Lesson #8: Putting it to the Test

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Once you have a solid draft of your one-shot — or even a solid outline! — you’re ready to start playtesting. This is an exciting part of the process and one of my personal favorite steps. Playtesting is similar to usability testing and focus groups; you’re presenting a semi-finished product and receiving feedback on it.

Lesson #8

Objective: Playtest your module.

Deadline: July 31st

Obviously, a few days is not a lot of time to run extensive playtests. I imagine you will continue this process well into the coming months. But in this time, you can at least start planning and recruiting people.

There are two main playtest “goals" (yours might include both!):

  • Playtesting ideas: Do the ideas and “paths” established in this module make sense for GMs and players?

  • Playtesting content and design: Is the module easy to read and run? Does the design help or hinder the GM’s process? Do the stats and the mechanics work?

Additionally, there are three ways to run a playtest:

  • GMing it yourself

  • Observing another GM running the module

  • Having a GM send you notes after running the module

There is a fourth option here that I’m including because I know many people who do this: release your draft out into the world and update it over time; use the downloads and comments as an ongoing playtest. I, personally, would argue to do this in conjunction with other playtests, especially if you are charging for your work. Publishing sites like DMs Guild and DriveThruRPG make it easy to upload new versions of modules, but it’s nice when buyers can get the best version of your product from the get-go. 

Ideally, a thorough playtesting process allows for all of these methods. However, the reality is that most don't have unlimited time to dedicate to this. The good thing is that you can run a playtest in a multitude of ways. When I released my first solo adventure, for example, I playtested with my husband over the course of a few days; I had him create different characters who each made very different choices, and I prompted him with different rolls each time to make sure that both the story and the stats made sense.

How to find people to playtest your module

It can be difficult finding people who will try out your work. Here are some ideas for recruiting people to your playtests:

Your local gaming store

Many game stores have “playtest” nights to help new game designers test their products with real players.

Post on forums

Sites like Facebook, Discord, Twitter, and Reddit can be great places to recruit people. Offer to send a copy of your module and a link to the questionnaire to make it as easy as possible for them. You may even offer to include their names in the published version of your one-shot as an additional incentive. It’s always nice to credit those who help you in any way!

Your gaming group

If you’re already in a group that meets regularly, ask them if they’d be willing to dedicate one of your sessions to a playtest. Keep in mind that your friends might not be as honest as a stranger would (or you might have friends who are brutally honest, which is helpful in this scenario!) so be sure to let them know that it’s OK to offer constructive criticism.

Facilitating a Playtest

If you are running a playtest for your own work or someone else’s story, here are a few best practices:

Don’t “lead” the players.

Run the game as you would any other module. Present them with information and let their choices inform the outcome. If you find that you have to intercede, this could indicate that the module needs additional information. 

Don’t interrupt or over-explain.

If something doesn’t work as it should, just let the playtest evolve organically. Don’t interrupt your players to say what should be happening or tell them that something is broken. They won’t know the difference, and if you plant these seeds, it could negatively impact the rest of the game.

Take notes

Your players know you are playtesting, so be sure to take notes diligently throughout the game rather than trying to remember everything after the fact. 

Implementing changes from playtests

Like editing, playtesting is intended to improve your module, so don’t take it personally if you receive criticism. It’s also important to note that you don’t have to make every single change presented to you; not all groups play games the same way, and one person’s experience might be totally different from another’s. You should try to step away from your ego and do what you can to implement helpful suggestions. I’ve found that playtests usually reveal minor issues and rarely require major overhauls; however, if you do have major rewrites, take it as a learning experience!

Code your feedback
Compile all of your notes in one document and make a list of “codes” to help you sort your research. For example:

1 = Chapter 1 comments

2 = Chapter 2 comments

3 = Chapter 3 comments

4 = Comments about NPCs

5 = Comments about Lore

6 = Comments about the Maps

Then, read through the notes you’ve received and assign each individual comment the relative code. You might have a lot of notes assigned with the number “3,” meaning that the bulk of your updates pertain to the third chapter of your module. Coding your research helps you prioritize your changes. If you find that only one player made a comment about an NPC but it was only in reference to the NPC's name, it might not be something you decide to change! 

You don’t have to strive for statistical significance here; we’re doing pretty basic qualitative research. One comment might be enough for you to implement the suggestion or you might stick with suggestions made by multiple people.  

Make a few changes over time. Dedicate several days (or weeks!) to improving your module. You don’t have to make every single change at once. In fact, giving yourself some time to make improvements is best so you can mull over the feedback. 

Playtesting is a never-ending process. As I said earlier this month, it’s impossible to make everyone happy. That’s not your job. Your responsibility is to stay true to your vision and create something readable, fun, and memorable for those who play your games. That’s it! 

If you let it, playtesting can be very fulfilling. There’s something deeply satisfying about hearing your words and your worlds being told by new voices.

Playtesting Questionnaire

Use the following questions to guide your playtest. You can send these to the GMs running your game, or use them to guide your own note-taking as you proceed through your module.

General Notes

  1. As a GM, what did you like MOST about this module?

  2. What did your players enjoy most?

  3. As a GM, what did you like the LEAST about this module?

  4. What did your players enjoy the least?

  5. Did you make any major changes to the module while you were running the game? If so, what were they and why did you make these changes?

Ideas

  1. Was it clear to the players what the main “goal” of the module was?

  2. Were players able to make choices that led to different paths?

  3. Did the logic of the module make sense to you and the players? (Meaning, did the story, goal, and motivations make sense in the context of the narrative?)

  4. Were the NPCs interesting or engaging?

Content

  1. Was the initial adventure hook/setup clear?

  2. Was the module readable and easy to understand?

  3. Was the module easy to run? (Meaning, were encounters and combat situations made simple and approachable for you as the GM?)

  4. If maps were included, were the maps helpful?

Additional comments and feedback

Final Notes

I’m sending out one more email on July 31 about what to do next in your process, along with some FAQs about the workshop. 🙂

Talk soon!
Ashley