Signs I'm not keeping my players engaged?


Scenario A: PC's have defeated the leader of the bandits outside her bedchamber and find a set of keys on her. Entering her chamber, they find a series of locked chests. The rogue sets to work on the locks with disable device while everyone else stands by helplessly as he fails the checks.
Someone else tries to appraise the set of keys.

Scenario B: On the way to the dungeon the PC's find a small rocky isle in the middle of a river near the ford they use to cross. They find a pile of droppings which the ranger identifies as manticore waste. Later, on the way back to town from the dungeon, already depleted, they are about to ford the river. A juvenile manticore comes up on the random encounter check. The dice swing their way and somehow the APL 2 party with very few spells or hitppints left manages to beat the young manticore with no casualties.
Instead of continuing home to rest they decide to find its lair and loot for treasure, not considering that it might have PARENTS.

What do you think? Are these signs that I'm not keeping them immersed in the game world?

Well Grimmy, they are definetly not immersed into the game, and are apparently not afraid of their characters dying either... whether this is your fault or theirs has yet to be seen.

Just a few questions:
What age are they? Have you ever seen them immersed into a game before? Is this the first time they have not acted with their characters best interest in mind or are their above actions been what they always do no matter who is GMing?

It may just be them. Sometimes players just dont want to care, no matter what the GM does.

Sovereign Court

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They will be immersed soon enough when you start killing them.

They're my younger brothers friends, 15-17 years old. I ran a campaign for them from 1st to 10th level over the course of one year. Then they took a break from playing in games run by me and spent several months rotating as DM for each other, doing things I wasn't interested in like evil campaigns, 4th edition, etc. Recently they asked me to run another campaign for them, but they seem more distracted at the table this time. Cell phones out texting.
They are great guys, I have definiitely seen them role play well, use good tactics.
I'm glad to share this activity with my little brother. Maybe I'm just rusty, or maybe they are distracted by social pressures and feel nerdy about getting really into it again.

@Pan: I'm fairly lethal. Play the enemies with good tactics, don't fudge dice to save PC's. They've already had one reroll and one raise dead in a party of 2-3 lvl characters.

Grand Lodge

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Darn kids and their cell phones, well the only thing I can think is tell them get in the game while there is one. I refuse to run games for people that can't pay attention, then again, with my recent move I don't have a group anymore.

Well, the signs above are definitely indications that the players aren't properly engaged, but not necessarily that they aren't interested. The fact that they are bothering to do things like trying to pick the locks on the chests or find the manticore lair are indications that they are at least moderately interested in the game (if they weren't interested, they wouldn't even bother with the manticore lair).

It sounds like there are two major issues:

1 - They have been playing with each other as DM for a while and have likely gotten into a 'groove' with how they play. They aren't paying attention to what you are presenting them because they expect c to follow b to follow a in all cases. They get loot, don't die, etc. It's classic player behavior following experience with new/bad/very basic DMs.

2 - They are all interested in other things. Pathfinder, to them, is just one of many activities they could be doing at the moment and might even be somewhat of a side-show to at least a few of them at this point in their lives. Maybe someone is there one night only because a girl didn't call him back ... or the session is put together only because there wasn't a party to attend.


1 - Take effort to pull the players into the game. When they say they're doing something that is stupid ... stop them ... re-explain the situation to them ... and ask them what they're doing. If they continue to act stupid, let them die. Don't have the adult manticores be absent from the nest ... have them wipe the party out completely.

2 - Ban cell phones from the table. Make it clear that sitting around the table for a session means you're all playing Pathfinder. Sure, let there be horsing around and stuff ... but it's Pathfinder time, not texting time. Take 10 minute breaks every hour or so and let people catch up on their texts/etc -- but AWAY from the actual table. Make that table a Pathfinder place.

3 - Throw in some "cool" stuff. In high school, I was all about fightin' dragons and having kick ass gear. It wasn't until college that I started really getting into the idea of gritty, medieval role-play or slow-paced campaigns (now I'm in my 30's and my campaigns are again totally different). Make things epic, they'll be engaged.

