How Do Mobile Devices Affect Your Game?

How does mobile technology affect your game? On the one hand, it provides access to resources - dice rollers, looking up rules, character managers, game-specific apps; on the other hand phones provide the distraction of Facebook, email, and text. I've been in many situations where a fellow player is just randomly showing another one a (hilarious?) YouTube video rather than playing the tabletop game in progress. Of course, it's far from a gaming-specific question; I've sat in pubs and liked around at tables of 3-4 people where all of them were looking at their phones rather than each other, and I'm far from innocent of that particular transgression myself. So, when gaming, how do you adopt technology? Do you have rules or restrictions, or are you lucky enough that your game is so captivating that it overrides the impulse to check Facebook?

One thing I've seen happening in London is that diners at a restaurant put their phones in the centre of the table. Anyone who touches their phone buys (depending on the strictness of the rules) a round of drinks, or everybody's dinner - and the result is that everybody engages with each other the whole time, as though mobile phones had never existed.

That doesn't translate easily to a roleplaying game scenario (unless you're ordering pizza for the group). But some groups, I've heard, enact in-game penalties. Touching your phone negates your next crit, for example.

On the flip side, there are many mobile applications which enhance games. A mere browser allows for instant rules lookups; dice rollers and character managers abound, as do initiative trackers and GM helper applications.

What are your mobile device policies at the game table?


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Mod Squad
Staff member
I have found that a distracted player is a distracted player

There are two cases:

1) the game itself is not engaging to the player. In this case, you are correct, the electronics are not the cause of the issue, and the player's mind will wander and they'll disengage and flip through a rulebook, or even just sit and stare off into space if the electronics are not present.

2) The electronics are an "attractive nuisance". Humans are what they are - and modern electronics, and the applications upon them, are built to take advantage of human foibles and short-term reward systems, and modern electronics do this better than anything else in history, and better than any GM I have ever met. Much as we like to claim otherwise, we really aren't all that different from the rat who finds they get a snack-reward when they push a button. Those who are apt to fall prey to such stimuli can be distracted by electronics, where they'd pay attention and engage with the game if those electronics are not present.

Both of these things happen. To solve a particular problem of "player playign with their phone, and not the game", you must know which it is. The simplest way is to remove the electronics, and then see if the player or players are *still* disengaged.

So it is easy to blame the technology, but I don't find that to be the actual problem, just an easily spotted symptom.

My wife is allergic to strawberries. I don't *blame* the strawberries for this. Nor do I *blame* my wife. But, regardless, the berries don't appear at my table, as the interaction is undesired.
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Our group runs a very informal, beer & pretzel game, so distractions abound whether we're using technology or not.

What I'd like though is for our group to use them more efficiently. I'm still waiting for a decent spell manager app for Pathfinder and I wish that the player that *hates* the tediousness of leveling and general managing of his character options could/would use some app to simplify his (and our) life...



David Jose
I'm very much on the end of the "it's not the toys, it's the people playing with them" end of the spectrum.

I tend to run with a lot of technology at the table. I'm using a laptop as a DM screen, I've got either a monitor or a projector set up to show players maps, and pictures. I'm running with music and sound effects and a host of tools to make the game run more smoothly.

I tend to have a lot of players with tech jobs who are tied to pagers and emergency work calls. Even on nights with a lot of crises, it never seems to cause a lot of problems with the game.

Die rollers feel like they usually waste more time and are more fiddly than just rolling real dice. I also think that most of the die rollers I've seen in play are kinda anticlimactic. That being said, most of my D&D campaigns have used a DM tool that rolls and organizes initiative and pops it up on a monitor so that the players can see it.

But, I know a handful of people (who I usually avoid playing with) who can't sit at a table without updating their FB page, or grinding levels and gear on a Freemium RPG. For me, the solution has just been to either not play with them, or to only play games where their inattention isn't ruining things for everyone else at the table. That being said, I think that it's hardly a new problem, it's something I've seen with Gameboys, newspapers, needlepoint, and stacked dice towers for 30+ years. It used to be that you might luck out and the person who was bored didn't have anything better to divert their attention; now, no one leaves the house without an ADD machine.


I agree with Nytmare on dice rollers. just pick up the real things...

That said, I run my PC off a spreadsheet on a tablet. Works great. But i"m also not one of those to sit and endlessly surf the web or facebook during a game.


I've been running my games off of an iPad, with my phone as a dice-roller for a few years now. Everyone else at the table has some form of tech out: phones, tablets, laptops. It's not an issue for us.

