The Ballad of Old School D+D vs. the Cell Phone

Well…Mike’s gone completely off the deep end, now, hasn’t he? Why would he title a post like this?

Because he’s guilty of it. We all are. Tabletop gaming is threatened by those little mobile devices in our pockets. The world’s interconnectedness means that gaming is more and more difficult to break up into convenient four hour sessions.

That being said, because of our jobs, because of our lives, because of whatever it is that grabs our attention, cell phones can be transformed into a major issue at game tables around the world: a distraction that causes people to pick up the phone. You’re never more than a nanosecond away from your wife, your job, or your zombie horde, who may slaver for brains uncontrollably without constant orders.

That being said, cell phones can also be a powerful tool. They can have dice rolling apps so you can play games in places where dice are awkward. They can have a copy of the map, or your character sheet, or just about any other piece of data you might want. Unfortunately, far too many people are merely texting friends or not paying attention.

I’m going to list my top five good and top five bad cell phone uses during the game below.


1) Map and Rulebook Storage: This is great. Need a rule? Look it up.

2) Inter-character roleplay: In the old days, there was something called bluebooking, where people wrote in little blue books to have character conversations. Why not just create a thread linked to your email with the characters names in it and finish up the conversation while other stuff is going on. Email it to your GM. He might give you experience points.

3) Dice Rolling App: This is fantastic, especially if you’re in a place where dice can be awkward, like a cruise ship, train, or other moving conveyance in which you might want to play RPGs.

4) Picture Saver: Are you in combat? Do people have to be home at a certain hour so that their boss doesn’t fire them? Take a picture of the battlefield, break it down, and set it up next time!

5) The emergency pizza call: I’m sure it’s happened to your gaming group before. Someone forgot to order food. Well, this is probably one of the more important ones on the list. Hungry people say stupid things and destroy friendships. Don’t let it happen.


1) Playing another game. This is really rude. People should not be playing another game while the GM is sweating his or her butt off to give people at the table a good time. It creates distractions, causes other people to do the same thing, and the GM should have the right to ask you to leave.

2) Texting other friends. Work should always be okay, but if you come to a game to play it, you should really not be texting outside the group during the game unless it’s an emergency.

3) Music: It’s one thing if the GM asks you to play it. It’s another if you do it yourself. Captain Headbanger who doesn’t roleplay! This means you!

4) Internet Shopping: Unless you’re ordering something you just realized you only have a PDF of and you need a hardcopy soon, you might want to save this until after the session is over.

5) Hookups: There’s probably a better time to use your cellphone to hook up then during the epic battle with Lord Reichenfell and his evil squad of fallen Hound Archons….


Escaped Notice

Yesterday, a good friend of mine made an internet video that hit me in the gut like a runaway train. It was a simple, joyful video about the latest nintendo product. But it was her link to the product that shocked me the most. It included this simple message. “Seriously, I can only play a dude?”

For that matter, “why can’t I play a girl?” I’m a gamemaster. I run roleplaying games. I have to play characters of both genders to satisfy my audience and simulate a world, right?

Seeing this, despite my ignorance of Nintendo, lit a fire under me for the first time in a very long while. And my long memory stirred to life. I decided to do a little digging. There are a huge number of articles about how sexist Nintendo is.

Nintendo apparently has a long history of promoting harmful stereotypes that are not necessarily endemic to any society of the modern age. I understand that they are trying to change this. But they need to do a better job. Millions of people the world over are looking to the games they love for characters they can look up to.

That being said, then there’s this.

This is actually serious. If you commit a crime, you should go to jail. Death threats should be taken seriously.

This begs a number of issues.

1) Am I being sexist in my own products? If so, please let me know. I can attempt to correct this in the future.

2) The question of sexism in the gaming industry is growing larger. Part of the problem is this. Are we asking the right questions when we design characters and promote products? Who are the role models that we want people to be like, and how can we clearly delineate those role models?

3) Is the issue about sexism itself, or is it that we cannot remove years of history from Mario, Donkey Kong, the Kingdom of Furyondy, Azoun IV and the Forgotten Realms, Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four (Although the fact that the woman in the group goes invisible was the best social statement they possibly could have made).

A final note. A young girl wanted to play Donkey Kong where the Princess rescues Mario. Her father wrote a hack to make it possible.

And again, that makes the statement more effectively than I could.

  • Upcoming Appearances

    Heroicon, Decatur, Illinois, May 15-17

    Michael will be appearing at Heroicon as a Special Guest, where he will run games and appear on panels. All proceeds from this convention go to benefit troops overseas with games, both donated and purchased, sponsored by a group called Games for Troops. I know it's a trek. Come join me anyway.

    Nexus Game Fair, Milwaukee, WI, June 25-28

    Michael will be appearing at Nexus Game Fair as a Special Guest, where he will run games and appear on Panels.

    Gencon, Indianapolis, IN, July 29-August 2.

    Michael will be attending Gencon and representing Blackwyrm Games, where his latest products will be playtested and he will have at least one signing.