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How do you handle distractions during game play?


Pathfinder Society GM Discussion

***

I'm a new PFS GM. I played/GM'd a lot of RPGs as a kid, then took a 20 year hiatus. I've been back at it for almost a year but only as a player. I started playing PFRPG about 6 months ago and PFS about 2 months ago (12 sessions). I have a pretty decent grasp of the various rules (I'm still learning) and am confident in my ability to overcome most obstacles during game play to keep the action moving.

I GM'd PFS for the first time last night. I ran Tide of Twilight for two different groups at my LGS. In addition to PFS (3 tables) there was a Magic tournament, some Warhammer folks, and people playing board games or just hanging out. It's an open gaming space so it was pretty loud but no big deal.

The first session went great. The players were engaged, smiles and laughter were prevalent throughout the entire scenario, and It looked like everyone had fun. I stumbled over mechanics a couple of times but we quickly moved past that and kept the action going. One player even thanked me for making his first PFS experience so much fun and told me he was hooked. AWESOME!

Then there was the second session. Same scenario, different group. I will forever refer to this session as the Tide of Distraction. Ages ranged from teenagers to 40ish. No one paid attention to the Venture Captain at the beginning of the scenario. No one took notes. I had to repeat the mission objectives several times. Two guys couldn't put their phones down for more than two minutes. One guy decided to leave mid-game to go get pizza. He was gone for 20 minutes. The two teenage girls at the table (through no fault of their own) were nothing short of guy magnets, attracting a constant influx of dudes that wanted to chat them up. Another player would get up to walk around every 15 minutes then want to know what he missed when he got back to the table. We also had a couple of guys hanging around that though PFS was a spectator sport. They constantly provided color commentary and advice to the players.

The ex-Army soldier in me was screaming to restore order to the game. But, as a brand new GM I decided to go with the flow, not piss anyone off, then think through how to better manage the situation next time. I think the players had fun, but I sure didn't.

How would you handle this type of situation?

Qadira ***

Ooh man, those players and passersby would have been pushing all my buttons.

As a GM, I don't like distractions at my table and try hard to minimize them as I can. I view every opportunity to run as a chance to give a wonderful gift to my players and I want it to be good as I can make it within what I can control.

1) How I run the Mission Briefing.

2) Phone calls when I'm GMing? Nope. I'll stop until they leave the table...I may or may not continue (depending on the player and circumstance) as needed. But I do not tolerate it. I'm okay with players using phones to look up rules/spells/SRD, but as long as they are listening, I'm pretty happy. I get that some players can knit or whatever while they play. However, when the game is on, *THE GAME* is on.

3) Guy leaves to go get food? Depending on the circumstance, I might not welcome him back. If the player asked beforehand for a break, I'd likely allow it, but just outright leaving is rude. I think you are fine with talking to the player and the table about it.

4) Hangers on and people off-table get strongly shoo'd away from my table as soon as they distract me or my players. I don't allow it and will politely ask them to move along. It's *MY* table and *MY* responsibility as GM to 'protect' the experience I want to give to my players...and so I'll do that.

I definitely have my limits on what distractions I want when I GM. I think it's fine if you set up ones that you are comfortable with as well. This is a social game and these kinds of problems need a social solution.

Looking at the bigger picture, it sounds like your player base needs a bit of training on proper etiquette around your local game day. I might suggest talking with your local coordinator to push for some rules regarding polite play and common courtesy.

At the very least, you might want to add your rules into your Opening GM Speech (last spoiler of opening post) that addresses what you expect from your players. I think setting expectations is good and appropriate.

-Pain

Cheliax ***** Owner - Enchanted Grounds

I'm 100% behind everything Painlord says. To repeat what he said in a single line: it's your game, they need to follow your rules.

To expand a little: if your rules are a little more lenient than Pain's, so be it. Again, it's your game.

But if the only reason you showed up was to sign their chronicle sheets and give them loot, you may as well dispense with actually wasting your time for 4+ hours and just sign and hand out the sheets. Sounds to me like that's all the second group wanted you to do. Well, that's not your job. Don't cater to childish behavior.

Grand Lodge *****

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Tales Subscriber

one90proof

There isn't much I can add to Pain or Drogon.

Well - there always is :)

Welcome to these boards. New GMs are the life blood of the community. I hope you aren't discouraged by the second experience as the first one seemed to have been very good.


Ironically I have a distraction problem too, but it has nothing to do with an open gaming area like an LGS. Y'see, we game at a guy's house, and he has 3 adorable kids.

Now I also have kids. His daughter is right in between mine in age, so often all the kids play together. But on game nights I try and plan it around bedtimes and don't bring my girls over anymore since I want the game nights to be our time, not theirs.

