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So, this question is kind of meta... Hopefully a reasonable question to ask.

My group have been playing various D&D style games for a few years,

I have one player however that often will drift off and start playing on his phone and several times has actually fallen asleep (with his character having to be "nudged" along by his fellow players).

He insists he's "just tired" and "isn't bored" and after all, he keeps insisting we all get together for D&D and wants to play.

How do I cope with:

  • The morale destroying (for me) idea of your players falling asleep through a campaign and story you've put lots of work into.
  • The general tone of the room when this player loses interest. (Occasionally a couple of others zone out into Facebook when they're not "active" because the players have split up / gone unconscious).

Given that it's an "all or nothing" situation with the group (there are only 3 players and they won't play unless all 3 are around), how do I best deal with it?

EDIT

Unfortunately if I'm to get the group together at all, as we're all pretty busy, it's usually always last thing on a Sunday. It's the only time I've managed to get the group together - although the falling asleep has happened on the odd times we've played at different times / situations.

After talking to the player he insists it's not the game, or the story, he just happens to be tired... although this is the same excuse every week.

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Have you tried talking to the player? What's his response? Have you mentioned that it might be best if he keeps his phone in his pocket during game time? What kinds of things have you tried to keep him engaged? –  wax eagle Feb 20 at 14:50
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Have a look at this. If he is just tired, have you tried to set the meetings to some time when he thinks he could be less tired? When you notice that he is starting to fall asleep, make a break, get him some movement, fresh air and discuss the current in-game situation to get him back in. And a cup of tea or coffee has never hurt my night-shifters as well. –  Valryne Feb 20 at 15:16
    
I was also wondering if this isn't an effective duplicate of rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/33684/… –  mxyzplk Feb 20 at 18:28
    
Have you tried changing the time slots of the sessions? Maybe moving the game a few hours earlier in the day will help him stay awake in the game. –  Yosi Feb 21 at 9:38
    
I subscribe to a few RPG related channels on youtube and this popped up in my sub box today.... I enjoyed it and found some of the ideas interesting, maybe it will help you out too! youtube.com/watch?v=tBXC3BrHTEM –  MC_Hambone Feb 28 at 4:21
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3 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

This situation is certainly less than optimal and not something any of us like to deal with. And while I don't have problems with players falling asleep, I do have experience with players that are easily distracted. So here are a few ideas I have to help you reengage your players.

  • Talk to them openly, honestly and calmly Outside of game time, be upfront with them about how you feel and through an open and calm discourse brainstorm specific solutions that you and your players think will help keep everyone equally engaged in the story.

  • Remind Them During Game one big thing that helps me is when players start day dreaming or what ever, is to say "Hey Dan, important things are happening and it might behoove you to pay attention." Get more stern the next time, "Dan, I already asked you once to pay attention, when you keep playing on your phone, it's distracting to me and that causes me to tell a sub-par story...not to mention having to take time out to remind you not to play Tetris on your phone takes valuable game time away from the people who are paying attention." and if they still continue, Refer to the more harsh punishments in the "Less Ideal Solution" section.

  • Disallow Phones/Electronics By reducing the amount of distractions at the table you might see improved engagement from the players. You can allow them to use electronics to check PDFs of rule books, but no facebooking and phones should probably be turned off.

  • Try to Change the Game Time Due to your problem including people falling asleep, a meeting time change might be a good option. Talk to your player and ask him why he is nodding off during play, did he get a new job? Start new hours? Does he have a newborn child? There are a myriad of possibilities and combined effort to find solutions to his sleep ailments could prove helpful to your plight. Perhaps playing earlier in the day would make it easier for your player to ward off sleepiness.

  • Take a Break Maybe the reason people are not engaged is as simple as being burnt out. I know, as a DM, this is like asking you to cut off an appendage you are overly fond of. We never want to break from our hard thought out campaign. We spend so much time preparing sessions, intricate story arcs, PC development, world building, etc. that we (or at least me) would probably like to play more than 1 night a week. Never the less, some players don't realize, appreciate, care or pay any attention to the work we put into giving them a great experience. One option would be to perhaps try a palette cleanser. Take a break from your current game and try something new! It could be a different RPG, or even a different setting with new characters with in your game of choice.

