The 5 Best Tips to Keep Your Players Engaged During Combat

You spent countless hours planning the perfect encounter. It is perfectly balanced, the monster is terrifying and your players are…on their phones. Does this sound familiar? How can you keep your players engaged during combat?

There are 5 easy and game-changing tips to keep your players engaged during combat:

  • Use Music and Sound Effects
  • Use Interesting and Detailed Maps
  • Move FASTER
  • Always Follow the Rule of Cool
  • Give Inspiration! (Seriously!!!)

Use Music and Sound Effects

I love using music and sound effects before, during and after combat. Actually, I have fantasy music going at all times while I DM. My app of choice is DMDJ. You can see my full review of the app on my post “10 Apps Every DM Needs”

I enjoy this app because I can layer music, special effects, nature sounds, and dungeon sounds all at the same time. I have a few set songs and sounds I like to use in different terrains and then hit special effects as needed when my players act in combat.

Music cues players to pay attention and special effects do a great job of grabbing attention during combat. This is one of the easiest ways to increase player engagement during combat and I really don’t know why you wouldn’t do it.

Use Interesting and Detailed Maps

I am a fan of the “theater of the mind” type of play, in fact, I try to use it whenever possible. But if you find your players are losing interest in combat, then it might be time to bring out the maps.

Detailed maps with miniatures and environmental aspects are a quick and easy way to immediately engage your players. There’s nothing quite like hearing your players shout, “Whoa!” when you bring out an awesome map you worked really hard to make.

Although this can be time consuming and expensive, it doesn’t have to be. You can make your own trees and bushes relatively cheaply (articles on this to come) and miniatures are becoming more and more affordable thanks to 3D printing options!

Free Option: Paper Minis

Of course, if you really don’t have the money to buy or make miniatures, I love to recommend Printable Heros. Here you can download and print miniatures FOR FREE. The artwork on these is simply breathtaking. Please support this amazing artist! (No connection, no affiliate, I just really love these).

Make the Environment Matter

While you are creating this amazing map for the battle, take into consideration how your players might use the environment. Encouraging your players to use the environment in creative ways is a great way to create engagement!

Allow players to hide behind trees or objects and give them 1/2 or 3/4 cover for doing so. Allow them to throw items or set them on fire. Anything at all really, as long as they are thinking creatively!

If players are taking the time to come up with plans regarding the objects around them, you can bet they are staying engaged!

Move Faster

Nothing is more boring than when players take FOREVER to take their turns. It shouldn’t take longer than 10 seconds for a player to take a turn and THAT INCLUDES YOU.

You cannot take forever to figure out what your monsters can do during combat. I understand that there is a lot going on, BUT, you should have looked over these monsters before the encounter to the point where you have memorized their actions.

Here are some great ways to help keep combat moving:

  • Use a minute egg timer. Players must turn the timer at the start of their turn and they have only until the sand runs out to complete their turn. If the timer runs out and they haven’t decided what to do, then they lose their turn.
  • Use an initiative tracker. Having a physical initiative tracker helps players know when their turn is coming up. This keeps combat moving and if the player is not ready, you can move them in the initiative order to give them more time.
  • Use spell cards. Spell cards (or an app) really help to keep spell casters moving. It can take way too long to look up spell effects, so having them on hand is a great way to shave off time. My top recommend app to track spells is Spells 5e, for the full review of this app with pictures, you can read my article where I recommend my top 10 favorite apps for DMs.

Always Follow the “Rule of Cool”

I am a firm believer in the “rule of cool.” This rule states that if what the player wants to do is really cool and adds enjoyment to the game, then you should allow them to do it.

Of course, this is within reason but, for the most part, I try to let players at least attempt their crazy ideas. Because my players know this, they tend to be more engaged in combat. Other players could do something crazy and they don’t want to miss it!

Allowing players to do crazy (and sometimes stupid) stuff during combat keeps everyone engaged and laughing. The more of this you allow, the more your players will be engaged.

To follow the rule of cool, you have to give up a little bit of control. I know for some DMs this is a real challenge, but the more you let players write their own stories, the more they will engage with the story.

Give Inspiration! (Seriously!!)

My last (and perhaps greatest) tip to keep players engaged in combat is to give inspiration.

The inspiration mechanic catches a lot of flack in 5e and most DMs either don’t use it or don’t know about it. It is, sadly, the most underrated and underutilized mechanic in D&D. But it can literally change your game.

Inspiration allows DM to reward great role-play. If you have a player that is always ready, always coming up with fun and creative ideas, then you should be giving that player inspiration points.

If you don’t know what inspiration is or how to give it to your players, make sure to check out this post to learn why your should be using this amazing mechanic “When and How to Give Inspiration

Inspiration gives players advantage on a roll of their choice. I even let players choose to use inspiration after they roll. This is highly beneficial for players. You, as the DM, get to decide who gets these points. If you tie it to engaging in combat and coming up with creative ideas, then you can essentially “train” your players to be engaged during combat.

If you don’t want to look up from your monster stats and see your players on their phones, then follow these simple tips! You will be surprised how much you can increase your player engaged during combat.

Keep your combat what it should be: Epic. Keep those players engaged!

Until next time,

May your game have advantage, my friends!

-Halfling Hannah

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