His son has always had trouble sleeping. Couple this with the fact that he's getting old enough to play SOME of the games we do, and guess what? Game night is now as much his time as ours.

As I said, I think the boy is a cool kid. But also like posters above I want to preserve the experience for my players. The boy doesn't play PF but he does stay up all hours, coming in and out of the room, and generally being a kid.

I've talked with my player about it but hey; its his kid here. And for that matter we're playing in his home BECAUSE he has kids and needs to be there. So I'm not about to cut him out or censor the kid. But there's nothing quite so mood-breaking as stopping mid sentence in a dramatically gory death scene so that the boy can get some chips and ask dad to help him with the tv.

I think my solution is to politely ask for a change of venue. Ironically I was going to suggest...our local gaming store! Maybe I'll reconsider...

Grand Lodge *

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I too want to add my thoughts on the subject!
First off "Phones" - tools for game Check everything else no can do. As Pain writes.

All this about your table I kind of agree with however have a more soft look at the situation. I took have been caught up in distractions, I am sure we all have, both as a player and a master. I have a more relaxed approach unless it ruins MY experience. If people want to sit down and be somewhat active but not hole hearted find by me but I will eventually do the same as the GM. Rule no. 1 for me - are everyone enjoying themselves including me then fine.

but it seems to me you did not find the amusement in the season and then you are entitled to "demand" people to follow the game or find something else. of course as in any other conflict management do that by rolling a damn good diplomacy check.

But do not take the battle to the table, evaluate afterwards and tell the other what you feel. We often meet for a soft drink / beer afterwards where good things and bad things are spoken out loud. That's the forum to handle these issues.

Then for bystanders - Let them be there (QUIETLY) they might be the next PFS master on the rise, they just have to see how everyone else are doing it.

As a side note I have to describe what can come out of not paying attention to the Venture Cap in the beginning. A few seasons ago I and another player was so caught up in our faction mission (both are Osirion) that we did not hear the warning of cursed items. What happened we ended up with those items and "had to try them on for size".
It was the laugh of the night - two stupid spell casters experimenting with cursed items. So not listening do not have to be all bad - so roll with the flow (punches) and see how foolish your table can act. After all they even might screw up the mission completely which can be fun too.

Taldor **

I was actually going to ask a very similar question.

I'm starting up PFS at my local game store and with two games under my belt I've managed to get the staff and some local players excited about it.

However, I also have the problem of curious passers-by distracting the game too much with questions and comments.

I don't feel comfortable shooing them completely away as they hopefully see how awesome the game is and will want to play in the future. But then again, they are a distraction....

*****

The easy way to handle passers by I've found, is to answer their question and then continue the game. Usually they are curious about the maps or what game we're playing.

If they are stopping to chat with people, I'd politely ask them once to leave, explain that they are distracting the rest of the players and that you feel the game has X amout of time left so they are welcome to swing back around then to continue their conversations.

If they continue, you have the right to be a little rude about it in my opinion.

As for when I'm a player, I confess I'm truly a Gnome at heart .. and if the GM isn't engaging my attention or I'm not trying to figure out my spell selection, I'm going to be distracted by the shinies (if those are guys yayyy for me).

The biggest thing is just being able to roll with the punches and slightly modifiying how you do things.

Player A starts talking to Player B during VC briefing, I've seen two approaches to this, A: stop and look at the players and B keep reading, it's their fault if they miss information, later when they ask point them at their party members for the information

***

Thanks for the feedback, everyone!

Painlord, I read your links and some of the links from those links (huh?) and wanted to say THANK YOU. That stuff gave me a lot to consider as I develop my judging style.

Part of the reason I chose NOT to actively police my table during that session is because in real life I tend to have a somewhat abrupt, military style of conflict resolution which sometimes hurts the feelings of "sensitive" people. I'm aware of this and I do my best to soften my approach when necessary but it is, and always will be, a work in progress. I don't generally sugar coat stuff and if you have a booger on your face I will tell you. I'm not a complete hard ass though. I love to laugh and joke as much as possible but when I get aggravated, as I was during that session, I have to be careful of what I say.

Because I had a table full of folks I either didn't know at all or barely knew, I decided to let it all go and use it as a learning tool for next time.

I'm running two more sessions on the 14th. So far, I think this is what I will do differently. I'm open to criticism or suggestions:

1. Develop a short list of table rules and inform the players of these at the start. I'll have to think about this but I'm mainly concerned with distractions (constant text tones disrupting game play, side conversations with non-players while seated at the table, holding up game play by walking away from the table to socialize, etc.)

