Over the last few months I have run several playtests for a board game I am developing, and most recently, for a 16th-level Living Forgotten Realms adventure that I created upon special request from folks at my local FLGS, Pegasus Games.
This has been a humbling summer of playtesting. I have long been in the camp of people who believe usability testing is important, but I am now convinced that playtesting is not only important, it is REQUIRED for the development of any game or game supplement.
I have heard players recount horror stories of LFR modules that were so insanely hard that there is no way playtesting could have occurred, because every group who attempted the module found themselves in a TPK. I was happy that these same players thought I did a pretty good job on my first draft, and first attempt at an LFR style modular adventure.
Higher Level = Harder to Balance
I found that both skill challenges and combats are much more difficult to balance for the paragon tier of 4th edition dungeons and dragons. At paragon tier, players acquire all sorts of crazy powers. For example, one player had a fly speed! Nearly every member of their party had the ability to fly for a short period. This makes terrain obstacles and hazards much easier to traverse.
My skill challenges were not bad, but also felt a bit unbalanced. I made the opening challenge intentionally hard, and it turned out to be pretty adequate. The other skill challenges in the module seemed to gravitate more toward “too easy”.
Paragon Players are TOUGH!
With 16th level players, there is a wide spectrum of monsters available. For the first draft of the module, I tended to include lower level monsters, but more of them. This meant that the monsters had a lot more attacks, but they did not hit as often. Over all, I think the monsters all needed to be bumped up two or three levels, as the player attacks bonuses and defenses were much higher than I expected.
Taste-Testing the Flavor
In cooking and in game development, it can take time to get the recipe right. I have already put a lot of love into this module in terms of story, tactically interesting combat environments, and skill challenges that feel natural. Playtesting is the ingredient that can make good flavor great!
The first playtest group did all kinds of things I did not expect them to, which provided great feedback for me to revise various parts of the module. If I develop a few of these modules, I think I’ll have stronger core skills to move forward with development of my own game, and unique game world…
The Road Ahead
I think I will revise this module again, and run at least one more playtest. I plan to make these items “compatible” with Living Forgotten Realms, but there is something a little unappealing about building onto a world that is not completely open source… and I could easily see this story arc being compatible with Eberron, Greyhawk, etc. etc. it doesn’t really matter. It is a little piece of my own homebrewed fantasy realm. I plan to eventually release 9-12 mods in all (3-4 adventures per tier), and maybe way in the future, release a source book supplement for my Silvercrow region that defines the main NPCs, locations, etc.
When I have a few days off of work later this year, I will be revamping the website to add a dedicated section for “Silvercrow” related development activities. As I stated to the playtesters, the modules will all eventually be available for free to download.
If you live in the Madison WI area, and would like to take a break from your normal game to run through this playtest, let me know!