In Anticipation of GenCon: 7 Appalling Things I Witnessed at the Gaming Table

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on August 7, 2012

So far the articles we’ve published in anticipation of GenCon were tips to make your gaming experience better; plenty of “dos” that we think are helpful and important. Today we provide a list of “don’ts.”

Although we always try to see the positive side of things here at Dungeon’s Master, every now and then we have to acknowledge that there are some negative aspects of gaming and gaming culture. After last year’s GenCon I felt it was my responsibility to highlight a few of the worst things I saw at the gaming table and shine a big spotlight right on it. Many of the offenders guilty of the things presented in the article below don’t even realize that what they’re doing is considered uncool or rude. My hope is that by actually listing these things here today gamers will realize how off-putting or annoying these things are and avoid doing any of them at this year’s GenCon (or any game table for that matter).

We ran this as part of our Great Hits 2011 at which time I wrote a new intro for it. I think that the new intro is just as important as the original article so I’ve decided to include it with today’s re-post.

Originally published on August 12, 2011, and then again on December 19, 2011, Dungeon’s Master once again presents:

No matter where you play D&D – at conventions like GenCon, at your FLGS or even at home – there are certain expectations regarding behaviour that all players are expected to follow. We take for granted that most of these things fall into the “common sense” category and assume everyone understands what’s expected of them. However, experience has taught me differently.

I’ve learned the hard way that when people participate in public-play D&D they tend to do things they’d never do during a home game. It’s as if they believe that public-play games give them a free pass with regards to a lot of very obvious objectionable acts. After seeing many of these violations in full force at GenCon this summer I had to write down some of the most egregious and appalling ones. My hope was (and still is) that gamers will read this list, realize they’re guilty of doing some of these things, and make a point of never doing them again.

During D&D Encounters over the past year I’ve witnessed a lot of these things with unfortunate regularity. As the DM I try to “correct” some of these poor practices, but it’s tough, especially because I don’t know a lot of these people very well. And I don’t think that it should always fall to the DM to be the bad guy.

I think that we all need to share the responsibility for letting other gamers know when they violate the social contract. Whenever any of us spots the things on this list happening we should do our part and inform the violator of the inappropriate actions they’ve undertaken. By working together we can make public-play D&D better and eliminate the 7 appalling things I witnessed at GenCon.

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 which 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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1 shortymonster August 7, 2012 at 9:57 am

#4 is my biggest bugbear. I don’t mind occasional times when the entire group drops character and chin wags for five because something funny needs to be discussed, but when the GM claps his hands/says ‘right’/down right asks people to drop back in character, then the conversation is over while at the table.

Oh, and I have no dice superstitions, but still, hands off the dice! If I know where they are, I’m not going to lose them. If you just grab a few, I will have a harder time dice wrangling post game, and I’ve lost too many fine soldiers that way.

2 Tom Coenen August 7, 2012 at 12:37 pm

A thing that may be added to the list is doing things at the table that could have been done before playing:
– asking how a chosen power works after leveling
– leveling itself when the level was gained the previous session
– changing skills or defenses but not communicating this to the DM until playing has started.

#6 occurred in my group when combat was slow, making everyone pay less attention and making combat even slower.

I once knew a player that was #7 personified:
He wasn’t paying attention because he had a laptop with him on which he watched Starcraft tournaments. He didn’t stay with the group very long :-).

3 Philo Pharynx August 7, 2012 at 4:45 pm

With our group of ADD’ers, #7 could be a problem. Our rule is that you can do whatever you want, so long as it doesn’t affect the game. If I call your turn and you miss it, then you miss it. If you miss a piece of description, I’m not going back for it.

I also don’t like people touching my dice. Especially one player. He has anger issues and has been known to execute dice that did not perform. I don’t want his bad dice Karma anywhere near my well-loved dice.

#6 had me wondering what happened, but it looks like that story would be NSFW.

4 Troy R August 7, 2012 at 10:19 pm

Got a “Don’t do” for you. It goes along with the “Not paying
attention” one, but is one by itself as well.

Don’t go flipping through books for powers or rules at the table.

5 Philo Pharynx August 8, 2012 at 10:59 am

@Troy, I don’t have a problem with this as long as they do it between turns. I actually prefer to have a player that has all the information at hand. When you call for them for initiative and then they reach down and start flipping through the book is when it’s a problem.

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