View Full Version : Distractions

Dark Lord Drax
24 February 2002, 07:07 PM
I want your opinions about something that has happened recently (and happens often) in our games. BTW, I have been logged on since last March, but just now decided to speak. I'm the GM of the game I am referring to.

Our regular weekly sessions meet in a college dorm and it can be quite distracting. I always try to start my games at the exact time I say I will. Two weeks ago was our last game, and only one of my players was ready to go on time (I rewarded him for his punctuality). Once all the players got situated around the table, I started introducing our current position and how we would escape when a non-player came over to us and began chatting with the group's commander. Three times I attempted to start going again. (We ended up walking down a 30 meter hallway for 15 minutes). Basically, this person kept us (or rather, kept our group's leader) distracted for about 10-15 minutes. During this time, our second-in-command got up and left, and sat at a computer doing homework or looking up something on this site. Finally, our interruptor left, and I got everyone back together, when someone else came down and interrupted us. After 2 more minutes, we finally got started.

This kinda thing happens quite often, and frankly it's getting anoying. As GM, all I ask is that my players be on time, and stay on track. Is that too much to ask for? My games usually only take up 2-3 hours a week, and if we go over that time we take a half-hour break for supper.

I decided to implement a new house rule that everything a player says must either be IC, or narrative of their actions. So, all players should respond to them as if their character was talking, or acting. This way, if someone else tries to interrupt us, we must stay on track. This got the particular player angry at me saying that it's only a game and not as important as other things that come up. I argued that I only take up 2-3 hours, and that these things could be done out of game. When we all get together at a game session, we are expressing an unspoken agreement that we are committed to playing a game.

I can understand if some important crisis arose that couldn't wait until I called a break, but is it too much to ask that when it is time to play that all out of game business be put aside or already taken care of?

What really upset me is that after our first distraction left (the one that took 10 minutes) the players started getting upset with me for talking to the second distraction (only took 1-2 minutes)!

This happens every week. Our second-in-command is getting bad at leaving the game in the middle of combat to go to the nearest computer and do something else until it is his turn. I told him next time he did it I would skip him.

While our first distraction was talking, I tried to go ahead and ignore the person. One of the players asked me to repeat myself and I remarked that he should have been paying attention, and that it's my perogative not to repeat myself if I didn't want to.

Well, does anyone have any feedback about my "always IC" rule, or any other ideas on how to handle the problem?

Darth Drax

24 February 2002, 07:57 PM
Well, I remember my college days not too long ago and I'd say find a better place to game. At my old school I was a member of an campus organization (Youngstown State University Gaming Guild :) ) and one of the perks was that we were allowed to reserve use of conference/meeting rooms for our use. It was great! A group that started with 8 people grew to over 40 by the time I graduated playing everything from D&D to Star Wars. So.. long story short. Try and see about reserving one of the university meeting rooms or find a nice quiet place on campus to hang out. Coffee shops can go over nicely as well. Stay away from dorms or crowded hallways. Heck we even gamed in the Arby's in the student center a few times. You can't really force a player to not talk to a passing friend or jumping on a computer but you can take a positive approach by changing the venue.

Good luck and don't be too hard on your players.

24 February 2002, 08:16 PM
You have a right to be angry, however you must be careful not to alienate your player(s) unless you're pretty sure that they aren't dedicated enough to the game to warrant the effort you put into GMing for them. I recommend finding someplace more private to conduct your gaming sessions where you're pretty sure others won't come looking for your players. You might check the rules for starting your own club. (At my college if you have 5 people you got to the clubs office and say you want to start a club and they hand you $50 and assign you a room and time slot...) Anyway, it's rude for them to not pay attention to you or to talk to other people while you're trying to run a game for their sake. It's like attending a class just to talk to your friends while the professor is trying to give a lecture. If they don't want to PLAY the game, they shouldn't come, and you shouldn't want them there because they'll ruin it for you and for others who ARE playing the game.
I run most of my games online, so I had a big problem with this at first, because people who were in other states/countries would be watching TV or playing computer games while I was trying to run a mission. I called them on it, and said that if they didn't want to play they shouldn't show up, and that if they didn't respond within 1 minute after being called, that was equivalent to their character being indecisive for that action (meaning they lose their turn). I lost one person, but the game's pace picked right up, and ever since then I haven't regretted losing anyone who wouldn't agree to the one condition that when I'm running the game for them, they're paying attention to the game.
In fact, if you have more tact than me, you might get away with it clean and not lose anyone at all!

