Cellphones, Texting and Trek RPG's

the problem, Stephen, is that I’ve never seen a group where having the tech out wasn’t resulting in someone being distracted. Namely, Me. But every time, I’ve not been the only one.

I’ve never seen a person with an electronic sheet go more than 3 sessions consecutively without needing to be dragged back into the narrative because they missed something while distracted and their electronics not being on the sheet.

And I say this as someone who used a PDA in the 90’s for rolling things. And have run games using an e-ink reader, and realizing that it was a distraction to my players as well as myself.

So, when someone claims that it’s not a division of focus, I have great trouble believing them. I’ve seen my tech as a GM interfere with player participation, and with my own, in ways paper tends not to. And that every player who claimed it wouldn’t affect their participation was outright wrong. In most cases, self-deception, in a couple others, a knowing lie.

The only reason I routinely run with a computer open is when I’m GMing VOIP, and then I still have troubles with one player being on his laptop… and not paying attention. (Everyone but me is gathered in one player’s living room, and we use a teleconference mic for them.)

During the L5R playtest, my tablet was on the table… and was a distraction… despite being essential due to the custom dice. invariably, ever session, someone would wind up on the wrong app on my tablet.

Plus, to paraphrase my last three ed professors… “The capacity for human self-deception is almost unending.”


Yes, there are plenty of examples here on this thread to make my statement objectively false. But this thread is by no means indicative of the world at large. While people looking at their screens more than those around them is a problem with the people, it is also a problem whose root cause lies with the tech itself; which, as much as it is a tool to help improve our lives, it is designed to provide instant gratification and stimulate the reward centers of the brain.

Is my no tech at the table controlling? Yes. No denying that. It’s something about which I feel strongly. Tech may complement fun, but it’s lack in no way decreases the fun to be had.

I’m a firm believer that as much as whatever game is being played and the story being crafted belongs to everyone at the table, it’s ultimately the GMs table. Players are free to not sit at a game I run if they disagree with the no tech rule. I won’t be offended.

All that said, you and I could probably go back and forth about this, each arguing their view and offering statements in counter to the other. Best to agree to disagree. I get my view is probably ridiculous to you and others. I admit, I am extremely biased on this subject and see as much evidence to support my view as I do to counter my view. To each their own. I respect your perspective, I hope you can respect mine, even if you don’t understand or agree with it.


My group plays in irregular intervals, and we usually play all-day sessions from 2pm to midnight, with a break for dinner.

In this time it is an unrealistic expectation that no one should be distracted from the adventure ever. And my group is responsible enough to use their devices for gaming purposes only.

That said, I know that it can be very frustrating to have players constantly looking at their phones and checking social media or whatever. I find that behavior rude and quite frankly insulting to the GM who probably put a lot of work into the adventure.

So I can empathize with both sides. If you have a responsible group, sure you can allow tablets instead of paper sheets. I’m generally on board with @StephenBirks, and for STA I encourage the use of tablets. If not, I totally understand the more radical approaches of @Dytrrnikl and @aramis because it is just too frustrating otherwise.

I find that people can always find ways to become distracted, regardless of what’s at the table - in my experience, players who might fiddle on social media with a tablet are also the same kinds of players who build towers with their dice, or doodle on their character sheets, or find some other way to fiddle around. Life is distracting. But technology is not the cause of that distraction, but rather just one medium by which it manifests, and if properly used, a tablet or smartphone at the table is a potentially-useful tool for delivering or retaining information.

And also… sometimes, that fidgeting and fiddling around is an outlet for nervous energy rather than a sign of distraction - perhaps something the person does to occupy their hands while other things are going on, helping them focus rather than detracting from it.

1 Like

Solid points.

@Dytrrnikl and @aramis

I think both your points culminate to the same conclusion; it is the people, not the tech, that is the true issue you both have. I feel you are removing access to tech because it is a quick fix solution but fundamentally that does not address the actual problem.

As @Modiphius-Nathan points out people will get distracted, even if by nothing else than a random thought in their head and fidgeters will fidget regardless of stimuli. On the flip side there are those that are rude, selfish and ignorant and if the only way to get them to co-operate is to curtail them, then perhaps they are not really someone you want in your game. I certainly wouldn’t want them in mine.

IMO you are exorcising a very potent element of modern gaming which can open up avenues to whole new ways of playing. I can only hope that you will one day see it the same way I do, and I only use a minute fraction of what is possible, even during a face to face round the table game.

