7 Appalling Things I Witnessed at the Gaming Table

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on August 12, 2011

While at GenCon I played in my share of D&D adventures. For the most part it was a lot of fun and I had a great time playing. But one thing that really stood out for me a lot more this year than any other was the egregiousness with witch other players violated the social contract you agree to uphold when playing D&D or any RPG.

I’ve put together a list of all the social faux pas and violations of the social contract that actually happened at my gaming table during GenCon. I encourage you to use the comments section below to add violations you witnessed at your gaming tables to this list. Maybe if we put them in print enough gamers will read them and hopefully stop doing them or at least realize that these actions aren’t acceptable.

I’ll admit that I’m actually guilty of a committing a couple of these myself, but when I do I am aware that it’s a problem and I apologize to the table. Regrettably when these happened at my table during GenCon none of the offenders excused their behaviour because they likely didn’t even realize that they what they were doing was extremely uncool.

  1. Answering the phone

    Everyone has a cell phone. It’s instinctual to answer it when it rings. I understand that it could be an important call so I’m fine with someone excusing themselves from the table and answering it. But if you’re in the middle of your turn don’t stop to answer the phone. But if you do, be quick and take a message. Don’t start into a full on conversation. “Oh, hi. I’m just playing D&D. Yeah, that sounds great. I’d love to go there afterwards for drinks. I’ll have to get changed first. Why don’t you call Steve and see if he wants to come with us…” Unless you’re a doctor and you’re on call, let it go to voice mail until after the encounter’s over.

  2. Eating at the table

    I’m not suggesting that we impose a no food at the table rule. Snacking is practically mandatory at the gaming table. But if you’re going to eat, be neat. Don’t let crumbs scatter all over the table and the battle mat. If you’re eating something with your fingers please wipe them after you’re finished and don’t touch anything, like the rest of the party’s minis, until your hands are clean.

  3. Hogging table space

    There’s plenty of room around the table for everyone to have adequate space for all of their stuff. I usually have two hardcovers side-by-side, my character sheet on top of one and my power cards, dice, pencil, eraser, fortune cards, and note paper on top of the other. If everyone confined themselves to this amount of real estate we’d be fine and have room to spare, but some people have a need to unpack everything they own on the table. I’ve had to politely ask more than one player if he could move some of his stuff over so that I could have more space.

  4. Shut the hell up!

    I’ve found that many gamers are very social; at least when they’re around other games. But this doesn’t mean that you need to yammer on throughout the entire game. When it’s your turn, hog the spotlight, ham it up, be the centre of attention, but when it’s someone else’s turn be quite. Don’t have a side conversation with the other players. More than once I couldn’t hear the DM because other players were talking over him. If something is so important that you have to talk about it now, get up and leave the table for a few minutes.

  5. Taking without asking

    Just because something’s on the table doesn’t mean that you can use it without permissions. I’m a gamer with many dice superstitions, one being that no one but me can ever touch my dice. If you need to borrow dice, I’m happy to lend you a spare set. But the dice on the table are mine so hands off. If you need to roll 3d6 and you only have two, reroll one of them. I’m not as strict with other things as I am with my dice. If you want to use my pencil or eraser that’s fine, but please ask first. If you want to look at my bag of minis that’s also fine, but please ask first. I was appalled by the sense of entitlement I witnessed at my table. And it wasn’t just in the younger players.

  6. Taking forever

    All of the players I gamed with at GenCon were veterans of LFR. Everyone had played before and in most cases had used their character over many levels. The lowest level PC at any of my games was level 6. So you know that these characters were used through many adventures. Why then does it take people so long to figure out what to do on their turn? Maybe you haven’t played this character in a while, but by the second encounter it should start coming back to you. The powers haven’t changed since the pervious encounter. Know your character. And if you’ve got a power that uses d8s for damage then have a few d8s ready. It shouldn’t surprise you that you’re going to need them.