Distracted players are my cue to a) create a new NPC with a funny name & a funny accent on the spot or b) attack the party with something. Or maybe just shift my attention to the distracted person for a while.


Absolutely allowed at my table. I only play with adults and adults have responsibilities other than gaming. If something requires an interruption, it requires an interruption. Everyone can check social media while someone takes a call from his wife. It's simply not that big a deal. If it is, you're very lucky to not have other things happening in your life.

I won't even consider playing with someone that disallows the use of electronic devices, and have walked out of a game for just that reason. That case had more to do with the GM being a luddite than the devices being a distraction though.

I don't allow unnecessary electronics at the table as a general rule. They are too much of a distraction. If people can't set them aside for a couple of hours each week, they aren't invested enough in the game to warrant a seat at my table.

Players can have their electronics nearby, in case a family member needs to reach them, but can't sit and browse on them constantly. That's the real issue - people checking social media and email and ignoring what other people are doing in the game.
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We've had mobile devices and not so mobile devices (i.e laptops and even a desktop for me, since it's my house) for a long, long time. Do they distract us? Sometimes, sure. That's our environment. We're very social and informal, so we're not above breaking for a minute to watch a funny video or check the score of an in-progress sports event.

That said, when we're in the moment, we're pretty focused on it. When a serious RP moment happens, the devices are ignored. When we're in 'tactical' mode, the devices may be the way we check rules, do quick calculations, reference characters sheets or maps and so on. We may even experiment with virtual spaces.


If it is necessary, I have no problem with it. I'm an adult. Most of my players are also adults, and have jobs, families, and responsibilities. Sometimes those responsibilities themselves don't cooperate with gaming time, regardless of the players' wishes. Our society has adapted to being constantly in touch. Twenty years ago it was the norm for people to be unreachable for a hours or a day at a time, but our society took that into account. It no longer does, and that isn't something the players can be blamed for or expected to ignore. Babysitters, employers, partners, and significant others no longer have the workarounds in place to allow people to 'go dark' for a full day of gaming. If I insisted that everyone shut down their contact, or penalized them every time the babysitter texted them or their mother-in-law called to ask about dinner on Tuesday, I would be forcing my players to choose between their responsibilities and my game. I would lose most of my players before I could bat an eye.

There is a big difference, however, between that and watching YouTube videos or checking Facebook. If they do that, I stop the game and wait for them to finish. This invariably results in everybody at the table looking at them while they goof off - which results in them not doing it anymore. It does help that I call a break every couple of hours for people to stretch their feet and socialize, and that we take a little while when we first get together (a half hour or so) to just catch up and chat with each other.

Besides, every caster in both of the groups I run uses a tablet or a phone to keep track of spells (as do I.)

I enjoy reading the I'm an adult, most of my players are adults type comments. After going out to eat last weekend and looking over at the 40 something adults at the table next to us and the guy is checking FB every 5 minutes while ignoring his significant others...he's adult in age but etiquette and manners, that would be a NO. This is the type player and behavior I would not enjoy being in a group with and I believe what most people are talking about when they mention checking social media endlessly. Checking rules or spells is one thing, checking to see what your "friends" posted on FB or Tweeted about how great his steak dinner was is tacky.


I enjoy reading the I'm an adult, most of my players are adults type comments. After going out to eat last weekend and looking over at the 40 something adults at the table next to us and the guy is checking FB every 5 minutes while ignoring his significant others...he's adult in age but etiquette and manners, that would be a NO. This is the type player and behavior I would not enjoy being in a group with and I believe what most people are talking about when they mention checking social media endlessly. Checking rules or spells is one thing, checking to see what your "friends" posted on FB or Tweeted about how great his steak dinner was is tacky.


In addition I run a game for kids..they started when they were 11-12 and now are 16-17. They are like crack addicts with their mobile devices.


In my games we don't normally have to address it anymore due to a 10 second time limit (house rule) to decide and begin your turn. If you are not paying attention to the game (reasonable exceptions include complicated combat scenarios, texts from significant others, jobs or family members) due to paying more attention to a mobile device then you do not mind losing your turn to other players who choose to pay attention. From my perspective as the GM other players should not be required to wait excessively while you decide what to do, especially since your distraction was unnecessary.

To be clear, this started as a mutual experiment agreed upon among the group prior to playing, and for us was successful that we decided to keep it for all of our sessions. As a player I've actually found that it makes me focus more on the game and in turn I bring more to the table from roleplaying and combat effectiveness, which in turn makes the game more fun.