I’ve always GMed more than I play. I allowed tech up to a few years. Tried Fantasy Grounds, Battlgrounds, and most recently Roll20, even used MythWeavers for awhile. Over time, the more I used it, my perspective changed from “Hey, this is pretty nifty” to “Hey, this is pretty nifty, but gaming isn’t as much fun to run as it used too”. I’m not unique in this view, just in the minority here.

The issue with tech isn’t solely on the people, it’s also the people who have developed the tech and aps. It impacts the pleasure systems of the brain in ways similar to substances. It provides some of the same reward that alcohol and other drugs. More studies are starting support this view, supporting my biased view of keeping tech away from the game table when everyone is physically present. When I use Roll20 - basically just the facetime aspect and dice function of it, my tech bias isn’t even a factor.


As GM, I, also, ask my players to not use tech at the gaming table. I ban dice rolling apps, no exceptions.

Regarding the latter: Having physical dice is part of the fun. To me, it wouldn’t be role-playing, if there were no physical dice. Yes, of course, if the system itself relied on them, it would probably be different. But I do not know about such systems and I do not play such a system at the moment.

All but one player respect that ‘tech ban’ and are pretty much okay with it, since tech is not necessary for the game we play and would distract more than it would improve the game. Only one player needs to have his character sheet on his iPad. I don’t like it, but it works for him and he likes it, so it is probably okay.

I’m basically on Aramis’ side here: I tried a lot – but, to me, the benefit was never greater than the loss of the gaming quality I felt.

There is nothing wrong with it. And, again, when I will eventually start my STA campaign, I will probably try to integrate everyone’s device into the gaming flow (as a PADD, so to say).

Off-Topic: In the country I live in, we often say ‘device’ to address random technical things like smartphones, tablets, smart watches etc. – would ‘widget’ be the correct/mostly used english term, instead? Thank you for improving my english skills. :slight_smile:

1 Like

And my 40 years of GMing and 30 years of portable computing tells me very much that the distraction factor of even JUST THE GM using the tech is more profound than the books.

I find dice stackers and doodlers far less distracted by their actions than the guys claiming to be using it just for a character sheet or just for a dieroller. And further, they are less disruptive in general.

I love my tech, but it’s not good with gaming.

1 Like

I kinda skipped over most of the replies to just kinda get back to answering the OP. I haven’t used cell phones in my games, its an interesting idea though. For me personally it might be too much “down time” for me sitting and typing things into a phone and then sending it, and then people getting their phone out to read it. Kind of an awkward silence thing that might be distracting. If it could be done as “seamlessly” as having a pre-written note card that I can just hand to a player, which is more pre-game preparation but less in-game down time, then it might be something I’d try.

1 Like

I also use paper notes still and try to print out stuff with the proper font in advance. I mean buying green sealed certified paper is both a renewable and recyclable resource at least if that’s your concern. I would also find texting distracting, we already live in a cell phone age and gaming lets you escape from that, but to each their own. I do have some props (tricorders, proper TOS chairs, even a spock’s computer station computer with sound FX) which is fun on occasion too.

1 Like

This is why I asked. I hate the “What he said” moments, so I am toying with the idea of using pre-typed noted I can hand players to read, or answer questions, I anticipate will be asked. I know such “canned” dialogue will not work for very much. A person may phrase their question a little differently than from what I have prepared, and make it worthless. But I am always looking for ways to improve my game.

I’ve toyed with that idea as well during ship combat. It might be more atmospherical if the tactical officer actually announces “shields at 70%” rather than the GM.


Me too. And that’s actually very easy, since the crew tracks the shields themselves. So they only need to annotate the ship’s character shield with corresponding percentages at each of the shield-fields, if you know what I mean.

I use thought bubble sticky notes to convey certain information to players whose character should know something, but the other players wouldn’t, that way they can choose to share the information or not, but if they do, they can’t just say “I tell them all that.”
Of course using thought bubble notes is completely unnecessary (but fun and fitting), and you could use any sticky notes, index cards, or scratch paper. I prefer it over texting because it’s easier to prepare ahead of time (I’d have to install an app to schedule texts to be sent at a certain time, and that would be all I would use it for, which is a waste to me. Not to mention that it’s easier to just hand someone a slip of paper at the right time than it is to estimate when it’ll be need and schedule the messages to send) and you dont have to worry about things not working right (I have Sprint, which means some messages will randomly take a day to arrive. :unamused:)

1 Like

In the D&D game I’m in we use Fantasy Grounds. We have a player with a chronic illness that doesn’t allow him to make the table often. So everyone is on laptops and we use them for rolling dice, managing mini’s, character sheets, everything. It also allows other players to play remotely when they are out of town on business, at home taking care of a little one, or just not feeling like getting ready day. LOL.

