Players Just Aren't Focused

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Roughly 5 months ago I told one of my friends that I thought we should start playing Dungeons and Dragons, particularly because I had enjoyed playing Magic, but also because it seemed like more fun than playing video games and smoking weed the whole night like we normally did.

Now back to the present, I have gotten a nice group of 4 players and a weekly gaming night together. We all are 15 and it seemed that it would make sense to do it on weekends, as it was easier for us. As the DM, I spend a good chunk of my week getting the game ready for that night and I'm always really excited for it. And it would seem that the players are pretty dedicated, seeing as they make it to every game. But when the food is layed out and everything is about to start, all hell breaks loose. One of my players has pretty much taken on the title of class clown, and ALWAYS distracts the other 3 players from the actual game. I tell him numerous times to just focus, and it's beginning to ruin the fun. I love to joke around a lot too, and of course I'm not some mean DM that doesn't allow comedy in the room, but when it gets to a point where the gameplay is effected, and we can't just run a decent game because of him, then I'm not really having fun. Also, whenever one of the players is done his turn, normally in combat, he will immediately pull out his phone. And suprisingly the funny one doesn't even do this. It's the other 3. They continue to assure me that they are still listening to me, but it's frusterating because I'm trying to move along the story, though I feel like I'm talking to a wall half the time. It's not all hell though. We will have our moments where we can get the game going, and when we do, we have an amazing time! I just wish it could always be like that. I'm basically wondering if any other DM's have had this problem, and can hopefully give me some advice on how to deal with it. Like I said, we have our fun moments, but the annoying moments outwheigh the fun ones. And I can't really find many other players, seeing as these days, kids my age have never even heard of this game, and are quick to shoot it down after I explain the basic idea of it. Any help is appreciated.
Short version ... tell your players that.
Another day, another three or four entries to my Ignore List.
It's a classic problem.

On the one hand, I don't think it should be entirely done away with. Gaming is a social activity and should involve aspects of other social activities, including getting off topic.

I note that you say that you spend a good chunk of your week getting ready. This tells me that you have stuff to serve up to the players. You don't specifically state that you want to get the stuff you've generated out in front of them, so maybe that's not a concern. But what I've found with my group is that it's much easier for me to get them engaged when they are the ones coming up with what their characters are going to be involved with. It doesn't have to be everything, and I still like to have some stuff in the back of my mind that I can pull out, but by and large I try to give the players exactly what they want by letting them tell me what they want at every opportunity, and asking them leading questions to get them to tell me.

At an upcoming session, offer to give them one encounter that is mostly devised by them. They'll tell you about the location, the monsters, the stakes and anything else, led by your questions. And then give them that and see how it goes. See if you don't get at least a little more involvement from them, since you're running them through their own creation. If you do, retain at least a little of that approach in the future, asking them to fill in significant details now and then.

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


Maybe you got a Three Amigo's group.  Maybe need Three Amigo's type adventure.  I luv that movie...

Or take turns DM'ing.  Your friends may not know how irritating it is for players not paying attention to a game DM spent time preparing...until it happens to them.

Maybe hold back smoking weed before game.

Maybe whatever joke is happening on the table make it actually happening in game, & NPC responds accordingly.  (lol that tickles my mind for some reason.)

Either way, if your players are having fun, you did good.  That's dm's prime directive. 
 
 
I personally think you could use some thicker skin.  If you're a group of friends, friends will joke all the time, roll with the jokes, embrace it and go along with it. the Session doesn't need to be RP Serious mode all the time. As for the phone thing, if it's happening frequently, tell them it's an issue and stand your ground.  If a friend pulls his phone out once because he gets na unexpected text, then you never see the phone for the rest of the session, it's not a problem, but if it's happening every 15 minutes, then address it.

