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My wife and I have always played D&D together. It’s my first time DMing a large group of 6, her included. We have newer players who struggle to engage, and tons of new player questions.

I’ve seen the question about an ADHD player being disruptive, my problem is the opposite!

I started this long campaign because I wanted to DM a fun adventure for her, but every week turns into 2 hours of her not being able to focus, and feeling terrible that she can’t focus.

Does anyone have any tips on keeping someone with attention issues attentive? She wants to desperately but can’t!

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    \$\begingroup\$ Could you give more details about her, within both of your comfort level? Useful information would include if she medicates, if/what other things do 'keep' her attention, what you've tried, what (if any) issues this causes in the game other than her being disengaged, what she ends up doing instead, that kind of thing. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ifusaso
    Feb 19 at 21:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ We'll also need to know more details about your game. You say you use Zoom... is it just audio, audio and camera, audio, camera, and a virtual tabletop like Roll20 or Fantasy Grounds, etc.? How long are your sessions, and what time of day? How big is the discrepancy between her investment vs. the other 5 players, and do any of them seem put out that she's less so? \$\endgroup\$
    – Ifusaso
    Feb 19 at 21:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure the dupe answers the question. I've read through it and I can see: 1. Advice that helps a group reach more cohesion 2. Might actually be more distracting here (e.g., "Literally use hundreds of handouts"). Neither of these two seem applicable when the core of the issue is "one player cannot focus because they are distracted by others". \$\endgroup\$
    – VLAZ
    Feb 19 at 21:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm voting to reopen this because it is definitely not a duplicate (at least of the question linked), although I do think it should currently be closed as needing more information. While the linked question is very related, saying that the same general advice applies to specifically asking about playing the game with ADHD is simply inaccurate. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ifusaso
    Feb 19 at 21:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ Do you play fully remote? Or you are beside her while Zoom-ing? If yes, do you have separate laptops? What distractions do she notice herself? Is her on medication? What part of the game when she got distracted? Do other players notice this? Do they complain? What part of the game do you think you need more cohesion of? Combat? Roleplay? I think we need a lot more information instead just throwing general advice? \$\endgroup\$
    – Vylix
    Feb 20 at 4:01

2 Answers 2

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I've played D&D for years in a group containing several players who identify as having ADHD.

I've noted some challenges below that you, as the DM, might be facing, and some things that the player might consider, and some things you the DM might consider.

Given all the comments requesting more information, it may be that your question lacks information for us to be truly helpful; nevertheless, I've given it a shot. It also may be that asking a separate question may be more helpful for you. For instance, if you think managing new players is a challenge, then maybe that is a separate question.

I am making the assumption that the player is managing their attention issues as best they can outside of the game: consulting professionals as appropriate, taking or not taking medication as appropriate, and is using whatever life skills they've developed, and is still struggling specifically with playing D&D, so I've focused on game-specific topics in this answer.

Challenges

You're facing some challenges that might affect any D&D group, regardless of attention challenges, which might be making your situation harder to manager:

Large group

Six players is a lot. It is entirely doable, but it requires extra attention on the part of you, the DM.

You need to be particularly attentive to making sure that things like combat management go smoothly. You should examine each individual area of the game that you manage, and see what you can do to improve that area. If there are specific areas that you think you need to improve, you can focus on those areas, perhaps including asking separate questions here.

In my group, our current DM says five players is ideal. I don't know that I particularly agree, but for sure all else equal five or four players is easier to manage than six. I doubt booting a player is the answer, but should one of your players leave, you might consider holding off on looking for a replacement.

Short sessions

Sessions of two hours are challenging. In our current game, our sessions are typically 3 1/2 hours; over the life of my current group, we've often had times when five hours was more typical. (Back in the day, we sometimes played 'til dawn, but that's another story entirely . . .)

You need to be particularly attentive to time management. For instance, be sure you're getting started on time. In my experience, in a group of six, often at least one individual is late or needs to leave early. Be prepared to deal with this. Or you may be struggling with side conversations, or other similar issues that are sucking the life out of your two hours.

New players

You have new players. That is fantastic! It is also an added burden. You need to be particularly attentive to new player management. You might wish to address new-player concerns as much as possible out of session. I can't emphasize this enough. Anything you can address with characters ahead of time can really help. It's possible something like an electronically available one-pager of hot topics with pointers to the rules would be useful.

Suggestions for the player

Some suggestions for the player working to stay focused:

Take notes

Maybe the player can take notes.

In our current game, I (a player) take notes and publish them each week. I take very basic bullet-based notes, review them afterward, and post in our Discord server. I record each time the session number, the session date, the dramatis personae (the person's name, their Discord name, their character name, if they were absent I still record them), and a bullet list of things that happened. I focus more on getting them published before the next session than perfection. This could be a whole question and answer by itself.

I find that this is tremendously helpful for me personally, and is also helpful for the other players. I find that it helps keep my own attention focused on the game.

In the end, everyone finds their own solutions, but this has been incredibly useful to me. I've never been one of those natural note takers, and it has taken a long time to figure out something that worked for me, but it is amazingly helpful for me personally.

Review ahead of time

Maybe the player can spend an hour some time before session reviewing character sheet, notes, references, anything.

I find this is also tremendously helpful for me. No matter how busy I am, I try to spend at least 30-60 minutes reviewing something during the week. Worst case it's just posting the notes, but I usually have at least a few minutes to review notes, references, or my character. Just reviewing the character is helpful. At low levels the character is new, and maybe needs more detail; at high levels characters can be wonderfully complex. Even the simplest character has some complex parts. I find it helps my own focus tremendously to review those things ahead of time.