  7. Not paying attention

    Some characters are not suited to excel in every situation. If you’re a battle-heavy Dwarven Fighter with no social skills then the encounter where the PCs have to talk to the Duke and gain information is going to bore you to tears. I get that. But have the courtesy to pay attention anyway. I saw people tune out and play games on their iPad or iPhone when their character wasn’t center stage. I even saw one player pull out crossword puzzles. He didn’t even try to hide the fact that he wasn’t paying attention. In my opinion, tuning out to this extent is disrespectful to the other players and the DM.

I’m sure this is just the tip of the iceberg. What did you witness at the gaming table during GenCon or at any game played in public that you feel should be added to this list?

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

1 cassey August 12, 2011 at 9:55 am

I think that if you’re snacking at the table you should share with others, and everyone should bring something to share.

Aside from that, don’t touch my dice!

2 Ted August 12, 2011 at 9:58 am

I admit I’m guilty of a couple of these things. I’ve had to excuse myself to answer a phone call from a caller who wouldn’t take a hint and leave a voice mail when I didn’t answer the first time. I’ve also seen people just grab some dice without asking first, and cause a pretty strong reaction from the dice owner.

Common sense and decency go a long way. At the gaming table and in life.

3 Megan August 12, 2011 at 10:36 am

One thing that bothered me is people who didn’t have the +hit and +damage modifiers for their common powers figured out in advance. The 4e character sheet has space to write down the info for several abilities, so having your rogue add up his 1/2 level + proficiency + dex + opportunity attack + weapon bonus every time he uses an at-will is just wasting everybody’s time.

I played with a rogue who did that, he varied between a few weapons, but he still had to count up all of those bonuses every time he attacked. I never understood why he didn’t just add them up once, and them update them as necessary.

4 Psynister August 12, 2011 at 10:47 am

I’m with you on all of the ones you’ve mentioned, particularly answering the phone and shut the hell up. I can’t stand people being disrespect for in that manner (talking) when we’re playing a game literally based around communication. Also, taking forever is a huge pet peeve in anybody who’s not a new player. If you’re new, then by all means take the time you need to learn and get familiar with things, but if you’re not new then the only excuse for this is a large scale, truly tactics-based encounter where everything you do has potential to impact the outcome of a large battle.

Other things that bug me:

Some people just can’t help but reply to things that every other person in the area has to say. Sometimes it’s snide comments, others it’s trying to turn everything people say into jokes. It kind of goes along with the shutting up except rather than talking so loud that we can’t hear what’s going on, they’re talking so freaking often that we can’t progress.

The Lackey
Every now and then you end up with a couple of players where one guy has a clue and the other guy doesn’t. They might both know the rules and both know their characters, but one of the guys is so insecure in his decision making that he just does whatever the other people tell him to instead of making his own decisions. I’ve had the lackey be a guy who asked the other players what he should do every single turn, and I’ve had one that would just stare at his character sheet on his turn until someone started making suggestions.

The Funny-Funny Ha-Ha
The guy that wants to play a dwarf with no beard, and a neon pink mohawk. Why does he want to play suck a ridiculous looking character? Because it’s “funny”. He’s the same guy who does completely stupid crap in game, like taking a leak on the alter inside the lost temple of Pelor we just discovered. Why? “Because I got a sunburn last week. I hate the sun.”

5 Jon August 12, 2011 at 11:06 am

Texting at the table and playing smart phone games while waiting for their next turn really irks me. I don’t mind a little chatter at the table but the GM/DM should place some guidelines for the players at the start of the session. The GMs that set down the law before games start tend to be the ones I will try to follow through a con because they usually run the games on time.

6 Phantasmavore August 12, 2011 at 11:26 am

Great post on oft-violated common sense rules of etiquette!

Questions: How do you etsablish the rules/social norms at your game – at the start of the camapign, do you formally list off the expectations? And then people agree to them? Is that too formal a thing? The Encounters table I game at does pretty well with everything except side conversations during play, which sometimes makes it difficult to hear key bits of narrative, or just plain yanks you out of character. Is this osmething that should be addressed as a group so no one feels targeted, or should the individuals be taken aside out of game? Being the new guy at the table, should I just ask the DM what to do about it?

7 Dungeon Maestro August 12, 2011 at 11:44 am

Best Post Ever! Expecially number 7. I’ve removed players from a group for that. That is simply a matter of respect.

