Simon Phipp - RQ Fogey
Sounds like most gaming groups to me.So, quite a few of the groups I've played with, or seen play, have the following traits:
We only play RQ-based or HQ-based games, so that isn't really an issue with us.a) don't really care about the system ("I don't mind what we play") and so engage with it to a limited extent. In some cases, they appear to not really like D&D 5e but insist on playing it anyway.
One of our Players looks at his phone quite a bit. Sometimes it annoys other Players and sometimes it doesn't. He will stop when asked, but normally starts again after a bit.b) frequently wander away from the table or look at phones during play, or side converse. If told to stop, they do, but are just silent instead.
In our Multi-GM RQ game, we had between 6-8 Players and combats could take an entire evening. One Player would turn up with a book and would read it when it wasn't his turn in combat. It was incredibly annoying for us, but he used to say "I don't really care what other PCs do in combat, but if you need my help then let me know".c) have limited engagement with combats outside of their turn and even then are often mechanistic, especially in ToTM combat as opposed to grid.
In my experience, people do worry about engagement and it isn't just GMs. Our current group has had a number of Players question how engaged one of the Players is.Now, if I'm running I have tried to find out what's up with the groups in question or what could make things more engaging, and I never get much in the way of honest answers. In fact the general attitude in these groups is that this is the realistic limit of the RPG experience; the system can never matter compared to the GM, a single GM can't keep all players involved all the time and a party-based plot can't exist if all PCs act independently, and combat is mechanistic in many systems. And since I don't have a lot else to compare it to (since recorded APs can't be trusted on this) I don't know if they're right or not.
If Players and GMs keep turning up to the games and enjoy themselves, that is the important thing.
I ask Players if they enjoy the games and they normally say "Yes". If they don;t, I ask what would make them better and adjust the game accordingly.
In the past, I have asked Players who don't seem to be engaging whether they enjoy the game and they say "Yes". When I ask why they don;t engage as much as other players, they have a variety of answers, for example "That's not how I like playing", "It's too intense sometimes", "I like to switch off as it allows me to think", or "Hey, it's just a game and that's how I like to play it".
We play as adults and know that Real Life interferes with gaming.Especially for online games, it's well known that people will drop out at the drop of a hat, or disengage in the middle, or even actively plan side activities during a session.
If someone drops out before a session, that is fine, as these things happen.
If someone drops out during a session and lets everyone know, that is fine, "My kid has woken up and is calling for me", "I can smell burning in the kitchen", "The Pizza Guy has just turned up". If they drop out for no reason adn don;t tell anyone, then that is a bit of a bummer, but we just play their PC as an NPC until they return.
People turn up when they can and remember bits about previous sessions. That's about all I hope for.So what is the real, honest, realistic level of engagement with RPGs?