@Centauri's statement; My players choices make up 80-90% of the campain and yet I still spend approx. 7-10 hours to prepare each session
I note that you say that you spend a good chunk of your week getting ready. This tells me that you have stuff to serve up to the players. You don't specifically state that you want to get the stuff you've generated out in front of them, so maybe that's not a concern. But what I've found with my group is that it's much easier for me to get them engaged when they are the ones coming up with what their characters are going to be involved with. It doesn't have to be everything, and I still like to have some stuff in the back of my mind that I can pull out, but by and large I try to give the players exactly what they want by letting them tell me what they want at every opportunity, and asking them leading questions to get them to tell me.

At an upcoming session, offer to give them one encounter that is mostly devised by them. They'll tell you about the location, the monsters, the stakes and anything else, led by your questions. And then give them that and see how it goes. See if you don't get at least a little more involvement from them, since you're running them through their own creation. If you do, retain at least a little of that approach in the future, asking them to fill in significant details now and then.


All right, let me ask you something about this way of DMing. (and massively derail the topic in the meantime)

Last night I ran a session where my players were going into a madhouse taken over by the loonies, led by a succubus. I had prepared some situations the players might encounter (mostly interactions with the loonies which could lead to a fight).

Before they went in, one of the players told the group that one of his old apprentices was locked up there (which was awesome). So they figured that it might be a good idea to look him up when they got there.

I decided to let them wander around the house for a bit before reaching the apprentice. I did this so I could use some of the stuff I had prepared (NPCs, combat stats and the information the NPCs were supposed to deliver), and also because I felt I should not just serve up everything the players ask for on a silver platter.

And as planned, they spoke to people, got into fights, and gathered some intel. But they kinda forgot about the apprentice. Only when they were looking for a way out of the madhouse, I figured " why not lead them to his room?", which I did. There they had some conversation with him, got into a fight when they tried to open the window, and eventually managed to escape. That was the session in a nutshell.

Now, how would you have handled it, and why? I ask because I have mixed feelings about the way the session went, and I'm wondering if it would've been better if I had gone with the players'  suggestions.

1st, put Salla's & Centauri's advice at the top of your list. In addition, here are some tips that I and others have found helpful:

1. Don't try to dive right in. Once the food is on the table, allow time for everyone to just hang out and chat for a while. Otherwise, you're trying to keep that bottled up and that just won't work. 15-30 minutes of hanging out beforehand will go a long way to making the session more manageable.

2. Give the distractor something to do like track initiative. This isn’t a cure-all but it can be very helpful.


3. When off-topic conversations happen, let it. Just sit back and let it run its course. When it does, without sounding irritated ask “Ready to get back to the game?”


4. If possible, have phones set aside. For adults with babysitters at home that doesn’t always work, but for a group of teenagers it shouldn’t complicate their lives and could help reduce distractions.

5. This problem will not go away. Ever. The trick is to manage it and keep having fun.

Flatfoot's list is basically what I was about to type in.

Phones used to be a problem at my table.  I just outright banned them unless it was an emergency situation.  Pretty much every time someone picked up their phone and started texting away I stopped the game and stared at them with a worried look on my face "Is everything ok? Do you need to go?"  After about 2 sessions of this the problem evaporated. 
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We have a similar problem with phones. Unfortunately, the dm won't ban them. Our fighter, spends ALL night on her phone texting and playing games. Part of the problem is she's bored with the character. She misses often, which frustrates her. She's also made another character that she wants to play. Problem there is, she's too damned stubborn to change...because most of the rest of us have changed. I'm to the point I'm ready to try and Tpk the party just so she'll start something new. I think the dm is inching closer to being on board with that plan, because he's frustrated too.
We have a similar problem with phones. Unfortunately, the dm won't ban them. Our fighter, spends ALL night on her phone texting and playing games. Part of the problem is she's bored with the character. She misses often, which frustrates her. She's also made another character that she wants to play. Problem there is, she's too damned stubborn to change...because most of the rest of us have changed. I'm to the point I'm ready to try and Tpk the party just so she'll start something new. I think the dm is inching closer to being on board with that plan, because he's frustrated too.



I won't say this is the best plan.  But I have straight up beheaded a character during a description when they weren't paying attention.  While giving an explanation and I noticed that one of my players was yet again on his laptop playing games I dropped in a sentence that said "If >insert name of character< doesn't stop him before I stop talking he gets beheaded." And then I finished the description of the room and the start of combat.  He wasn't paying any attention so I beheaded him, removed him from the initiative order.  He noticed 2 turns in that his initiative flag was missing.  Momentarily very annoyed but once he noticed that the whole party was saying "yeah, well you deserved that" he calmed down and I haven't seen that laptop at table since.
Currently working on making a Dex based defender. Check it out here
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Need a few pre-generated characters for a one-shot you are running? Want to get a baseline for what an effective build for a class you aren't familiar with? Check out the Pregen thread here If ever you are interested what it sounds like to be at my table check out my blog and podcast here Also, I've recently done an episode on "Refluffing". You can check that out here
lol Matyr !
"Non nobis Domine Sed nomini tuo da gloriam" "I wish for death not because I want to die, but because I seek the war eternal"

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@Centauri's statement; My players choices make up 80-90% of the campain and yet I still spend approx. 7-10 hours to prepare each session

Choices about things like which quest to tackle, or declarations about what's going on in the world?

It's the difference between:

DM: The Baron's missing daughter, or the goblin raiders?
Players: Neither. We want to explore that elven forest.
DM: Ok, cool. (takes out elven forest prep).

and

DM: The Baron's missing daughter, or the goblin raiders?
Players: Neither. We want to explore that elven forest.
DM: Ok, cool. What have your characters heard about that forest? What are you as players hoping to run into in there?

The former is what I think of when I hear about prep. If there was no prep for the elven forest, I'd expect the DM to ask the players for some time to prep it, or to try to manipulate them into doing something else for the session. The latter is what I think of when I think of the players pitching in to help engage their own interests.

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

sending you a PM.
Are you guys still smoking bud before/during your game?  Marijuana is not always conducive to Dungeons & Dragons, or any other RPG for that matter.

Just a thought.
One of my players has pretty much taken on the title of class clown, and ALWAYS distracts the other 3 players from the actual game. I tell him numerous times to just focus, and it's beginning to ruin the fun.

As the DM, you are the one that needs to maintain focus. The faster you are, the more focused the players will be. Tips:
- run combat faster. fwiw: setting a fast pace during 4e combat is indeed hard for a DM, so here are some ideas.
- focus on the players that are paying attention (the unfocused ones will start to take an interest)
- ignore jokers and ruthlessly keep the game moving forward
- combat (or action) tends to focus players, but if they still aren't taking it seriously, make things get real up in there by making it more dangerous/challenging (tough but fair).

whenever one of the players is done his turn, normally in combat, he will immediately pull out his phone.

That's ok. The game might not be running fast enough to maintain his attention, s'all (possibly because the others are slow taking their turns). If he's unready when it comes his turn, move on to the next player (allowing him to jump back in once he's ready). Same for the other players.
Food/distraction: Get to session earlier to hang out and eat, dont even bring up game until people have had their food and chatted for awhile, you'll find that people will quiet down a little faster and be more apt to pay attention when you oull out the DM screen/dice and get to business.

Joking around:Get the clown involved, get him joking about stuff in game, so atleast the focus is still the game even if you would rather it be a little more serious.  Funny games or enocunters can be a fun part of the game, embrace it enough to pull them in rather than try to fight it.

Phones: This one is hard, maybe try to have a break time where people can use their phones but ask at other times that the phones stay in pockets or on the table.  Alternatively, try passing those who are not paying attention and direct your attention to the others, pay attention to detail and try to include those who are involved into the story more (see centauri's advice), this may encourage others to start to pay more attention if they feel they have a little more control or realize what you are offering them as far as being part of the game.

