Activity #6 Playtesting with real people in real time for Week 3 of ‘Spring 2022 Write your First D&D Encounter Workshop’

To wrap-up Week 3 of ‘Spring 2022 Write your First D&D Encounter Workshop’, today I spent time with other workshop participants playtesting their encounter and reading through mine. It was a great chance to get some feedback and develop a better understanding of how the encounter might be experienced when played.

Many thanks to arrowknight (for spinning-up my character on D&D Beyond and sharing the online D20 dice so I could play their encounter) and Craig for their time and feedback on my encounter – great stuff!

Discord server, online D20 dice and arrowknight’s feedback sheet with my responses.
The Discord server and arrowknight’s feedback sheet with my responses.
My character sheet and the Discord server we used to run during the playtesting.

Write, Review, Re-write, and then Repeat

Today was also about continuing to tweak the markdown, layout and copyediting of my encounter in The Homebrewery.

‘The Cavern: from down below to up above’

<!– ### Synopsis –>

Waking to find yourself trapped in a mysterious underground cavern, you and your comrades must overcome the perils of unknown inhabitants, unforgiving environment and incredible odds to survive the multi-level journey from down below to the safety of the surface up above.

<div class=’descriptive’>

About this encounter

This encounter is designed especially for people new to Dungeons & Dragons. </div>

You are here – deep underground

The underground cavern is dank and dark, to the touch and underfoot. There’s an audible dripping sound. A thick mist swirls around you – it stings your eyes and makes breathing difficult. You attribute your sudden dizziness to the strange coloured mist. Visibility is low, real low. The cavern is eerily lit by a dim bioluminescent glow emitted by insects swarming nearby. Their glow illuminates a small entrance which gives way to makeshift stairs leading upwards.

Who you’re up against

The underground cavern is home to a variety of unique fauna and flora. Fortunately, some have been studied by the scholarly botanists and zoologists of your village. You recall the scholars instructing you to exercise extreme caution when in close proximity and to avoid sudden movement, loud noises and direct contact, at all costs. Less fortunate is the discovery of rival clan members who are also trapped elsewhere in the cavern – you can make out the sound of their muffled voices as they also plan their escape from the cavern. Sounds like trouble.

Fauna

Small creatures with similar stats, traits and actions to a Giant Rat.

Flora

Small plant life with similar stats, traits and actions to Cavelight Moss or Brown Mold.

Rival clan members

Humans with similar stats, traits and actions to a Commoner.

<br>

<div class=’descriptive’>

Dear adventurer

As you battle all manner of monsters and creatures deep underground, you may feel your energy start to ebb from you with each step until you feel you cannot continue. I ask you, no I beg you to hold on to hope and bravely push forever forwards to meet your objective. Sincerely, Rowan. </div>

Objective: escape with your life!

To ensure your survival, you must escape from the strange toxic mist of the underground cavern, navigate the maze-like passageways through multiple-levels ascending to the surface. You may achieve this through:

  • Force: engage the rival clan in a brutal battle from level to level, and to eventual freedom. Be wary of creating commotion, kicking-up spores from the native flora or raising the ire of the fauna, which you may then need to battle – you will face fearsome enemies on all fronts!

  • Negotiation: try to extend the olive branch to the rival clan and establish a temporary truce as a matter of survival. Many hands make light work (in battle), so every blade against the local fauna helps. The distant promise of long-term truce between the two clans brings hope, so be sure to talk first and fight later.

  • Stealth: become one with the shadows and the ascending passageways, silently blending into the surfaces and surrounds while avoiding assailants from the rival clan and attacks from perilous native flora and fauna. Eventually, you may reach the surface safely. If negotiations with the rival clan are successful, good outcomes abound.

Conclusion
  • If you your comrades make it to the surface, you leave with your life and a detailed understanding of the underground cavern and its inhabitants.

  • Any fauna that followed you now recoils from the harsh sunlight and scrambles back to the darkness from which it came.

  • Any flora that became entangled now crumbles to dust and blows away like smoke in a gentle breeze, leaving a slight discolouration on your outer clothing.

