Making of Naruto Pathfinder Part 5: Playtesting

In my previous articles I walked you through every step of the process for conceptualizing and creating your own game or game content. Of course you still need to test it, and make sure it all actually works the way you want. In my 15 years of game design I don't think I have ever seen a system go through playtesting without changes coming up. When you design something in your mind, you really can only have your own perspective on things. It's not until the game is in someone else' hands that you can really come to understand all the things you never even considered about your own design. So how do you playtest? Well there's a few things to consider, so let's take a look.

1.) Who. Who are you running for? Who is actually sitting down at the table to try out your game? The more different people you have the better your playest will be, from an information gathering standpoint. Having one other person test your product is twice as good as you designing it and testing it alone. Having five or six is even better. If you test twice, with 2 totally different groups of players you can an even better and broader audience. More people testing is always always better. Even if a particular person doesn't offer a lot of useful feedback, we can still learn a lot from them. You should also consider how likely you are to get the feedback you need. If you made a grimdark scifi game full of political intrigue, your playtest with a group of 10 year olds may not give you the feedback you need. If you play with friends or family they may hesitate to be honest about the game's flaws. If you make a very rules heavy, crunchy, mechanical, game then players who enjoy a good story and roleplay might not enjoy it as much. That's not to say that any of those people can't tell you useful things, but just beware of who you are testing with.

2.) How much. How thoroughly are you testing? If you design 500 abilities and run a single playtest that uses 5 of them then that's great, but you could do more. Playtest as often as you can, time and time again, until you can't possibly playtest anymore, until you are no longer getting any useful feedback, and then maybe a few times after. Playtest=polish, the more you have, the more your product will shine.

3.) What is happening? Awareness is key when playtesting. Is a player taking a long time to decide what ability to use? Did someone assume a rule works differently? Did everyone die? Did no one take damage? Do people have the same stats? Different stats? What questions did players ask? What questions /didn't/ they ask? Did everyone adopt the same tactic? Was every fight different? Were there any fights? Was there anything the players didn't get to do because there wasn't a rule for it? Did anyone have any abilities they didn't use or forgot about? After the game is done, don't let anyone escape. If people have to leave at 11, end session at 10, grill them for an hour. And when you observe all these things, write them down. Do not try to remember it all. Write it all down immediately, as it happens, as you notice it. Compile it. Did everyone understand the new flanking rules except 1 player? Did no one use their lunar bonus? You can never have enough playest data. You should swim in it, drown in it, it is the reason you're playesting.


4.) Why? Consider the cause of comments and feedback. Did the player who said the game is too hard happen to roll nothing but 3's and 4's for the entire night? Did the player who just got divorced seem distracted? Did the powergamer feel like the game didn't have enough options and variety?  Don't immediately discredit them, they could be right, but consider at least that they may have made their decisions. The reason why people say things is just as important, or maybe more, than what they say. If a player says "I ran out of chakra too quickly" but they used 100% of it on their first turn powering their strongest move it may not be an indicator of not enough chakra. It may be an indicator that you should limit how much a player can expend at once. Note not just what they say, but the context of it.

5.) What else? So here's also a few quick miscellaneous pointers for playtesting.  Keep the sheets! At the end of the session hold onto everyone's sheets, those are a goldmine of data. Record the session. If players are all cool with it then record the gaming session so you can look back over your data later. Compare with a control if possible. When I run a playtest of my Naruto things, I always include at least 1 regular pathfinder monster as a control group so I can compare. I also sometimes will have one player use a normal pathfinder class also to help make sure what I'm making is in line. Get player interpretations. When players ask me how a rule works I always ask them "How would you assume it works if I didn't explain it?" This is very important for finding out if your wording is good or bad and if you need to clarify things. If their assumption is right then that means you did a good job of establishing how the system works. If it's wrong, try to be more clear in your wording. If you want to create hype then play in public (if you can bear to). If you want to generate buzz about a new rpg you're working on, or about something you intend to popularize then go to a gaming cafe, stream your session, recruit players openly, get yourselves out there. All of this is assuming you and all your players are comfortable with it.


There you have it. How to playtest and get the very most out of those playtests. This is an incredibly important step, and if you skimp on it, players will notice it, guaranteed. If done well though, playtesting will turn your game from good into incredible. Until next time, take care of eachother and have fun!