Marijuana: This is often a very distracting thing to do when gaming, and can really affect people's ability to be focused on the game rather then on ideas or other distractions that catch their attention.  If you and your friends were capable of focusing a little more it might not be so bad but by the sounds of it smoking would not help the situation.  If you still smoke do it long before game so you guys have leveled out and not super stoned when you start.
"The great epochs of our life come when we gain the courage to rechristen our evil as what is best in us." - Friedrich Nietzsche
maybe putting up a timer for people's turns would help.  I /wish/ my DM would use a minute glass...if you run out of time, you lose your turn.  Missing turns here or there might get people's heads in the game.
maybe putting up a timer for people's turns would help.  I /wish/ my DM would use a minute glass...if you run out of time, you lose your turn.  Missing turns here or there might get people's heads in the game.



That's a bit too harsh a punishment.  Better that if the timer expires, you automatically Delay.
Another day, another three or four entries to my Ignore List.
What Salla said.  Creating rigid timers and skipping turns can very easily create apathy among those characters whose turns have passed more than a single time.  Not to mention, it very obviously ruins the fun of the game.
Yeah, it's better to encourage players to plan their turns before hand, this also keeps chatter lower because they're busy planning their turns instead of talking and interupting the one that is taking theirs. I do have one player that never does though, and then when it's his turn he's like "my turn already hmm okay what to do...hmmmm" lol but we let it slide after all what are friends for.
One of the best ways I've heard of to prompt someone to pay attention before his turn is for whoever the Initiative Tracker is to not only announce the current turn, but the upcoming turn as well.

"Orc Archers go now; Bob, you're up next."
"Bob's turn; Alice, you're on deck."

And so forth.
Another day, another three or four entries to my Ignore List.
It's funny, one of my groups has similar issues but we simply don't care.  There have been plenty of sessions where all we do is talk for five hours.  Why?  Because we are friends.  In my opinion so long as everyone is having a good time who cares how far the "adventure" goes

That being said, when this happens over a couple of sessions we have come to realize that as a group we are losing interest in that game/setting/etc.  At which point we change GMs and games and settings.  Maybe your group is in a similar situation.  Maybe a change in DM and game would be appropriate.  In my group, I run a D&D 3.5 campaign and another person runs a d6 Star Wars campaign.  Two VERY different systems and we as DMs leave things hanging when we switch so that we are all still interested in both games.

Lastly, the phone thing.  Playing with one's smartphone is modern day doodling and doodling is actually GOOD for one's attention span.  When someone doodles they are keeping their mind active in a lull.  In your group in particular, you said that the players break out their phones during combat after their turns.  Granted, they should be thinking about their next turn while they wait, but playing a game or texting on their phone does not mean they are not thinking about the D&D situation.  Now if you have to "remind" them when their turn comes up, that is a different story.

All I am saying is that all the distractions you talk about are not necessarily bad.

 

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Are you really "entitled to your opinion"?
RedSiegfried wrote:
The cool thing is, you don't even NEED a reason to say yes.  Just stop looking for a reason to say no.

Lastly, the phone thing.  Playing with one's smartphone is modern day doodling and doodling is actually GOOD for one's attention span.  When someone doodles they are keeping their mind active in a lull.  In your group in particular, you said that the players break out their phones during combat after their turns.  Granted, they should be thinking about their next turn while they wait, but playing a game or texting on their phone does not mean they are not thinking about the D&D situation.  Now if you have to "remind" them when their turn comes up, that is a different story.




That would be fine if you are playing a character that does nothing on other people's turns (read: playing a bad character).  But the game is highly tactical and the turns should go fairly fast.  When I'm a player my turns take about a minute.  That means with 5 players and a DM you are looking at roughly 10 minute rounds if you all are playing quickly and effeciently.  So they really shouldn't have too much downtime and should be looking for somewhere to use their immediates in all that.
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Need a few pre-generated characters for a one-shot you are running? Want to get a baseline for what an effective build for a class you aren't familiar with? Check out the Pregen thread here If ever you are interested what it sounds like to be at my table check out my blog and podcast here Also, I've recently done an episode on "Refluffing". You can check that out here

Lastly, the phone thing.  Playing with one's smartphone is modern day doodling and doodling is actually GOOD for one's attention span.  When someone doodles they are keeping their mind active in a lull.  In your group in particular, you said that the players break out their phones during combat after their turns.  Granted, they should be thinking about their next turn while they wait, but playing a game or texting on their phone does not mean they are not thinking about the D&D situation.  Now if you have to "remind" them when their turn comes up, that is a different story.




