One of my players in my D&D campaign is almost always on his mobilephone, replying to messages etc. I've asked him if he could refrain from using his phone as I find it very distracting and it slows the pace of the game down. He doesn't see why he should put his phone away and is saying he'll leave the group rather than put the phone away. The trouble is that he's a good friend and I don't want to sour the friendship.

I've suggested checking phones or messaging during breaks or stepping away from the table if he needs to message or whatever, but none of my suggestions are acceptable. Any ideas?


9 Answers 9


You're not going to like it, but I would let him walk. Having a player on his phone breaks immersion for everyone else, and he's said outright that he'd rather leave than put down the phone.

Tell him that you don't want to sour the friendship, but that you're not ok running a campaign where people have phones out at the table. And then offer to hang out with him some other time doing something different if playing D&D isn't going to work out for him.

Note that this answer is predicated upon the impression that the person in question is not using the phone for some important real life use (on call, responding to emergency at home, etc.) When I say to let him walk, it's because my impression is that his phone use is saying, "this game does not deserve my full attention." If there is a case of someone using a phone for something important in real life, that is obviously different.

Good luck!

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 For the core issue: "this game does not deserve my full attention". Would be the same if they were looking through a magazine or reading a book at glances or flipping through an advertisement or watching soccer in the background or whatever. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 31, 2015 at 22:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yes. If this friend has said "I'd rather leave the game than put down my phone", then he has made the decision. "Hey, I get that my game might not be a perfect fit for us. Let's do [insert other activity here]." That approach tells the friend that you're not mad, nor do you want to end the friendship, but that you've also drawn the line for this particular activity. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 25, 2019 at 5:01

The first thing you need to do is talk to the player again. Explain, in neutral and non-accusatory terms, why his use of the phone is frustrating to you as the GM. Have examples ready, in case he says it's not affecting anyone - for example, "When your turn comes up, I have to spend time reminding you of what's going on, even though everyone else already knows. That slows the game down for everyone and makes it harder for the other players to get things done."

Then ask him why he feels he needs to be constantly using his phone. He may have a good reason - for example, one of the players in my last campaign was sometimes on call on game days, and was required to respond immediately to messages. Or your player might be dealing with a serious personal issue that requires constant attention. If that's the case, discuss ways to work around the issue: for example, can the game be moved to a different day, where he won't need to be on the phone as much?

If he doesn't have a legitimate need to be on the phone, he may express this in ways like, "Look, it's no big deal, I'm paying attention, okay?" or "I'm only doing it when it's not my turn, it's fine." If so, then you need to see if the issue is actually that he's bored at the table. (He may not want to say this outright, since you're friends and it's not considered "nice" to tell your friend that you're bored with their game.) If he's bored or feels like there's nothing for him to do, then this is something you can address as the GM. Find ways to involve him more, so that he doesn't get bored enough to turn to his phone. (But be careful not to leave out your other players!) Ask him which parts he finds boring - maybe he lives for combat, and hates the role-playing bits. Or maybe combat is just dice to him, and he prefers to be up to his ears in intrigue. Whatever it is, work with him to get him engaged enough in the game that he doesn't need to turn to his phone for stimulation.

If he's bored at the table and doesn't want to be more involved, you may simply have a player who's there because friendship, not because he actually wants to play. If that's the case, it's better for both of you to let him walk. You say you don't want to sour your friendship by booting him, but if this keeps going on, your friendship is going to sour anyway as you get more and more irritated by him and he gets more and more frustrated. So tell him that you're glad he gave your game a shot, but that since he doesn't enjoy it enough to truly participate, it would be better for both of you if you found some other activity to do together.

tl;dr: See if the player has a legitimate reason to be on his phone, or if he's just bored and needs more involvement in the game. But if neither of those work, be prepared to let him walk for the sake of your friendship.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for "Work with him to get him engaged enough in the game that he doesn't need to turn to his phone for stimulation." I considered adding this to my answer, but felt it wasn't relevant to my thesis. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 30, 2015 at 3:03

I did this in a campaign a year ago. :(

What I can say is that the game was -- I don't want to say boring, exactly, but we spent an awful lot of time splitting the party and doing solo scenes where one player was talking to the DM and everyone else just wasn't present. I would have two or three hours in a row of straight-up downtime because my character wasn't in the scene, and if I hadn't had my phone to entertain me I would have gone mad.

If your game has lots of splitting the party and solo scenes, and if you think your problem player is using his phone mostly during downtime, you might try altering your gaming format to engage more people more of the time.

When you're the DM, you don't really feel the pain of those solo scenes, because no matter what happens you're engaged with the game 100%. Your players may be getting a different experience.


Talk to the rest of your group.

You've made it clear that you've spoken to him about this, that it bothers you and that it slows down the game. Does the rest of the group feel this way too? If not, you may be the odd one out here. In that case, you might have to bite the bullet and enjoy the game as it is if he isn't willing to put the phone down.

If the group agrees with you, if they also make it known to him that they don't like it, and if he won't put the phone down...

Call his bluff

He's bluffing. It's pretty clear. He wants you to feel that you need him more than he needs you. That, or he really doesn't actually want to be there, in which case you should also want him to leave. Your player group dynamic is important, and if someone doesn't want to be there, it's going to put a damper on every session.

But, if he is bluffing, you need to call it. If he says he's going to leave rather than drop the phone, then ask him to leave. At that point, depending on how much pride he has, he'll either make a compromise or he'll continue bluffing and leave, though he'll feel bad about it. In the future, he may actually consider what gluing himself to his phone means when doing anything with friends. He might even return to the group after a brief hiatus.

