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Expected levels of engagement and interest

soltakss

Simon Phipp - RQ Fogey
Validated User
So, quite a few of the groups I've played with, or seen play, have the following traits:
Sounds like most gaming groups to me.

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.
We only play RQ-based or HQ-based games, so that isn't really an issue with us.

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.
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.

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 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".

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.
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.

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".

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.
We play as adults and know that Real Life interferes with gaming.

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.

So what is the real, honest, realistic level of engagement with RPGs?
People turn up when they can and remember bits about previous sessions. That's about all I hope for.
 

soltakss

Simon Phipp - RQ Fogey
Validated User
What I want to know is what gaming's equivalent of hitting the shuttle is.
Badminton is an active game where you have to hit the shuttlecock to succeed.

I prefer to think of Soccer or Rugby, where what you do off the ball is important. Getting into position, closing someone down, making a tackle, all can be important. In Rugby, you can be man of the match without actually touching the ball, for example.

I used to be on the touchline chatting with my mates when I played Soccer at school, so I would have been one of the "Not Engaged at all" Players.
 

D. Archon

Error 404
Validated User
I'm kind of curious, does anyone actually ban phones?I've never actually seen it done. Seems kind of dumb and maybe asshole-ish, to me, I use tablets as a GM myself, and people need their phones.


Anyway... just wanted to weigh in on the great phone debate. :)

... I want to avoid this move from "target" to "social expectations" because as I said, as an entertaining hobby people should be doing things because they want to, not because of a sense of social obligation.
I mean, if Joe is only showing up because he feels he has to, but he doesn't actually want to participate, then he's just dragging the game down for everyone else because we could give his seat to someone who does want to play the game. I'm not really sure I want Joe at the game to begin with.


That’s about the level you can expect. Compare it to other activities and see what happens. If you’re watching a TV show or movie and displayed that behavior what would you conclude?

Most likely that they’re bored.

listening to the GM explain for the seventh time tonight how initiative works isn’t engaging.
And that's exactly the thing, people should make an effort to learn the how the game works. The game is much better when everyone knows what they're going to do and how they're going to do it.

I had to talk to one guy about having to learn the game because he kept skipping the attack roll and going straight to rolling for damage after 6 sessions of gentle reminders. He left the group, and I filled his seat with a much better player.

ETA: Talk to them. Don’t make demands. You may be the GM but you’re only one person involved in a group activity. You’re not in charge of the group, you’re in charge of the game. There’s a difference. It could be something as simple as your expectations are not the same as theirs. They’re a beer and pretzels group and you think it’s all diehard rules lawyers.
Being in charge of the game means that at some point the GM has to be able to say something like "Hey look, all I want to do is run a swords and orcs game at my place every Sunday night. That's cool you guys want to play Werewolf, but you can go do that somewhere else." :)
 
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CitizenKeen

Rules Lawyer
Validated User
I'm kind of curious, does anyone actually ban phones?I've never actually seen it done. Seems kind of dumb and maybe asshole-ish, to me, I use tablets as a GM myself, and people need their phones.
I don't ban phones because I play with parents and on-call managers.

But I also let my players know that if you're looking at your phone you won't get called on. I don't judge players for being on their phones, but I treat it as having stepped away from the table.
 

TheMouse

garmonbozia
Validated User
I'm kind of curious, does anyone actually ban phones?
I'll ban someone from using a phone if they're a dick about being allowed to use their phone.

Like one time someone was watching YouTube with the sound on. They were told to stop, so they went to Facebook (missing their turn in combat, losing track of what was going on, etc). Then they started watching YouTube again with the sound on.

Them? Yeah, no phone for them. Because they're using their phone to be super distracting. Not just to themselves, but to the whole table. They're being a dick about having a phone, in other words.

But if people don't do shit like that? Whatever.
 

downer

Fairy Tale King
Validated User
... I want to avoid this move from "target" to "social expectations" because as I said, as an entertaining hobby people should be doing things because they want to, not because of a sense of social obligation. So I am looking for the level actually delivered by the RPG experience, not the level people may confirm to out of politeness.
The problem here is that the "RPG experience" is a very social one. Which means the game gets better for everyone if everyone tries to be in it with their full attention. There is an engagement threshold you have to get over first, before the game can really unfold. If people are lackluster, then so is the game. So you might have to sit down with people and make it clear that the game is going to be a lot more fun if they pay attention, engage and try to get into the mood. That's more than just "do this because I expect you to", it's "do this, and you'll have much more fun".