8 Benoit August 12, 2011 at 12:16 pm

Unsolicited Advice
This one goes along with “The Lackey.” You may think that there’s something perfect for another character to do in a situation, but it’s not your character. Unless the player is specifically asking the table for advice (and this shouldn’t be that common, see number 6), keep your opinion to yourself.

9 iserith August 12, 2011 at 1:36 pm

I’m surprised nobody’s mentioned B.O.

I remember about 10 years ago, I picked up another player from a local online gaming forum. The guy was an absolute genius at math. You could roll 10d6 and before the last die even bounced off the bowl of onion dip, he’d have the total. He was also a good and enthusiastic player.

However, apparently proficiency in math does not in fact translate in the ability to swipe a stick of Old Spice deodorant across one’s armpits 3 to 4 times. It was unbearable to sit next to the guy at a table. He smelled like the floor sweepings from a hog fat rendering plant. Seriously, he passed by a open garbage can one day on the way to gaming and gagged the maggots. Bigfoot called one day and asked for his stink back.

Before a session one day, he asked if we could come pick him up and if we could give him a half hour before leaving so he could take a shower. We GLADLY volunteered to pick him up, thrilled as we were to hear that some steps were being taken to beat back the foul stench demons that lurked in his crevices. So I hop out of the front seat so he can climb into the back and as soon as he lifts up his right bingo wing to push back the seat, I was subjected to what must have been the worst cloud of festering mansweat that I have encountered, even in the intervening years since. I said nothing, half out of politeness, half out of the need to keep from yacking up the technicolor rainbow that my Subway sandwich had no doubt become. But seriously, didn’t he *just* say he was going to take a shower?

Anyway, he didn’t last. I attribute our addiction to illicit smokeables at gaming now to this – we needed something… anything… to cover up the smell.

10 Multiclass Rulepriest August 12, 2011 at 2:57 pm

Interesting. Personally, I’d chip in “don’t argue.”
I’ve got a rules-lawyer in my game, which would be half as bad if he wouldn’t force his 3E knowledge unto my 4E rulings. By now he’s gotten me so twitchy that I look possible issues up beforehand and don’t listen to the other players talking to me.
Next up is arguing between players, which may or may not happen in-game. Either way is no good, ’cause the best you get is “I ain’t flanking with that jerk” and the worst “does 22 hit your AC? ‘Cause I’m shoving a daily up your ***.”
If there’s something you don’t like about another player or the DM, tell them after the game. Perhaps you’ll understand their motives and find out it was meant for everybody’s well-being, but even if you don’t, arguing at the spot will ruin everything for everyone.

11 Dave August 12, 2011 at 3:04 pm

Wow, maybe it’s a rogue thing. The guy who plays the rogue in my regular group is the same way. It’s as if he thinks everyone will be impressed by the number of different bonuses he has. You added this up last turn, just write it down already! The worst part is when, even after all that, if he misses an attack by a small margin he’ll say “Oh, wait, I think I may have missed a +2 somewhere…”

12 ladybam August 12, 2011 at 4:14 pm

As a DM, i have to admit I’m gulity of some of these. Answering the phone… only do it if you have too. For me, I don’t get a” real” break so if my family calls, I’m gonna stop the clock and answer it. That is no real excuse, but player have time in between. I will explain to the table, mostly they where understandable (only got 1 phone call this year.)
As for Eating… I alway ask the table if they mind. If you are going to eat, make sure you ask if anyone mind and don’t talk with your mouth full and clean you hand alot. As there is any allergies too, you don’t want a player getting sick. If you are going to eat, do it smartly and remember the others at your table.
I do try to make my table social and fun… within reason. If we chat too much, i stop or redirect. I have to admit… I very guilty of this one.
I have another peeve to add…. dress better. I saw way to much butt crack for one woman to handle. I saw one guy backside almost fully. He must of been 300+lbs and it was not a pretty site. The other problem with dress is showing your “muffin top” for lack of a better word. Please pull up your pants and pull down your top. I don’t need to see your gut. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE.
GenCon 2011 was awesome this year, can’t wait until next.

