Say Their Name(s)
Often on DM forums - I read a lot regarding players failing to engage with the game. This is a problem that I struggle with from time to time. Be it real or imagined - sometimes it does not feel like the players are upholding their end of the social contract. Too often this blame gets laid at the feet of DM's - who often are expected to produce critical role -esque NPC's, stories, and encounters - without having players put in similar effort. That rant is too long for the post I imagined today, so I'll shelve that for a later discussion.
But I will offer a tool to increase engagement that requires no prep and no production quality.
Say their names.
No - not my name. Their names.
Nothing commands more attention turning to Zynn the Paladin and stating: "the farmer turns to you and asks 'I need you. I need you Zynn.'" Bam. At that point - the player is compelled to acknowledge being addressed directly and by name. More importantly, their response must come from their character. It is not John the engineer but Mav, the Fighter who must respond. It also makes the characters feel powerful - like they are main characters in an epic movie. Which, they often are!
This works especially good when hard decisions are thrust upon them. "Will you not fight for us, Spira of the Elfenwode?"
This tactic is something that - like all good tools - should be carefully monitored to ensure it is not overused. You wouldn't want to devalue the moment. It also places a great deal of pressure on that one player - as all eyes turn to them. Even still - when you feel engagement is low during a conversation with an NPC or if you just want to ratchet up the tension - just remember: Say their names.