Should there be a module specifically written to play test the rules?

While any old module is fine to test any set of rules. I wonder if a specifically written module that highlights the rules and the abilities of the characters wouldn't make for a more "controlled" test to receive feedback on. 

As it stands, the caves of chaos leaves so much up to the DM, whether or not the group encounters specifics within the rules, that every group must have wildly different experiences. i don't think the modules provided have been altered structurally enough to ensure that the 3 columns of the game (combat, social and exploration) as described in the rest of the packet are written for the DM to easily employ. 


Nor is the module written in a way to tell the DM what the next encounter is meant to test. Things to look out for. Things the designers are looking for specific feedback on. 


I find this odd. Maybe in time it'll come, but until then I started writing what I think would be the steps to actually write a module that tests the rules system. This is what I've come up with so far. Feel free to chime in and add ideas or tell me I'm smoking my socks. 


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The Perfect Playtest 

So the purpose of a play test is to test the rules for the 3 pillars of the game; combat, exploration and social. It's also important that the key game mechanics, ie advantage/disadvantage, saving throws, etc, are brought structurally into play. 

To determine the scope of the play test, a list of these key mechanics needs to be made and then written appropriately into the module. There are also mechanics that are embedded in the classes themselves (skill mastery, knockback, domain spells, magic items, etc) and these mechanics also need to be brough across during the game. The mechanics themselves most probably belong to one of the three pillars, and can then be tied into the adventure at those key interaction points, be they combat, exploration or social.

It probably then becomes necessary to know the characters playing before hand. Or if one wants to be expansive, to include all the classes mechanical options in the adventure text. Be good to write each scene with the options for that character type in it - within reason... the obvious choices that test the system. 

The actual story and motivation need be simple and concise. Very clear and straightforward group goals. This direction can be given in the opening monologue, curtailing the faff-time spent by the players looking for the adventure hook. Although this is all good roleplaying fun, getting the players on track with their objective early will allow more of each pillar to occur in the first session. 

To fully test the system the playtest spans several sessions and ends at the end of the adventure. These should be carefully meted out so that the DM can keep track of progress (if the group played faster or slower than the module anticipated (neither being good or bad), what levels the players hit when and when chockpoints or stumbling blocks occurred during the adventure. By the end, the players should hit a defined  level goal (3 or 5 or whatever). The text in the module should handhold the DM with lots of call out advice. By writing these things into the module they become emphatic and are more likely tested as the game designers have imagined. 

Of course, there is no way to plan for everything and players being players will come up with wholly original approaches. This is awesome, because it also informs to the playtest when those great D&D moments happened... in what pillar... in what circumstances... 

Adventure requirements:

- NPCs to talk to. It needn't be in safe lands, it needn't be to get a job, in a bar, or as a result of trade. It needn't be with a "good" aligned character. The important part is the "consequence" that drives the story into different directions as a result of the social interaction. If the players fail an interaction test, what happens? Instead of it stalling the story because of good or bad rolls, something down the line is made easier or harder. For example, instead of fighting easy enemy A they have to fight harder enemy B as a result of failing the earlier social encounter. Instead of getting the right directions to the haunted mine, they got terrible directions and the party travels through far more dangerous lands. Consequence. One-line suggestions in the text as to how the players can approach this social encounter. How to impress or intimidate the NPC(s). these tie into the NPC's personality, needs and point of view in the world. It needn't be expansive. One or two slightly more detailed NPCs that the players can negotiate with, with clear consequences to the various outcomes. 

- An interesting environment to explore. Can other classes, beyond the rogue, explore? Perhaps deliberately make it NOT rogue orientated. More dungeoneering than sneaking. More magical. More unknown. Other skills beyond those of the thief. Or do checks against the ability throw make everyone equal? How to make exploration as important as the other two pillars. Maybe do just the inverse and make the rogue shine. 

- Combat. A steady progression of difficulty highlighting the various capabilities of the critters. Whether through description or plain rules speak, let the players know what is happening mechanically so that they can have feedback. suggestion: change the actual name of the critters in the module. So that a “goblin” is something wonderous and strange, which keeps the players minds engaged as to what they are facing as opposed to thinking they know their enemy. perhaps use no nouns... only descriptions. perhaps the DM knows, but is told to try and keep it descriptive for the players. Maybe show more art.

