Dungeon Masters Guild designer Anne Gregersen doesn’t think it’s best practice to have players on their smartphone during a game.
Speaking to Geek Native, Gregersen was straightforward when asked whether players should be allowed to check their phones;
Generally, no. I think it breaks up the flow of the game and makes it easy for the players to drift off from what is happening. But I don’t think phones should be banned from the table. Being able to take emergency calls and access certain applications can be necessary for a player to enjoy the game.
The twist in this tale is that Monster Loot Vol 1 – Monster Manual is Anne’s Platinum Best Seller at the DM’s Guild and it has an optimised for smartphone version. The Phone PDF was introduced by Onebookshelf, the DM Guild’s parent company, last year as a way to make RPGs more accessible on the small screens.
Crucially, Anne Gregersen’s popular accessory is designed for Dungeon Masters, not players. I asked Anne to describe the Manual;
It’s basically a guide to what useful bits and pieces can be extruded from monsters in the 5th Edition monstersverse of Dungeons & Dragons. When a group of adventurers kill a basilisk, the DM can look up its entry in Monster Loot and describe exactly what the party gets from the kill.
While Anne is cautious about letting players spend too much time paying attention to the small screen rather than the gaming table, the overall mood of D&D fans is generally in favour of the smartphone. A poll1 on an unofficial Dungeons & Dragons 5th ed Facebook group revealed that a ratio of 5:1 said “I used my smartphone more often for D&D these days.” rather than “I’ve had to deal with smartphones as a distraction during the game more often in recent years.”
Gregersen put a significant amount of extra effort into Monster Loot to ensure it was friendly for phones. While she’s been told people find the improved layout makes the PDF way easier to use at the gaming table, it’s not the format that she credits with the Manual’s success.
I think it’s the reward aspect of it. When you kill something big and scary, you want something equally big and scary to show for it. Sure the experience is nice, but a shortsword made from a dragon’s fang is nice too.
Monster Loot Vol 1 – Monster Manual is a good idea that’s been well executed by Anne. That’s why the download is selling well. DMs are finding it useful, and some of those DMs will use their smartphone as a way to check rules or inspiration mid-game.
Ultimately, technology is just a tool for tabletop gamers. Some technologies like Astral Tabletop or Fantasy Grounds enable games to happen, by providing a digital alternative to the table while others, like Monster Loot, provide Dungeon Masters with low cost but high-value additional content for their games. There might be some situations where players hands crawling towards the smartphone is a good thing and others when those same roaming fingers are a red flag.
In a final irony, I asked Gregersen what her favourite monster and loot combination in Monster Loot was;
The loot you get from the Crawling Claw. You only get one thing: a non-crawling claw which you can use as an arcane focus. Here’s hoping it doesn’t spring back to life!
That’s right. Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition literally has crawling hands in the Monster Manual. A single Crawling Claw has a Challenge Rating of 0, but the appropriateness of smartphones at tables might yet prove to be a thornier problem for some gaming groups.
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1 Accurate at the time of writing.