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I'm DMing for a group, but one potential player has trouble focusing for too long. She really enjoys the game, but she can't focus on the game due to possible ADD (she hasn't been diagnosed, so we're not 100% sure she has it or not).

I'm hesitant to let her in, as I want to run a story-focused game, but she really wants to play. Any advice?

The player in question is someone I've known for a long time, and have tried playing with before (in fact, I taught her the game). She stopped playing quickly, though, due to her attention issues, feeling that she was a distraction to the other players (she has anxiety and these things get to her).

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome! You can take the tour as an introduction to the site and check the help center if you need further guidance. Good luck and happy gaming! \$\endgroup\$ – Sdjz Jul 25 at 18:25
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  • \$\begingroup\$ How do you know that your potential player will have problems? Have you played with them before? Or have they told you it could be an issue. \$\endgroup\$ – linksassin Jul 26 at 6:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ What RPG/edition are you playing? I suspect some RPGs are much easier to handle than others for those with attention/focus issues, and advice may be much more helpful to you if it's specific to your situation. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Jul 26 at 6:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ The title and the body are currently asking different questions. One is about helping a distracted player and the other is about if you should add them to your group or not. Which question are you asking? \$\endgroup\$ – linksassin Jul 26 at 7:14
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Option 1 - let it be:

I've had players literally sleep on a sofa until the call to "roll initiative" was made, so sometimes, you simply accommodate such players. You could also allow more banter around the table - the story itself progresses more slowly, and the flavor of the game takes on more of a social, hanging with the gang sort of aspect, but the higher degree of social interaction might be what the player needs. The point is, some people simply enjoy the game in different ways than you expect, and this might just be her jam. Don't feel the need to force it if she is enjoying herself (Archer: "phrasing").

Option 2 - forced engagement:

However, if you want "all hands on deck" and you want the story to move along with minimal interruption or diversion, you might need to structure your style so that each player is out of the limelight for a shorter period. Make things more like combat where even during social encounters or exploration, you maintain a loose turn-like approach, so that you don't dwell over-long on any one character and each player's "turn" come up again before they have much chance to become distracted.

Option 3 - be prepared:

Reduce "dead air" where you are digging through rule books or looking up what happens next. By making sure that the game is always progressing and that you are always relaying relevant and interesting information, the dull periods that cause attention to wander are minimized or eliminated, and hopefully you can then keep her attention better. This is perhaps the hardest option, especially if you have little experience as a DM. In this case, you have to have a tightly planned adventure with excellent notes and organization, as well as be well versed in the rules, and even be able to improvise quickly.

Option 4 - ask her:

Ask her what parts of the game keep her attention and which cause her interest to wander. Modify the adventure (or your GMing style) to accommodate her. This is, of course, generally good advice as D&D is a cooperative game at its core, so communication and compromise are essential aspects, but are often forgotten or overlooked. This might take to form of relaxing rules that prohibit players from talking amongst themselves during combat and strategizing (metagaming), or it might be placing more puzzles where players are engaged in more than listening to narration and occasionally rolling a die. It's very likely that by accommodating her needs, you can learn a new skill or tool that makes you better as a GM.

Mix and match:

I list these as options, but chances are, you will get the best results by blending two or more of them. Option 4 is likely the best place to start, and then move on to option 3. Option 2 and 1 don't have to be mutually exclusive, but should be considered as last resorts, or as parts of the other options (maybe 2 and 3 solves 90% of the problem, and you just have to let the remaining 10% be an option 1 sort of thing, or maybe option 2 is a good means of achieving options 3 and 4).

Just like the people that make up individual gaming groups, there is no "one size fits all", so all that can be provided is general advice. Play it by ear, feel out your players (not just the problem player), and try different things, keeping those that work and being unafraid to ditch those that don't - again, communication will be key so that players aren't left confused if things (like rules) keep changing. Let them in on what you are attempting, and let them help if they like - even encourage it.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ another useful tip for Option 3 (reducing "dead air") is to limit the time for rules look up or to delegate it to a player. If the rule can't be looked up in 1 minute, then just make a ruling and move on (for example). This could include spells, combat rules, etc... \$\endgroup\$ – Destruktor Jul 26 at 17:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Destruktor I like your suggestion because it could potentially solve two problems at once - reduce dead air, but also give the distracted player a task to focus on if you choose them as the designated player. Thanks for suggesting this. \$\endgroup\$ – cpcodes Jul 26 at 21:40
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Give them a trial session

I'm not sure how you know that a player will have trouble focusing before you have added them to the game. While it is a good idea to be aware of potential issues, don't punish someone for something they might do. Instead read up on the related questions linked by Sdjz for ways you can help manage the situation.

Adding a new player is always something that should be done carefully. Read my answer on adding players to an existing game for how I have handled it in the past. A player have an illness (diagnosed or otherwise) means you have to be extra careful, but shouldn't be the reason to exclude them. I've played in games where a player was added that seemed totally fine on at the start, but turned out to cause issues with attendance and phone use during session. In your case you have the advantage of knowing what the potential issues might be ahead of time.

At the start of my campaign I had concerns about some of my players' ability to work together. So before I launched into a long running campaign I ran a trial session with per-generated characters a the beginner module for the game. This was low investment for everyone. If it didn't work out, no harm done.

For you I suggest running a trial session for this player that isn't directly linked to the campaign. Use per-generated characters and get as many of your current player to play as possible so you can assess the group dynamics.

If there are issues during that session, talk to the player honestly. Tell them what you felt the issues where and ask them how they are going to manage those issues going forward, you things you can do differently to help them. If you can't find a way for it to work, tell they why you don't think they are a good fit for your current campaign.

If that session goes well, congratulations! You found a new player! That doesn't mean there won't be issues going forward, and you should still talk to them about ways you can help them manage things. It does mean that the player isn't incapable of playing in your campaign though. You might have to make some adjustments, but as I said earlier, adding any player requires adjustments.

You might also discover that they don't fit your group for a reason entirely separate to the one you expected. Maybe their attention span isn't the issue but they are the biggest meta-gamer you have ever met. You can't know for sure until you try. I've known players that were fine in one group, but caused issues in another. So you can't even always judged based on the games you have player with them before.

In the end I will always tell you to give people a chance. Show her that you are willing to work with her if she does her part. Saying no because they might cause an issue would apply to all player, don't treat this player any differently.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I feel I didn't clarify enough. I've played with her before, and she stopped because of this problem. She loves the game, she just can't focus and feels like she's a distraction due to her anxiety. Her husband may also be pressuring her to join the game, but I'm not sure about that. \$\endgroup\$ – A.J.E. Jul 26 at 17:34

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