A word from a popular Youtuber

Shortly after I wrote this answer, popular D&D Youtuber Ginny Di came out with a video entitled "The struggle of playing D&D with ADHD". I don't believe I can summarize in a way that does her credit, so I'll just say it's worth taking a look. Also, there are some links that might be useful below the video.

A personal note

I'm not sure if this is helpful or not, but I offer the personal observation that "ADHD" is a label; it is not you. Consider that label as a tool. When it is useful to you to apply that label to yourself, feel empowered to do so; when it is not useful to you to apply that label to yourself, throw it over your shoulder.

Suggestions for you, the DM

Some suggestions for the DM to help keep players from losing focus, particularly in remote games:

Do a recap

Try doing a group recap at the beginning of sessions.

At the beginning of each session, our DM asks a player to volunteer to recap the events of the last session. If they're even reasonably correct, the DM rewards them with inspiration.

Ninety-nine percent of the time I've posted the notes from the last session. It helps even the most attention-challenged to do the recap or to read along. Since I wrote the notes, I only do the recap if no one else volunteers. I also try to make any minor corrections to the notes.

Provide names

Provide your players with names in print.

It is amazing how easy it is to mangle fantasy names. Our group has a standing joke about it. Our DM uses a channel on our Discord server to copy/paste various character names, monster names, place names, and the like. It really cuts down on the distraction for players not to be saying, what was that, how's it spelled, did they say mindflair?

Provide visual aids

Provide your players with pictures.

Our DM occasionally posts pictures of monsters or places in a channel on our Discord server. It can be really helpful to have a visual of something in the story.

Use a VTT

Use a virtual tabletop.

Even if it is just for characters. You probably(?) already do. Maybe D&D Beyond, or Roll20, or Foundry. It's worth it. If your players are keeping track of characters on paper, that is enough to distract anyone.

Use maps

Show maps to your players.

We currently use the map feature in D&D Beyond. We've previously used Roll-20, cut-and-paste, and just sharing a screen. We've used pre-made maps, made our own, or just used diagrams. Having maps helps everyone to focus.

Record audio

I do not have personal experience of this, but some DMs record the audio of a session, and send it out (credit to CTWind). For some that's a huge lift, and the DM's already doing a lot, but for some DMs, it works.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I really agree with the large group being a huge contributing factor to the problem. I'd consider splitting into 2 parties of 3 (though obviously that doubles your workload as GM). \$\endgroup\$
    – Kaia
    Feb 20 at 19:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Kaia Good that you mentioned that. I discarded it in the end because based on the information available, and my own personal experience, splitting in two may help in theory, but in practice it just squares the effort. My 2 cents, better to just recognize that six is a lot and get really focused on management. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jack
    Feb 20 at 20:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ In the vein of taking notes, my DM audio-records sessions to send out to the players before the next session (with consent, and not for publicly publishing or anything). She also does the extra effort of editing it to reduce excess silence gaps, which some editing tools have an automated way of doing. I've found relistening to it (even at 1.5x speed or what have you) to be a big help in catching details I might've had my attention lapse on last time we played if my brain was ADHD-hyperfixating on thinking through some tangent in an in-game conversation that continued to move on. \$\endgroup\$
    – CTWind
    Feb 21 at 4:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ @CTWind - thanks for mentioning that. I've heard of DMs doing that, I'll add it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jack
    Feb 21 at 11:18
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The way an ADHD player contextualizes the interaction of their disability with your play sessions in their head may well be the single most important factor to your goal.

As someone who has done the rigamarole of years worth of bloodwork and seeing a psychiatrist and a variety of combinations of prescriptions along with their own ADHD diagnosis, I find @Jack's techniques to be incredibly helpful, especially the two about giving a recap and using a VTT (seeing the game state in static form between turns helps you not forget your dying buddy on the ground that needs a potion, for example).

With all that said, it sounds like there is actual stress on them to pay attention, and stress on the group to facilitate them being able to. I can't say for sure without more details, but I will say that the entire framework of the situation is, from my perspective, exactly the opposite of what you need.

ADHD can be crippling for focus, but when you find that perfect serotonin/dopamine-inducing activity you can also zone in on something for hours without having to so much as go to the restroom. The difference is in the expectation.

The focus needs to be on sitting down and having a good time together- which fortunately for the group, happens to include a game you all share a mutual interest in.

This player doesn't need strategies for ways to pay attention, they need a story hook they're interested in exploring with their peer group; one that makes their imagination run wild and encourages it to explore countless possibilities between sessions.

Once they're engaged at that level, where they're excited to talk about what nonsense they hope to get up to later as the character they're playing now, it will be much less of a chore for them to maintain their engagement.

Be warned, at this side of the spectrum you run the risk of getting contacted at 2 in the morning about an idea they're worried they'll forget before game time.

So long as this player is aware of the desire for them to focus more, using my own experience as a baseline, they are more likely to focus on their inability to focus on the game than achieving the goal of focusing on the game itself.

The key to successfully focusing on a thing I'm struggling with for me has always been to give myself permission to stop struggling and let my attention wander for a bit. Knowing that it's okay to do so makes it infinitely less urgent to do so - thanks funny brain chemistry! - and allows me to focus on the thing in front of me, rather than the fear of failing; unpleasant thoughts, ooh butterfly what were we talking about?

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