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

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on August 12, 2013

gencon-logo-01Many gamers assume that people who share their hobby also share their sensibility regarding what’s considered socially acceptable at the gaming table. Regrettably this is not always the case. From time to time during public play games (such as those run at conventions) players will be clueless about what’s expected of them when it comes to the social contract. I’m not even talking about matters of personal hygiene, although that’s an issue too. I’m talking about what most consider to be acceptable behaviour and the line that’s cross all too often.

This article was written following my personal experiences at GenCon a few years ago. I have rerun it every year since as a reminder that a little bit of courtesy and common sense go a long way at the gaming table. As you read this article make note of the offenses you think you might be guilty of this year at GenCon and do your best to avoid committing any of these violations.

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 Joe August 12, 2013 at 9:19 am

I’ve run into a lot of issues with the language people use violating the social contract. Certain gamers live insulated lives, and they may feel that the crass language they use in their online shooter games is also appropriate in person at the table. As a result, I find myself often correcting people who choose to use language that, while they don’t realize it, is vastly inappropriate. Such language has included:
– rape references, even casually to just refer to taking lots of damage (“this monster is raping us over here”)
– real-world racial stereotypes applied to in-game characters (“Do the drow like fried chicken?”)
– real-world socio-economic comments applied to in-game characters (“Don’t those peasants have food stamps or something?”)
– “trigger” words/phrases used for shock value (“The kruthik queen is spawning more young? It’s time for an abortion!” or “That guy looks suspicious? What, is he wearing a hoodie?”)

While it can completely stop the flow of the game, I still think it’s important to call these people out on these comments and explain that they’re not appropriate/acceptable at the gaming table. This is especially important if other players are laughing about it, which might encourage the speaker.

The issue we run into is that often at organized play settings, many of our players are young and often not used to adult social settings with mixed audiences. Some may never have been in a situation where they’ve had to socially interact with someone who might have different values. The comedy they see on TV, or the comments they read online, or the epithets thrown around in their online games all give them a false sense of what’s okay or cool to say. And if they find acceptance/support when they make these comments, that then becomes a golden ticket to take them to the next level… which is something we definitely do NOT want at the table or in society in general (D&D players fought hard enough against the stereotypes that we all worshipped devils in the 1980s… the last thing we need is parents thinking our tables are what teach their kids these bad behaviors today).

Oftentimes the gaming table is as much a teaching opportunity for social skills as anything else. My hope is that as long as we continue to approach them as teaching moments, eventually we’ll experience fewer situations like this.

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