DND Players Not Paying Attention (20 Helpful Tips for DMs)

I’m sure all DMs have been there – you’ve spent hours crafting the perfect dungeon but, as soon as the adventure begins, it becomes painfully clear that the players are not paying attention.

Here’s what to do when you face DND players not paying attention:

When DND players are not paying attention, a DM can re-engage them by keeping the pace fast, using music and sound effects, and making the game personal. A DM can also establish expectations early, get distracted players involved, go silent, and throw in a random encounter.

In this guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know about how to get attention, keep attention, and eliminate annoying player distractions.

20 Ways To Get DND Players to Pay Attention

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Cartoon of DM running a DND game - DND Players Not Paying Attention
I made this image – DND Players Not Paying Attention

Over the last three decades, I’ve come up with a list of 20 tips to get my DND players to pay attention during sessions.

Whether you need to reel in a wandering elf or stop side conversations, these tips can help.

You don’t need to do all 20 at the same time but it probably wouldn’t hurt.

Just incorporate a few into your routine. I think you’ll be happy with the results.

1) Keep The Pace Popping

Players are more likely to stay engaged when the game has a fast pace.

Keep the action moving by having plenty of combat, puzzles, and interesting NPCs with which to interact.

One way to do this is to set a timer for each player’s turn in combat, keeping the game moving along without any one player monopolizing the action.

Also, don’t tell long, boring stories.

Another way to keep the pace popping is to have timed challenges, like a race against the clock to disarm a trap or save a kidnapped NPC.

For example, imagine your players are exploring a dungeon and have just discovered a room filled with treasure.

Before they can take their loot and run, a group of goblins rushes in, forcing them to fight for their spoils. By keeping the pace fast and exciting, you can keep players engaged and focused on the action at hand.

2) Inject a Random Encounter

Sometimes players need a jolt of excitement to keep them engaged.

Consider throwing a random encounter at them, something unexpected that will keep them on their toes and engaged in the action.

This could be anything from a group of wandering monsters to a sudden ambush by bandits.

Imagine your players traveling through a dense forest and suddenly finding themselves face-to-face with a giant acid-spewing spider.

The unexpected encounter keeps players on their toes.

And, therefore, more engaged in the game, wondering what other surprises might be lurking around the next corner.

3) Establish Expectations Early

It’s important to set expectations for the game early on, establishing what is and isn’t acceptable in terms of punctuality, focus, and participation.

Make it clear that the game requires everyone’s full attention.

Players who can’t commit to that may not be a good fit for the group. One way to do this is to have a clear set of ground rules, outlining expectations around things like phone usage and punctuality.

You might start each session by reviewing the ground rules.

Remind players of the importance of staying focused and engaged. This can’t be overstated.

Establishing expectations early creates a culture of engagement and participation.

4) Get Distracted Players Involved

If you notice a player starting to tune out, try to get them more involved in the action.

Give them a task to complete or a challenge to overcome, and make it clear that their input is critical to the success of the group.

As an example, you might give a distracted player a specific challenge or puzzle to solve.

Or have them play a key role in a combat encounter.

If a player is zoning out during a combat encounter, you might give them a specific enemy to focus on or have them come up with a strategy for taking down a particularly tough foe.

By getting them involved and invested in the action, you can help them re-engage in the game.

5) Run a Small DND Group

Sometimes, smaller is better.

Consider running a game with just a few players, as this can help keep everyone more engaged and focused on the game.

With fewer distractions, players may be more invested in the action.

For example, let’s say you have a group of seven players, but you find that several of them are consistently tuning out during the game.

Consider breaking the group into two smaller groups.

This may help create a more intimate and engaging experience for everyone involved.

6) Go Silent

When dealing with group dynamics, less is often more.

Consider going silent for a few moments, allowing players to reflect on what has just happened and think about their next move.

This can help re-engage players who may have been starting to tune out.

For example, you might describe a key moment in the game and then give players a few moments of silence to process what has happened and plan their next move.

When you do so, you create a more contemplative and immersive experience for players, helping them stay engaged and focused on the game.

7) Whisper (Don’t Yell)

If you need to get a player’s attention, consider whispering to them rather than yelling.

This can be a more subtle way to re-engage them without disrupting the flow of the game. For instance, you might lean in close to a player and say something like, “Hey, I noticed you’ve been quiet for a while. Is there anything you want to do next?”

This can be a gentle way to get their attention and re-engage them in the game without calling out their distraction in front of the whole group.

You can also whisper to the entire group.

Most people will notice the volume change and shift their attention back to you.

8) Be a Good Role Model

As the DM, it’s important to set a good example for your players.

Stay focused, engaged, and excited about the game, and your players will be more likely to follow suit.

You might take notes during the game, ask players thoughtful questions, and listen actively to their responses.

By modeling engaged behavior, you can create a culture of focus and attentiveness that will keep players invested in the game.

9) Acknowledge and Redirect

If you notice a player starting to zone out, acknowledge it and redirect their attention back to the game.

You might say something like, “I noticed you’re not as engaged right now. Is there something you’d like to do in the game to help get you back on track?”

This gives them a sense of agency and control over the game.

10) Take a Break

Sometimes, players just need a break to recharge their batteries.

Take a few minutes to chat, stretch, or grab a snack.

