Many of my players are at the game first and foremost to socialize, followed closely by gaming itself. They tend to hare off onto conversational tangents in the middle of the session and let themselves get distracted away from what's happening in-game. Unfortunately, I am not a particularly loud person, so my efforts to get attention focused again don't always do the trick.
After speaking with a few of them after the most recent game, we've come up with a few ideas on how to help the group at large. Advice and further suggestions from the community would be appreciated.
1) Placement around the table. I will be moving my seat to a more central location. The pair who need the most help will be... mentored is the best way to put it, by two of the more experienced players. If they have questions, they'll ask their mentor, and hopefully that will cut down on people debating cross-table about whether the warmage should cast lightning bolt or fireball next.
2) One of the players I discussed this with suggested that we find a way help during combat by engaging more than just hearing to get attention. He thinks that if we find some physical object, something palm-sized that can't be lost easily on the table, and use it to mark whose turn it is in the combat round, it will help focus. Kinda like a talking-stick, though with less authoritarian issues built in. Someone shoving something in your face makes you tear attention away from your discussion of the relative merits and flaws of the new d20WOD system -- that's the hope, anyway. If JoeBlow glances up and sees that Jimmy has the Thing, and knows he's two initiatives after Joe, he'll have a better idea of where things are in the round without asking "Whose turn is it again?"
To do no. 2 properly, rules will need to be put in place. No throwing the Thing, for instance. Or, It Must Be Handed To A Player or GM, Not Set Down. Are there any others you can think of?
3) This one is held in reserve -- free speech during combat rounds. I'm told that they talk during combat because it takes so long to get to their turn. I don't really understand it, because when it's not my turn I'm thinking about what I'll do next and trying to keep track of what others are doing, but that's what I'm told. They suggested that if they're allowed to speak In Character freely (rather than only on their turn) during combat, at least the distraction will be in-game rather than Out. I'm hesitant about this one. It makes me twitch, because in the back of my head, I'm annoyed that a round is 3-6 seconds and you're fighting, so there's hardly time for banter. What says you?