Don't Interrupt the Game

33-domesday-book-601x324Despite what I told my wife about me wanting it as a cutting edge tool for my job (I'm a IT project manager in my day job) I actually bought my iPad so I could use it for gaming.


Yeah, I use it for work too but that's not its primary use.  My iPad is my repository for literally hundreds of books, magazines, modules and other reference material that I want to have on hand when I game.


It’s true that, like a lot of gamers, I had a laptop that I took to my games for a bit but I rarely used the thing because it was in the way.  It interrupted the flow of the game and I hate that.  Hate it with the hate of dwarf hating an orc chieftain that killed his father. It got in the way so I did the only thing I could do; I left it behind, tossed aside as a burden I didn’t need.


Because, you see, its simple, I run games.  I run a lot of games.  In fact, over the past 20+ years that my group has been together I can count on 1 hand then number of times I've not been the GM.  As I’d rather be the guy running the game if given the choice this ratio is 100% fine by me.

As I said before though (to any who would listen), I hate having a game interrupted by some “handy” technical tool that’s supposed to help either me or one of my players track character info, adventure notes, etc, etc.  As soon as that damned laptop screen pops up or someone actually sets up a full-scale desktop (yes… I’ve had someone do that) the interruptions start. And interruptions mean that the game grinds to a halt, the storyline falters and everyone at the table is snapped out of the campaign world and slammed back to the real world. The GM goes from running the game to acting like a high school teacher trying to catch the kids doing something wrong.


You see, once that laptop screen is up it doesn’t take long and laptop isn’t it’s not just being used for a fancy character sheet, mapping tool, or whatever it was originally intended for at the game table.  Its now a way to play some WoW, some annoying Faceboook game (“Just checking to see if my mafia family needs help.”), check emails, iTunes, YouTube (“Check this out!  The latest Dungeon Bastard is up!”) Or some other nothingtodowiththegame thing whenever that person heeds the siren call of the internet.  And the worst part is that the person doing this gets to hide what they’re doing behind the screen.


Just a quick re-position of the laptop, a tweak on the screen angle and they’re off in their own world like a wanna-be novelist writing some dreck in a Starbucks.  Everything else at the table is lost to them.

GM - “John…”

John - typity type type

GM - “John?”

John - type type type

Other players and GM together – “JOHN!”

John – “Oh, yeah… I got a 15.”

GM (who’s pissed off despite the fact the other players are laughing) – “You have no &!$#ing idea what’s going on do you?”

On the GM side of the table it’s a disruption as well.  As soon as you start moving a mouse, typing on a keyboard and acting and looking like you’re doing “computer stuff” the rest of the table tunes out and leans over to check out that latest Dungeon Bastard episode on John’s laptop while you’re distracted.


“Ah, but Brett!” you say thinking you’ve caught me off guard, “The iPad is the same thing as a laptop!”


To which I reply, with a wry grin and a call for a fresh cup of coffee, “No it’s not. And let me tell you why…”


An iPad is just like a book or notepad.  It’s a tablet so it lays flat, is referenced when needed and the interface is a natural touch, slide, tap, pinch and move affair.  There’s no traditional computer stuff that you have to do when you use it.


When the folks in my game who have them use their iPads I don’t have a small army of player screens dotting my gaming table landscape because there’s no laptop screen to hide behind.  They’ve got their Character Folio app (natch!) and they’ve got any other reference docs they need, literally, at their fingertips.


If my players want to use a die roller app I don’t care anymore – they just leave the iPad laying on the table, engage the app and we can all see the results of the roll as easily as on dice.  It’s actually easier in some cases when the guys pull out that OLD set of nearly spherical lucky dice where the numbers aren’t even colored in.


Heck, any app they have that is a tabletop gaming app that helps them keep track of things is fine by me.  Why?  Because anything the player is doing with the iPad I (and the rest of the group) can see easily and they know it.  Sure, they can try and play Angry Birds or something but they’ll get caught because – again – there’s no screen for them to hide behind.


GM – to John who’s been looking at his iPad “What are you doing?”

John – “Just checking to see if I can get a bonus if I hold for a round and use night vision goggles. I think I do…”

GM – “Where you looking?”

John - flips iPad over so the whole table can see it “Here in the Arms compendium, page 234.”


Yes, people can still use their iPads for evil and interrupt the game, but it’s MUCH harder because… you guessed it - There’s no screen to hide behind.

Players not being able to hide helps them stay engaged and keeps the game flowing.  The use of an iPad allows them to remain in the game and still allow access to cool gaming tools and that library of kick ass gaming PDFs they’ve got.


The same holds true on the other side of the table.  When I stand in front of my game group and I’ve got my iPad in my hand to reference some document, call up an image of some unnameable horror that I’m about to show them is gonna eat their souls, or tracking who’s next on imitative it’s no different than when I’m holding a gaming book.


A tap here, a swipe there and a quick flip – viola!  The group gets to see the monster’s picture or I’m reading the rules to quickly determine if they can or cannot get X bonus in Y situation, or I’m telling Lenny that he’s still bleeding out from that last hit the troll nailed him with (don’t forget the maniacal laughter with that last bit – players love that).


I flip pages in the iPad with the same basic moves I do with a book.  It’s the size of a book and has the general appearance of a book or notepad. Along with all the cool apps and techie stuff it can do the iPad is also designed to be used as an eReader so it’s simple to quickly read docs and keep a library of books that are just a finger tap away.


The players don’t see me huddled in front of the warm glow of a laptop’s monitor doing “something” they think and hope is game related.  They see me using a tool that provides the data I need without me interrupting things with computer stuff.


With my iPad I’m a GM that’s still connected to the game. I’m in the story with them and I’m part of things.  I’m not doing anything other than gaming with them.


Interruptions to my game aren’t caused by the technology being used.




They’re caused by Chris eating too many pickled eggs.