That's what I was afraid of, essentially. In our case it's not so much rules delays but exploration problems, and I sympathise with this because I've had the same issues when GMing. Exploration was a lot of fun when I first started playing, but it's quickly become rote - "You come to a closed door, what do you do?" Well, gee, have a guess. "There's three passageways leading away from this chamber." Do they look any different or do we have any information on where they lead? If not, it's Hobson's choice. It could be bad dungeon design, but he's using official modules for a lot of them; and while it could be skipped over, that ruins the playfeel and ends up feeling like the necromancer's lair or whatever was next to the entrance.
You know, I'd be bored out of my skull and playing on my phone, too. Exploration is nice, but it's not all of the game. If people are to be engaged, there's got to be something engaging. And picking one door out of three more or less identical ones isn't it. That was fun when we were kids, but after a few years it gets awfully dull. You need to get people to care about what their characters are doing. Put them on the spot. Have a time limit ("this place is gonna blow in 10 minutes, any clever plans?"), have a nasty bad guy they're chasing, and NPC they care about to save, have a dramatic atmosphere (creaking woodwork, crumbling stone, dripping water, strange bellowing from deeper in the dungeon). Whatever you do, you have to keep their attention. The threshold I mentioned above? That's step one: get people to take it seriously. But then you have to deliver with engaging locations, characters and events. My experience is that published modules rarely live up to that, but there are a few good ones, you just need to find them. Maybe check out the reviews section of RPG.net and recommend something to your GM. Maybe make it a birthday present. Then see how people react.
I'm not actually the GM at the moment, although I have been before. I'm not going to try and pull a coup, but I'd like to work out what I can do to make things more interesting if/when I do GM next. There's a ton of resistance to rules light systems, mainly because the players currently get a lot of their entertainment from gear maxing and levelling up. (I also get nervous about running them because of the level of improvisation required and the difficulty of creating fair challenge.) I did try to run Strike! at one point, but people verbally expressed interest and then infinitely procrastinated about making characters until I gave up.
Complex rulesets are difficult here. When a player's turn takes long, others lose their interest and the more complex the mechanics, the more likely that gets. If levelling up is the biggest fun you have, I'd say you're doing something wrong. Sure, leveling up is fun, but the bits between are far too long for it to be the climax. Ultimately, a good talk is probably in order. Sitting down with people, talking about their level of engagement and problematic behaviours and why they aren't having more fun. I mean, the fact that they still show up is a good sign. They want to play D&D. Ask them what they want to do at the table, figure out what bores them, and then work on that. Ask them what they liked and disliked after every session. Get them to open up.

If they didn't try to hit it, you wouldn't go up to them and tell them they had to try and hit the shuttle or they wouldn't be allowed to play badminton any more with the group - that would be insane.
Yes, yes I would. And no, it wouldn't be. If you're standing there with your racket in one hand and your phone in the other, checking your twitter and ignoring the shuttlecock, I'd tell you to fuck the hell off and waste someone else's time. If you find badminton boring, go do something else. There's more people in the hall, who want to play and who can't do that if you don't play with them. So stop taking up space and vamoose. Same for RPGs, really. If you're bored and playing on your phone, you're dragging everyone's experience down.
 

Strange Visitor

Grumpy Grognard
Validated User
My own feeling is that the only way I'd ban electronics is if I was keeping everyone engaged all the time. Since I either can't or won't do that, I'm not going to tell people what they can do when I'm not doing things with them (barring things like TheMouse's player with the sound on). I'll freely admit that when I'm a player, I'm do things with my own laptop when otherwise not engaged (on the other hand, I freely admit in some ways I'm a bad player, which is why I GM far more often--years of GMing have ruined my patience for not being involved).
 

Victim

Registered User
Validated User
It’s not often talked about, but large swathes of gaming is utterly boring. Especially in mechanics heavy systems. Sitting around a table with a group of my friends listening to the GM explain for the seventh time tonight how initiative works isn’t engaging. Sitting on my hands for 5-10+ minutes as the rest of the table works through various stages of decision paralysis, deciding what they want to do, and looking up the rules for whatever random thing they want to do is fucking dull. And that’s every round. Every single tedious fucking round of combat.
In my experience, the people who are agonizingly slow in complex games are not necessarily any faster proportionally in simple games. And at least a heavier game can have stuff for people to plan out off turn - simple games have left me with nothing to do except wish death on an old man trying to enjoy a hobby because he could make a 20 minute filler take the better part of an hour.

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One thing to consider about engagement is that as a scheduled social activity, players are often going to show up in varying states of readiness. If people are feeling a bit out of it and having trouble concentrating due to a rough day or poor night's sleep, etc, it's still often preferable that they play. The time set for an RPG is not the perfect time to concentrate for any given player, it's essentially the least bad time for everyone. So the expectation that everyone be fully 'on' all the time seems rather unrealistic.
 

FarmerJon

Registered User
Validated User
I'm kind of curious, does anyone actually ban phones?I've never actually seen it done. Seems kind of dumb and maybe asshole-ish, to me, I use tablets as a GM myself, and people need their phones.
I'd do it in a heartbeat if I had one of those players. It's the player being asshole-ish, not the GM. I existed for years and years with just a landline connected to a single phone that the entire family shared (and before that it was a party line). We got along just fine without being in constant contact with others. It's no more necessary than a pacifier or comfort blanket. There is zero reason to be constantly looking at the phone during a session. I've never pulled out my phone when playing, or for that matter, when visiting with a friend. If there is an emergency, the phone will ring, and it can be answered at that time. Until then, keep it put away.

If a player is looking at the phone, then either I'm not doing my job as GM of keeping them entertained, or they aren't engaged in the game at all. Either way, they need to find a game in which they can be engaged. And if whatever is going on on the other end of the line is that important, then they need to go do that. If work, or the spouse, or the sick kid calls, sure take the call and go deal with it. And when it is dealt with, put the phone up, and we'll re-start the game. But if the phone has to be out constantly, then they just need to go take care of it.

And yes, I know some of this is just "you whippersnappers need to get off my lawn". Back in the day, it wasn't phones, it was reading the magazines or comics laying around the hosts house. Same thing, and just as unexcusable.
 

OmSwaOperations

Registered User
Validated User
If a player is looking at the phone, then either I'm not doing my job as GM of keeping them entertained, or they aren't engaged in the game at all. Either way, they need to find a game in which they can be engaged.
+1 to this. If a player is on their phone the whole time, it's likely a sign that you need to reevaluate your GMing skills - after all, it's your job to keep players engaged in the game. I imagine there are **some** asshole players out there who will be on their phones regardless of how good the story is, but I've never encountered them myself, and I've been playing for a while...
 
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