This is RPG-ology #68: Expertise, for July 2023.
I was packing up ground beef for the freezer. Generally if I have a bit of money and there’s a good price for it, I buy between ten and twenty pounds, and try to repackage it in zipper bags of about three pounds each which I can use for such varied dinners as meatloaf, salisbury steaks, chili, spaghetti sauce, shepherd’s pie, and hamburger helper. As I was doing this, it brought back a memory, which brought back an older memory.
It was about a decade ago that a friend who was staying with us who had a degree in culinary arts pointed out that if I flattened the beef before I froze it, it would be considerably easier to defrost it. I’ve been doing it that way ever since.
As I remembered that, I remembered something I wrote in one of my journals now perhaps five decades ago. I was working at the radio station, and the AM side had obtained a power upgrade that required a new configuration of antennae, so workmen came, tore up the parking lot and the yard, leveled everything, and brought in truckloads of fresh dirt to cover everything.
I noticed almost immediately that there were two kinds of dirt, one a rich, dark loam, the other a heavy red clay. I puzzled over this. Then they spread the dirt, and it became apparent: the clay would form the base beneath the new parking lot and driveway, while the loam would be covered with sod to create the new lawn.
What I wrote then was that as an amateur I could recognize this once I had seen it, but the professional knew how to do it up front, and that was part of what distinguished the two. Indeed, I don’t know how many packages of ground beef I had frozen in balls or lumps or chunks before Joe pointed out a better way; I might never have realized it otherwise. Now the beef in my freezer is in easily defrosted flat packs, waiting for me to need it.
The trick is bringing this into play. Authors often do research, even interview professionals to get tips for how to make characters more realistic. Game referees don’t generally have that kind of time or access. If you need to create an expert and you aren’t able to do adequate research, there aren’t a lot of options. In most cases, your best bet is to keep trade secrets secret, and simply present the finished product faster and better than others expect.