Thursday, June 7, 2018

A Plea for Rigor and Accountability in Content Design

Current Issue:

The majority of "crunch" content (procedures, rules, modules, classes, dungeons, etc) posted on osr/diy rpg blogs is not playtested, is bad, or is both. 

So there is a lot of content which I read online which infuriates me with how bad it is. I could spend hours in anti-social behavior commenting on each post about how terrible it is, but there is a strong chance that I simply don't get the goal of the content. My LEAST favorite post in recent memory is THIS because when I asked about how it worked in practice and was told,  "I've only tested... ...very slightly." There are many other posts which upset me but those have to do more with procedures and mechanics being broken.

If you have an OSR/DIY RPG blog then you likely create content for others to use in their own games. This means that what you offer is a sincere attempt instead of garbage. However there are very few ways to know the authors intent in creating content (outside of them stating it) and it is easy to get confused and call content trash when you simply misunderstand what the author seeks to do. Further there is no accountability to content creators outside of the belief that content has been tested in play and is not just an arm-chair theory written to get blog views.  This "unplaytestedness" also extends to modules and contents published for money.

So is it time for everyone to delete blog because no one cant trust them to make good content? No, fortunately there are comment sections which allow for readers to give feedback or ask clarification, which allows for a dialogue where people can discuss the merits of a post. However, in the past few months I've noticed that the OSR G+ community is full of petty arguments and figures with molecule thin skin. So suggesting that people should call out content creators for bad content, while a great time, is even more anti-social precisely because people will use "play-test accountability" as existing feuds.

Proposed Fix:

Rather than placing the onus on the readers to demand better content, the onus should be on authors to create proof of merit of their content. This would require three things

1. Describe the goal of your content/procedures/rules
Here you would describe the intent of your content. This is valuable because it provides an expliantion of what your goal was. This does two important things:

One: It summarizes your content to the reader in a system and setting agonstic manner.
Two: It creates a shorthand that can be used for rulings.

From Veins of the Earth

2. Playtest it with your players across at least 3 sessions
Players are participants rather than creators and their comments should be looked at only in terms of meeting your design intent rather than valuable input. You're not play-testing for their opinions, instead you are play-testing to evaluate your content.

3. Describe how it worked in play and any revisions you made
Doing so allows others to see the merit of your content. Further it is a valuable tool that most referees use without realizing it.

Example of the Death and Dismemberment procedures.
(I'm going to go through the rest of my content and add this to my procedures and rules)

If you are unable to do those three components, or you lack the ability to do so then simply mention that your post is not play-tested.

Examples of other authors explaining their intent and play-testing


  1. The post you referenced has a comment from the author in response to your question saying he's tested the mechanics and concept, but that he's only slightly tested this particular iteration. I think you might have misinterpreted his reply.

  2. Your procedure for defending/presenting content looks good.

  3. Good news then! The dEr0 content has now been field tested! (Drow content too, before you ask). It's going well - there are changes I could have made, but they weren't to the areas you mentioned in the comment. The table does work.

    I couldn't field test the dEr0 stuff without having the rest of the Veinscrawl ready, and since it took a while to get it all formatted, playtesting any individual part was tricky. There were a few edits made along the way, but the tables work as I'd intended them to work. Like I said, I've used this kind of thing before. Not the /exact/ tables, but a version of the reality-altering conspiracy-infection thing. I wasn't particularly worried about it not working.

    I entirely agree with playtest accountability, but I probably use different standards. For free content, I usually:
    1. Post an untested version.
    2. Test it.
    3. Post a version 2.0 if significant edits were needed, or keep the version up if no significant edits were required.

    For paid stuff, I playtest it to hell and back.
    I should probably write up more of the procedures I use, but I figured they were kind of boring.

    1. I, for one, enjoy seeing the before-version almost as much as the after. I've been chewing on GLOG as a whole for some time, and I'm my best source of new "stuff" is the difference between version -1 and version 0.

    2. This is generally my method of it.

  4. Won't lie Lung, I've not play tested (nor will I likely play test) much of what I've put out for free. Part of this is because I have no players and this blog is kind of my creative vent. The closest to play testing I'm getting is harassing fellow bloggers until they give me feedback, hahaha! I do feel though that anything that is being put out there for money needs rigorous review and playtesting.