Sorry, the plot device is on leave this week

So, here I am, having traveled half a world away. While the primary purpose of my trip is still solid, I had a host of other people to do and things to see while I was here. Or something like that.

But turns out, seems as if much of the management staff is off in training or on leave, as least of those whom it would be pretty useful for me to see.
Made me think, over lunch, how often GMs successfully use this element of what is effectively Clausewitz’s friction in their games. Sometimes stuff just happens, and the taxi is late, the person you need to see has the flu, or rather than walk neatly into your trap, the enemy platoon gets lost in the woods.
Would it help immersion, or just be annoying? Real life and real time happen without our choice in the matter. But gathered around a gaming table, is it mostly “yeah, yeah, we’ve got three hours to play, and I’m not in the mood to kill time waiting for the right result on your Random Annoyances Table.”
I’d love to hear of good examples of this being used both well and poorly.

5 thoughts on “Sorry, the plot device is on leave this week

  1. This is exactly the burden that Old School D&D takes off of my game mastering shoulders. With gold-for-xp and an effectively unlimited map (B2 or a scratch-built megadungeon), the players set the objective and take charge of the plot.

    For a more narrativistic game… the ability to telescope and fast forward past the tedious parts means annoyances don't have to be boring. Setbacks and failures are the essence of plot and we for some reason have a tendency to want to gloss over those in favor of what we think is "supposed" to happen.

    When Plan A can't work for silly logistical reasons… the players might be forced to use an approach that they aren't as optimized for in a time and place that they aren't min/maxed against. If this sort of thing develops as a direct result of player choices and dice results instead of raw GM fiat… so much the better. I say embrace it as a perfectly logical contrast to business as usual.

  2. This can definitely be done well, and it'll add to the plot. If the taxi is late, but you gift them with the presence of another car nearby, whose operator is just idling, they might turn it into a cinematic scene. "I'll give you a hundred and thirty seven dollars if you drive my friend and I to the airport RIGHT NOW."

    If the platoon doesn't show up, do you send out scouts, find that they're lost, and start messing with them where they are? Maybe it's a fortuitous decision, as their APC has thrown a tread and if you can lead them away with a well-played strategic withdrawal, you can avoid their heaviest firepower.

    I definitely think it can work just fine, no matter if it's GM fiat or from a random roll on a table.

  3. So Doug, you're saying, basically, what if you decide to go see the Mad Wizard of Madwizardistan, and you show up, why is he automatically there? What if the ship is late, the Mad Wizard is sick and can't see you? What if he's late because he's been traveling and isn't back yet?

    It's no different than rolling a reaction roll – not how the guy reacts to you, but "can you get there smoothly?" or "is he there when you get there?"

    Personally I think this is totally fine. Just gloss over the delay. "He can't see you for an hour" is very different than "Okay guys, sit at the table for an hour and then we'll play out the encounter." It'll matter if they have a time limit in the game, just don't make it suck out of game.

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