Game Mastery

Does technology help or hinder?

by on Jun.08, 2011, under observations, tech

Been a while since I posted.  It’s not that I haven’t felt like writing, but that all my writing has been for game instead of about game.

That aside, I’m curious about what the role of technology has been in other people’s games.  I’m not sold on character builders yet, but I really like text search in a PDF.  But I’m having some other problems that might be costing me more time than text search is saving.

Anyway, I have a session to run on friday and a game to play in tomorrow.  I meant to do my writing last night and instead spent a couple hours tweaking my 4E stat block vim syntax highlighter and latex converter.  WotC’s been using a new format for their monster stat blocks and I didn’t want to be limited to old monsters.  I’m pretty happy with the results, as I was able to come up with a set of regexes that worked in either format and I didn’t need to try and detect which format was being used (although read ahead negation sucks and took half my time).  I’m not happy that tech stole an evening of game writing.

Several sessions ago, more than one player showed up without a character sheet.  Okay, we can just run off some more.  Except that the character sheets were stored in the new online character builder, which depends on Silverlight.  None of the computers present had Silverlight already, so we decided to race.  The aging Windows laptop couldn’t install it for inexplicable reasons.  Nor could the speedy new Macbook.  I’d previously tried Moonlight in linux (which is the open source equivalent), but it didn’t support all the features WotC’s new builder needed.  I was prepared for that though and had already set up XP in a virtual machine, which promptly failed to install Silverlight.

Turns out that Silverlight requires 2gb of hard drive space, which seems absurd for a browser plugin.  Disk space is cheap, but not when you’re using a tiny little virtual machine.  It also turns out that Silverlight doesn’t tell you when it doesn’t have room to install.  It just copies files until it can’t and then gives generic error messages.

All told we lost about 90 minutes of game time to installing character builders before we gave up and told the player to use an older sheet we had left over.  After that I set up a new rule that printing and bringing your own character sheet was a prerequisite to gain a new level.  Failure to do so leaves you at the level of the most recent copy of your character we have available.

And don’t get me started on iPhones at the game table.  I’m guilty of checking email when it’s not my turn too, but Angry Birds should be off limits.

Anyway, I know I won’t remove electronics from gaming entirely.  I’ve been prepping for game during my lunch breaks at work and PDFs are invaluable for this.  I don’t want to come across as a luddite, but I’m wondering if anyone else is finding tech gets in the way as often as it helps when it comes to tabletop gaming.

3 comments for this entry:
  1. Shane

    You know, I think maybe it’s how technology is used that makes a difference.
    I run a heavily home-brewed pathfinder game, so I keep word documents with each character’s information on them. That way I can just run copies off for people who don’t have theirs. It’s a little more work than using a character builder or just relying on plain paper, but it’s definitely more reliable.
    Everyone in our group also keeps a dice-rolling app on their phones, so if someone forgets dice it really isn’t a problem.
    As for phones at the table, it’s my thought that if someone isn’t paying attention because they’re messing around on their phone, they probably wouldn’t be interested in the game anyway. For instance, I had a player who spent an two full sessions on Skype with his girlfriend. See, his only contributions to the game were a few disparaging comments on my rules interpretations and completely ignoring all of the story I had been writing. I asked him politely not to come to any more games.
    I’ve found that the people who aren’t interested in your game will find distractions no matter what. Cherish the players who enjoy the game. Ignore players who don’t. That way, you spend most of your effort making the game fun for people who will enjoy it.

    …Yikes. After typing that all out, it looks like I have some issues of my own to deal with. Sorry I basically ignored your question. I hope you found something useful in this mess of text, anyway!

  2. sagotsky

    Wall of text is cool. I was interested in hearing other opinions and now I’ve certainly heard one.

    > As for phones at the table, it’s my thought that if someone isn’t paying attention because they’re messing around on their phone, they probably wouldn’t be interested in the game anyway.

    I’ve had that thought before. I’ve certainly had players show up who aren’t interested in my game and so they go for their phones instead. I’ve done that at games too. What bothers me about the phone is that for the players who might be up for game and might not on a given day, the iPhone takes over and stops them from playing. They might be a little bored and just check their email. Then they might update their apps and as long as their in the app store, might as well see if anything is on sale. And if something is, of course they’ll play it.

    I can deal with lost causes. The iPhone stops me from entertaining those players I might have been able to win over with a good session.

  3. Rezby

    In my gaming group, almost everyone has a laptop. They use a google docs that they share with the DM as the character sheet. Generally, this method works since everyone has all the pdfs necessary and can pull up what they need when they need it.
    Those who don’t have working or reliable laptops print out spare copies of their character sheet and bring those to the game.
    Some players (I’m guilty of this too) have opened up games on their laptops during ‘loading screens’ while the DM was taking 5 to make sure the rest of the new area/fight/whatever ran smoothly. Better to take the 5 minutes now and then sail smoothly than to run into rapids.
    Phones, smart or not, are used almost exclusively when someone has to make or take a phone call.

    Generally, technology has been nothing but helpful to my group.

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