Article - Playing Scenarios Critically

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AuthorTopic: Article - Playing Scenarios Critically
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Whether you're a designer, beta-tester or particularly critical player, it helps to know how to be the best debugger, critic and overall beneficiary to the scenario's development as possible. I have designed arguably my fair share of scenarios, and I have also tested many- some well, some poorly. Thus, I have a few suggestions on how to best get under the scenario's skin- your players and/or designers will, if they're any good, love you for it.

1) Take notes at all times!

EVERYTHING that you see that strikes you as being weird should be noted the instant you run across it. Don't say to yourself, "I'll make a list of things I saw while playing today this evening." You'll forget most of the things you observed by then, so it's always best to keep a text file open to jot things down instantaneously. Often times, this will generate page upon page of critiques that you normally wouldn't have generated otherwise.

2) Spot errors intuitively.

When something happens that is OBVIOUSLY wrong, jot it down. Bugs are usually the first thing that a designer tells his beta-testers to spot, and shame on you if you let one get by. Whenever something seems odd, jot it down. Maybe it's intentional- if so, the fact that you thought it was a bug means that it should be executed in a better way in the final release or next version. Don't always trust that the designer knows what he/she is doing- We're capable of error, and even capable of imagining flawed ideas and flawed ways of bringing those ideas to fruition.

3) Play Counter-intuitively.

Sure, the plot makes you want to rush off and kill the bad guy the moment he becomes available, as most good scenarios should. As a player/tester, this is where you suffer- at all times, you should see if you can play a scenario in ways that its plot says that you shouldn't. In Nethergate, Jeff made an error. One of the three Crones is dead as you approach the Spire of Ages and the remaining two disappear thereafter, but if you return to the Crone Caverns, all three are still there and well. These types of errors are painful to have, and should be avoided at all costs. Another example- in An Apology, a towns-only scenario, it is possible to leave town and emerge outdoors. *Whoops.* A scenario's quality and the force of its plot often make these errors equally as difficult to discover in the eyes of any other player, but they're still dangerous when and if somebody *does* stumble upon one.

4) Spot spelling errors as you see them.

Nobody is expected to test every paragraph for exact spelling or grammatical correctness, but you should be reading the text as it appears, and if something doesn't strike you as being well-written or is spelled outright incorrectly, then you should comment on it. A good designer should run his text through a spell-checker, but that might not catch there/their/they're errors. If a spelling error breaks up the flow of a paragraph when you play through the scenario, it will surely do it for other players as well. (Mac users using OS 10 or higher have an added benefit insomuch as TextEdit has an automatic spellchecker, though I'm not sure if PC users have such benefits.)

5) Testing combat.

To be critical of gameplay, always play the scenario with the lowest level recommended by the scenario's author / yourself. You don't have to play any lower, but sometimes it's recommended. I had people saying that Roses of Reckoning was difficult at level 12 and that Emerald Mountain was difficult on level 30, in spite of the fact that both scenarios are rated levels 1-3 and 15-20 respectively. Being difficult is not a bad thing, but being overly-difficult. Echoes is a scenario for Blades of Exile that is totally unplayable and not worth the download for this very reason- I did not test for combat, and the scenario suffered accordingly.

6) Town Design Should Click.

If you see anything out-of-place with terraining, whether it be dreadfully dull towns or dungeons that don't make sense, say so. Don't be tempted to shy away from this type of comment because it puts too much pressure on the designer to make major changes that he/she might not implement, those changes are often very important. Many articles have been written about towns and dungeons, and with good reason- If a town is outright terrible or a dungeon makes no sense, say so. Often times, it is very easy for a designer to make a dungeon that exists only for the party to tear it up, and is a twisty-turny, one-way path as a result of that. If the path doesn't make sense, say so.

7) Shout at People Who Use Too Much Outdoors.

If you are a player/tester, shout at the designer committing this sin. If you are the designer, flog yourself heavily. Too much outdoors is a lose-lose situation with no upsides- even the best scenarios suffer for this. Adventurer's Club 3 has +150 towns, but people still complained about its expansive outdoors because it had ~60 sections, if not more. Almost any non-epic scenario can take place in 1 outdoor section (or no more than 9), and most probably should.

8) Don't Stop at Errors!

Saying that the Balrog should have 100 fewer/more HP and that "Alter" is not a religious monument is good, but what is even better is saying where you thought the plot skipped or how you think an encounter should be improved. Your suggestions without any prodding are always appreciated, and at best, the designer can say "no". If something really irked you, say so, and then explain why to the best of your ability. As a designer, you should be looking at ways to increase the quality of your scenario as you play through it. Beta-testing isn't just custodian work and a face-lift, and neither is it limited to just that after beta-testing either. Don't treat it as such.

Posts: 6936 | Registered: Tuesday, September 18 2001 07:00
Shock Trooper
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Sounds like quite a good article, and it will be useful now that all these scenarios are starting to come out.

You're a moron if you think I'm not.
Posts: 213 | Registered: Friday, March 26 2004 08:00
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Thanks TM, this was very helpful.


"I suffer from spiritual malaise," said Cugel meaningfully. "which manifest itself in outburst of vicious rage. I implore you to depart, lest, in an uncontrollable spasm, I cut you in three pieces with my sword, or worse, I invoke magic."
Random Jack Vance Quote Manual Generator Apparatus (Cugel's Saga)
Posts: 604 | Registered: Sunday, June 20 2004 07:00
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^_^ This is a useful article! I try to consider it when I'll give you a feedback about Emerald Mountain (but I have to play it again first).

Slartucker: * facepalm facepalm facepalm *
Dikiyoba: Are you unconscious yet?
Posts: 1420 | Registered: Wednesday, October 2 2002 07:00
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Pretty good article.

Milla-Displacer Beastie

This is also a good site
Posts: 650 | Registered: Thursday, October 4 2001 07:00
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Most of that was in my general knowledge, however, writing it up in an article sure helps, especially for newbs. Let me add one all too common mistake.

9) Balance items, shops, spells with the level of the scenario.

If you make a scenario for level’s 10-15 don't make steel blacksmiths available at every corner. In the VotdT most blacksmiths sold leather, bronze and a few iron armour. A good normal sized scenario should have no more than four very powerful items and a handful of other great items in hidden locations, side quests or tough encounters. Balance the spells with the requirements of your level and the scenario. Don't make a wizard teach Arcane Summon (3) if your mage is at level 7. etc. Also, keep track of costs. At times, shops can be rendered useless and mere decorations for your scenario if prices are too high. The ludicrous prices are getting too common and in the end most stuff is never bought because better items are quickly available on the wandering monster outside.

[ Monday, August 16, 2004 02:23: Message edited by: Kel-Aziz ]

"I don't want to achieve immortality through my work, I want to achieve it through not dying."
Posts: 30 | Registered: Thursday, July 22 2004 07:00
Law Bringer
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*bump* To preserve material
Posts: 4643 | Registered: Friday, February 10 2006 08:00