That's all I've got for you for now.

Sovereign Court

I had a lot going on at 15-17 years old. School work, jobs, chasing chicks, video games, movies, etc..etc.. I'm guessing they are just kind of worn out and looking to relax. To be honest without actually being at the game I don't really have the proper context to say whether or not you are not keeping them engaged. However, don't beat yourself up keeping a table of teenagers engaged is going to be a tough task.

Thanks for the advice guys I think you are spot on.

Grand Lodge

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Steal ideas from things they are interested in.
If they like ninjas, have them jumped by ninjas.

Yeah. I think the cavalier really wants to ride a dinosaur. Maybe I'll let him do it at lvl 4 instead of 7.

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Find out what engages them, and focus on that.

Rogue stuff is a snoozefest. Have him take 10 or 20, and fasttrack that stuff so the rogue feels like his character contributes. But NEVER spend more than 5-10 minutes on it. Kinda like haggling or other inane boring stuff. Skip it like a bad cutscene.

Make sure to allow people knowledge checks on stuff like the manticore, and drop hints that a manticore of that age may still be living at home, like some unemployed late teens college dropout. Engage, engage, engage.

Don't try to "win", that is where fail and douchebaggery comes from as a GM, and will soon earn a "That GM" brand. Nobody likes them, and the only reason anyone ever plays with them is because there are no-one else to take the helm.

Also, kids the age of 15-17 kinda have attention deficit disorder by default. Don't despair if you are not keeping them at the edge of their seat. When you are having long combat rounds, or someone else is entirely in focus, there is nothing that compels them to be at attention.

Experience, and knowing your group are two things that comes with time, and will make the game better. When I GM'ed for kids back in the days, I made sure to make stuff graphic and fast paced. Like a shonen anime and other stuff that kids like.

You know it's funny you said that about the rogue because that did come up yesterday when he was scouting and kind of checked every 5 feet for traps.

One big thing I ran into when I was starting out is that my group wouldn't tell me if they were engaged. But, if you do it right (Even on accident) their faces and reactions will tell you. What I had to do was figure out what parts of the game people didn't have fun doing and instead replace them with something fun. Figuring out what's fun for your players is your job, but with a lot of gamers once they're engaged they're having fun. So find out what captures their attention and lead them with it into the rest of your plans.

Anything that isn't fun, even if it's something in the rules of the game (like checking for traps), you can probably think of a better way to deal with it that's simple and easy to remember. And if you can't think of something, resolve the un-fun part of the game with a ruling and move on. Having the players stagnate in something (Whether combat, traveling, or trapfinding) can sap the will of even the most enthusiastic player.

Madcap has good ideas. I have had party members recently who did not engage as much. I started engaging them as the GM during play - what are your goals, how will you work on them? Basically trying to find out what they liked and getting them to drive the adventure forward themselves.

It worked well and they pursued character goals, like finding enough mithril to build armor and weapons (we play low-magic).

First, I have to say that I - a voracious reader and lover of character-building and narrative - mostly just wanted to kill monsters and take their stuff when I was 15-17 :)

That said...

My current game group, which has been playing together now, twice a month, for 12 years, has dealt with a similar problem: in our case, we're all 40-something professionals and business owners, and we're always gravitating towards our various electronics to reply to emails and texts, take calls, and so on during the game. This is not to be tolerated!

The key to engagement, for us, is the metagame (and I'm using the term here in its narrative sense) - the things we're involved with in-between die rolls.

First, at the beginning of each campaign (we're on our ninth, currently) everyone MUST submit a character background; the GM combs these and extracts the various NPCs we've mentioned (mentors, parents, enemies, etc) and incorporates them into the campaign in some fashion. Usually the way we work this is that each game session has an encounter relevant to one PC's background.

