The Three Goals of Play Testers

This post is not about the Fudge RPG, but since play testing should be a common part of designing a Fudge game or supplement I felt that it was appropriate for this blog. Recently I was invited to play test a module written by one of my friends who plans on selling the work to a publisher. I will not mention names, but this friend has had his materials published in the past and I have no doubt that this module will be published as well. I happily agreed to take part in the play testing and I have greatly enjoyed the game so far.

Yet during the last session I was frustrated and bored. The module is written for Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition, and the problem with D&D 4e is that combat takes way too long. Plus you need to take extended rests in the game in order to have access to your most powerful abilities during play. I felt that the last session had a pacing problem, and because there was not a good opportunity to take an extended rest my PC only had access to the basic powers of the character during the last encounter of the session.

I made this clear to my friend, because as a play tester I believe it is my job to let him know exactly how I felt about that game session. My friend responded in the best possible way: he listened. He did not defend the module, nor did he attempt to explain how the situation might have been different. He just soaked up my complaints and asked questions in order to understand those complaints even better.

Because my friend listened and asked relevant questions about why I did not enjoy the session I am confident that he is going to produce a great module. His willingness to take criticism and to try and understand why I criticized the module is exemplary of good game design.

It also got me thinking more about what I as a play tester need to do in order to make this module the best that it can be. Here is what I have decided should be the top three goals of a play tester:

  1. Break it. When you are play testing a system, a module, a new rule, or any game component you should be looking for ways to exploit the material and turn the entire work into a smoldering wreck. This is not done as an act of malice, but for the purpose of quality control. The designer needs to find those weak spots before the product is published, and if you do not attempt to break the product when you see the potential to do so you are not doing your job as a play tester.
  2. Complain about it. You will probably be friends with the designer. You probably do not want to upset your friend by complaining about their work while it is still in production. You need to complain though, and you need to be blunt with your complaints. Do not try to be diplomatic, and never attempt to soften the blow. The only taboo is to be insulting, but the rest is fair game when complaining.
  3. Praise it. This is the easiest part of the play tester’s job to overlook. You need to get every single complaint out in the open, but you also need to mention every single part of the product that you like. You should be just as generous with your praise as you are with your complaints. Why? Because a good designer will sacrifice something that you like in order to fix something that you complained about if the designer does not know what you like! Every complaint you make threatens an element of the product that you like. Nullify that threat with praise.

Those are my goals as a play tester, and those are the things I expect of my play testers as a designer. What do you think a play tester’s goals should be? How do you handle play testing of your designs?

Bonus question: do you want to see more posts that might not be directly related to Fudge on this blog? I want to keep the blog Fudge centric, but I feel that I’ll attract a bigger audience if I tackle some common issues with all RPGs as well while still serving the Fudge community as a whole.