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They Can’t See the Wires

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…and even if they can, they’ll just ignore them.

Have you ever watched a movie while it’s being made, especially one laden with special effects?

It looks nothing like the finished product, even though you’re watching the raw material. Actors and actresses look badass as they go through their choreographed routines, but the scene is betrayed by the wire-fu cables, chroma-key screen, and the fact that their punches and kicks are inches from hitting anything. (The picture links to its originating article [1].)

Have you ever watched a ‘magician’ practice his or her tricks? Once you know how it works, there’s no illusion at all, just some distraction, a few clever tricks, and quick hands. But when you’re sitting in the auditorium, even if you know it’s nothing more than sleight of hand, it’s magic.

The same effect is at work in your campaign. Your players will rarely be able to see the wires and borrowed raw materials. Because it’s more fun to play along, they’ll fill in the gaps and ignore the gaping plot holes (sometimes consciously, sometimes subconsciously). So don’t worry too much about making everything ‘perfect’.

In years of gaming, I’ve found that if you can make it fun, the players will usually play along. But:

Have your players ever helped you cover a plot hole? Or do you have a more antagonistic table, where they’ll use virtual crowbars on every seam, prying for hidden cracks? Do you feel you worry too much about plot holes, NPC motivations, and other structural issues? Sound off in the comments and let us know!

6 Comments (Open | Close)

6 Comments To "They Can’t See the Wires"

#1 Comment By shortymonster On July 26, 2012 @ 2:43 am

The times it’s happened to me, it’s been individual players within a group who will also argue any rule call that has a detrimental effect on their character. the gut who complains that he’s pace has dropped after falling out of third floor window (Buh?) is also the guy who asks why the NPC in the scene twelve sessions ago didn’t think to mention something that, looking back and examining the notes in detail, he clearly knew.

Seriously, who would want to be that guy?

#2 Comment By Roxysteve On July 26, 2012 @ 8:11 am

In my fiendishly convoluted Delta Green game I have occasionally left inadvertent small holes that widened upon discovery to chasmic dimensions. I then have to ‘fess up to screwing up, and promise to fix it by next game if it is something that will persist into that session.

Which makes it doubly annoying that the plot points that should scream SOMETHING IS DECIDEDLY WRONG HERE in order to lead the players into the next segment are sometimes of no concern to them whatsoever. 8o)

#3 Comment By Scott Martin On July 26, 2012 @ 9:34 am

It’s the fundamental rule: players glom on to the wrong stuff. Constantly. Twice as often if I’m one of the players. 😉

#4 Comment By Svafa On July 26, 2012 @ 9:07 am

My players seem to be the ones creating plot holes that I then struggle to overlook. >.<

Usually our group just ignores plot holes or problems and moves on, but we've actually retconned some events or decisions, or even pcs in our games (targeted amnesia on the elf chick). While such drastic measures are not something that happens often, I'm incredibly grateful to have such a good-natured group to work with.

#5 Comment By Roxysteve On July 26, 2012 @ 12:14 pm

Patrick Benson and others here, but he’s the one I remember making the case most clearly, have mooted an approach in which the players themselves create the plot out of suggestive clues fed to them by the GM.

I’ve used the technique when their ideas seemed genuinely more interesting than my own, but I don’t use it as the defining style of my own games partially because I don’t think I’m agile enough mentally to keep track over the course of a campaign.

The approach does, however, completely obviate the issue of plot holes since by definition the players will plaster over them as needed with invented detail.

Worth looking into in my opinion. You should always try things twice. Once to see if you like whatever it is, and once to see if you were “smoking something” the first time.

FYI: The non-gm-mediated roleplayer Fiasco! is a pure distillation of this idea, and it rocks with three players.

#6 Comment By Gigermann On July 27, 2012 @ 10:24 am

I’ve had embarrassingly-numerous instances in my GMing experience where I’ve found myself mired in a plot hole—usually involving the need for the PCs to go “that way,” and it turns out they have no motivation to do so. When I was unable to fix the problem, I ended up fessing up to the Players and asking for their assistance—in those instances, the Players saved the game, coming up with their own plausible reasons for going where they otherwise wouldn’t; as a bonus, they’re guaranteed to go along with it, since it was their idea to begin with.