Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Table Rules - Keeping Focused

"Look at the fangs!"

"Never tell me the odds!"

"Why is the Rum Gone?"

"I cast magic missile at the darkness!"

Keeping everyone at the table focused isn't always easy. Sometimes the mood of the room, especially with long running groups, can make it all too easy to derail things, and send the session into a purgatory of in-jokes and goofing off.

Sometimes (but not often) that's okay. There are times when it's a better idea to can the game, toss in a movie, and do something else.

Other times, you want to keep everyone on track. There are a couple of tricks you can use.

1. Silence - Stop paying attention to the table. Reread your notes, make sure you're set to jump back into the game, but don't say anything until they're ready to get back to it. Alternately, "take 5" and walk away from the table.

2. Roll some dice. Give the table a moment to laugh at the joke, then pick up a couple of d6s or d20s, and make a show of rolling. Smile. Grin even.

3. Random encounter! Have someone kick down the door, and gain free attacks since the PCs are clearly too occupied to have been ready for an attack.

4. XP Penalty - have them lose 10 or 100xp/minute. Count every minute. I don't actually encourage this one... It works, but makes the players rather unhappy.

The other thing to keep in mind is that the players may be getting distracted because they're just not that into the game. If keeping them focused is an ongoing problem, talk to them, and see what's bothering them.


  1. Oh, humming a happy tune to that evil grin doesn't hurt, either... ;)

  2. Together with rolling the dice, a bit of page flipping, notes staring or pencilling note adds versimilitude. Sometimes a sympathetic grimace and muttered "Oh shit..." gets more attention than an evil grin, but make sure whatever the mannerism is, that its something you do for real at least 2 times in 3 for it to be useful as a fake.

  3. I agree, those little tricks might help a DM getting some attention. I'd like to add one more point, though. What also helps, in my experience, is to keep a tight schedule on sessions. If the time between games is more than a week, it will get harder for the players to get into the right mood and focus. Mostly, I think, because they tend to forget small details to a degree where meaningful decisions and insights are getting more and more difficult as soon as they are depending on knowledge gathered in an earlier session. Also, the longer the players haven't seen each other, the more they'll have to share about real life developments, before they'll be able to focus on the game. With this in mind, it's always a good idea to give a short summary of what happened in earlier sessions before the game starts. I offer some xp to the player who's able to deliver and would do it myself if the players aren't able to pull it off.