    • This has worked well for me. We have only been playing our current campaign (D&D) for 5-6 months and my players were getting visably burnt out with the current state of the game, we had been stuck in the same place since the start, and even though they were advancing the plot they really needed a change of scenery. To remedy this We played All Flesh Must be Eaten on Halloween and again around Christmas. We also played 2 sessions of D&D with different characters in a different part of the world quite recently. All of these times have served to give them a breather from the long running campaign and get them excited to get back to their regular characters.

Less Ideal Solution

  • Penalize their characters Dont remove XP, levels, items or anything they have, but if the above doesn't work you can always try things like:
    • Skip them on their turn, after you let them know. "Hey Dan, I notice you are playing on your phone again after we discussed not doing that... you are going to be skipped this turn, please keep your eye on the prize!"
    • Give less or no loot/xp for a session. If things were really bad with people getting distracted and not responding to your reminders during game to pay attention, dock them that night's XP. "After talking about paying attention out of game and your blatant disregard for my requests for you to pay attention tonight, you shall not be getting any rewards this session. Sorry everyone. Next time be on your game and maybe I'll give you some of tonight's XP on top of what you earn then." (Maybe after the next session if they are more engaged you could give them 50% of the XP lost on the really bad night.)
    • If it is 1 player who is the real problem child you can do the above step, but isolate them while rewarding those that do make an effort to remain focused.

Hopefully you will not have to resort to punishments, but as DM we assay the role of referee, and sometimes the refs need to put the players in the penalty box. It's never pleasant but sometimes necessary. I do strongly suggest talking to your player who keeps falling asleep and home in on why he is nodding off, solutions that work best usually present themselves through a cooperative collaboration between the people involved. Much Luck to you in your struggle!

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I'll definitely try a "Device Free" table for a few weeks, maybe try out having a few "break nights" where we get together and do something different. Think I'll try a more "severe" conversation if those don't work. –  Graeme Feb 25 at 15:32
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If all the group agrees that this is a disruption to the game, then that may be a reason to Try to Change the Game Time despite other inconveniences. If they will believe that saturday mornings will make for a better game than doing the same thing on sunday evening, then they'll find a way to make a better time available. –  Peteris Feb 25 at 23:04
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I had a player that fell asleep at the game every week. His girlfriend made him get a sleep study and it turned out he had severe sleep apnea, which prevents you from getting a good night's sleep... when he started using a CPAP, he stopped falling asleep at the game. Sleep apnea is rather common... in my IT group at work, of nine people, five have sleep apnea and use CPAPs.

For the being distracted by devices at the table, there was a recent question on that topic.

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I would add that it is very important that the player himself wants to solve the problem and first sees that there is one. Wether it is work, girlfriend or sleepdisorder, one can fight the sleepiness and should primarily seek the solution there. But I used to play a long time with a narcoleptic and then the only “solution” is to adapt the whole game-play which is really difficult and exhausting for all involved. Hopefully this is not the case for Graeme. –  Valryne Feb 20 at 15:53
    
+1 Check and see if it's a medical issue! We have a diabetic player who will fall asleep without fail if their blood sugar gets too high. Interestingly, we've found that have a tablet or cell phone open helps to keep them awake. –  Discord Feb 20 at 16:06
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I was this player about a year ago. Honestly, though, I failed to really find a good overall solution. I just wasn't that into the game (a combination of becoming more disaffected with the system, at the time D&D3.5 and intragroup politics), so I became easily distracted. The falling asleep was due to a combination of lack of sleep that night and cold medication. Admittedly, it didn't help that, at the time, I found combat fairly boring and rounds took around a half an hour to resolve sometimes, so there was a lot of opportunity for me to lose interest.

Ultimately, I had to remove distractions (which largely involved closing my computer down) to keep going, and finally had to tell the GM that I just wasn't into it, and to call me when we started the next campaign. As it turned out, more intragroup political fallout, combined with several players getting new jobs, resulted in the group breaking up entirely.

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