This last campaign session, I had an idea inspired by some of the agile planning I was doing at work.
At the beginning of the game, the players (the Reavers) had just returned to their pirate ship to find that Lavender Lil, Tommy’s tiefling girlfriend, had been abducted probably by the vampire that they’d been dealing with earlier. I handed out index cards asking the players to rate how they wanted the session to play out on four vectors:
- Ultraviolence (just saying “Violence” in a D&D game is redundant)
- Eroticism (“Sex” is more constraining a term)
One of the major lessons from agile software development planning (story points in particular) is don’t worry about defining things, just develop a shared understanding over time. So rather than discuss at length what each meant and “what a 3 is,” I just said “rate ‘em. They are what they sound like.”
Because this is a proactive methodology you don’t ask for a rating on “How Much You Like It” or something, obviously the request is always for 5 there, and the point here isn’t to find out how you did but to actively guide your behavior this session).
The ratings I got back for what people wanted that session were:
- Difficulty 3, 3, 2
- Complexity 3, 2, 2
- Ultraviolence 5, 4, 2
- Eroticism 3, 3, 2
So I interpreted those as:
- Difficulty ~3- (hard fights but no super boss stuff)
- Complexity ~2+ (pretty straightforward, several phases but no major twists/turns/complications)
- Ultraviolence ~4- (bring on the hack and gore)
- Eroticism ~3- (PG-13)
We ran the session – I’ll post the session summary soon. After the session, I asked them to rate how they thought it turned out on those axes. I didn’t even hand the cards back so people weren’t unduly influenced by their request number. The results were
- Difficulty 4, 3, 2 (only 1 point off)
- Complexity 3, 2, 2 (bang on)
- Ultraviolence 4, 3.5, 2 (a little low – I need more splatter narration practice, I could tell halfway into the session)
- Eroticism 1, 2, 2 (wow, I was real low and needed to recalibrate)
My interpretation of the results is that I was well calibrated with the players – and they with each other – on difficulty and complexity. I ran a little low on the ultraviolence, and I knew it – I understood the goal, I just fell short some. The players have one calibration issue here, the “2″ guy. And then on eroticism – in my mind I figured 1=G, 2=PG, 3=PG-13, 4=R, 5=X. But I guess since there’s been sexual content in the game, the stuff I put in (nudity, sex talk) was super tame to them. So I note to myself “OK, 3 means a lot more to these players.”
Therefore I have confidence that next time I ask for proactive session ratings, both they and I will know what we mean by them – without spending an hour arguing about “what the ratings mean!” It took like 5 minutes out of the session to do this.
I don’t ask for ratings every game – some sessions I have a clear plan for what I intend to happen. But especially on side treks like this – it could be super simple or multi session, super hard or real easy… Why not see what kind of an experience they want to have today?