and passive perception and insight. This way I don't have to ask them if 19 will hit their AC. I can just look it up.



This only works if no PC has an immediate power that can raise their defenses.  If you don't announce the attack roll, they don't know if they should activate the power, and it is the intent that they know then those powers can negate a hit.


That's true, but they usually ask if a bonus or something similar will turn the hit into a miss. Besides, they're level 2 and as far as I know don't have immediate interrupts that do that yet

It is, however, a potential pitfall. Once they get those powers I should change my system. 
Get your Microsoft Word Monster Statistics Block Template here! My Campaign
I have considered that we have 6-7 players, so they might be getting bored between turns, as well, but I'm hesitant to turn anyone away.



Unfortunately this is the culprit.  Group dynamics increase exponentially with group size.  People seem to having a good time, so they don't notice it - however, you are not:

 It drives me as a DM to sheer boredom and insanity.




One solution: at the beginning of next session, have everyone turn their phones and laptops off and tell them how you feel.  Print out this forum page and the replies for them to read.  Tell them you are frustrated.  Ask them if they like the game, and what can be done to improve combat.

Chances are they had no idea how you really felt

Good luck!      
I'm glad you have taken control of initiative order.  In my opinion initiative is the one thing the DM should NOT delegate.  Initiative is the pacing of a combat encounter, and the DM needs to track and push it along.

I always use the "on deck" approach by announcing who is next and who comes after that.
I also use the method of delaying indecisive players.  Nothing sends the right message to a player better than saying "OK, you delay your action" and then immediately turn your attention to the next player - the trick is to judge carefully when to be heavy handed and when to lighten up - I use the attitudes of the other players as my guide for this.

Lastly - when I have a large group (6+) - I sometimes let two players act at once.  It is a bit chaotic, but it can work if you trust your players to handle most of the details of their actions so the DM mainly needs to announce hits or misses and track damage while narrating events.  I actually have come to like doing this a bit, it gives the combat a bit of an edgy and unpredictable feel while moving the encounter along.
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