24 February 2002, 11:47 PM
dorm room? lock the door. was great when i was in college, people used to go through my room like it was a t-station or something. locked the doors on gaming days and only my roommate had a key.

i would say that you remember it as being just a game and a real good way to get your players attention is to do what i did to the one player in our group that never payed attention:

in the middle of his sentence to another player i mentioned a fictitious 'encounter' that i had had with his girlfriend. he shut up quicker than a steel trap and glared at me for the rest of the game.

i pulled him aside after game and addressed the problem that i saw and stated that the rest of us were making time in our schedules for a four hour game session and that if he didn't feel like it anymore then he should leave..

he was there on time and on task the next week.

or you could try what my visual comm teacher always did...say the word SEX at an audible level to just be heard over the talking. half the people looked up, the other half didn't get it, go figure...

or you could invite the non-player to play thereby removing the distraction

hope that helps..it is late and i just got back from seeing agnostic front so i am not only really tired, but really sore too and i might not be clearB)

Wade Trenor
25 February 2002, 01:31 AM
I think you'll find that at least half the groups who play have these difficulties.

My group began with nine players, who sometimes hadn't talked to each other for a while. They wanted to hold private discussions during the game. EVERYONE is late :mad: and take forever to settle into 'gaming' mode.

Also, we rotate between each others' homes, and there are distractions like my PSOne, a new DVD player, pool tables, etc. :rolleyes:

Eventually, those that cause the disruptions will leave because they will find other things to do during the time they would have spent playing (our nine is now six), and try to remove the 'props' that could be distracting (none of my friends know about any of my new games ;) ).

Our games are going a lot more smoothly, and are a lot more enjoyable. :)

25 February 2002, 06:40 AM
the computer problem shouldn't be too big, so long as he's paying attention to whats going on as well..

as for the people coming in, lock the door. hell disconnect the phones if you have to

25 February 2002, 07:09 AM
At our school we had a SciFi club and we have enough members that we actually had our own off 24/7 and we could schedule gamming sessions in conference rooms, and twice a semester we had open game days where we had a couple of GMs with premade characters, and people could walk in a join a game. The best bet is to just find some one's dorm room and lock the door, gaming out in an open area is just asking for trouble (unless you're expecting them, :)).

25 February 2002, 09:48 AM
I have been gaming for long time (holy cow, I am really old) about 22years!

I have seen this happen a lot.

Here is my take on it;
Ask everyone whey they are there, and why they are gaming.
their answers will fall usually into one of two catagories.

1 - I am here to game, and hang out with my friends.
2 - I am here to hang out with my friends, and we game.

There is a really
BIG difference there.

To the first person, the game is importatnt, and that is what the time shoudl be spent on.

The the second person, they are just as happy watching movies, or playing cards, or just talking. Sure, they may like the game, but that is not the goal...

Nothing is wrong with either one. They are just different.
Now, some nights my friends and I spend more time just talking and hanging out, and we eventually get around to gaming.
Other nights, we get into the game, and really enjoy it.

You may need to change your group a bit, to make sure that they all want the same thing.
Socailize on social nights, game on gaming nights.
They dont have to be the same crowd.

that is my opinion, I have been in both types of groups over the years, and both are fine...as long as everyone there wants the same thing.

It sounds like yours does not.


25 February 2002, 09:50 AM
distractions happen. you learn to expect them, deal with them, and adapt as the game goes on, not by making more rules. No rule will ever really work... you'll just get players upset. a relaxed atmosphere is fun, and thats the goal of playing a game.