2. Have the Venture Captain tell the characters up front something like, "This is serious business, Pathfinders. I suggest you pay attention and take notes. I will NOT be repeating myself." (of course I will make sure the players get the info they need but maybe something like this will get them more engaged from the start?)

3. Instead of handing out faction missions at the beginning of play, which is what every GM has done that I've played under, introduce them in a creative way after they speak to the VC. (I saw this idea from one of Painlord's links)

4. Quickly and politely (I'll try REALLY hard!) squash distractions/conversations from non-players around the table.

5. I like the idea of asking a seemingly non-interested/highly distracted player if s/he's here for the game play experience or just the chronicle sheet. If it's the latter, I'll invite the player to take one and leave the table.

I'm sure this list will evolve and grow, but that's all I can think of right now. :-)

Cheliax ***** Owner - Enchanted Grounds

one90proof wrote:
I'm sure this list will evolve and grow, but that's all I can think of right now. :-)

That list is an excellent start. Hell, it's more than most do, so it's a good finish, if you never go any further.

Keep us posted on how things go.

Andoran ***** Venture-Captain, Minnesota—St. Paul

This is a great thread, with a lot of great advice and ideas.

I just have an aversion to setting "rules" for my table before we even start.

I guess I just expect that the players will have a little etiquette when sitting down to play, and if they don't, I try to first gently remind them. If they continue to be rude to everyone else... well that's only ever happened in a non-OP game (not home, cause it was at the FLGS with people who signed up to play), and I asked that player to leave (No, you cannot play Warlord or some board game, and then come over and take your turn).

***

Andrew Christian wrote:

This is a great thread, with a lot of great advice and ideas.

I just have an aversion to setting "rules" for my table before we even start.

I guess I just expect that the players will have a little etiquette when sitting down to play, and if they don't, I try to first gently remind them. If they continue to be rude to everyone else... well that's only ever happened in a non-OP game (not home, cause it was at the FLGS with people who signed up to play), and I asked that player to leave (No, you cannot play Warlord or some board game, and then come over and take your turn).

My rules speech will be very quick and to the point. Maybe something like, "We are all here to play PFS and have some fun. Please try to keep distractions to a minimum and be respectful of the other players. We only have "x" amount of time for this slot and I want to ensure that we all get the best experience out of this scenario as possible."

In the 12 sessions I've played in at a local Con and at my LGS, we've never had any problems like the ones I described above. In fact, I'm actually glad so much went wrong during my second session of GMing. It's given me a the opportunity to become a more effective judge. Next time I will be better prepared to handle just about any distraction.

***

3 people marked this as a favorite.
Drogon wrote:
one90proof wrote:
I'm sure this list will evolve and grow, but that's all I can think of right now. :-)

That list is an excellent start. Hell, it's more than most do, so it's a good finish, if you never go any further.

Keep us posted on how things go.

Thanks, Drogon!

I decided this morning that I am going to complete a sort of after action review each time I GM...at least for a while. I'll list what I thought worked well, what didn't, and what I think I can improve for next time.

I want to be a great GM. I want players to fight over who gets to sit at my table. I'm only having fun if the players are having fun.

Qadira ***

2 people marked this as a favorite.
one90proof wrote:
I want to be a great GM. I want players to fight over who gets to sit at my table. I'm only having fun if the players are having fun.

Piddlespot...I want to be at your table with that attitude. I love that attitude and the commitment that goes with it.

Where do you play/GM?

-Pain

***

Painlord wrote:
one90proof wrote:
I want to be a great GM. I want players to fight over who gets to sit at my table. I'm only having fun if the players are having fun.

Piddlespot...I want to be at your table with that attitude. I love that attitude and the commitment that goes with it.

Where do you play/GM?

-Pain

Thank you! I figured that if I'm going to spend time doing this I want to do it BIG!

I'm playing PFS at Gamers N Geeks in Mobile, AL.

Shadow Lodge *** Venture-Lieutenant, California—Silicon Valley aka JohnF

Roac wrote:

I was actually going to ask a very similar question.

I'm starting up PFS at my local game store and with two games under my belt I've managed to get the staff and some local players excited about it.

However, I also have the problem of curious passers-by distracting the game too much with questions and comments.

We had one of these at our last session. Fortunately we were playing "First Steps (part 3)", and had an empty seat at the table, so we invited him to sit in with a pregen.

He turned out to be a great RPG player, even though unfamiliar with PFS. He had some issues with PFS rules (he was playing a rogue, and wanted to play borderline evil, and be able to siphon of loot before other players saw it), but we were able to turn a distraction into a probable future table companion.

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