Help with an inattentive, interrupting player

Gamer Life General Discussion

In a campaign I'm running, I have a few players who talk over and interrupt the person whose turn it is in combat, but one player does it much more than the others. Calling him out on it mid-game hasn't helped. One time when I asked him to pay attention, he blurted out, "Why? It's not my turn." Usually he's on his phone, cracking jokes, or interrupting the person whose turn it is to ask a question. Occasionally, he's started a YouTube video with a piece of music he thinks is thematic or interesting, even when it's a huge distraction. A lot of his humor references obscure TV and films, so all but two of us are just puzzled. But then when it's his turn he jumps in, barrels blazing, really happy to be there.

I don't really understand his mentality. I'm of the mind that even when it's not one's turn in combat, listening to the story unfold is its own reward. My PC is just one character in a team of heroes. I mean, when I watch Avengers, I don't tune out whenever Iron Man isn't on screen.

Anyway, I wouldn't mind it except that some of the other players told me in confidence that it's distracting and slows down combat. They're also a bit annoyed that he doesn't pay attention to what they're doing though they're kind enough and interested enough to listen when his initiative is up.

It's a pretty stark contrast to my other group where we work much more like a team of characters and players.

I'm also convinced that his character is breaking the game. I need to check his sheet but his 11th-level samurai constantly puts out a lot more damage than anyone else. He misremembers how his class abilities work a lot, even after I've explained to him several times. But maybe that's a separate issue that can't be addressed here.

Anyway, I want him to continue playing. He loves the game. He's a good friend. We attend the same church every week. Uninviting him isn't an option I'm willing to explore. I focused on the negatives for this advice post, but he brings a lot to the table too.

To paraphrase a famous musical, how can I make him stay and listen to what we say?

Scarab Sages

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Take everything you just said here, and politely say the same things to him out of character and away from the table.

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What Duiker said.

Uninviting him may be an option you will need to be open to, if you want him to take your request seriously. So far your words have been empty to him. Yeah, I get it. We accept our friends for who they are and tolerate their annoying traits, and they do the same for us. However, it sounds like he is repeatedly putting his own wishes above those of his friends. There has to be a point you are done with it. Maybe a friend would finally tke the hint if his choices get him excluded. At what point is the happiness of the group more important than catering to a disrespectful player?

The Exchange

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I've commented before on the fact that many - in fact, I'll say most - players are not actually capable of immersing themselves in a tabletop RPG while their electronic devices are right there, in their hands, like a never-ending dose of heroin. They always think they are, but... They claim their addiction isn't hurting anything: in actuality they're making it quite clear that their fellow gamers are less important to them than non-stop Youtube is. Real classy.

You're the GM here, which gives you options. However, the best one is probably to discuss it with the player in a non-game setting with none of the players around. In-game "punishments" never create a greater interest in the game, and the opposite approach - rewarding those who pay attention - isn't going to work well because he isn't paying attention to which behaviors cause the reward. If you decide to implement an in-game rewards program - say, accumulate 20 Awesome Points to get a free reroll useable whenever you need it - you should present the house rule as a hand-out, not a lecture (players pay attention to hand-outs). And let them earn points for actions that require close attention. Suggesting a plan? Worth something. Tricking an NPC into revealing something through conversation? Worth something. Taking advantage of an action that was just completed? You get the idea.

A final note: if you play your monsters so that they provoke attacks of opportunity fairly often, you encourage players to pay attention when it's not their turn. I know those aren't smart tactics, but it helps fix your problem.

RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

Maybe pass a basket around where people can deposit their electronic devices.

Maybe give each player a Hero Point for doing so?

I tried banning electronic devices at our table for a couple of meetings. It didn´t go over to well...

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I don't ban electronic devices for two reasons: 1) many of the people at my table use them as a resource; much as I use a laptop to confirm spells and class abilities, I am okay with them using their devices for the same reason; 2) I play with people who are professionals always on call and young kids, some of the lawyers and doctors in my game literally couldn't play if that rules existed.

That said, describe the issue. These all sound like fixable problems. I would work on it one at a time and not during the game. Don't open the floodgates at once. Start with the interruptions and bad theme music, move on to auditing his character sheet. Simple honest is always the best way to handle these situations.

Thanks for the advice so far. I'm inclined to believe the phone isn't the issue. It's just one manifestation of the general problem.

I really think it boils down to a lack of camaraderie and perhaps some undiagnosed ADHD. (This coming from someone with ADHD that I'm managing, though probably of a different flavor.) Not to engage in armchair psychology. It's just that he might not even be aware that his behavior is problematic.

We might also have different expectations for the game. He might be thinking it's action comedy, while I'm thinking it's epic fantasy.

But, yes, a conversation away from the table would be a good idea I think. I hope I handle it well. Any advice on having that conversation?

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Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path Subscriber

Dustin, you're arriving at the reality. It's not the device(s), it's the player.

The issue is (and yes, I've got this in one of my games where I DM for 6 players) interruption.

With that many players, things frequently get derailed, where something I say reminds one player or another of some TV quote or YouTube video or whatever, and things grind to a halt as we all listen to a Monty Python clip we've all heard twenty times before. I've tolerated that with this group though it frustrates me somewhat, because I know what that game is to most of the players: it's a every-other-week opportunity to get out of their houses, leave the wives and kids at home, and hang out with their buds. That's important, so if the group as a whole is having a casual night, I let it happen and we get through one encounter in six hours. Other nights I drive things more, if the group seems focused.

