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iPhone Angst
Dungeon Editorial
by Chris Youngs

Even though D&D is still a tabletop game at its core, the game is now firmly entrenched in the modern trappings and perils of technology. The message boards, hordes of fan-generated software, and ultimately D&D Insider have seen to that. But in the past couple of years, one particular device has become a bane and boon to D&D games everywhere: the iPhone.

Certainly, laptops preceded iPhones to many game tables. I know several players who've brought their characters on laptops, and used them to track their hit points and power usage, and store their campaign notes. Of course, cell phones have been in everyone's pockets for almost as long. But there's something about the iPhone …

It's near-ubiquitous, for one. I know many people who own iPhones but who don't own laptops. And then there are the apps. Cool apps have become so accessible for gamers, and they're mostly so cheap that few people who own iPhones, in my experience, haven't indulged themselves with one or two. Or fifty.

But mostly, it's just that they're cool. Full disclosure: I don't own one, but I wish I did (stupid two-year contract). And most people I know who don't have one also wish they did. They're handy, they're fun, and yes, they can do so much cool stuff out of the box that they can turn into a bigger time suck than Techmobowl was for 12-year-old boys in 1987. With something so snazzy and now so common, DMs have to find ways to deal with iPhones at the table. Some have just banned them outright, adding them to the list with cell phones, portable TVs, and durian (or maybe that's just me).

As with any tool, iPhones can be used for good or evil. I've thoughtfully attached a list in each category, so maybe you DMs can rethink those blanket bans you may have already put in place.

The Good

  • Settling Debates: iPhones allow you to quickly and easily access information. Sometimes you're not near a computer or a wireless network when you really want to access, say, IMDB to quickly settle those movie quote debates that have derailed many a D&D session. For something like this, nothing is handier than an iPhone. Look it up, move along.
  • Music. Sometimes, such as around our office, you're playing D&D and just hankering for someone to fire up the Conan the Barbarian soundtrack to accompany your current battle. But there's not a stereo or iPod dock in sight. Sure, the speakers on the iPhone are tiny, but sometimes any music is better than none.
  • Character Sheets: We don't currently offer our own iPhone apps, but there are a couple of cool ones that let you import your Character Builder data into an iPhone-readable character sheet. The site www.iplay4e.com has an app that's used by people around the office, for example.
  • Twitter: I save this one for last because you'll see it on the next list as well. Lots of folks I know twitter during games to post updates to events as they unfold. Done in moderation, I think that's pretty cool. In excess? See below.

The Bad

  • Starting Debates: The curse of having so much information at one's fingertips makes some people feel like the authority on everything from hot wings to hot air balloons. If someone at the table engages in any sort of harmless speculation, some iPhoners bust out I'mrightandyou'rewrong.com to prove their point. That crashing sound you just heard was your session jumping the tracks.
  • Youtube: I love a funny video as much as the next guy. And I love some in-game movie quotes even more. What don't I love? Someone busting out the movie clip for the movie just quoted. It's overkill, it's distracting, and it's not welcome, thank you very much.
  • Twitter: Here it is, back for round two. Twittering during the exciting moments of a game: Cool. Twittering your life as it unfolds: Lame. Has celebrity Twitteritis taught us nothing? I'm sorry, but no one's life is that interesting. Not to mention, doing so during the game is just less attention paid to the game and your fellow players. That leads me to …
  • "It's My Turn Already?": Last, but certainly not least, the iPhone can be a never-ending source of one distraction after another. I mean, it's the Interwebs. There's stuff to do, games to play, and message boards to lurk (or troll). Take comfort: Those players who have their eyes glued to their iPhones, oblivious to the world around them, will be the first to fall when the zombie apocalypse happens.

What it all boils down to is, as with everything, iPhones are best in moderation. In the case of this particular piece of technology, a little goes a long way. The benefits can definitely outweigh the negatives if you set up some ground rules. Have a favorite iPhone app or iPhone horror story? Let us hear about it. We'd love to hear from you!

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