26 February 2002, 10:32 AM
Very true. I have lost 3 gamers over 1 house rule i made up. If you are over my house when i am gaming (irregardless of if i am GMing or playing), all beepers and CEL phones will be turned off, PERIOD. THe only exceptions were for those on Phone Duty, emergency service personell, and the one security standby who played. THe only one who had a prob with this at first, was an Officer, who was just so used to talking to people on it (Hell, i saw him on the phone chatting to another person in the same fast food restaurant, when they were just 15 feet away AND THEY NEW IT!). The other 2 were both teens (17, and 19 respectively), and were also used to having it, and could not give a flying s*** who they pi***d off with they gawd auful ring tones....

So onto your situation. Most of what i have to offer has already been suggested, but you could also, start Combat when they get distracted, and if they stay that way, injure their characters. When they whine (and they will), tell them, as they were not paying attention, they lost all ability to act. That will get their attention.

26 February 2002, 10:56 AM
My game troupe rotates games and GMs on a fairly regular basis. We all have accepted that in our sessions, whoever is GM must approve any outside non-gamers being at the sessions. There are occasional interruptions, but nothing too distracting. Several of my players also play a CCG called Lord of the Five Rings. They enter tournaments and such, which is fine by me. What wasn't fine is when they would go to a tounament, no inform me, and leave me sitting for an hour or two waiting for them to show up. I simply sat them down and told them that I didn't mind their being in tournaments on game night, or even being late, just LET ME KNOW (this had happened 3 weeks in a row before I got fed up). I explained how this made me feel as a GM, and they all agreed that I had a valid point. I haven't had a problem since.

Bottom line: let your players know as a group how these distractions feel as a GM and ask for their cooperation. If you say you'll stop being their GM if they don't cooperate, be prepared to make good on the threat. Hopefully it won't come down to that, but be prepared just in case.

26 February 2002, 11:12 AM
sp these guys talked on cell phones while you where trying to play? Geeze, I'm suprised you let em quit, I would have tossed em out...

*HATES Cell phones*

anyway, best way to be is understanding and if someone shows a 'lack of intrest' ask em "'hey, are you still playing, if so kindly pay some attention"

26 February 2002, 01:07 PM
Well, I'm still in high school so I live at home (and can thus avoid people dropping in unexpectedly), but I've run into similar problems with my group. They tend to become distracted by nearby objects and other such things (which is a bit like your computer user) or they talk about stuff OOC.

I managed to snuff out the first problem pretty effectively. I simply removed all the distractions. My brother's room has a little loft area, and we all cram up there to game. There's nowhere to wander off to, and nothing distracting (nothing I can't remove first, anyway). Try finding a good room, or sit everybody down at a table and keep their attention focused inward.

The second problem's been cropping up in recent games, so I tried instating the same OOC character rule. I've yet to find a good way to enforce it, but I'm considering cutting XP for every OOC comment.

Dragon Fox 3
26 February 2002, 02:50 PM
The trouble I had with my former gaming group was, they wanted to get high before they played the game. By the time they were ready, they were not only 'high' they were dead tired. After all that, they told me they didn't really like playing it, gee I wonder why? I was glad to hear that though, cause I didn't like having to sit in a room with them getting high. Now I either play or plan to GM games on-line.

Good luck with your group, sorry I don't have tips but, my groups bad habit led to's undoing.

26 February 2002, 04:20 PM
When my group gathers to play, the first hour is generally set aside for non-gaming stuff. We don't get to see each other much during the week so we need some socializing time. We order or make dinner, eat, discuss whatever we want, etc. We also take some time to go over last session's game session, discuss rules, talk about various game plans. This is also some added buffer time for players who might be late (and some players are travelling about 100 miles to be in my game but, even if they weren't, the buffer's there).

When the hour (or so) is up, the game begins and, most of the time, distractions are kept to a minimum. When I run the game, I'm grateful for the hour. It gives me some time to get in step with what's ahead, make last minute scribbles (especially when a player happens to mention something about the game I might not have thought of or forgot about and didn't note).

26 February 2002, 07:19 PM
Couple things.

For starters - location, location, location. As has been suggested, get out of the dorm room, or at least lock the door and don't answer it if someone knocks.

