When it comes to figuring out whether or not your players are having fun, it helps to have several arrows in your quiver.
Along those lines, it’s also useful to just observe your players. If you know what to look for, it’s not hard to tell when they’re bored, nonplussed or just flat out not having fun.
There are a lot more than six signs that your players are bored, of course, but there’s not much point in discussing the really obvious ones. Walking out mid-session or actively trying to derail the game, for example, aren’t just signs that your players are upset — they’re flashing neon beacons.
This list is about the slightly more subtle (although still not too subtle) stuff — the things it’s easy to miss if you’re having fun, or if most of the group is enjoying themselves.
Consistently Acting Out of Character: When the ship’s doctor wants to blow everything up, or the priest of healing and love murders a sleeping NPC, you have a problem. This is most often a sign of boredom.
Doing the Bare Minimum: Excited, enthusiastic players look for ways to add to the game. Bored, unhappy and disinterested players are just punching a clock — they show up, do whatever the rest of the group does, and don’t show any initiative during the game.
Building Dice Towers: This isn’t a sure-fire sign — for instance, I build dice towers when I’m having fun, just not when it’s my turn to do something. But if a player’s attention is entirely focused on building the Eiffel Tower out of d10s, or if the stack gets so tall that they need other players’ dice to make it higher, something’s wrong.
Shifting Entirely Into Reactive Mode: Reactive play is a perfectly valid play style, and one that lots of folks enjoy. But it’s a sign for concern when a normally active (as opposed to reactive) player stops initiating and starts waiting for things to happen.
Being Careless: Since PC death is something players try to avoid in nearly every RPG, when a player stops having their character take even basic precautions (like having a weapon at hand, putting on armor or checking for traps in the Mad Wizard’s Trap-Filled Dungeon of Traps), chances are they’re not having fun. (Taken to extremes, this can actually be a passive-aggressive way of derailing the game.)
Reading Gaming Books at the Table: Some players just like to read gaming books at the table, most often when they’re not involved in the action. They’re not the ones you should worry about. When a player who doesn’t normally do this starts paging through their books during the game, and doesn’t seem interested in much else, that’s cause for concern.
What signs have you spotted in your own games, past or present? As a player, what do you do when you’re bored, uninterested or otherwise not having fun?