One of my pet peeves has always been the wandering player. The one that, in the middle of a pivotal scene in the game, is casually flipping through a book. They say they want to play, but they’re also responsible for a good deal of the irrelevant table talk that goes on. It’s obvious that they’re bored. Maybe they’re narcissistic and don’t care about anything that doesn’t have to do with their character. That leads me to wonder why they’re involved with a social and collaborative activity like tabletop, but I digress. The eternal question is one of how to engage roleplayers so that they participate, make meaningful contributions, and have fun.
How to Engage Roleplayers
There’s no real trick to this. It’s not a deep, dark secret. You need to learn what the player’s currency is. What do they care about? This requires to things: listening to what they tell you, and then watching how they behave. They might tell you they like one thing, or that they have a particular goal for their character. During play, they respond to entirely different things. Give them what they want and they tune out. But give them what you’ve seen them react to before, and they’re suddenly all in.
You can’t make a player invested in a character, neither their own or anyone else’s. If they’re not at the table, enthusiastic not just to play but to roleplay this specific protagonist, you need to find other things that interest them. If they perk up when you’re describing the world, give them places to explore. When there are supporting characters they seem to enjoy interacting with, have those characters appear more. If the player likes combat, give them combat. It’s not going to keep them from wandering every moment of every session, but if you learn to build anticipation, they might pay attention while waiting for the thing about the game that floats their boat.
About Dancing Lights Press
Dancing Lights Press publishes story games that embrace a minimalist aesthetic in design and presentation. Our print books are affordable, at $10 or less. The 6×9 digest format makes them convenient to carry around. The spotlight belongs on the creativity of the players as they converse and collaborate on plot, worldbuilding, and character development. Roleplaying is an activity, not a book. Our titles are merely part of the delivery system.