Next, you should probably try to talk genuinely to the players and see if you can work something out. This conversation should happen when you're not playing, about to play, just finished playing, or are currently being interrupted. Find another time when you can express your opinion without the players being automatically defensive. It'll go easier on you, and should be received better.

I'm not a big fan of any house rule that tries to enforce a cohesive gaming atmosphere. Er, let me clarify that. Concepts like 'no cell phones,' or 'no interruptions' should be things (even rules) that the entire group agrees on, and follows. They shouldn't be game rules that have a GM dispensing bonuses or penalties to the players for their ability to follow the rule(s). Try to keep the GM from becoming that annoying parent who yells at the kids, "You're going to go, and you're going to have fun - or else!!" In my experience, people will choose the 'or else' option first.

Lastly, this is not directed at your problem specifically, but can become a semi-common GM pitfall so I'm going to include it here.

To address the problem of players not taking the game as seriously as the GM - the GM must dismount their high horse to have the discussion.

What I mean by this is that often when a GM gets frustrated like this it's easy to gripe to the players that you're just trying to present something so they can have fun playing. We perceive that GMing is hard work, and playing is easy - and somehow that should make the players appreciate our dedication and hard work that much more. I've seen some folks go so far as to declare that the only reason they're GMing is so that the players can have fun.

I don't know about anyone else specifically, but that doesn't fly for my players, or for me, really. I GM because I like the game. I GM because without one, a room full of players can't play the game. Similarly, a GM can't play alone - they need players. And the players know it. So everyone's important for the game to proceed. Which is why the GM needs to be on the same level as the players when decisions like this need to be made.

This kind of ties into loudandeep's concept of the two types of gamers, and he has a point about figuring out which type the GM is, and which type the players are. It'll make it easier to find a common middle-ground.

Again, let me say that I'm not accusing anyone here of being a holier-than-thou type of GM. That is not my intent. I just wanted to help folks avoid digging a deeper hole for themselves when problems arose. But as with everything I post, take it all with a grain of salt, and feel free not to take it at all. :)

Dark Lord Drax
27 February 2002, 05:08 PM
Thanks, your ideas have been most helpful. I shall move my sessions to a new location ASAP instead of force choking my players. However, I do plan to use some nasties on them when they get distracted again. I've already warned our computer addict that the next time he left the table, I'd skip his turn in combat instead of calling him. I will also start penalyzing OOC comments, as well as hurt the players who become distracted from the game.

Another solution has come up. The player who usually ends up talking to other non-gamers the most is going to be transferring from the group to a private game. So, he won't be around to slow down the group, and if he gets distracted during his game, it'll only hurt him.

Another thing I may start doing is for every minute someone slows us down, that's one minute I'll spend shooting pool before the game!

27 February 2002, 05:18 PM
Why not award some experience points for good gaming and staying in character? Then those who don't do that will get missed. Rather than dock points, just don't give them any. If you pass out an extra 50 points per player, for example, for excellent role-playing and what not, just make sure they all know why they got the points.

GM: "Joe, you stayed in character and kept the game moving, here's 50 points. Carl, you didn't do too bad but you kept telling jokes out of character, here's 35 points."

Rick: "What about me?"

GM: "What about you?"

27 February 2002, 06:56 PM
I think distractions are part and parcel of any gaming experience. Our group has so many distracting routines they're practically synonymous with the game as a whole. I tell people to show up at 4, people show up between 4-5, half of them haven't eaten dinner, so they're hungry, so they go to find food, there's a little BS session, and so the game doesn't get started until 6. Joke's on them, though, because I planned the game for 6 and had everyone show up two hours early just to account for all the nonsense. :)

Actually, there are a couple house rules we've set up in order to make these distractions as non-intrusive as possible:

1) I give people about 30 minutes to BS. It's too hardcore to just jump into the game; people need some time to settle. However, at the 30 minute mark I start up the theme music or the like, and declare, "when the music's done, we start." Or demand silence during the music, so everyone just listens and gets into the mood. Sometimes people don't want to cooperate, but I don't berate them about it -- I just do it every time, so it becomes a habit, and sooner or later it's not a problem any more.

