Part 2: Player Disinterest in Dungeons and Dragons

Part 1 covers what you should avoid as a dungeon master.

More often than not as a Dungeon Master, you will run into a challenge in keeping players interested in a game. This post will elaborate on signs of player disinterest in dungeons and dragons and techniques on handling it. Here’s what we’re looking at in a breakdown.

  • Signs of Disinterest:
    • Playing on Phones
    • Lack of Participation
    • Refusal to Roleplay
    • Irritability with You and Other Players
    • Limited Social Interaction
  • What to Do About It
    • Convene with the Party and Assess the Situation- Find the Source of the Issue
    • Discuss and Find Possible Solution
    • Apply the Solution

Players on Their Phones

A clear and obvious sign of Player Disinterest is when you see a player looking at their phone. This occurs typically when the Dungeon Master is not giving the player enough attention and engagement in the dialogue. Or perhaps the Dungeon Master is not letting them attempt things freely. Be sure you’re drawing the player into the conversation. Make direct eye contact with you players, let them know that this is their moment to shine.

One of the best ways to avoid these circumstances is to establish a rule that requests players to put away and silence your phones. This will help your players pay attention to what is transpiring in the game.

Lack of Participation

Although being on the phone is a form of nonparticipation, there are many other forms you need to stay on the lookout for. Things such as doodling, having too many side conversations that aren’t game related, and even general silence are all examples of how players are not participating. This is another thing that can be avoided by including all of your players within the dialogue. Try your best to pay attention you what each player is doing. Where are they looking? What are they doing with their hands? Are they interacting with the cues you are giving them?

Whenever you see a lack of participation, gently remind the player to focus and pay attention to what is transpiring in the campaign and draw them into the dialogue. If the problem persists, it might be best to pull the player aside after the session and see what’s up. Talk with the player about possible ways to reinvigorate their excitement for the game. Always be as inclusive as you can.

Note that some people are ADD or ADHD and doodling and fidgeting can actually help them focus. Be sure to talk to your players if their habits persist and ask if they are able to focus when doing these small things. For instance, my girlfriend is ADHD and she tends to doodle when we play. This helps her focus, but sometimes it leads to her hopping onto her phone when she gets bored. Just be sure to encourage what works for the player and that they are retaining focus.

Refusing to Roleplay

Yes, this can count as a lack of participation. However, sometimes you get a player that’s all about the action, rather than the roleplay. This isn’t an issue when your campaign isn’t really driven by narrative. If it is though, you may come across this problem.

Always be encouraging to your players. Roleplaying is hard, especially for new players. If the player is having trouble, help them out. For example, you as the Dungeon Master ask the player as a merchant NPC what it is they would like to purchase from their wares. The player then says, “I just want some potions and to see if he has any cool magic items.” As the Dungeon Master, you could respond with “Great! Now how would your character express that to the merchant?” This will help your player to start to feel out how their character would react to the world around them.

Be as courteous and helpful as humanly possible when dealing with players that aren’t roleplaying.

 Irritability with You and the Other Players

Another thing to keep a lookout for is if a player becomes irritable with you or other players. If he/ she starts getting snarky or begins to snap at you or the other players, perhaps there’s something that’s pulling their interest away from the game. There could be a multitude of things that contribute to this sort of behavior. It may not even pertain to the actual game itself.

Typically, the best way to handle this situation is to pull the player aside after a session and ask them if everything is ok. If it is an issue they are having with the game, talk it over and have them elaborate. Is it the direction of the story or lack thereof? Is it a problem they are having with a particular player? Are they feeling as though they are being berated or put down by anyone?

Sometimes these behavior patterns of irritability stem from a source within their personal life. Try to console the player and see if there is some sort of understanding you can come to. Perhaps even offer them a reprieve from the game until they can get things sorted.

Limited Social Interaction

It’s important for players to interact both in and out of character in a game like Dungeons and Dragons. You may come across players that roleplay well, but don’t engage socially with the group. This might be because they are shy, or feel as though they might not fit in. Make them feel welcome within the group. Engage with them as a player, not just as their character.

Many times, you will present players with a situation that requires some planning and preparation. If you notice a player is not actively engaging in this process, it may be a sign of a withering interest in the game. Try and make sure that said player is included by gauging their opinion. Don’t be afraid to talk to the player outside the sessions as needed to see what can be done to get the player more socially involved.

What to do When Things Get Out of Hand

Sometimes, things will get to a point to where it seems like there’s no safe point of return when multiple, if not all of your players appear to be losing interest. The life blood of your campaign begins to run cold, and you can feel it coming to an awful, screeching halt. It’s times like these that desperate measures must be taken.

Convene with Your Players

Sit down with your players and discuss what the source of the issue is. Get everything out on the table. Be sure to be understanding when discussing the problem and avoid any finger pointing. Find out what seems to be causing the players’ disinterest. Be fair and honest with all points and try to stay away from creating further conflict. Remember, the point is to flush out the source of the issue, not to cause more.  Getting feedback from your players helps you improve as a dungeon master and story teller.  When the story telling aspect of a campaign is weak, it just isn’t fun.  A way to combat this is to work of your improvising skills and ask your players how you are doing.  This makes the adventures better for everyone.

Ask your group what their concerns are. What is it that is driving them away from the story? Are there any unspoken grievances that need to be addressed? Who feels as though they aren’t being respected and treated fairly?

Discuss a Possible Solution

After talking to the group about what the problems are, you should all brainstorm for a solution. Consider possible ways to bring your solutions into the story. Compose a new story hook that promises to bring all the players worries to a halt, and rekindle their genuine interest. Perhaps it would be good to make some changes to the characters mechanics. Or just simply discuss some rules to put forward to maintain respect for everyone involved.

However, sometimes there is no obvious solution in sight. In times like these, though it may be unfortunate, it may be prudent to discuss an end to the campaign. Now mind you, this end doesn’t have to be permanent. You can easily suggest that the group take a break from the campaign for a while. Maybe pick it back up in a month or two. This will help the party to regain their inspiration and give them respite from the struggles of scheduling. It will also help the players take care of any issues that are outside the campaign without completely disbanding.

But…if there is no other alternative in sight…then perhaps it is best to put an end to this campaign.

If you’ve done all that you can, there’s no point in wasting anymore energy to keep the campaign alive.  Find a good way to tie in an ending to the story and create a great epilogue to send off your heroes. Make it a spectacular end in one fashion or another. Keep in mind that though this is the end of the campaign at hand, there may be a possibility of a new campaign to start fresh down the road. Be sure you let your players know this as well, to end things on somewhat of a high note.

Thank you all again for reading! I hope this has enlightened all of you Dungeon Masters out there that are struggling with Player Disinterest. If there are any other problems you are encountering that we didn’t cover in this post, please feel free to comment and we’ll do our best to give you a viable answer. Also, don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter for more updates from our blog!

Author: Ven’Orik (Zach)

I’m just a regular nerd with a passion for storytelling and fantasy. Growing up I read books by Tolkein and C.S. Lewis, and this solidified my love for the genre. I first started playing D&D when I was 13 and have been pursuing it since. I’m just here to share my knowledge and hopefully learn a thing or two from all of you as well!