13 js August 12, 2011 at 4:28 pm

#6 can be alleviated during initiative. Call out whose turn it is now and who is on deck. Then the next player has a whole turn to think about his options.

14 Alphastream August 12, 2011 at 4:28 pm

My silly pet peeve is with players that _must_ have the right number of dice for damage. 3d12? Must stop play until two more can be found. This is just one of those weird things that gets under my skin. Really, it is ok to roll, add, roll again, total. Then again, I’m the non-social dwarf that does participate in the social encounters, so we all have our issues!

15 Kiel Chenier August 13, 2011 at 2:38 pm


I’m surprised ‘not having attack bonuses added’ or ‘not doing one’s own math’ isn’t on here. I know it’s a pet peeve of yours. Mine too.

It’s a very reasonable amount of math!

16 Sunyaku August 13, 2011 at 10:04 pm

I did not go to GenCon this year, but a couple of my fellow players recounted horror stories of paying for gaming sessions, only to waste HOURS creating characters because the game masters did not think to prepare pregens. What a waste.

The worst story was a Call of Cthulu game where players had to waste an hour creating characters, only to have creatures “fuse” with their characters half an hour into the game, at which point they were essentially provided pregens! Had that happened to me, I can’t promise that I wouldn’t have thrown dice at someone.

If GenCon is going to charge $8 to $14 per player per gaming session, they damn well better provide value. I hope they get enough nasty feedback that they publish mandatory guidelines for GMs so I don’t have this kind of experience next year…

17 ladybam August 14, 2011 at 10:17 pm

Sunyaku….most games don’t have pre-gen character. I know in DnD, only the delve has pre-gens… even in living divine you had to come with a character. In the exhibit hall, you are testing games so pre-gens are expected. Sitting at a table, you need to be prepared for anything.

18 Rico August 14, 2011 at 10:51 pm

I agree with most of these, but I’m a little more forebearing on the issue of eating at the table. I don’t know how it is at GenCon, but at all of the game conventions I’ve been too, the game sessions often run longer than the slotted time, for a variety of reasons. I’m not saying that’s OK, but it is a reality. There’s an hour between sessions, and it’s not uncommon for a game session to run 15-20 minutes over. Occasionally I’ve had as little as 30 minutes between game sessions.

Usually after a game session, I need to update my character (level up or choose a magic item). That requires either using the character builder or looking through source books. I happen to use the character builder, but either way, that means going up to my room.

So, I have less than an hour to go up to my room, turn on my computer, log onto the character builder, make whatever changes I’m going to make to my character, print it out, get back downstairs, get to one of the restaurants in the hotel, order something to eat to go, wait for it, get back to the room where my next game is going on, and eat my food before the game starts. And I know the same is true for most other players (and the DMs). There’s simply not enough time. (And in my case, I have to do all of that in a wheelchair – which takes even more time.) So, if someone shows up with food at the table, I tend to understand and excuse it.

19 Ameron August 15, 2011 at 12:17 pm

I agree that if you’re eating something like chips or pretzels that are easily shared with the other gamers you should offer them a few out of common courtesy. If you’re eating a hamburger or sandwich I wouldn’t expect you to offer me a bite. Just be sure to clean yourself up when you’re done eating. Is that too much to ask?

Answering a cell phone while gaming is one I’m guilty of too. If I feel the need to answer it rather than let it go to voicemail I: a) apologize to the table, b) keep it quick, and c) step away from the table if it’s going to take more than 10-15 seconds.

If you’ve used character builder, then the math should already be calculated for you. If you made this PC the old fashioned way, then add it once and then write it down. Although I didn’t see this at GenCon this year I do see it a lot at D&D Encounters.

The Auto-Reply, The Lackey and The Funny-Funny Ha-Ha are all excellent examples that I’ve seen all too frequently as well. Last year at GenCon there was a dad and son playing tougher at my table. The dad told the son what actions to take for the entire adventure. I felt really bad for the kid. I tried to encourage him to role-play more since his dad was dictating his combat actions. He clearly was not enjoying himself and the dad ended up running two character (both poorly).