That all said, it sounds like most of your group is focused and one player isn't. I'd have The Conversation. First, it's important to not make it a confrontation. It's not his fault, and what he's doing isn't wrong, it's just masturbating in church. Wrong place, wrong time, wrong crowd. I'd try to basically put it that you don't need theme "help" because it distracts you. Put the fault on you, that you can't concentrate and it's hard DMing, so you've got to ask the player to just not do the videos and sounds etc.

No, not once in a while, just don't. "I'll play stuff when I need it." Zero is an easier rule to follow than "less".

Same thing goes for talk about things that aren't the game. "Oh, that reminds me of this time that..." No, please no. Tell him that you can't handle dipping in and out of running a whole universe of NPCs in your head while keeping all the rules straight and remembering what comes next, and planning for making the game as cool as possible when other stories intrude.

Final comment on "that reminds me". When you hear that, say "write it down, we'll talk about it after the game". That works well. Probably four of my six players stick around an hour or more after the game shuts down, just to talk about movies or books, or work issues, or whatever.

Good luck.

I have always preferred small groups (no more than 3 players) because of issues like this. I am very picky about who I run games for, and have zero tolerance for this kind of behavior.
That said, the suggestions I have read are all solid.
Make the best effort you can to curb the behavior. If that fails, uninvite the player from the group.

People have already weighed in on the player himself, so I'll weigh in on

I'm also convinced that his character is breaking the game. I need to check his sheet but his 11th-level samurai constantly puts out a lot more damage than anyone else. He misremembers how his class abilities work a lot, even after I've explained to him several times. But maybe that's a separate issue that can't be addressed here.

If he's running a Samurai Archer then I wouldn't be surprised if he tops damage. Archery is generally the combat style most likely to have good returns.

1. Most often able to full attack
2. Against High AC foes you make a manyshot and normal shot at full BAB and that's generally harder hitting than any one hit from a 2 handed weapon
3. It stacks well with static bonuses to damage

If he's running a Mounted Lance Charge build then congratz, you've found a player who realized that Mounted combat is the only melee style comparable to archery.

Sounds like he might have a conscience, but doesn't realize how distracting he is. If possible you may be able to record a gaming session and play the recording to him in private (only hardcore masochists like to be shamed publicly) and ask him if he would like it if all the other players behaved as he does. He may not realize just how obnoxious his behavior is.

Is he new to gaming in general? It sort of sounds like it, he's having a great time in his mind, not knowing what a distraction his actions are. If he isn't he should know better, and you should have seen this coming as well.

The Talk is a good first step, but always leave the door open for dismissal. Some people will not give up what they believe is enjoyable, even if it affects others. That said, I've never had an occasion yet where The Talk didn't work.

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When someone else is taking a turn and he starts talking, put your hand up to the person's turn it is in a show of having them stop and stare at the guy speaking out of turn. Continue doing so without saying anything until he stops. Then turn back to the person's turn it is and ask them to continue. Repeat.

If he asks why you keep doing that, let him know that you find it hard to concentrate on the person who is speaking with him talking/playing music, etc.

Firstly, I think you may want to tell him that you have reason to believe that he's not playing his character according to RAW, and that as a consequence, you need to have a copy of his character sheet open whenever he makes a roll, so that you may double-check that everything is done correctly. Tell him that since you have tried on numerous occasions to explain his class abilities to him, and he still doesn't remember, this is the only option left open to you.

Hopefully that'll act as a wake-up call. In my experience, that kind of behaviour has nothing to do with not remembering. It has everything to do with him cheating through his teeth, because he's learned he can get away with it. And if he should, in fact, be one of those exceedingly few people with a memory like a sieve who genuinely cannot remember, he should not feel offended for you wanting to help check things so he can do things correctly.

Also, you said uninviting him isn't an option. However, here's one thing you may want to consider:

The group already considers him a distraction. If this continues without you putting a plug in it, and fast, you'll start losing other players who are fed up with his antics.

In the end, you may be in a position where you can either close down the group, or you will have to uninvite him. Do not close yourself off to the possibility for that reason.

Furthermore, you should tell him, straight up and to his face, that people in the group have complained about him and that they find his behaviour to be a distraction. Tell him that effective immediately, you do not want to hear another piece of "thematic" or "interesting" music coming from him. If he wants to talk on the phone while playing, he can leave the room or if it happens via the internet, he can turn off his microphone so no one else has to listen. Tell him that you will ask the other players to hold until he gets back, so that he won't miss any of the action because he needs to know what everyone does, in order to react accordingly.

And lastly, hit him squarely in the face with causality every time he doesn't keep up. Let him feel the actual, logical consequences of his one-man-show in character.

This is about tough love. You like the guy, that's fine, but sometimes we have to be cruel to the people we like in order for them to understand that they are doing something wrong. This guy is either ruining or at least diminishing the fun and entertainment experienced by a whole group of people, because he is blatantly trying to make everything he does, about him.

Personally, I give players who act like that two warnings and then I kick them from groups I run.

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