- Create needs and interpersonal motivations randomly (like Fiasco) for players to select. Help drive their personal motivation to have something to build on in town. Keep these to one liners so that the players can flesh them out; idea starters. 

The setting becomes all important to try and communicate a new flesh flavour of D&D. 

Is it a Border town. On barges in a marsh. Built into a cliffside in the mountains. Half buried in the snow drifts. On stone fingers rising out of a magical toxic water with some interesting denizens. In a city that shares its space with a parallel plane of existence; nightfall is when the one city awakens as the other fades from memory. In a forgotten Elven temple complex undergoing renovation. The survivors of a caravan. Under siege by dragons. A mobile hospital for a war with ogres and giants. Deep in the elven forests, a place of trade with the fey. In shipwrecks in a sandy desolate wasteland that hasnt seen the sea for a millennium. At the entrance of a tunnel into the abyss, on permanent guard. On nets and wires in the plume of a volcano for alchemical reasons. 

Create an original place that defies expectations. Something fantastical. Not a small village on rolling plains near a forest. Yawn. Bring back the fantastic to the fantasy. 


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Well that's as far as I got. I'll keep trying to define what I mean and perhaps (time willing) actually get around to writing a module for my group. If I do I'll share it here.

If you have any ideas, please feel free to contribute. 

Do you agree or disagree that a specifically written original module would help the play test?
The secret we should never let the gamemasters know is that they don't need any rules. -Gary Gygax
Magic items just have been published. Go test magic items.
If there was one specific element of the game that they wanted to test, then including a module that included that element would be a good idea. To a certain extent they did this with the Caves of Chaos, picking a very simple adventure with a lot of fights while trying out the basic game and combat mechanics. There is also a big advantage to throwing in some module that can be played while the rules are still highly fragmented and it is very hard for DM to create on on their own.

Trying to create a module for testing the game in general is too broad of a concept though. D&D includes too many elements that interact in complex ways, and do so differently for different groups. More subtly, pointing out to the play testers exactly what you want them to look at changes the game and reduces the value of the play test, because it is no longer a real world scenario.

THe biggest problem though, is that creating an adventure is a lot of work and the adventure created for testing is going to be useless once the test is done. So your looking at a lot of work for little reward. You could make a case for creating an interesting good module in general to include in the play testing packet, something that could be updated and expanded into a full publishable module once the game is done. That would give the packet something more interesting for the groups to play in general, but such an adventure wouldn't focus on testing the game much. However, they need to avoid emphasizing the included module too much, since part of the point of an open playtest is to get people to test the game in the wild, outside the careful controlled lines of formal play testing with pregenerated characters/adventures/plots.
Thanks for your well considered reply JayM. You make a lot of sense. If I could thank your post, I would.

I still think something written specifically for the playtest would allow for situations to be written into the module to make the best use of the rules. It's possible I haven't playtested enough (5 sessions) and it's also possible that my DM is more into running the adventure than cherry picking rules for us to test... which makes it "play" heavy but "test" light.

I'm trying to encourage him to mix it up so we can have more to feedback on. 
The secret we should never let the gamemasters know is that they don't need any rules. -Gary Gygax
In general, what JayM said. I'd also like to point out that one of the stated design goals of D&D Next is to work for a lot of different playstyles, which might be a bit difficult if the adventure is designed for one. Caves of Chaos and Reclaiming Blingdenstone are both fairly open-ended and offer a lot of options, so I suppose they're hoping to have a lot of groups play in many different ways. A more "scripted" adventure might not result in them discovering things because groups don't make different choices.
It would be nice to see a few examples of certain rules, such as how a rogue gains advantage for sneak attack.  But I have playtested with an old basic D&D module, an Open License 3.0 module, a friend's original, and the modules included in the playtest materials.  The conversions for the older stuff have been pretty simple, and the new rules have been able to handle anything we have tried.

Infinite Diversity, Infinite Combinations

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