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  #1  
Old May 10th, 2021, 03:39 PM
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How to handle player who isn't involved

Hello. I'm a new member to the forum and after some browsing, this seemed like the appropriate section for this question. I currently DM two games, and in one, I have a player who seems incredibly disinterested at the table, but continually comes back for each session. By disinterested, I mean not engaged in the plot or with other players, and by the end of the night is mainly playing on his phone. Do you have any tips for how to handle a player like this?
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Old May 10th, 2021, 04:23 PM
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Take him aside and ask why.
Direct is always better.

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Old May 10th, 2021, 10:38 PM
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Text him mid game, "Your character now feels a sharp pain in his back. He is now at 4 HP."

Let his reaction guide your next move as DM. If he screams Nooooo and asks everyone for help, then make an encounter with sneaky rogues out of it.

If he says "whatever" or nothing at all, then maybe the stab he took to the back was from a poison dagger and the PC drops next round.
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Old May 11th, 2021, 12:38 AM
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I think I'm ripping off channeling some Matthew Colville advice here, so if it's helpful I can't take any credit. Have you considered asking if that's the way this person likes to play? It might just be that playing in the exact way you describe (with their phone out) is their perfect cup of tea. If it is, then is that okay with you? I think getting expectations out on the table can be helpful.

Last edited by Leviticus; May 11th, 2021 at 12:47 AM.
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Old May 11th, 2021, 07:00 AM
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Ask him.

It may be he has issues going on, it may be he's bored, it may be the play style is not to his liking, he may be waiting on or missing certain cues to get involved.

You won't know a thing until you sit down quietly and ask "I notice you seem bored and not engaged. What's up?"
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Old May 11th, 2021, 08:49 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Leviticus View Post
I think I'm ripping off channeling some Matthew Colville advice here, so if it's helpful I can't take any credit. Have you considered asking if that's the way this person likes to play? It might just be that playing in the exact way you describe (with their phone out) is their perfect cup of tea. If it is, then is that okay with you? I think getting expectations out on the table can be helpful.
I hadn't considered that at all, just took it at face value for boredom. I agree with this and other replies that I just need to talk with him directly about it. If it is just the way he wants to play, sure, I could get over it.
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Old May 11th, 2021, 08:50 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by zevonian View Post
Text him mid game, "Your character now feels a sharp pain in his back. He is now at 4 HP."

Let his reaction guide your next move as DM. If he screams Nooooo and asks everyone for help, then make an encounter with sneaky rogues out of it.

If he says "whatever" or nothing at all, then maybe the stab he took to the back was from a poison dagger and the PC drops next round.
This is another cool idea—thrusting his character into the foreground. I'll give something like that a shot too!
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Old May 11th, 2021, 11:54 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by thefeywild View Post
This is another cool idea—thrusting his character into the foreground. I'll give something like that a shot too!
The problem here is if someone's comfortable in the background, then you're thrusting them into a situation where they're genuinely uncomfortable.

This is also ignoring that this might be how they pay attention, if they seem to be aware of the context and situation despite being on their phone, there's a good chance this is just how they keep themselves grounded. I knew several people with ADHD/ADD who used their phones to ground their attention to the game.

Last edited by Marshmallow; May 11th, 2021 at 11:56 AM.
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Old May 11th, 2021, 03:32 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by thefeywild View Post
I have a player who seems incredibly disinterested at the table, but continually comes back for each session.
As stated above, just ask him. Say something like "Hey, I noticed you're not too into it."
There could be many reasons. RPGs might not be something he's really interested in but he likes to hang out with his friends, or he likes battles but not the roleplaying so much, or maybe he likes RPGs but he's not into the particular game being played, like if you're playing D&D 5e he'd rather be playing Pathfinder or something. He might even feel like he doesn't have anything to contribute, so he's just enjoying listening to the other players roleplay. From your post it seems like he's not bothering anyone, just silently playing with his phone.

Don't do anything without his consent, like putting him in the foreground, making him talk, or killing his character. His interest is already so minimal as to be nonexistent, and antagonizing him will only make him withdraw more.
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Old May 11th, 2021, 03:38 PM
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By texting someone mid-game, you're incorporating their penchant for phone usage into the game itself, and recognizing their methods of taking in info. The player might text back instead of responding verbally. The GM can then suggest talking to the party.
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Old May 13th, 2021, 10:48 PM
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I think Marshmallow has a solid point. This might be this player's way of engaging.

I would suggest starting off the conversation not with something like: "Hey, you seen bored and disengaged." But with "Hey, you're always on your phone ... does that mean you're bored?" And yeah, maybe even do that by text. Maybe outside of game time.

It is possible the player is being rude, disrespectful and doesn't care a bit about the game. But maybe something else is going on? Maybe this game is an anchor for them in some way...and if that is the case, then it seems a shame to push them out of it.

Once you establish what is happening, or give them the chance to share if they wish, then I think Leviticus' comment is really wise. So...once you know the situation, can you live with it?
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Last edited by bananabadger; May 13th, 2021 at 10:49 PM.
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Old May 15th, 2021, 01:22 PM
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My first question is this: is this player's behavior detracting from the fun for you and the other players? If so, then it's something you need to address. If not... well... you don't really have a problem.

If it isn't really bothering anyone, you do have the option of simply letting the player play the way that they apparently want to. They are coming back after all, so... maybe they are enjoying the game and your read on their behavior is incorrect. You say they seem disinterested. Some people are not easy to read. I have seen players in PbP games who consistently post 1-3 sentence posts and don't engage much OOC... but damned if they don't keep on showing up to post promptly to every GM post, for years on end. People are different and reading others can be difficult.

To engage the person, there's good advice here already. I'd couch it in terms of their enjoyment. Ask if they're having fun and if there's anything different they'd like to see in the game. If it really is detracting from the other player's enjoyment, I would at first try only addressing the phone thing. Phones can be rude. But, you also say that they mostly are on the phone toward the end of the session. Maybe they have someone pestering them about where they are. Maybe they have commitments that require communication. Are they really "playing"? Sometimes just you knowing that they're checking in with their baby sitter or telling someone will be late is enough to make the phone seem like not a big deal. If they're playing Minecraft or something, that's different. That's kind of disrespectful, and it's okay to let them know how that makes you and the others feel.
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Old May 16th, 2021, 09:51 AM
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I've played with a few people who keep quiet at the table, preferring to stay in the background unless directly called upon. Two of them for many years now. When I asked those two about it their answer was they liked listening to the story. They're fine with doing something small on their turn and just leaning back and listening. The bards who were there and saw.

A great aspect of TTRPGs is the bond everyone at the table shares. Only WE know this story, all its nuances and heroic moments. It's a powerful bond and no matter the voracity of the retelling its power will only be true and strong in the hearts of those that were there. That comradery alone is enough.
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Old May 16th, 2021, 01:36 PM
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I appreciate all the great feedback! As it turns out, my question has become a moot point, because the player in question is no longer at the table. There's some personal stuff he has to work out, which may or may not have been contributing to what I perceived as disinterest. Regardless, I will certainly remember the good advice given here with any future players!
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