That would be fine if you are playing a character that does nothing on other people's turns (read: playing a bad character).  But the game is highly tactical and the turns should go fairly fast.  When I'm a player my turns take about a minute.  That means with 5 players and a DM you are looking at roughly 10 minute rounds if you all are playing quickly and effeciently.  So they really shouldn't have too much downtime and should be looking for somewhere to use their immediates in all that.



You are talking specifically about 4e where there are a lot of immediates.  in 3e (the games I usually play), and other RPGs, while there are immediates there are not nearly as many.

 

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Are you really "entitled to your opinion"?
RedSiegfried wrote:
The cool thing is, you don't even NEED a reason to say yes.  Just stop looking for a reason to say no.
That would be fine if you are playing a character that does nothing on other people's turns (read: playing a bad character).  But the game is highly tactical and the turns should go fairly fast.  When I'm a player my turns take about a minute.  That means with 5 players and a DM you are looking at roughly 10 minute rounds if you all are playing quickly and effeciently.  So they really shouldn't have too much downtime and should be looking for somewhere to use their immediates in all that.

Although I agree with the sentiment in your last sentence, it may not be realistic for the OP. Some counterpoints:
- Most 4e games do not go that fast
- The OP's game definitely wouldn't go that fast
- DM's should not take as much time as all the other players combined
- Players that miss options on other players' turns tend be self-remedying (through peer-pressure), or not a problem.
..."window.parent.tinyMCE.get('post_content').onLoad.dispatch();" contenteditable="true" />You are talking specifically about 4e where there are a lot of immediates.  in 3e (the games I usually play), and other RPGs, while there are immediates there are not nearly as many.



It's a good idea to pay attention anyway, so you aren't having to play catch-up when your turn rolls around.  "okay ... wait, when did this guy close with me?  Fred, why's your mini on its side, did you go down?"

To say nothing of simple things like:
"Fred, you took 15 damage from the blast."
"..."
"Fred?"
"..."
"FRED!"
"Buh?"
"You took 15 damage."
"From what?"

Another day, another three or four entries to my Ignore List.
Your friends seem rude. Probably not intentionally rude, but rude none-the-less. I'd talk to them about it. If they care about your feelings on the matter, they'll make an effort to listen when you're talking. Maybe the group is just too large and they have short attention spans. Try as they might, with too many folks, there can be a lot of conversation going on when a lot of people are sitting around a table eating carbohydrates.

Cut the sugar and caffeine... I have a younger group and that helps A LOT. It's healthier, too.

Take breaks.... game on for an hour, off for an hour, on for an hour is two hours more fun than 3 full hours of "Bob! Bob! Bob! Your turn, Bob! Calling Bob! Bob! Sorry to interrupt your phone call, but you're up. Just roll for you? What? We're deciding whether to go down the hole with teeth in it. Low roll =  yes? Even = ? Okay, I rolled a 2, so you go down the hall and the... Bob.. you listening? Ok. And the hole, same as the last three holes just like this one, chews on you (Ouch) for 10 points of damage, same as last time and the time before that. But again, the wizard says a few words and the hole is gone. You're pretty close to death, though. The party wants to go back to town... what do you want to do, Bob? Attack? There's nothing in the room but the party. Attack the party? Bob? Bob! Earth to Bob!"
A rogue with a bowl of slop can be a controller. WIZARD PC: Can I substitute Celestial Roc Guano for my fireball spells? DM: Awesome. Yes. When in doubt, take action.... that's generally the best course. Even Sun Tsu knew that, and he didn't have internets.
That would be fine if you are playing a character that does nothing on other people's turns (read: playing a bad character).  But the game is highly tactical and the turns should go fairly fast.  When I'm a player my turns take about a minute.  That means with 5 players and a DM you are looking at roughly 10 minute rounds if you all are playing quickly and effeciently.  So they really shouldn't have too much downtime and should be looking for somewhere to use their immediates in all that.

