Tips for Staying Focused at the Table

We’ve all had a time or two (or hundreds of moments for seasoned players) where we have a moment of boredom during a game that leads us to let our minds, hands, and eyes wander from the game. Whether you are waiting for your turn in the initiative order, witnessing roleplay between other players, seeing the DM set up a combat map on the fly, watching another character disappear for a task, or listening to your party face debate and haggle with shopkeepers, merchants, or guards, there are plenty of things you can do to stave off the boredom and be a more attentive and prepared player. For those who have ADHD the ability to focus at the table can feel impossible at times.

We wanted to help break the stigma and teach your party a few ways to keep the action going and stave off the boredom. Here are some tips and tricks for staying focused at the table:

1.) Stay Off Your Phone / Web Browsing – We know a lot of players utilize technology to enhance their gameplay, for quick material sourcing, and for hosting games with tools online such as Roll20, Discord, and D&D Beyond (#NotSponsored) and we are not telling you NOT to use these effective gaming tools. We are simply saying that actively putting down the urge to check distracting notifications, social media, gaming apps, and texts can help keep the flow of your game and prevent immersion breaking to a minimum. If you are using tech for your game turn on “Do Not Disturb” and maybe notify frequent contacts that you are unavailable during your scheduled game time unless it’s an actual emergency. It ultimately comes down to respecting the time and effort of the DM/GM and other players at the table. If you miss key information because you went to check Twitter real quick or beat another level of your preferred gaming app, you are making the DM/GM repeat themselves or will be confused on details later in the game making it difficult for the whole table. It can really feel like you as a player don’t care when you pick up your phone to mindlessly scroll and share something non-game-related while an NPC is pouring out their soul for your party’s assistance or a fellow player does something epic in battle but no one takes notice. This can also boil down to keeping a present mindset. Everyone is at the table for a variety of reasons, help them want to come back again and again by being and staying engaged in the game. This may require effort on your part, but that is YOUR responsibility, not the DM/GM’s.

2.) Prep Your Spells and Attacks – Obviously, things change as initiative moves forward. Someone may finish off a baddie you were hoping to hit, unexpected events may unfold that cause you to lose concentration or foil your plans, but what doesn’t change is that your turn will come up and you need to be prepared to act. Nothing kills the momentum of a game more than someone who goes “Oh it’s my turn? What should I do?” You have your attacks and abilities ready for you on your character sheet. As the action is playing out pay attention to the DM/GM’s words. Maybe someone is slinking off and trying to escape, it could be that an enemy has entered your combat range, or you may find yourself suddenly the catalyst between another player character’s life or death. While the action is taking place think about your next move. Plan your weapon, hits, spells, components, descriptions, and dice. This gives you something to do between turns and will also motivate your fellow players to step up and be prepared for their turn as well. This is also a great sign of respect for the game. Be prepared.

3.) Non-Distracting Items/Activities – If you know you will have prolonged downtime in-game and do not need to interact as your party works on a side quest or some shopping, you can find a non-distracting activity or item on hand to help you and your party stay focused on the game. I always recommend that if your party is looking to level up it’s a good idea to sit and go over what abilities, skills, feats, or spells you may gain at your next level. Work on your “dream list” while at the table because you can dedicate your time to it without taking away from the gameplay. Your DM/GM will also appreciate your expediency and preparedness when it comes time to level up and they don’t have to chase you down or set aside more time towards the game. I also recommend fidgets for people who like to keep their hands busy. There are plenty of silent options that do not distract other players. I personally use a Fidget Cube (#NotSponsoredAgain) while DMing to keep my anxiety under control while hosting and to help me focus even when my players are role-playing. My recommendation would be to look for silent fidgets. Some make clicking or clacking noises and the only click-clacks at the table should be your dice and occasional pen click. (Side note: try not to click your pen during a game, some players find it extremely distracting.) Another fun and silent activity is dice stacking. Sure you may hear them clatter a bit when the tower tips, but it is oddly satisfying to watch during gameplay.. You can also strike a deal with the DM/GM or if you are running the game with your player(s). Give them a d4 inspiration for completing the tower and dismantling it silently, if it clatters tell them they have disadvantage on their next stealth check. It will also motivate them to keep the dice tower building as quiet as possible.

4.) Complete your Task Lists In-Game – I have heard many parties complain about railroading and inversely feeling like “the game is going nowhere”. Many players will point the finger at the DM/GM, though a level of that is a shared responsibility with the players. If a DM/GM sets up a key plot point for a thoroughly thought-through storyline and your party doesn’t follow the main quest leads but decides to go on 5 rabbit trails you can not complain that there is no point to the game. You and your fellow players decided to stray and are now tangled in a web of tasks of your own making. A DM/GM is likely making those side quests and rabbit trails fit into the story or as a chance to allow your party to gain the experience needed to face off with the BBEG. There is always something happening behind the screen and your DM/GM does not owe you a “peek behind the curtain” to make you understand that everything your party does has a purpose. Take the initiative to say “We have to take care of these tasks. Let’s outsource these ones, wrap this one up ourselves, and find out how these are connected.” Your DM/GM will appreciate the assistance in getting the story/campaign back on track and taking responsibility for the sidetracking will help your party to think about diverting too much again in the future. This will also prevent the feeling of spiraling among players. Not every campaign is a railroad, but remember that it’s gotta go somewhere. Take action and don’t divert unnecessarily.

5.) Ask for Clarity – If you are unsure about something don’t dwell on it in silence. You may find your mind wandering as you think “What does that mean? How did they say that? Was I supposed to do something? What did I miss?” ultimately leading you to be further distracted and miss key information being shared while you ponder. Take the time to politely take the attention at the table and ask a fellow player or the DM/GM what they meant or to clarify. Though this may seem like a distraction it can be incredibly helpful. Maybe another player is showing signs that they didn’t understand something, but they don’t want to interject. You stepping up to ask for assistance will help them feel seen and understood and can help lead to less embarrassment about forgotten or missed details.

Have any other useful tips and tricks for staying focused at the table? We would love to hear your thoughts, suggestions, and stories in the comments. We hope you find these useful in your own game and feel free to share this article with your adventuring party!

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