  • Survivors from the rival clan emerge gingerly from the cavern entrance and head for the safety of their own village.

Acknowledgements

A very special thanks to Dan Schuster, Nick Sweeney, John Cardoso, thirdmunky, Abbs, Gwen C. Katz, Lex Gordon, Craig Arnold and the Lunchtime D&D crew™ for your feedback and thoughts on this encounter – thank you!

<img src=’http://rowanpeter.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/spiral_stairs_opacity_30-1.png’ style=’position:absolute; top:0px; right:0px; width:810px; opacity: 0.7; filter: grayscale(100%);’ />

Activity #6 More read throughs (and no playtesting) of my encounter in Week of ‘Spring 2022 Write your First D&D Encounter Workshop’

Activity #6 in Week 3 of ‘Spring 2022 Write your First D&D Encounter Workshop’ is all about playtesting.

In theory and in practice it’s a good thing to do, but in the context of a relatively inexpensive online workshop where the stakes are low and there’s little incentive for a participant to engage in an optional activity aside from the goodness of their heart with the hope you reciprocate, your expectations are low when it comes to getting someone to playtest your encounter – it can be intense constantly schilling your encounter in the Discord channel.

That’s why the fallback of a read through works – it’s relatively quick and easy to do alone and within your own time, which means it’s more likely for your encounter to receive feedback. I’ve been fortunate to give and receive four read throughs, which is fantastic.

Throughout the week I’ve also been exploring layouts and tinkering with The Homebrewery to format my encounter and prepare it for publishing in Week 4. So far it looks a little like the following.

Activity #6 Playtesting my encounter in Week of ‘Spring 2022 Write your First D&D Encounter Workshop’

Week 3 of #WYFE , also known as ‘Spring 2022 Write your First D&D Encounter Workshop’, is all about playtesting my encounter.

As noted on the #Stoco workshop website, playtesting is an optional step in the game design process in which you test your design for flaws before releasing it to the market (Arman, n.d.). As Arman (n.d.) also notes, the playtesting can be of great benefit and can help you to:

  • receive valuable feedback from real gamers
  • glean insights about your audience and how to anticipate their needs
  • mitigate negative criticism arising from unforeseen issues in your creations prior to release.

Arman suggested to really focus your playtest, making sure to identify the areas and specify what you’d like to find out and make it easy for playtesters to offer feedback e.g., provide an overview, goals and link to survey or similar to gather responses.

Arman also suggested casting a wide net when inviting others to playtest, which I did by sharing my encounter with the RPG Writer Workshop Discord, the Game Writing Twitter community, and the Discussion section of the workshop website – I’ll also ask my D&D inspired work colleagues to take a squiz!

Activity #5 for Week 2 of ‘Spring 2022 Write your First D&D Encounter Workshop’

For this three-part activity, my D&D encounter outline was put on pause while I found out more about tropes from tvtropes.org and explored how they might be reinvented in my own D&D encounter – fun!

Part 1: Identify common tropes in D&D adventures

As noted on tvtropes.org, common tropes seen in a standard fantasy setting such as D&D adventures may relate to:

  • Race e.g., Dying Race, Proud Warrior Race Guy, and Dark Lord.
  • Countries and governments e.g., The Good Kingdom, The Horde, The Alliance, and The Empire. 

Other commonly seen tropes in D&D adventures may include 

Part 2: Identify TV tropes that might relate to my D&D encounter

The three common tropes from tvtropes.org that might relate to my D&D encounter are:

Part 3: Remix a common trope in my own encounter to make it more dynamic

The Death World trope could be remixed so that the cavern and underground environment is of benefit and somewhat helpful or even nourishing to the players – it’s light, colourful, and possibly pleasant to exist in. So much so, players may feel longing for the place when taking their leave and ascending to the surface.


