Seeking Advice on running my First Playtest

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Darin S.
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Seeking Advice on running my First Playtest

Post by Darin S. » May 31st, 2013, 1:26 am

I know there are a lot of bleeding edge games-in-progress at GPNW; it can be a great place to seek insight and designer wisdom. I've played in my fair share of home-brews, alpha, and beta tests in the few years I've been coming out. But, now that I want to run a playtest myself, I'd love some feedback and advice from those who have done it in the past -- even those who have had good or bad experiences as a player.

What does it take to run a good playtest? How much should I prepare a "demo" version of the game versus fitting as much of a "regular session" as I can into a four hour slot? How important is aesthetically pleasing UI (character and play sheets) over something that's simply functional?

I should mention that I've run this game for multiple groups of (different) friends at home, some story arcs lasting many sessions. I have something I'm really happy with and want feedback on my game outside of my sphere of influence.

(I've posted this over on the GPNW G+ community, too.)

jonathanmreiter
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Name: Jonathan M. Reiter
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Re: Seeking Advice on running my First Playtest

Post by jonathanmreiter » June 5th, 2013, 4:33 pm

I'm still pretty new to playtesting games, so don't treat my advice as gospel. I would say that the best thing you can do to run a good playtest is to have clear player sheets and a great GMing mentality.

Good player sheets don't have to be aesthetically pleasing. You don't need to have the places where valuable player data is going to be stored made prominent on the page. You should just concentrate on making sure you just have the relevant data on hand, and easily accessible. For instance, if you're running an AW hack for the first time, make sure you have extra copies of your basic moves, and that the character sheets have all their respective moves intact.

Being a good GM is probably more important than cogent paraphernalia. You should know what it specifically takes to run a one-shot of a game, and you should have some nice ideas for keeping the fun alive just in case your game has unforeseen flaws.

Running a multisession game as a one-shot does require thinking about economizing time, signifying some hard choices for you. You need to budget your con time well, so don't be afraid to treat your experimental game ruthlessly. How much time will players need to roll characters? Would it be worth it to come with pregenerated characters? How much time do you need to narrate a story, beginning, middle and end? Could you start the game in the middle of the action, or could you leave the players on a cliffhanger?

Keeping a bad game afloat is harder to plan out. Sometimes, fun (or deep storytelling, or satisfying gameplay) just doesn't happen for playtesting groups. That's okay, and you should feel okay about it while you are GMing. Constant vigilance for the fun police during a playtest will make you a more stressed GM, and that's not okay. Try to take it easy, don't sweat broken mechanics, and try to give the players what they want. Good gamers will respect your effort.
aka Zhang Fei
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Darin S.
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Location: Abbotsford, BC, Canada

Re: Seeking Advice on running my First Playtest

Post by Darin S. » June 8th, 2013, 2:27 pm

Thanks, Jonathan, for such great advice. I really appreciate the effort of your response.

There are a lot of gems here and you've given me a lot to think about, especially this...
jonathanmreiter wrote:Running a multisession game as a one-shot does require thinking about economizing time, signifying some hard choices for you.

DaniL
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Re: Seeking Advice on running my First Playtest

Post by DaniL » June 9th, 2013, 3:50 pm

As someone who has been gaming for some time (though I am still pretty new to the tabletop format) I would say that for playtesting aesthetics of the character sheets aren't as important as functionality. Are they easy to understand? Can you find what you're looking for on it quickly?
jonathanmreiter wrote: Being a good GM is probably more important than cogent paraphernalia. You should know what it specifically takes to run a one-shot of a game, and you should have some nice ideas for keeping the fun alive just in case your game has unforeseen flaws... How much time will players need to roll characters? Would it be worth it to come with pregenerated characters? How much time do you need to narrate a story, beginning, middle and end? Could you start the game in the middle of the action, or could you leave the players on a cliffhanger?
That is some solid advice right there. And while you should let your players know it's a playtest of course, encourage them to focus on the story and having a good time. :)
- Dani L.

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Darin S.
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Re: Seeking Advice on running my First Playtest

Post by Darin S. » June 20th, 2013, 12:51 pm

Thank you as well, Dani, for your insights. Looking at some of the graphic design coming out of the indie community these days has me afraid my play sheets simply won't cut it.

If either of you are interested, I've scheduled two playtests for the weekend.

SAT-02 We Can't Go Back [Playtest; 2-4 Players]
SAT-03 We Can't Go Back [Playtest; 2-4 Players]

Again, thank you both for the advice and encouragement.

zornwil
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Re: Seeking Advice on running my First Playtest

Post by zornwil » June 20th, 2013, 8:28 pm

I am no expert, either, though I have done a fairly good number of playtests by now. So with that in mind, I'd add a few notes to the excellent comments already above:

- it can be a tough choice between making a change during the run versus ensuring a solid testing of a concept; just be prepared that it will come up, probably rarely but when it does I would say to focus on whether you're addressing a critical and serious need that is threatening the game; if so, probably best to go for it, and otherwise probably best to stick with what you're testing and make a note for later

- re notes, unless you have an unusually strong and detailed memory post-game, remember you'll need and want to take notes throughout; consider whatever method is most convenient and least distracting to others

- always remember to explain it's a playtest; personally I'd recommend not involving the table in design out of respect to time and also as a test of how well the game's purpose and desired outcomes happen without explanation (or, to be more accurate, with only the explanation a person will get in the book)

- at times I have found myself rushing the narrative or otherwise not putting enough attention to the actual game at the table in favor of too much attention to what the mechanics are doing and how they are working; while that latter focus is a necessary concern for you as designer, remember there are people at the table wanting to enjoy the game

Hope this helps.

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Darin S.
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Re: Seeking Advice on running my First Playtest

Post by Darin S. » June 21st, 2013, 11:18 am

I appreciate the advice, Wilson. I see that some of these are very practical and other meta, based on experience, which is excellent.

It's really encouraging to have all of you speak up for my benefit. I'll make a reminder for myself to come back after the weekend and let you know how it all went down.

Thanks again.

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