2) A humorous tradition around our gaming table is the "Oracle," usually a small action figure whom I will "consult" during the game. Over the years, it's rotated between Darth Vader, Plush Cthulhu, Cyber Spawn, and Spike Spiegel of Cowboy Bebop. When players get out of line, or are falling out of character, goofing off, etc. I point ominously to the oracle to indicate it's "getting pissed." The player will then (usually) cease in order to "placate" the oracle. It's a joke, of course, but after years of re-hashing this gag, it's actually become effective. Players goof off... point to the oracle... they shut up. Sure, they're just playing along with the joke, but it still get results.

Mostly I find that an occasional joke or distraction is not only inevitable, but also lets some pressure off. If you're in the position where you have to berate your players repeatedly to stay on task, then it can rapidly get to not be fun anymore, and you can lose sight of why you wanted to play in the first place. These other posts have excellent recommendations -- lock the door, disconnect the phone, find a quieter venue if possible. If there are problem players in your group who are screwing it up for everyone else, then you might consider either taking to them or, in extreme measures, quietly retiring the campaign and starting it up again later with a more cooperative set of players. Good luck.

27 February 2002, 08:21 PM
Originally posted by dgswensen
A humorous tradition around our gaming table is the "Oracle," usually a small action figure whom I will "consult" during the game. Over the years, it's rotated between Darth Vader, Plush Cthulhu, Cyber Spawn, and Spike Spiegel of Cowboy Bebop. When players get out of line, or are falling out of character, goofing off, etc. I point ominously to the oracle to indicate it's "getting pissed." The player will then (usually) cease in order to "placate" the oracle. It's a joke, of course, but after years of re-hashing this gag, it's actually become effective. Players goof off... point to the oracle... they shut up. Sure, they're just playing along with the joke, but it still get results.The Oracle? Heh, that's funny. I love it. I wish I had a face to face group so I could play around with this. Fun, simple, gets the point across, all in one little figure. Great idea.

28 February 2002, 06:53 AM
Just for note, my no Cel/beeper rule is a HOUSE (not game system house) rule.... If we played the game elsewhere, it does not come into play (unless the other person has the same thought process)..

28 February 2002, 07:22 AM
In our gaming group we have a "No cell phone/beeper at the gaming table" rule. This is for all games and all gaming locations. Sometimes peoples phones still ring (from their coats or other tables), but people can't sit and talk on the phone at the gaming table they have to go elsewhere to answer the phone and talk. We all agreed on it, and the rules stands.

As for the laughing/joking getting out of hand at the table, we have our moments of chaos, but overall our group is pretty good. If things get out of hand, usually the players police themselves about it, or the GM asks the players to focus (our group has lots of GM's for different games, but I do SW). Some nights are better than others, so I guess that just depends on what mood everyone is in.

Tony J Case, Super Genius
2 March 2002, 10:46 PM
Originally posted by reliant
In our gaming group we have a "No cell phone/beeper at the gaming table" rule. This is for all games and all gaming locations. Sometimes peoples phones still ring (from their coats or other tables), but people can't sit and talk on the phone at the gaming table they have to go elsewhere to answer the phone and talk. We all agreed on it, and the rules stands.

Or another solution to the C-phone problem: whip up a C-phone jammer. 25 bucks at Radio Shack (plus the plans found on the internet) and *POOF* silence at the gaming table, in movie theaters, at resturants, on the road - anywhere within a 30 or 40 foot radius of you.

3 March 2002, 09:40 AM
Tough call... You need to try and lay down the law without making your players feel like you're laying down the law.

I wish I could just give the answer, but it really depends on the personality of your players. You might try starting your game on time even if some of your players are late. Maybe if they feel they're missing out on something they might make an effort to be on time.

The best solution would be to find a more distraction-free place to game. I remember in my college days it was tough to find an unpopulated place to game, but you might be able to track down a slightly less busy area.

Best of luck to you.