Activity #4 Outlining your encounter (Submission – 11 May) for ‘Spring 2022 Write your First D&D Encounter Workshop’

Using the outline template, I outlined my encounter in the following format:

  • Title
  • Synopsis
  • Location
  • NPCs/monsters/creatures
  • Objective
  • Conclusion

I’ve refashioned the worksheet from the Welcome Kit as a Google doc and have been outlining my encounter in it and shared it on Discord in the #crafting-your-encounter channel – I’m really looking forward to refining it over the remaining weeks!

Week 2: Activity #4 – Start outlining your encounter for ‘Spring 2022 Write your First D&D Encounter Workshop’

Activity #4 for Week 2 (and beyond) of the ‘Spring 2022 Write Your First D&D Encounter Workshop’ is to start outlining my one page (500 words at 12 pt font) encounter in my Workshop document and then share on Discord in the #crafting-your-encounter channel.

This is the ‘writing phase’ of the workshop and that builds on what I’ve done for Activity #1, Activity #2 and Activity #3.

Week 2: Activity #3 – Create six more three-line encounters for ‘Spring 2022 Write your First D&D Encounter Workshop’ ‘

Activity #3 for Week 2 of the ‘Spring 2022 Write Your First D&D Encounter Workshop’ is to create six more three-line encounters.

It’s okay to use any of the three pillars (social, combat, exploration), but keep the encounters short – it’s just to practice with coming up with new ideas.

Not every encounter idea you come up with will be the most amazing idea ever, and that’s OK; that’s the point! Only by practicing does this process become easier.

Ashley Warren (Brainstorming the Effective Way from Week 2)

My six line three-line encounters

Exploring my encounters through the lens of each pillar – how might the same encounter be experienced as combat, socially or exploratory?

(1) COMBAT
Location: Mysterious underground cavern
Goal: To defeat others from rival clan(s) who are also trapped and trying to escape the cavern.
Obstacle: Battling unknown number and skill levels of rival clan members.

(2) COMBAT
Location:
Mysterious underground cavern
Goal: To defeat an ailing race of indigenous creatures seeking to escape the cavern and take over surrounding area, and then the world.
Obstacle: Battling the creatures in an unfamiliar and unforgiving environment.

(3) SOCIAL
Location: Mysterious underground cavern
Goal: To form a truce with others from rival clan(s) who are also trying to escape the cavern.
Obstacle: Reaching a delicate balance between friend and foe in order to survive – frenemies!

(4) SOCIAL
Location: Mysterious underground cavern
Goal: To befriend and tend to an ailing race of indigenous creatures that that may know how to escape the cavern
Obstacle: Communicating effectively with the creatures who have never seen your character race before, or anyone else for that matter.

(5) EXPLORATION
Location: Mysterious underground cavern
Goal: With great stealth, escape the cavern using one of the many potential routes while avoiding combat and contact with rival clan(s) or creatures.
Obstacle: Being discovered by rival clan(s) and indigenous creatures.

(6) EXPLORATION
Location: Mysterious underground cavern.
Goal: Escape the cavern using the safest route and with the most detailed mapping and details of the underground area so you can return with reinforcements.
Obstacle: Getting lost and limited time to create detailed maps and potential to be discovered by dangerous creatures and rival clan(s) also trapped underground.

My six three-line encounters

Week 1: Activity #2 for ‘Spring 2022 Write Your First D&D Encounter Workshop’

As noted by M.T. Black on the Stoco workshop website, D&D encounters can be categorised using the “three pillars” of:

  • combat
  • social
  • exploration.

M.T. Black also highlights how the three pillars make an encounter unique and dynamic, and although it’s possible to apply all three pillars in one encounter, one is usually enough.

Combat

Because combat is crucial to character progression in D&D, the majority of the rules are related to combat-related activities. M.T. Black describes a combat encounter as an obstacle where a character must fight an antagonist. Black also notes that combat isn’t limited to killing an opponent or inflicting maximum damage while minimising your own. It also includes: rescuing a captive, preventing a ritual, acquiring or destroying an item, protecting an important NPC, getting to an exit, or even sealing off a portal.

Social

According to M.T.Black, a social encounter involves the characters talking to or interacting with someone or something e.g., asking for information, convincing someone to carry-out an action, negotiating a deal, or even influencing a decision – success! As M.T. Black notes, in these cases, the obstacle is another person who is initially disinclined to grant the request.

