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Stay on Target: Keeping Distracted Table-Top Gamers Engaged

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If you ever played a table-top role-playing game you understand about distractions. Endless diversions hampering plot, game play and flow. Sometimes you get together and it seems as if you might as well meet at a bar and get it over with. The game master and several players might enjoy a few straying conversations. But often too much conversation not related to game will dampen everyone's fun. Lighthearted conversations and off topic jokes CAN kill game sessions, ruining the fun for everyone.

I have a few suggestions on how to keep everyone on target and working towards a fun night of gaming.

1. Set a time limit for players and game masters 

This can be controversial in some groups. Combat and non combat encounters are different beasts. The game master (dungeon master) must be flexible and know what type of players he has. My suggestion for combat is to set a 2-4 minute timer for each player IN COMBAT. Game masters must interact with each player in a ten minute period in a combat setting. Non combat portions of the game heavy in role-play should have limits as well. Set a max time limit of ten minutes per player. The game master should speak with every player first before going back to player 1. This time should be agreed on by everyone. Stress the emphasis of flow and getting in fun for everyone. No one wants to sit around and diddle their thumbs in boredom.

2. Make sure everyone has something to do!!!! 

Sometimes you will run a game sessions and a character dies. No backups are available and now you have a good friend stuck out of the game. What the heck are you gonna do? Give them something PRONTO! Often I would pull in some extra NPCs and let the player run them. This way the player has something new to do and can be a boon in most cases. Make sure you run with extra characters to compensate for any deaths in the party. If you are running a dangerous situation as a game master, make sure you have back up plans and ideas for a party wipe or a few deaths. The worst thing you can do as a game master,leave someone out of the party. After all it is a party and we all want to have fun.

3. Keep your party's goal in mind as a game master 

This does not mean railroad the party. It means to read your players and see what their goals are. Your goals should be their goals. It is not a competition. When you create or use a dungeon, make sure the final treasure is something the player has in mind. Know the characters and make sure you understand how the player is interpreting their role in the party. Your goal as game master is to see their efforts come to fruition. If the part sets a goal, make sure they stick with it. When the party wanders aimlessly, this can lead to a joyless, soul sucking session. Talk with your players, directly or indirectly through NPCs (non-playing characters).

4. Ensure everyone gets involved, directly or indirectly in non combat encounters 

The dreaded shopping session can suck the joy out of any group. Players will get super bored waiting for that one friend out to get the best armor and equipment. It can drive people batty. This is a difficult task but one the game master must ensure does not bore people. If one player is shopping for new armor, give the other players something else to do. Let them participate in the gladiator pits. Wizards should go off to a local college and engage others of his profession. Clerics should have small encounters at a local temple. Thieves should be trying to rob local marketers. It is hard but not impossible to keep track of everyone. But the game master must balance time between each character. Do not allow more than 10 minutes max to go by without engaging every player.

Staying on target, keeping players involved in a game session becomes crucial to running memorable games. Running a table-top RPG as a game master can challenge the most intelligent person. But the great thing is, learning and using time management skills can make the difference in dungeon mastering. Learn to pay attention to each player. Sum up their goals as a character and make sure you can get everyone to agree on a destination. Never let a player fall behind. If a player dies, give him something else to do, even if you reincarnate them as a ghost! The main mission is to have fun and play together as a group, creating memories.

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