Playtesting – what do you look for?

I’ve playtested a lot of books for others. I read through, I do math, I occasionally use the rules (more now than in the past, because now I have a few game groups, and then I had none).

This weekend, and soon in the future, my ever-expanding Heretical D&D project will get playtested. Sure, I’ve playtested it before.

Let me rephrase this: I have playtested it before. Me. As GM, with players. But me.

That means I know what I wrote, how I want it to feel, and can wing it accordingly. 

A prospective GM with a new group? None of that.

This is a good thing. But scary. Scary-good.

Because is all they have is my (incomplete) manuscript. And it’s not small, like Technical Grappling, which was 35,000 words and 50 PDF pages. No, this is 130,000 words and about 200 pages if it were laid out (which it’s not) or 300+ in Word format (which it is).

So there’s a lot of room to get lost. 

Anyway, here’s what I asked for in terms of feedback. 

You’ll play the game. You’ll have things that work, and things that make you wonder, and things that do not work. Then let me know:

1. What was the situation? 

2. How did it (a) delight you, (b) make you scratch your head, or (c) make you say “hell no!”The first is key, because it becomes a selling point. The second is key because it makes me think about how to rewrite for clarity. The third is key because it makes people walk away.

3. How did you resolve it?

My only request is try not to indulge in too much tangency from the rules unless stuff Just Don’t Work – case (c) above. I want to see what works and doesn’t as is.

We’ll see what happens. No matter what, I’m hoping to seriously re-engage with the project again now that I’m back from Malaysia and quite a few things have started to settle out in my personal/work life. 

Question to other game designers/writers who are aiming at publication, not simply writing rules for one’s own group:

What’s the most useful feedback you can ask for or receive that doesn’t fit with my above direction? What do I need to look for?

Eventually I’m going to Kickstart this to take it over the goal line. But not yet – not until I have a manuscript worthy of publication. That way, I can just say “Here’s my project schedule, here are the tasks, here are the people I need to hire do to work I cannot, and here’s the help I need from the Kickstart backers.”

I don’t want to wind up on +Erik Tenkar‘s Wall of Shame, after all.

One thought on “Playtesting – what do you look for?

  1. Beyond the obvious ("hey, you should have mentioned thing X") what I really find useful is being told about the points where someone was thrown out of the flow of reading. Your point 2, mostly. If you find yourself thinking "yeah, I know what he means, but I had to read it two or three times to make sense of it" that's a hot spot I need to fix.

    While I was working on my latest GURPS book, I noticed that the things I wanted to tell people about were often side notes and box test – "there was this crazy project to build a nuclear railway locomotive with weapons-grade uranium dissolved in sulphuric acid" – rather than the main body of the book. I think there may be a correlation there with stuff that gives inspiration for games.

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