Exploration

Exploration is a broad type of encounter and as M.T. Black explains, can include activities such as searching for traps and secret doors, solving a riddle or puzzles, finding and following clues, mapping out an adventure area, searching for a lost city, learning about new weird and wonderful things or locations, overcoming hazards and obstacles, and even finding hidden treasure, and more. As long as the exploration involves the character interacting with an object, situation, or location and learning something previously unknown, notes M.T. Black.


Activity#2: Three new encounters, using the three-line format

Activity #2 for Week 1 of the ‘Spring 2022 Write Your First D&D Encounter Workshop’ is to create three new encounters using the three-line format – it’s okay to use the same location, goal or obstacle flavoured to one of the three pillars. Then, share with others in the #ideation-and-organization channel on Discord or using the Discussion feature of the workshop website.

SOCIAL
Location: Mysterious underground cavern
Goal: Work together as a group to find out how to escape from the mysterious underground cavern
Obstacle: Bickering and in-fighting between conflicting personalities, which makes decision making a challenge and threatens to prevent your escape.

COMBAT
Location: Mysterious underground cavern
Goal: As a ramshackle group, defeat unseen creatures and evil forces as you make your escape from the underground cavern.
Obstacle: Varying combat skills among the group and unseen creatures and evil forces

EXPLORATION
Location: Mysterious underground cavern
Goal: Explore all possible escape routes from the underground cavern.
Obstacle: Overcoming booby traps, dead-ends and getting lost as you attempt to make your escape.

My “Activity#2: Three new encounters, using the three-line format” posted to the Discord channel
A variation on my social-based encounter
A variation on my combat-based encounter

Daily whiteboard – I wannabe like MIT

Today’s daily whiteboard – I wannabe like MIT Technology Review e.g., cool colour blocks, funky font work, deep-dives and heavy pull-quotes. Pretty rad.

Breaking down the MIT website into a wireframe that we can reimagine as a digital learning experience that’s calm and comfortable to use, hopefully.

D&D (at work) #6 Continuing the narrative, village council nomination, and an “accounting check”

The lunchtime D&D sessions with work colleagues continues, and it’s still fun.

I was able to make use of one of the bottles I rescued from the wagon, which came about from an establishing an influence system via an email exchange with the DM while we were all out of the office, which then saved an orc – nice. I also shared with the party, how I was offered a spot on the village council, again, as a response to my influence system from the DM, via email. I also rolled a 15 on an “accounting check”, so i should now be able understand the “sea-faring accountant” character in the session – useful!

Next session… we need to head out into the wilderness once again. This time with our new team members from our influence system – cool.

Week 1: Activity #1 for ‘Spring 2022 Write Your First D&D Encounter Workshop’

As outlined by M.T. Black in the Stoco workshop website, encounters are the lifeblood of Dungeons & Dragons, where any adventure or campaign could be considered as being made up from a series of related encounters.

M.T. Black defines an encounter as a single scene in the game where the players interact with a challenge.

All encounters are made up three basic elements:

  • location (where the encounter takes place)
  • goal (something the characters want to achieve or desire)
  • obstacle (the thing that’s preventing the characters from achieving the goal).

An encounter in three-lines

Activity #1 for Week 1 of the ‘Spring 2022 Write Your First D&D Encounter Workshop’ is to create a simple encounter in my worksheet using the three-line format, and then share with others in the #ideation-and-organization channel on Discord or using the Discussion feature of the workshop website.

My three-line encounter (V01.1)

  • Location: Mysterious underground cavern
  • Goal: Escape
  • Obstacle: The cavern/surrounding environment & the players themselves (not sure if the format allows for more than once obstacle)

My encounter is a mash-up of Saw, Dredd and The Raid in a D&D world, kinda.

My post in the channel on Discord.
My post in the Discussion on the Stoco workshop website.

What about the other workshop participants? 

As you’d expect, other participants are a pretty creative bunch and were proposing some pretty awesome three-line encounters.