I think a quick speech from the DM about common courtesy and what his expectations are might be a good way to stop a lot of the examples we’ve seen. It won’t work all the time or for everyone, but it should reduce the frequency of the occurrences. Good suggestion.

The way you handle it really depends on your situation. I find in my home game where I really know everyone I can just call someone out and make a joke about it in order to get them to stop, but this probably won’t work as well if you don’t know the players. You’ll just sound mean.

In a recent D&D Encounters adventure I asked players to stop their side conversations and pay attention multiple times and they didn’t stop talking. So when the monsters attacked and I asked if my attack rolls beat their AC no one answered. I therefore assumed I hit with all my attacks (even the really low numbers) and scored damage accordingly. When they finally started listening I told them to track the damage. They wanted to know which monster hit them and what the roll was. I merely said that it hit and that they should have been playing closer attention. They were angry at me but they started listening more closely after that.

@Dungeon Maestro
If I was the DM and a player pulled out crossword puzzles I’d stop the game and single him out. In fact, I almost did it as the player becasue I was so annoyed. Although some guys in my home game play games on their iPhones, I know that when their turn comes around they’ll be ready to go so I give them a lot more latitude.

I 100% agree. If someone asks for suggestions on what power to use or what action to take, then give them your advice. If they don’t, then shut up and let them play their character. They may not play a Wizard as well as you can, but it’s not your place to dictate their actions. I get really annoyed when people start complaining about push, pulls and slides. Talking in character is a free action. If you don’t want a guy move, yell it out during your turn. Don’t bitch about it after the Wizard moves the monster.

I’m happy to say that B.O. wasn’t really a problem at my tables this year. I’ve certainly played my share of games next to the smelly guy, but not this year. I’d also add bad breath to the smell problem. I’ve changed tables at my FLGS because some regulars have such bad breath.

@Multiclass Rulepriest
If you’ve got a good DM who says yes then I find the arguing is fairly minimal. However, once the DM’s made a ruling then it’s time to move on. If you don’t like the call, even if it’s wrong, then that’s too bad. I find a lot of rules lawyers are happy to argue the rules but rarely DM. Put up or shut up and take a turn behind the screen at the next con if you think you can do a better job.

As if adding all the number was bad enough, having to sit through the exercise again when they think they’ve missed something is even more painful. Again, add it once and write it down. It’s not that difficult people!

The “D&D dress code” has certainly become more lax over the years. I’m all for dressing comfortably, but there should still be an acceptable minimum standard.

When I’m the DM I always announce who’s on deck. It helps a lot. But at GenCon I found very few DMs carried out this practice. I kept asking “Who’s next?” and a few DMs actually got angry with me and either said “not you” or “it’s still this guy’s turn.” I tried to explain that I was just trying to keep things moving but they shot me down.

What bugs me even more than players who have to roll three different d6s are those players that have 3d6 but only take two out of their dice bag at the beginning of the game. Be prepared and know your character.

@Kiel Chenier
Most people actually did their own math this year at GenCon. But you’re absolutely right that this is a pet peeve of mine. I’m constantly amazed at how few players can add two numbers tougher (accurately) in their head.

As ladybam mentioned in her reply, most D&D adventures do not provide pre-generated characters. The players know this and are expected to bring a character ready to play when they sit down. But for newer games it does seem like a huge waste of time to create characters only to have them all but be eliminated that quickly after you start. I’d like to think that was a rare exception and not the norm for most games.

I completely understand where you’re coming from regarding the time crunch and the need for food at the table. I’m not saying we need to eliminate all food at the table; I’m only asking that if you are eating at the table be neat and clean up after yourself. I think it’s a perfectly reasonable request.

20 Rico August 15, 2011 at 7:37 pm


“I’m not saying we need to eliminate all food at the table; I’m only asking that if you are eating at the table be neat and clean up after yourself. I think it’s a perfectly reasonable request.”

I completely agree with that. Necessity doesn’t have to equal rudeness.

21 Alric August 16, 2011 at 12:58 am

My pet peeve at conventions is poor hygiene. I know that many of these events are structured as gaming marathons, but I’ve had some bad experiences with players who can’t break from the action long enough to shower and change clothes.