As for the game, I'd keep his character alive and busy while he's away.

What about our friendship?

This really goes beyond the scope of this question. We could infer a number of things about your relationship, but it'd really just be guessing. My answer is strictly for the benefit of you and your group. Making judgements about your relationship and how it ought to be handled is not my place.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for discussing it with other players. You might find that DanB is right and you didn't know that your players are bored, or you they might support you, or there might be no consensus on this... but one can't know without asking. \$\endgroup\$
    – Pavel
    Commented Sep 3, 2015 at 11:38

This is not based on my own experience, but that of a podcaster I listen to. His advice in this situation is to say nothing about using a cell phone at the table, simply stop interacting with them while they are nose-first in Facebook. If they decide to interact with the party or the NPCs, respond as though nothing happened.

The theory behind this being it is not worth the effort to try and bring them into the game if they are really not interested in whats happening at the table in that moment. This method also rewards playing and paying attention, and does not try to punish your friends.

He reports success with this method.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Interesting! I've sort of fallen into this strategy with one player, as she often plays with her phone, but she's not disruptive to me or the others about it. I feel bad that she's not getting as much screen time because she doesn't notice chances to jump in, but… this reminds me that it's OK to let her choose less engagement, since it bothers no one else, really. When she cares about events, she does get involved. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 31, 2015 at 16:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'd also agree with this method. As someone who does find himself "nose deep" in his phone, I've found it really REALLY disadvantageous. I don't know what's going on and I can tell no one likes it. So, it helps me keep my phone down. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 1, 2015 at 19:44

This might be a controversial answer, but if done correctly, it might actually improve the game.

Involve the phone in the game

These days, nearly everyone has a smartphone (and everyone except some elderly at least has a dumbphone), and services and apps exist to send messages at a predetermined time (or the GM can just prepare in advance and press when needed). You can use the messaging function for different things:

  • Passing along secret GM notes to party members;
  • Couriers delivering a letter from an ingame party;
  • Use them to simulate a Scroll of Sending;

One important rule at the table to establish in advance: ONLY use your phone to read messages. DO NOT send any.

In a campaign set in our modern world (or even a futuristic world), you may even use smartphones as access to the Internet, which in turn can be used for your party members to search for information or view a video from an in-game event as backstory or even a clue.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Interesting answer. Have you used this approach? How did it turn out for your group? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 1, 2015 at 6:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DanHenderson I'll be totally honest: I have a lot of interest in table-top games, but I rarely play them due to lack of a group to play them with. However, I do like to come up with unconventional solutions to problems. And I think that it's better to embrace technology than it is to ban it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Nzall
    Commented Sep 1, 2015 at 14:59

Riffing on Dan B's suggestion that the player may be bored by party splits where they're offscreen, or by solo scenes centered on other characters.

If this player is bored by party splitting or solo scenes they're not in, there's some ways you can address that.

When I have a party split or a solo scene, I usually flip back and forth between the multiple split groups. "Meanwhile, over here...". If done with the right pacing it lets people have a little time to think of their own actions and see what the other characters are doing without needing to jump in.

When I do this I also strongly encourage the off-screen players to talk among themselves. Just let them RP in character with each other, you don't need to hear all of it - you can ask them to fill you in on salient details just before you bring the spotlight back to them. This relies on there being more then one off-screen character, and for those two (or more) to be near enough to talk.

Some other thoughts:

Is this player not engaged in the story?

Is this player not engaged in the other characters?

The answers to those might point toward other things that could be done to improve the situtation


He may just be immature. I remember that when I was a young teenager and played my father at chess while others were watching TV in the same room, I would ostentatiously watch the TV between turns. This was my way of proving that I was so clever that I could do several things at once. Of course I realize now that it was very rude. At the time I was much more concerned with looking important/clever that I was with taking the game seriously.

What I'm saying is that you need to understand his mindset in order to deal with it. This might be achieved by asking gentle questions outside of the game environment. If that doesn't work then you may simply have to lay down the law.


If he refuses to put his phone down until it's his turn, I can tell you that it isn't because he's bored. He is just more interested in his phone than in the game. Like OCD he is addicted to his phone.

I don't know if anyone else asked this question, but does he always have his nose in his phone ? Like when he's at home, eating dinner, out with friends, in school? I have a sneaking suspicion he does. This generation has grown up in the computer era, and it's very easy to let it control your life.

There are groups that are for such addictions. Honestly there is nothing you can do that will make him stop. You're going to have to man up and tell him, with clarity, how it is and how it's going to be. Although I would refrain from using words like addiction and obsession. No addict wants to be called on their addiction.

You don't have to be a jerk about it but you do have to have a serious tone. Explain you're tired of his nonchalant attitude towards your requests to "put the phone away and participate COMPLETELY". His actions have become a distraction to the other players and his inability to keep up with the happenings of the game is more than a little frustrating. Therefore; he has given you no other choice other than say, "I'm asking that you step down as a player or you will be forced to remove him from the game." He has a choice, leave with honor or...

If he is indeed a good friend he should understand and hopefully concede. Remind him that this has been an ongoing issue and he should have been aware that his phone obsession was creating problems. Hopefully this won't harm your friendship but if it does than maybe he wasn't the friend you thought he was. It's like when someone owes you 50 bucks then drops off the face of the earth. It's a good thing because it only cost you 50 bucks to get rid of that loser.

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    – Miniman
    Commented Sep 2, 2015 at 1:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ As a rule of thumb, throwing around clinical psychological diagnoses of someone without being their professional therapist/diagnostician, will generally reduce the appearance of quality for a post, not increase it. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 2, 2015 at 2:46

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