Ex: In our Champions game a few years ago, my mentalist, Myndfyre, had been trained in a secret Soviet ESP facility in Odessa as a child, a facility which had been taken over by the Ukranian Mob after the fall of the Soviet State, a state of affairs which had prompted Myndfyre's escape to the USA; naturally, they didn't like losing an asset. So, in one game, another mission was interrupted when Myndfyre's sister was kidnapped by mobsters, prompting a complicated and dangerous side mission - and a decision about whether this could be allowed to interfere with other, more globally-important things. Because this sister - who was an exceptional mundane teenager, cared for by Myndfyre (they were orphans) - often appeared in an endearing minor role as an NPC, she *mattered*... ie. I was engaged as a player.

In addition to NPCs, "properties" can involve the players: maybe one character runs a small dojo, or operates a tavern, or is an advisor to the Duke. Properties give players something to worry about outside their own skins (AND can themselves be a rich source of NPCs - a student, a patron, a competitor). Players with properties will eventually make a map of their dojo or tavern - they will care where it is on the town map - and will provide an anchor for "this town/village actually matters".

Finally, it's worth having some rules: phones on silent is a good one :)

Pathfinder Lost Omens, Rulebook, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Haven't read the entire thread, but one big thing I noticed is the cell phone comment. Absolutely, 100% ban ALL electronics from the table. I only allow laptops, tablets, and cell phones at the table for looking up rules on the SRD. The only person exempt from this rule is GM, and it applies whether I'm running or not (privilege of hosting FTW). Phones are to be put on silent once the map gets rolled out, and only come out after that during smoke breaks, which leads me to my second point. You have a young group, so most likely no smokers, but institute occasional breaks as well. A few minutes away from the table every couple encounters helps keep the non-game related talk away from the table, and lets people step away from the game for second and think over strategy and such.

I was having a lot of the same problems at one time, and killing the electronics really turned things around. Players are more invested in their characters and what's happening in game. People are remembering NPC's names and motivations a little more readily, and everything seems to be running more smoothly.


No cell phones, computers, tablets, at the table unless they are looking up rules. I find them to be a real immersion breaker.

As for people doing stupid things when their characters might know better, I'd suggest having the people involved with their current plan of action roll an intelligence or wisdom check, with the DC being directly proportional to how mind blowingly stupid their current course of action is. If they make it, point out some of the stupid points and see if they reconsider. I always like when DMs do this because it helps players if they're not 100% familiar with the setting (ie something that would be immediately obvious to anyone from the setting isn't to the players) or misinterpreted the situation... or are just stupid to begin with.

Pathfinder Lost Omens, Rulebook, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
chaoseffect wrote:
As for people doing stupid things when their characters might know better, I'd suggest having the people involved with their current plan of action roll an intelligence or wisdom check, with the DC being directly proportional to how mind blowingly stupid their current course of action is. If they make it, point out some of the stupid points and see if they reconsider. I always like when DMs do this because it helps players if they're not 100% familiar with the setting (ie something that would be immediately obvious to anyone from the setting isn't to the players) or misinterpreted the situation... or are just stupid to begin with.

A big +1 to this. To me, this is an issue of fairness, as well. As a GM it is well within your rights to point out metagame knowledge being used to give the PC's an edge, but people seem to forget the corollary that PC's living in the game world are going to have knowledge that the players don't. With certain things I wouldn't even call for a roll. For instance, in the OP's example of the party backtracking a young manticores path to find it's lair, assuming at least one person in the party has decent knowledge nature or survival, I wouldn't even require a check for those characters to know how monumentally stupid an idea it is. Just like someone living around bears in the real world is going to know that messing with bears cubs is a bad idea because momma bears somewhere around, people in a fantasy world are going to realize that manticores don't just spring fully formed into the world, and probably have parents that wouldn't take too kindly to a home (cave) invasion.

It's an issue of fairness at that point. Too many GM's I've gamed with are quick to point out acting on metagame knowledge, yet reticent to remind people of things that the characters would know but the players wouldn't. The problem is that it breaks immersion and kills player investment just as badly, if not worse, than metagaming.

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