22 dukethepcdr August 18, 2011 at 1:33 pm

Problems 1-5 and 7 can best be avoided when everyone at the table knows how to be respectful and can be bothered to care about other people besides themselves.

Problem 6 is sometimes due to inexperience, lack of sleep (especially at out of town conventions) etc. One thing I’ve found that helps me with running my character faster and smoother is to keep him simple. Don’t succumb to the temptation to load your character up with every spell, magic item, buff, power etc. that you can dig up. A couple kinds of combat attack powers (preferably one melee and one ranged), a power or two that benefits other allies in the party (like healing or a bonus to their attack rolls etc.) and a good daily power that you can ‘save the day’ with if need be are really all you need, especially in a one-off adventure or a short campaign. Also your character doesn’t need to drag along a dozen different weapons and items. Something that stabs and/or slices, something that makes bones go ‘crunch’, a couple of armor items that protect you from getting stabbed, sliced or crunched and a few camping items are all most heros need.

The less busy and full your character sheet is, the easier it is to decide what to do next. I also find that I can pay attention to what other players are doing better if I’m not preoccupied with trying to decide what to do with my hero all the time.

23 Ginasteri August 20, 2011 at 11:29 pm

Most of these annoy the stuff out of me, but the one that kills me is the guy who knows how to play everyone’s character better than the player, and then tells them how to rebuild their character. Seriously? I’m not talking abou the player that suggested the Bloodiron Waraxe +3 for my melee ranger’s next weapon, but they guys that insinuates that if I don’t have all the optimal feats and ability scores just so, then my character is worthless. I don’t suppose that player is compensating for a lack of something, eh?

24 Lahrs August 22, 2011 at 8:13 am

My wife and I had an excellent time at our first GenCon. Unfortunately, I did not sign up for enough D&D sessions as the ones I did play in were highly enjoyable.

I was fortunate that I found a great pick up group during the Calimshan campaign (which was also a fun campaign) and the majority of us were able to continue on through all three sessions.

Only three “appalling” things jumped out at me, but nothing too severe.

1) In our first session, one guy seemed to be very zoned out and we had to snap him back to the table on many occasions. This had nothing to do with crossword puzzles or phones, just a complete disconnect when he wasn’t directly involved. He would then make some very weird decisions, and not in the “I would have done this instead,” but like something was missing from reality. I also noticed his hand was twitching a lot so maybe there was something going on mentally or maybe he was just really nervous. Nice guy though, so I will just say, if you are there to game, be mentally prepared to game.

2) This is actually directed at the GM, but know the module. There was a lack of GMs when a group of my friends went to play the Athas campaign, and two of them were recruited to run Athas for the next two days (and got some cool swag for it), so it is understandable in that situation that they would not be familiar with the module on their first running. When my group played CALI 3-2, my GM, who had run the game before seemed to have no clue what was going on in the module and nearly wiped the group because of not understanding the module. What made this more frustrating is when our group as a whole took two separate breaks, he sat at the table talking to friends instead of reading up on the next encounter, which he clearly should have done. DM’s, know the mod.

On the flip side, our last DM for CALI 3-3 was awesome. He was on the ball, knew the mod, was very friendly but had his game face on and was ready to pounce if we screwed up. At this point, our small pickup group had been through a few sessions together and we really hit it off. The jokes were fast coming and funny, but when the DM started to speak, people kept talking. This is a peeve I have in D&D in general, when the DM speaks, all should be quiet.

Fortunately, no BO issues at my tables. In my opinion, bad BO is the worst offense possible, as everything else can be quickly dealt with without the exit of the player.

25 donalbain December 1, 2011 at 3:44 pm

i think that i am one of those guys i mean it got so bad that the dm had to look for monsters to fight over the enternet but then again those fights were fun.

26 Old Guy January 27, 2012 at 4:50 pm

I recently wrote a similar article but totally missed the “no greasy hands on other peoples’ miniatures”. That’s a big one! I just bought a bunch of metal minis (200+) and they are not cheap. Nor are the paint supplies. After the time and expense of lovingly painting my favorite miniatures, I would be very upset to see another player pick them up and rub grease all over them from whatever they had been eating.

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