The Fumble: Game Master Secretly Plotting Against Online Players Who Don't Use Their Mute Button

Cleveland, OH area BM (Barrow Master) Robert Sumner recently converted his weekly tabletop Barrows & Bearowls game to an online format due to the social complications of the current global pandemic. It's a change hundreds if not thousands of gaming groups are making to keep their games going until they can return to face-to-face gaming. The new opportunity isn't without its challenges, however.

crazy dungeon master eyes.jpg

"I can handle staying home," Robert shares. "I'm glad to deal with all the sacrifices and limitations since it helps stop the spread of the virus. If it helps even one person, that's amazing and I'm truly glad to do it."

"What I can't handle, however, is [censored] players who won't use their mute buttons in an online game."

"I like to think of myself as a patient BM and it's not like I haven't given everyone time and mental room to adjust. Before we started playing online we talked about the etiquette involved, such as muting your mic when you're not talking. I reminded everyone again before our first session, and then again before each session. With six players, it's really a must given background noise."

Robert throws his hands in the air. "Well, evidently it's too hard of a concept to grasp for a couple of my players."

Robert continues. "You ever tried to role-play a sinister, nuanced High Elven sub-lord whose every word might contain hope or malice when three kids are re-enacting their favorite wrestling match on one mic and a shrill little fluffy dog's yipping at the freakin' mailman on another?"

His eyes narrow. "It's not easy, my friend. It's not easy. Sub-Lord Melkor'th should have been an important, highlight moment in our current campaign but instead, I think the players barely understood the plot hook, much less all the important flavor of the scene."

"Then the other day, I just sort of snapped," he says, his eyes gleaming wildly.

"It was after my something like three millionth reminder after a mom nagging my player to take out the [censored] trash ruined yet another important game moment. I was trying to stay cool and patient, but Sarah acted surprised when I called her out personally and said please mute. Like the concept had just been introduced to her for the first time."

"That's when I knew," Robert says, full of conviction. "Those [censored] Sarah and Alonzo had to go down. But not quickly. Oh no, slowly and painfully. A death of a thousand cuts like they were inflicting on our game."

Robert continues, his eyes now somewhat feverish.

"Oh, why did that orc stay in the fight a round longer than you expected, Alonzo? MAYBE IT'S BECAUSE I'M SECRETLY GIVING IT MORE HIT POINTS. What, Sarah? Why didn't you find the secret door when you rolled so great? IT'S BECAUSE YOU'RE GOING DOWNTOWN WITH A FROWN, SISTER!!! Why the surprised, confused looks? Hm? Hmm? HMMM??"

"Look at this," He says eagerly, pulling a sheet of paper covered with convoluted math and symbols from his BM folder. It most resembles a spreadsheet found in a dark grimoire.

"I've made random tables just. For. Them."

"Every result is guaranteed to provide a mild negative consequence but in a way that stays under the radar. They know something isn't quite right, but they can't put their finger on it. It's like an annoying insect of dire math buzzing in their ears!"

Robert breaks into an actual head-back, hands-clutching-the-air mad scientist laugh as this reporter slowly backs away and thanks him for his time.

"The game?" Alonzo shrugs when asked. "It's OK, I guess. Honestly, it's not really my thing but Robert's my friend so I've been showing up to give him something to do during all this quarantine. I hope it's helping."

Sarah was too busy finally taking out the [censored] trash to respond to inquiries.


The Fumble is a satire/parody tabletop RPG news column. It's not real. Also, dragons might sometimes be fooled by Ring-winners and Luckwearers but very rarely by Barrel-riders.

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay
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Shane Stacks

Shane Stacks

Shane Plays


Shane "Shane Plays" Stacks
My weekly group moved to Google Hangouts about three weeks ago after pausing for month. Works pretty well. I've started using Roll20 for the tactical map. Not with everyone on Roll20, just using Google Hangouts and me screen sharing the Roll20 window when needed.


On a slightly more serious note, as as someone who has played in online games for a very long time, the basic message here really DOES ring true. While face to face has it's issues, being online brings a shopping bag full of different issues. When Dave is futzing about on his phone during a F2F session, you can usually just pelt him with dice until he stops. Online, particularly if you're not using video, the urge to multi-task is very strong.

Someday I'm going to become rich and famous when I invent a way to smack people upside the head over the Internet.

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