Players will come back to the game feeling refreshed and more engaged. I like to take a 5-10 minute break in the middle of a long session, allowing players to stretch their legs and refocus their attention.

This can be an effective way to break up the game and keep players engaged for longer.

11) Set a Signal for Focus

Consider setting a signal or code word that signals the need for focus and attention.

This could be something as simple as clapping your hands or saying a specific phrase, but it can be an effective way to get everyone back on track.

For example, you might say, “Alright, time to focus up” or play a DND-related sound on your phone to signal the need for attention.

Other signals could be music, a light, or anything else customized to your player group.

12) Give Players What They Want

Take the time to get to know your players and their preferences.

Are they more interested in combat, puzzles, or roleplaying? By tailoring the game to their interests, you’ll keep them more engaged and invested in the action.

If you know that your players love puzzles, you might design a challenging puzzle that requires the group to work together to solve it.

By giving players what they want, you can create a more engaging and enjoyable game for everyone.

13) Use Music and Sound Effects

Music and sound effects can be a powerful way to set the tone for the game and keep players on task.

Consider using a playlist of epic battle music or spooky sound effects to add to the ambiance of the game.

You might use eerie music to create a sense of tension and suspense during a particularly challenging puzzle or use epic music to pump players up during a climactic battle.

Using music and sound effects can help create a more immersive and engaging experience for players.

14) Build Tension and Suspense

One of the best ways to keep players focused is to build tension and suspense in the game.

Use foreshadowing and ominous hints to keep players on edge, and create a sense of urgency that makes them eager to find out what happens next.

For example, you might drop hints about a looming threat throughout the game.

Gradually build up the sense of danger until it reaches a climactic conclusion.

15) Use Visual Aids

Visual aids like maps, diagrams, and handouts can be a great way to keep players engaged and invested in the game.

Consider creating a hand-drawn map of the game world, or providing players with a visual aid that helps them understand a complex puzzle or situation.

You can create a detailed map of a dungeon, complete with hidden rooms and secret passages, or create a diagram that helps players understand the complex political landscape of the game world.

By using visual aids, you can help players better understand the game and stay more engaged.

Some of my favorite visual aids include:

16) Keep Sessions Short and Sweet

Long sessions can be tiring for players and can lead to them tuning out or losing focus.

Keep sessions short and sweet, and players will be more likely to stay focused throughout the game.

Schedule shorter sessions more frequently, rather than trying to cram everything into one marathon session.

Shorter sessions help players stay fresh and focused throughout the game.

17) Mix Things Up

Players can get bored if the game becomes too predictable.

Mix things up by introducing new challenges, puzzles, and enemies, or changing the environment of the game world. This will keep players on their toes and more invested in the action.

For example, you might introduce a new NPC with a unique skill set.

Or throw players into a new and unfamiliar environment that challenges their skills in new ways.

18) Encourage Creativity

Encourage players to be creative and think outside the box.

When players feel like they have more autonomy in the game, they are more likely to stay invested in the action.

Encourage players to come up with creative solutions to challenges or to improvise dialogue during roleplaying encounters. As a bonus, players might feel more connected to their characters.

19) Make the Game Personal

Tie the game to the players’ personal stories and interests.

When players feel like the game is directly connected to their character’s backstory and motivations, they are more likely to stay invested in the game and the outcome of their character’s actions.

For instance, you might tie a major plot point to a character’s backstory or motivation.

As you might imagine, this makes their personal investment in the game more explicit.

20) End on a High Note

End each session on a high note, with a cliffhanger or exciting moment that leaves players eager to find out what happens next.

This will keep players excited to come back for the next session.

As an example, you might end a session with a dramatic plot twist, a major cliffhanger, or a hard-fought victory that leaves players feeling energized and excited for the next part of the adventure.

Ending on a high note creates a sense of anticipation that will drive player attention in the future.

Here’s an entertaining video the perfectly sums up DND players not paying attention:

YouTube video by Viva La Dirt League – DND Players Not Paying Attention

10 Scripts To Say When DND Players Are Not Paying Attention

You might want to gently let your players know that you want to pay more attention.

Feel free to use these 10 example scripts:

  1. “Hey [player name], what does your character think about the situation right now?”
  2. “I noticed you’ve been quiet for a while, is everything okay?”
  3. “Can you walk us through what your character is doing right now?”
  4. “It seems like [NPC name] is talking to you specifically, what do you do?”
  5. “Alright, I need everyone to focus up for this next part.”
  6. “Can you describe what your character is feeling right now?”
  7. “Okay, let’s take a quick break and refocus before we continue.”
  8. “Hey [player name], can you give me a quick recap of what’s happened so far?”
  9. “I need everyone to pay attention for this next part, it’s going to be important.”
  10. “I’m going to ask everyone to put their phones away for the rest of the session.”

These scripts aim to re-engage players without calling them out or disrupting the flow of the game, allowing you (the DM) to keep the game moving while keeping players focused.

Final Thoughts: DND Players Not Paying Attention

Once you grab their attention, you still need to keep it. Maintaining attention is tricky but not impossible.

We have lots of good articles about how to make DND more fun.

Check some out before you go.

Other Related Posts:


Personal experience
13 years of teaching advanced group dynamics
APA.org (Research on Group Dynamics)