First Post
I have zero problems at my table with the use of technology at my table and none of the other GM's who run at my table have a problem with it either. With the ezxception of oldest member of our group all of us from my twelve year old nephew up to me uses technology of some sort. Be it a phone , tablet or, laptop. We also utilize a VTT for map presentation. we get the facebook posts, youtube videos and even the playing of freemium rpg and other games. We also get texts and phone calls Half the group works IT so we are on call on the weekends. The biggest distraction is my six year old son who has Cerebral Palsy and Epilepsy. Fortunately my group is very tolerant

In my 5E group most people have their phone with them. Occasionally someone will discreetly sent a text or step away from the table to answer a call. A couple of times we’ve tried to quickly search for a rules situation online to see if someone else had the same problem as us, but usually the DM just makes a call and we look stuff up online between sessions.

When we were playing 3.5E one player used to look up abilities and such related to his character on his tablet. When I was DMing I used to have a laptop open to the d20SRD website to quickly look up some rules, spells or monsters as I found the search function and hyperlinks quicker to find what I wanted instead of looking in the rulebook. I also normally had a spreadsheet open to track XP and magic items. If a player was missing from the session I’d also normally bring their character sheet up on Obsidian Portal, but often this sheet was out-of-date.

There has been one player that I’ve seen playing a game on their phone during a session. I was a little miffed at that, but didn’t say anything about it to him or anyone else. The biggest distraction with mobile phones is probably when we get off-topic during the game and someone whips out their phone to show everyone else a funny pic or YouTube video they saw.


I feel the need to add that when I run (our group has a rule where everyone has to be able to run something, and we split the day between the two games that get voted in), I tend to like to my laptop handy for sound effects or background music. The halloween one-off I ran for my western game included wolf howls and thunder storm sounds, I made an 'opening credits' video for another game, and when I ran my WW2-set Dresden Files game I started each session with Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy with war sounds playing over it. It helps me get in the mindset and hopefully helps my players get into the mindset, too. I enjoy using external aids like that.

Minor anecdote of my phone humorously derailing the game momentarily: The switch on my iphone for setting it to silent got flipped at some point. I had Torgue from Borderlands 2 shouting "PLOT TWIST!" as my notification that I got a text. A tense moment had come up and a reveal was made by the GM. There was a second of silence followed by Torgue shouting "PLOT TWIST!" at a rather appropriate time. Even the GM laughed. I'd gone a little red from embarrassment and quickly set it back to silent.

I DM a group online via virtual table using audio only. So I have no idea what they are doing on their devices while we play. Sometimes they'll post a link or something in the chat for us all to look at. I don't care, really. As long as they are ready when it's their turn and I don't have to repeat myself because they were distracted, it really doesn't matter.


Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
The group I run for has no policy because we don't need it. I occasionally need my laptop when the players do something unexpected and I need to reference my extended campaign notes or look up a foe. (Running 13th Age and some of the material I bought the PDF only.)

Was in a game with "Wall of Dell". That was a higher level 4e game which means there was a decent delay getting back around to you for combat, and players (myself included) quickly fell into the habit of fiddling on the internet when they weren't doing anything - and quickly extended out of combat. We'd get things like three PCs talking about what to do next with the other players not paying attention, do it,and then 45 minutes later get "why are we doing this, my character never would have agreed to it?!"

As a side note, I play a regular friendly poker game, could win/lose $20 in a night but it's mostly about hanging with friends. We have one person who once their phone comes out will be stuck to it, and asks for reviews of who bet/raised what every round of betting. Delays the game, and it's supposed to be a social occasion. Before the phone hits the table he's enjoying and talking. We have one other who isn't as bad but if her phone is out she will occasionally get lost in it and not talk and delay the game.

I feel like they are seductive. Once easily available for some people they can fit into crevices you aren't actively engaged and pull you away.


First Post
My current group allows them. Mostly not a problem but one player's family doesn't understand that texting him every few minutes with trivial status updates can be very distracting to the rest of the group. Plus an app on his phone signals weather alerts, which in Oklahoma can be a fully time distraction. Also have the opposite happen. One player doesn't bring print books or character sheets. If there is a network issue, he has no way to play.


As long as people switch their phones to vibrate I have no problem with people using cell phones. I use my laptop to run games. I use OneNote for all my notes and xMind for mind maps for session notes.

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