Invisible Gaps Generate Great Gaming

My Starbucks payment card is broken.

I’ve tried several times to update the settings but keep getting errors.

So I hopped online and chatted with support. My first chat was with a computer. I went through the bot’s decision tree until a “Chat With Live Agent” button appeared, which I clicked without hesitation.

The real person logged into the chat, and I repeated my issue for the third time (first time: website FAQ searches, second time: chat robot).

The agent was super nice and told me they have a special team dedicated to my problem. I received a phone number and hours of operation, and then the chat ended.

I haven’t called yet. No time. Got a GM newsletter to write and publish right now. 🙂

All this makes me ask a couple of questions, though:

  • Why is an international megacorp making it so hard to take my money?
  • If loading a coffee card is this difficult, why is it so easy to load a bow in my campaign?

The latter is the point of today’s GM noodling, lol.

The warriors, rogues, and elves in my campaigns have been flinging arrows, bolts, and knives into melee for decades now, and reloading has been 100% flawless.

Well, except for that time in my Murder Hobos campaign where the party murdered the mayor to steal his 500 gold pieces. The mayor came back as a ghost who, for the rest of the campaign, haunted the party. One of the ghost’s favourite pranks was dumping out quivers and cutting ammo belts. That definitely made reloading an adventure!

I do not propose requiring a skill check, luck roll, or some other test to reload weapons. That would mess with your game balance a lot and feel suddenly punitive to players.

However, there’s nothing wrong with leaning into reload features in treasure, NPCs, and magic items.

For example, the new NPC ally might have shaky hands, resulting in a slowed missile rate. Not a game breaker, and some nice flavour.

Or maybe the rogue’s fancy shmancy new bow has double the fumble range, and reloading is the frequent victim. Broken strings, fletching damage when arrows are notched or fired, and so on.

And that magic Bandolier of Infinite Poison Darts? It serves darts up in random orientation, so the wizard sometimes grabs a tip by accident and must make a Save versus Death roll. An annoyance, for sure.

At some point, game designers must abstract, eliminate, and simplify to achieve their vision and publish a great RPG system. These invisible rules gaps become blind spots for we GMs.

It’s like that story of a mother and daughter getting a turkey ready. I don’t know the source of the story, but the version I heard involved turkey.

Anyway, the mother says the final step is to cut the back end of the turkey off before putting it in the pan. The daughter asks, “Why do you cut the turkey end off?” To which the mother says, “I don’t know. It’s what MY mother taught me. Let’s ask her.”

So they ask grandma. She says, “Oh, I always cut the end of the turkey off. I had a small pan and the turkeys would never fit.”

Hidden assumptions and other design tricks give us the same experience. For example, modern D&D designers feel that tracking spell components is too much friction, so they make them automatic and infinite. So, GMs never think to make spell components a thing in gameplay, such as with a special casting or circumstance.

There’s an expression along these lines of not seeing the forest for the trees. We get so caught up in the existing rule details that we miss factoring in what the rules skip. For example, if you want Vending Machine D&DTM, go for it. However, I feel there’s a wealth of GM options and campaign details we could add judiciously by exploring such gaps and bringing them into play in interesting ways.

Thank you, Starbucks, for declining my reloads. You’ve got me noodling now on aspects of the game that could be opportunities to make encounters more fun at every game!

Have more fun at every game!

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