Obviously we have an extenuating circumstance that has brought tech to our table. We rarely get bogged down by it though. We’re all there to play, so there’s not really a reason to be off doing other things and when we are it’s usually because of table banter that has brought us outside of the game (rather than the tech), normally during a bathroom break or a break while the GM looks up a rule.

We’ve used many methods over the years to relay messages to people. Prearranged phrases to send a secret message to a player for a plot point that has been discussed out of session for example. But we’ve also used the whisper function on Fantasy Grounds. My GM has also sent secret messages via text message before (this actually happened in a game a few months ago, but since we’re not normally focused on our phones sometimes that makes it hard to get things like that to work.

I can understand the reasoning for not having tech at the table, but I also think you can allow it with a discussion of how we’re all there for the game. It should be used as a tool, not a distraction.

I will admit that sometimes I miss the opportunity to buy a new dice set (I used to do that for each new character I did). Coloring the dice in the program is cool, but not the same. I also miss the clatter as the dice hit the table and physically moving my mini around the battlefield. But it’s worth giving up those things to keep our friend in the group and to allow more of us to play when we normally wouldn’t be able to.

If your players have a certain level of maturity they should be able to understand how to properly use technology in the game. As far as advice for the original poster. Maybe instead of sending texts, send an e-mail. Many people get their e-mail on their phones. That would allow you to type out the message on a computer rather than tap it out on a phone (which I’m honestly horrible at). It may also allow you to send attachments such as pictures and player handouts. Everyone could even set up an in character e-mail account for this purpose so that all their game e-mails are in one place and not mixed in with other e-mails.




“I’ve toyed with that idea as well during ship combat. It might be more atmospherical if the tactical officer actually announces “shields at 70%” rather than the GM.”

Since this is the first time I have run ST:A, and I am math challenged, I may not start that the first space combat! LOL But I agree with you - it would be more true to the dialogue of the series.

Exactly what I had in mind, except for the picture part - that could be useful! Thanks for the idea!

As I said, that is easy to prepare: You already know how many shield value your players’ ship havs. That’s 100%. If shield’s are down, that’s 0%. Everything in between is divided up into shield points, so you simply have to divide 100 by the maximum shield points to find out the percentage of a single shield point. Now, make little annotations to the shieldpoint-fields on the ship’s character sheet, adding up that amount for each shield point. So you only have to look on the sheet and instead of telling “Shields are down to 3 points”, you say “shields are down to 30%”.

You can also prepare a table in advance with several different max-values in relation to each single point, telling the percentage.

1 Like

Hi, just started my adventure with Star Trek.

A couple of friends, and I, have returned to RPG after a sabbatical of some…time.

I have been using iPads and Apple TV (not a plug - just the kit we have) to show reports and library information and scans using the downloadable stuff of LCARS from the internet, and then using keynote to fashion how it looks, along with adding sound from Bridge scenes etc. I used one to report the results of an autopsy in a game we played this week. That, with the LCARS and the sound of the TOS medical bay added to the ambience (I couldn’t find the sound of a TNG medbay).

It seems to work well and definately adds to the ‘immersion’ factor in the game.

We haven’t had the issue with ‘not’ being present in the room, and have used text to represent sub-space messages when we were doing a sudo Star Trek Attack Wing/Adventures campaign.

I think it is very much a matter of personal choice, but from our perspective, it has been quite fun.

I only have the PDF versions of the books from Modiphius because that is the medium I prefer. My friends on the other hand prefer the non-digital version.

All of the ‘tech’ stuff is pre-prepared prior to the game, and I quite enjoy doing it, and with the internet, keynote, and movie, I have produced some pretty fun stuff. But ultimately it is a matter of personal choice. I tried to get they guys to use just iPads for notes and character records (only to replicate the digitisation of TNG), one did, the other was not keen…each to their own.

I am interested in how other people use tech in their sessions.

1 Like