How I ran a playtest for my TTRPG, and why you might want to!
Playtesting is a key step in game design. In this design update, I'm talking about what I prepared for my first playtest, and what I learned from my failed second attempt.
In the latest episode of the Wait, Roll That Again! podcast, I ran a playtest of a new version of my game for three of my players, bringing them the latest rules and creating a short scenario for them to enjoy!
Playtesting is the part of the design process that intimidated me the most. My design process was mostly characterised by long walks, running through mechanics and situations in my head till I found something that fit. Organising that into coherent notes and design, and then presenting that to my playtesters? That was scary.
Today, I’ll be talking about how I prepared for the playtest to make sure I got the most out of it, and why I think playtesting and collaboration is important.
And if you missed last week’s episode, here it is!
Preparing the Playtest
Once I’d organised the mechanics into a loose rules document, a process that took a considerable amount of head-scratching, I sat down to prepare the actual playtest.
The key thing about designing a playtest is knowing exactly what you want to get out of it. I didn’t want to just run a normal session of a TTRPG, there were specific beats I wanted to hit to make sure I’m learning about the specific implementation of the system.
I came up with a list of the three things I wanted to test:
The Revised Character Creation process
A Combat Situation
A Social Encounter
With that basic list, designed the playtest around that. I had the players start with character creation, and then throw them into a combat situation to get the dice system across to them as soon as possible. Keen listeners would see that the combat encounter, especially the foes the heroes faced, was exactly the same as in the third episode of the podcast!
I reused it for two reasons: I already had the materials prepared, and I wanted to illustrate to podcast listeners how different the system was from that original design.
Then, I wrote up a short social encounter, which my fantastic players inevitably brought to life in spectacular fashion! I specifically wanted to test the resolution of social encounters using the dice system, especially when I’d been focused on the combat side of things for so long.
Playtesting is the step of game design where you’ll figure out what’s working, and where you might need to focus your efforts. So much of game design is theoretical, and it all becomes real when you bring it to the table. Playtesting is that safety net, the guard at the gate that stops you from missing something obvious by bringing in a new perspective.
Even if you’re just talking to one other person and rolling some dice, it’s going to help change the ways you’re thinking about your game, or get you out of a funk that’s stopping you from moving forward.
I printed out the draft version of the rules - No art, minimal formatting, just the necessary information to convey the rules and tone to the players.
I also brought character sheets and pens! The character sheet was another element I wanted to test. You can find that character sheet on last week’s post here! I wanted to see how having the dice on the page felt, and whether all the detailed needed to play the game were on the sheet.
With all that packed, I was ready to playtest!
The Playtest that Never Was
On Sunday the 29th, I attempted to run a public playtest of the game alongside designer Michael Sands (Monster of The Week, Three Dooms) at a local store here in Te Whanganui-a-Tara/Wellington.
The only problem was, we only had one person show up! Maybe it was a busy day, or maybe the event wasn’t advertised enough. However, I still wanted to make the most of it. This didn’t mean we cancelled the session though.
Michael and I spent the session talking about our design with the lovely staff of the store along with Dylan, our sole playtester! I used the time to reflect on the playtest from Episode 7, and to work on a few issues that had arisen.
Like the conversations I had with designers over discord, working things through with other people working on their own games helped me see bigger pictures, and avoid some pitfalls I hadn’t encountered yet.
I’m not sure why, when I started working on my game, I thought it would be a solitary affair. Even though all the game companies I admire work in teams, I didn’t think about how that collaboration could be found even at the smallest level of game design. It’s one of the things I’m most thankful for as I’ve worked on this project; finding people from around the world excited to not only talk about games, but talk about my game! They wanted to help me find the right way through some of the messes I got into, and that’s helped tremendously.
So this ‘failed’ playtest wasn’t a failure at all. Instead, it became another valuable step in my game design process, where I talked through those ideas and got to learn from some more experienced designers.
That’s something I’m lucky to have access to, and I encourage new designers to seek out those communities for themselves.
Next week, the SEASON FINALE! We’ll break down the playtest and it’s implications, go over how characters are made, and talk about the whole process.
I can’t wait to share it with you.