[Game Design] How do you indicate purpose in a playtest document?

edited January 2018 in Game Design Help
I'm involved in a private conversation with someone who is consulting with me about their game-in-design. (Perhaps they will jump in here, if they wish to discuss it openly! But I'll leave that to them.)

I said something along these lines:

If you want to receive good feedback or critique on a draft of a game, it would be very helpful to be as clear as possible not only about the rules themselves, but also on their purpose (what you hope they will accomplish) and their best use.

Ideally, the reader knows what you're going for, what a rule is intended to accomplish, and how to leverage that in play.

(The process is also very important, but is more often covered in such texts.)

For example, I might say in a playtest document that "players must write down three goals for their character. Each time they achieve one, they receive one Experience Token."

Ideally, the reader should be able to understand things like these:

* What's the purpose of the Experience tokens? How do they feed back into play?

* What form is best used to write these "goals"?

* What are good or interesting goals to write? What are bad or useless ones? What distinguishes the former from the latter?

* What is the process or conversation of writing goals like? Do we have input into others' goals, should they occasionally conflict, should they address common themes? What do we need to talk about in order to make this happen?

...

1. As a reader of game drafts, designs, house rules, and playtest documents, how important are these considerations to you (in terms of understanding and being able to critique the text)?

2. How do you communicate this information to the reader? (Space and time are limited, especially in an early draft, after all.) What techniques and/or formats are helpful, in your experience?

Comments

  • edited March 2018
    1. I generally don't like to lose time reading about intent or advice when the actual play should speak for itself.

    2. I try hard to resorb these outgrowing comments. And yet, I do all kind of utility and purpose of the game, what you should expect, what it's not, etc. introduction dance, include the most vital navigating tools along the rules, and a debriefing on useful strategies and techniques after presenting the procedures proper.
    I first write the rules as instructions. Opening the rank of close knit prose for a very general term, this cues the reader about a change in nature from procedure to goal.
    "If you like the action of another player, encourage him with your "Good job" card."
    As a satin finish, when the procedural tone is less salient, I can code said goals with more colourful terms, so they still stand out.

    TL;DR I write them extensively, then rub them in. Multiple times, like butter in a puff paste. Leaving signs of it in the pitch, and in the introduction, and strategy tips sections.
  • I haven't thought about this until you wrote this post, and I agree that this kind of document is a good addition to the game itself.

    In order to give relevant feedback you would benefit from knowing what kind of things the game designer intended for the game. However, in the end the game play should speak for itself. I'm writing one of these texts now so I'll get back to answering the questions in the OP! Meanwhile I'm following this thread with interest!
  • edited March 2018
    1. It's very important to convey WHY anyone would like to play the game.

    2. So important that it should be infused with the game mechanics in a way that people automatically grok the rules. Not just understand HOW they work, but WHY they exist.

    In my experience, people don't read (RPG) advice because they already know how to play it. I had people skip parts of my game text and then complain when they didn't understand because they skipped what they thought was an introduction. An introduction! They didn't even read that! In a three page game!
  • So very true, Rickard. I've seen that, too, with people playing my games.
  • edited March 2018
    edit : post I sent arrived at the wrong place. Strange. I may have fumbled with my phone.
  • I think this kind of stuff is what good rules are made of. I'm trying my best for my own game to state the rule, but along with it give a sense of what impact it will have--when it would be used, how it will come back into play later on, etc.--even if I don't explicitly explain those other rules until later in the document. This gives the reader a sense of context, of how every mechanic has its place within the whole.

    I also include examples throughout. This is useful for a finished product. But it's even more useful for early drafts you want others to read. If the rules are a bit muddled, the reader can still get the idea from the example of how it would be used in-game. So then if they're playing the game, they can still use the rules without being confused by them. And if they're giving feedback, they know what you were going for, and potentially help you to tighten up the rules themselves.
  • Paul_T said:

    For example, I might say in a playtest document that "players must write down three goals for their character. Each time they achieve one, they receive one Experience Token."

    Ideally, the reader should be able to understand things like these:

    * What's the purpose of the Experience tokens? How do they feed back into play?

    * What form is best used to write these "goals"?

    * What are good or interesting goals to write? What are bad or useless ones? What distinguishes the former from the latter?

    * What is the process or conversation of writing goals like? Do we have input into others' goals, should they occasionally conflict, should they address common themes? What do we need to talk about in order to make this happen?

    Here's my preference for this:

    Step 1: Read through the rules before you start. You can skip the explanations if you want, but read through the bold parts to get an overview of play.

    . . .

    Step 6: In the top right section of the character sheet, write 3 Goals. A good Goal (a) explores some facet of your character you want to explore, (b) is quickly achievable, and (c) is clearly defined so that you know when you've achieved it.

    . . .

    Step 17: When you achieve a Goal, take an Experience token. These can be spent to improve your character. See Step 19.

    . . .

    Appendix B: Step 6. A lot of groups have fun workshopping their Goals out loud, together. Some players like to surprise others with their Goals, but aside from that, there is no reason not to share everything. Sometimes thinking it out aloud helps players write better Goals. You can even let everyone else chime in on what they want to see your character get up to! See, isn't this section helpful? If you hadn't read it, though, you surely would have figured something out on your own. That's why I didn't clog up Step 6 by including it there. Perhaps I could be in a sidebar rather than an Appendix, though. That's just more of a layout challenge, and usually comes after the playtest stage.
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