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Don’t Table your Table

Posted By Matthew J. Neagley On February 24, 2009 @ 1:45 am In Tools for GMs | 8 Comments

This article is second in a three part series.  You can read the first part here, and the last part here.

My esteemed colleague may tell you different, but the ultimate gaming location is the table. RPGs draw their roots from tabletop wargaming, and despite the notable lack of scantily clad elven babes chained to dank stone walls, the venerable wargame got at least one thing right: the table. The table has been the gathering place of choice for RPGs since their inception, and rightfully so. No prop, tool, concept, or game aide does as much for your game as the noble table.

There are tables specifically designed to be the ultimate gaming table and tables on the bleeding edge of technology and while we’re all very, very jealous if you have either of the above, any table large enough to seat your group comfortably will add immeasurable value to your gaming experience.

Sitting around a table has the connotation that it’s game time. Groups around a table are more attentive to the GM and less prone to non-game conversation than those in a more casual setting. If you’re sitting at the head of the table (and that’s where you should be), that position will help you confer the proper authority of your position, making dealing with disturbances and handling your group easier.

Tables aid your game by keeping face to face communication easy. Everyone can see each other’s faces without straining, and everyone is within range of everyone else’s voice.  There’s none of the craning or straining that can be associated with a less formal seating arrangement. Other forms of communication, such as notes, are also facilitated by sitting around a table.

By virtue of the placement of large tables in most houses, there are usually less distractions around your table than in other areas. The same environment that’s conducive to an intimate dinner party is right for a focused, distraction-free game.

Tables keep the group constrained to a relatively small physical area. Not only does this help with passing notes, seeing the map, and other logistical concerns, it enables the DM to make use of dramatic techniques like standing and walking around the group, something that can be difficult if your players are all over the place.

The table provides a convenient flat surface for rolling dice, placing the battle mat, and keeping your supplies, snacks and beverages handy, all within easy reach and sight of all players. Anyone who’s gamed in an informal setting knows the annoyance of having to get up periodically to see a battle map, or to get to the pizza. Your GM screen, if you’re not one of those heathens that play without one, is likewise much easier placed on a table than any alternative.

Posture and attention are both improved by good seating around a table. Posture is important because: face it, we’re an out-of-shape segment of the general population (show me a gaming group without it’s share of fatties. I know – I’m it in my group) and lounging too long in comfy chairs is what causes that moment at the end of your game where everyone gets up groaning and stumbling on their numb legs. It’s also partially responsible for that guy (you know the one) who falls asleep every game. Wake him up by putting him upright.

Fixed seating order, easiest in a formal table arrangement, can be of great aid to your game. Hopefully, your game doesn’t require this to keep problem players apart, but it’s a useful technique to segregate groups of players or keep assistants or players with whom you’ll need to collaborate during the game at hand.

Tables can even provide extra storage underneath without cluttering or reducing your play and seating areas.

I hope that this short list of the advantages of gaming the classic way, around a table, inspires you to try it for yourself if you’re not already a fan. There’s a reason the first gamers bellied up around a table and reasons that it continues to be the most popular location for games.  See you at the table!

About  Matthew J. Neagley

First introduced to RPGs through the DnD Red Box Set in 1990, Matt fights on ongoing battle with GMing ADD, leaving his to-do list littered with the broken wrecks of half-formed campaigns, worlds, characters, settings, and home-brewed systems. Luckily, his wife is also a GM, providing him with time on both sides of the screen.




8 Comments (Open | Close)

8 Comments To "Don’t Table your Table"

#1 Comment By Karizma On February 24, 2009 @ 9:22 am

My group has a coffee-table constructed entirely of stacked pizza boxes assembled together with duct tape and wrapped in a bedsheet for presentation, and it’s wonderful. There’s a paper-thin-but-sturdy dry erase board that we place on top of it, which we use for sketching maps and the like.

I use a laptop, so that’s the closest I get to a screen. But the fact that we have a flat surface in the middle is agreed upon by all to be a Good Thing (TM).

Putting the table aside can be engaging, but that’s under the assumption that your group is focused around a table, as I’m sure most if not all groups are!

#2 Comment By BryanB On February 24, 2009 @ 10:28 am

@Karizma – Why is it that I think of aroma of greasy pizza’s past wafting up as you play around the “construct?” :D

And Yes! While I may stand at times to let the blood flow or to move minis around the battle mat/tiles, I much prefer the table as the glue that holds roleplaying civilization together. There is something about sitting around a solid table with your game books and dice ready to go, not to mention the snacks, drinks, and always fun comraderie of GAME TIME.

#3 Comment By John Arcadian On February 24, 2009 @ 2:15 pm

Ok, Ok, Ok. You make some valid points about gaming with a table. Truth be told, my group usually games around a table, unless I can pry them away from it with something interesting. I constantly found myself starting to write “at the table” as I was writing that article. Had to keep changing it. Tables are kind of central to gaming, but that doesn’t mean you can’t switch it up every so often.

#4 Comment By Scott Martin On February 24, 2009 @ 7:29 pm

While a table is a good thing, we tend to game around a low table and sit on couches. Your points about posture are good– but wouldn’t sitting in upright chairs for hours at a time be even more tortuous? I know that a poor chair can have me wishing for padding (or a better back) in just an hour or two– I can’t imagine what I’d look like after six hours. Or is that just imagination speaking?

#5 Comment By BryanB On February 25, 2009 @ 10:37 am

@Scott Martin – Some chairs are certainly more comfortable than others. Couches around a table seem to work well, whether that table is low or regular. The chairs that seem to work best are ergonomic office chairs or those folding chairs with the nice thick padding to sit on. Hard wood, plastic, or metal chairs are the absolute worst chairs to sit on. I’d need a chiropractor if I sat for an entire game session in one of those. :D

#6 Comment By Yax – DungeonMastering.com On February 25, 2009 @ 12:06 pm

Any game without lack of scantily clad elven babes chained to dank stone walls is unacceptable.

Nice ode to The Table by the way…

#7 Comment By Matthew J. Neagley On February 25, 2009 @ 6:46 pm

Yes, even though I purposely took a staunch pro-table approach in this article, you can tell from the other articles in the set (and the fourth one that appeared today) and from all the excellent comments that it’s not a cut and dry, always at the table issue. There are pros, cons, and factors to consider.
Regarding the issue of the most comfortable and appropriate chairs for gaming, when I was a teen I pulled some of the muscles in my lower back, and had to go to the doctor as the pain hept getting worse and worse. What I was told is that the harder the chair and the straighter the back, the better it is for you. The big cushy chairs, while seemingly comfy, really do a number on your back that you don’t notice until you try sitting straight-backed in a nice hard chair. It’s worked wonders for me. I’m no doctor though, so take that with a grain of salt.
@YAX – That had better be a typo. No one that doesn’t properly appreciate BDSM themed elves isn’t welcome at my table. :p

Thanks everyone for the excellent comments. As usual, lots of good ideas!

#8 Comment By Yax – DungeonMastering.com On February 25, 2009 @ 7:02 pm

@Matthew: No, that was not not a typo. I didn’t get not confused with my negatives.


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