I’ll admit, I think I have a problem when I playtest games and scenarios. It’s a forest-and-trees problem — I’m always erring on the side of the immediate play experience, making play decisions that work in the moment but don’t necessarily reflect the actual Rules As Written, or are otherwise difficult to systematize. I catch myself saying things in D&D like, “I’m going to allow it, for it amuses me.”
That’s great for a home game, but it’s tricky when I’m trying to playtest something I’m hoping to submit to, say, Dungeon magazine.
I’m experiencing the same issues now and again in my playtests for Razed, in which I find myself trying to mix up the storytelling tricks and tactics from story to story, sometimes in ways that I wouldn’t dare to put into the sample adventure in the book. I find myself putting my immediate campaign before the product I should be working on. This used to bother me.
In recent weeks, though, I’ve come around to a happier conclusion: this is sometimes fair game. Playtesting, at least for an RPG, is as much about exercise, at these early stages, as it is about a strict testing of the mechanics. Ideally, an RPG will be dynamic enough to handle things like nonlinear storytelling, flashbacks, and dramatic deviations from the prescribed setting — whatever tricks the GM might want to try at home — without breaking. In the case of my Razed game, that’s what I’ve been testing over the past few sessions: the tensile strength of the game. In the case of D&D, I’ve been testing to see if my dungeon is fun and inspirational.
It’s not as though players at home, further down the line from the original idea, should be expected to say, “Wait, that’s too engaging, that’s too fun, and the game’s about nuance and rigidity rather than fun.” It’s important to test the rules as they will be written, but it’s also important to test an RPG’s dynamism.