Although I agree with the sentiment in your last sentence, it may not be realistic for the OP. Some counterpoints:
- Most 4e games do not go that fast
- The OP's game definitely wouldn't go that fast
- DM's should not take as much time as all the other players combined
- Players that miss options on other players' turns tend be self-remedying (through peer-pressure), or not a problem.



I was under the distinct impression they were playing 4e.  If you aren't OP please correct me.

- Most 4e games don't try to.  I've brought some people into games with me as player / DM and shown what a combat can be like (generally a complicated combat takes about 30-40 minutes) and I've gotten very positive feedback.  Since complex 4e combats (and combats in one of my games) tend to take 1.5hours.
- No, but if they turned it into a game unto itself (how fast can we go) for just a combat or two it might help them stay focused.  If a group is used to Action movie pacing, or video game pacing you could try to introduce an element of that to keep them hooked.
- No, they shouldn't.  DMs should have simple monsters with strong, but clear abilities.  DM monsters should all roll the same kind of dice.  DM monsters should/could do nearly everything before the player gets to their turn.  The DM should be grouping monsters so he goes 2-4 times in initiative instead of 10.
-Not in my experience.  People who don't treat combat effeciency as a mini game and aren't at all paying attention normally don't tend to fix themselves.  At least not in my experience.

I forgot to respond last time to the doodling comment.  Keeping the mind active can work with doodling, but it needs to be something that takes a small amount of mental investment.  You don't generally have someone who is doodling and when they talk to you they raise their other hand and say "just one second" while the finish part of it.  For a phone call / text message that is pretty common.  You also tend to have people who doodle while actively listening, but the same is often not true for texting.  It takes more of our attention to text than to doodle, so it isn't really a good comparison.

..."window.parent.tinyMCE.get('post_content').onLoad.dispatch();" contenteditable="true" />You are talking specifically about 4e where there are a lot of immediates.  in 3e (the games I usually play), and other RPGs, while there are immediates there are not nearly as many.



It's a good idea to pay attention anyway, so you aren't having to play catch-up when your turn rolls around.  "okay ... wait, when did this guy close with me?  Fred, why's your mini on its side, did you go down?"

To say nothing of simple things like:
"Fred, you took 15 damage from the blast."
"..."
"Fred?"
"..."
"FRED!"
"Buh?"
"You took 15 damage."
"From what?"




^  Yet again Salla gets the point
 
Currently working on making a Dex based defender. Check it out here
Show
Need a few pre-generated characters for a one-shot you are running? Want to get a baseline for what an effective build for a class you aren't familiar with? Check out the Pregen thread here If ever you are interested what it sounds like to be at my table check out my blog and podcast here Also, I've recently done an episode on "Refluffing". You can check that out here
cookie for Salla !
"Non nobis Domine Sed nomini tuo da gloriam" "I wish for death not because I want to die, but because I seek the war eternal"

IMAGE(http://www.nodiatis.com/pub/19.jpg)

One of my players has pretty much taken on the title of class clown, and ALWAYS distracts the other 3 players from the actual game. I tell him numerous times to just focus, and it's beginning to ruin the fun.

As the DM, you are the one that needs to maintain focus. The faster you are, the more focused the players will be. Tips:
- run combat faster. fwiw: setting a fast pace during 4e combat is indeed hard for a DM, so here are some ideas.
- focus on the players that are paying attention (the unfocused ones will start to take an interest)
- ignore jokers and ruthlessly keep the game moving forward
- combat (or action) tends to focus players, but if they still aren't taking it seriously, make things get real up in there by making it more dangerous/challenging (tough but fair).

whenever one of the players is done his turn, normally in combat, he will immediately pull out his phone.

That's ok. The game might not be running fast enough to maintain his attention, s'all (possibly because the others are slow taking their turns). If he's unready when it comes his turn, move on to the next player (allowing him to jump back in once he's ready). Same for the other players.



i think i am in love...