The Evil GM – The Disinterested player, what to do?

We’ve all seen it as a DM, sitting there at the table, one player not paying attention. You might not think anything of it and keep things going thinking maybe the person is just distracted today. But as the game goes on, you see that you really have to draw this person’s attention and they are not willingly contributing to anything.

In my experiences over the years, I’ve seen many DMs handle this in different ways. The first thing I’ve seen is the DM completely ignores that player with the “If you aren’t going to pay attention to the hard work I’ve put into this, then its your loss” attitude.

I’ve also seen a DM panic and its not hard to tell, as the DM shifts focus entirely onto that one player’s character, completely ignoring the group. Suddenly that character is the star of everything, gets everything and is making all the decisions. 
In my opinion, either of those methods are a bit extreme and I’ve discovered a few things that CAN HELP bring that bored player back into the game. Now I am not saying its 100%, but its turned a few people around. We all know, if someone is just not into it, he is just not into it.
First thing I normally do when I see a bored player is call a short break for like 10 minutes or so to refill the snacks and drinks. During this time I will engage the player who is bored, asking them for any feedback on the game. Notice I said you ask them for feedback. I don’t say, “hey John, you look bored, why?” 
Normally a good player will take this chance to dive into reasons to improve your game, or at least say things like, “We need more combat” or “there is too much roleplay for me tonight”. Sometimes it could be real life issues or stress (which you can’t do much about, just have to let it slide).
Next thing you can do is if your adventure takes the party into a dungeon, you have this player be the caller. Now if you are not familiar with this term, its an term that was often used back in the older editions, where one person would call out the decisions of the party to help move things forward. Now most just call it Party Leader, or I’ve also heard it called, “Lead”. Of course the party has to agree upon having a caller and normally no one has objections to this, at least I’ve never seen anyone have objections.
Finally I would try to get this player engaged a little more into the game with out putting the spotlight on him more then the rest of the players. Little things like maybe having something interesting happen during that person’s character’s watch, Something that will take a few moments of time, but won’t last so long the rest of the group is now turning into the disinterested players.
What are some tips you have or experiences you’ve had over your time of playing?

6 thoughts on “The Evil GM – The Disinterested player, what to do?

  1. No. Its the same all around for editions or games. New or Old. Leaving the table? wow. That's pretty disrespectful in my opinion. If that was happening to me, I'd start throwing things into the combat that they need to be there for. If they leave the table and come back, and do the whole, "What's going on? or what's happened?" I would say, "Well your character was so focused on their combat, they weren't paying attention to what was going on with her party and of course you weren't here as a player, so sadly you are experiencing what your character is at the moment." If other players attempt to tell him or her, you as the GM say, "NO she was not here."

    OR you can say in the beginning of the game so its not something new. "Okay folks, you are entitled to walk away from the table during whatever point of the game, but if you walk away, you might miss out on something, and sadly we will not interrupt game play to update you when you get back."

    Seriously, I've never had this problem. Are you playing with younger people? The only time I've had someone leave my table is bathroom break or we all decided.. take 10 (minutes).

  2. I am rather prone to the "it's your loss" approach if a player does this. Nowadays I try to head the problem off at the pass by giving them an incidental NPC to play, or have something happen that directly involves their character.

  3. Sheesh! Just kill his character. The bored player will leave and everyone else will be attentive! It's a win-win solution.

    … Yes, I'm kidding …

    My experience is totally with playing with friends. No game store or other experience, so this colors my response.

    Engage the other players. Get THEM involved in keeping the bored player engaged. The other players ask his/her opinion, actions, etc.

    BITD I have a player cheating on dice rolls. It was obvious. So two other players sat on either side of him and CAREFULLY scrutinized every roll. Amazing how that fixed the problem.

    Seems like we think of DM/players as us/them. It shouldn't be. Each place is just a role in a group effort. Together we can solve game related problem. World peace, probably not.

  4. In my experience most DM go the ignore route and will have a conversation with that player during a break or after the game. A lot of the times it's a one off thing and the player returns to the game and everything is fine. But when it comes to repeat offenders you need to try something else. Think about when you were back in school, sitting at your desk looking out the window, wishing recess would come so you can get together with your buds and take down Tiamat with your +5 Sunsword and never ending arrow energy bow. What did your teachers do to get your attention? Try raising your voice once in while, slam your hand down on the table when it's appropriate in the story. Do something to wake that player up, because you know you will scary the bejesus of them because they aren't paying attention. Once you got their attention have then rolls a series of dice rolls for no reason know to them. "Roll percentile, now a d12, lastly roll a d20". Look down at your books and then say O.K. and move on. The player will other wise go back to what they were doing or get really paranoid or confused and start paying attention.

    For players that leave the table, that's a big problem. I played in a game where one player would leave the table after their character would go into the negative numbers. Once his character was healed up, one us from the table would have to get up and go find him. He was usually watching TV or playing on his Xbox. This would happen all the time and it came to the point were we would no longer go chasing after him. The DM had a long history playing with this player and spoke to him on many occasion about his conduct. The player always claimed they wanted to play but it never seem that way to the rest of us. When he played he would play as if he was against the party. He would always go his own way, never playing as part of the team. It seemed his goal was to just cause chaos so he could get into a fight and get killed. We no longer play with this person for outside the game reasons. If you have a person who is leaving the table for more than just a quick bathroom break and they don't change their habits after the DM has a conversation with them, you need drop that person because they really don't want to be there and it's not fair to the other players.

    Lastly ban all electronic devices. I can't tell you how many time I've seen players with their heads down looking at their smartphones, checking Facebook, reading emails, etc. Then when it comes to their turn they are like "oh it's my turn? What's happening again?" I can't stand that. When I game I there by choice and I pay attention. There is a lot of other thing more important thing I could be doing. I don't stay up to 1am playing when I have work the next morning because I like the feeling of being tired. I choose to play because I love it. It suck when the others around you don't have that same commitment.

    Line 20: End Rant

  5. I don't see anything wrong with cutting to the chase… "hey, Rachel, you seem a little distracted tonight. Is everything okay?" They may very well be grateful that you noticed and asked. The response could be anything from "oh, it's nothing, I've just had a tough week at work, I'll be fine next time" to "to be honest, there's too much combat in the game at the moment and I'm not so keen on that side of things".

Leave a Reply, all comments must be approved to show

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Discover more from The Evil Dungeon Master

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading