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I have been running a campaign for some time now that is winding its way down to finish what I'll call "Act I". Soon my group will take a break from my campaign to let someone else DM and I'm wondering if before I start working on Act II, if I should give my players some sort of survey to assess good/bad things they liked/disliked in the campaign thus far and how I could improve.

On the other hand, there is a lot of success behind the Same Page Tool, and I'm wondering if I wouldn't be better off having everyone sit together and do that to assess how to handle Act II.

Has anyone done something like this? Is there greater value in a normal survey when you're trying to assess what you can handle better as a GM or is the Same Page Tool the end-all-be-all super-tool for assessing how you should run your campaign?

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Feedback is good, getting useful feedback is hard.

First, to your question about the Same Page Tool: in my experience it's more useful as an idea or a prompt than it is as a tool.* I certainly wouldn't recommend it, unaltered, for a post-campaign or intermission/course-adjusting survey.

*-This is in no way intended to disparage the SPT: I perpetually thank its author for their contribution to the practice of reasonably discussing our games!

The key to a planning survey is to get actionable and understandable suggestions. Compare these three questions:

  1. What do you enjoy in an RPG?
  2. What was an enjoyable moment in the last RPG you played?
  3. What was your favorite moment of our campaign so far?

To the first (again, in my experience) you're lucky to get anything more than "um... an interesting plot? A fun character?" The second is quite a bit better: we're much better at remembering what we have enjoyed than predicting what we will enjoy. But you don't have to stop there: you can go to the third question and listen to an answer that implicates your future plans directly.

Compare, too, these questions:

  1. What do you like in a GM/what makes a GM "good" for you?
  2. What do you think I do well and poorly as a GM?
  3. Tell me about a time we were playing and you thought 'I might have done that a different way.'

Same progression, right? Question 2 is much better than 1, but we're really bad at telling friends what they're doing wrong--we sugar-coat things, we throw them a duck, &c. Question 3, though, gets to it: your friends probably have had some ideas they haven't shared--explicitly ask them to share. And listen to them.

Turn it up a notch.

I think the above is enough to get you thinking/writing a useful instrument either for written feedback or as a set of conversation prompts. But there are two further things I suggest:

  1. Do this frequently. There's no need for this to be a mid-campaign-only exercise. I try to make a habit to ask, at the end of every session, for "things you liked, things you didn't, something you thought 'oh, we could have used this here,' something you'd want to get rid of, and any other suggestions." I've rarely gotten much feedback other than "thanks, this was great." But I have gotten actionable suggestions which, I believe, is more than I'd get if I never asked. (I also add that sort of tag-line to inter-session e-mails. It's marginally more productive there, I believe.)

  2. Prepare them for these sorts of questions. If all you do is ask the players questions like above you're missing one huge source of feedback: you. I believe you already know things you'd like to to better, things you'd like to add, things you're working on. Tell that to your players. Starting a campaign with "hey, everyone, I'm really trying to focus on livening up my descriptions of scenes as you encounter them. I'm reading a lot and practicing a lot, but any time you think of something--good or bad--I'd appreciate a note or suggestion. Thanks!"

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This is excellent advice, not only for RPGs, but essentially any situation. For instance, we learn similar techniques in leadership courses about giving feedback and criticism. \$\endgroup\$ – fgysin Nov 30 '17 at 15:55
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The same-page tool is not a super-tool. Check through the same page tool post — it's just a set of questions a group sits down together to answer together (while discussing their answers) which helps start the type of conversation that will, in turn, help a group find common ground in how to play a game.

That's all the same page tool is for though. It is not a feedback survey, and it is certainly not the end-all-be-all of anything — it isn't even the end-all-be-all for finding common ground in a group. The author doesn't try to suggest it's anything along those lines. It's just an excellent groundbreaking tool for the kinds of conversations groups often don't have.

Gathering feedback: good idea.

Many groups, my own included, find retrospective feedback conversations helpful. They work well enough that my own group starts one after every session when we still have the time and energy: "What went well? What do you want to see more of? What didn't go so well, or what would we like to change or see less of?" works wonders as part of a helpful GM↔group feedback loop. (It also helps boost a GM's confidence that actually, yes, that session did go well and everyone loved it, they didn't horribly mess it up in all those ways the players never even notice.) Sometimes all the feedback you'll get is general murmuring that everything was fine and enjoyable, but that's a positive sign all on its own that the current course is working well.

So, yes, go ahead and ask your players for feedback. Do ask them what went well and what didn't, or further questions like the ones I mentioned. I'd recommend allowing a few minutes at the end of every session to have a conversation like that, and a longer, more involved conversation at the end of Act I may be very constructive for your group. A group conversation may be more helpful for you than a posted-out independently-filled survey (or you may want to have the independent survey followed by a group conversation about the responses).

Do use the same page tool if you feel you need to find common ground to resolve a problem in the feedback, but if everyone's happy, you've probably already found your common ground.

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The author of the Same Page tool does not present it as the end all, be all super tool, so your "either or" question is based on a faulty premise.

Using an "After Action Report" framework

Your idea for a questionnaire/feedback/survey is a good one.

  1. You must first ask yourself, were there problems during play that you are aware of?

    If so, you need to include those problems that you saw on your "after Act I questionnaire" since your players may or may not see those as problems.

  2. Were there problems during play that you are not aware of?

    You can't know this until you ask your players for feedback. The "After Act I questionnaire" needs to have room for each player to indicate "I liked this" and "I didn't like this" to give you a sense of whether or not anything is actually wrong.

The purpose of any After Action Report is to identify areas for improvement. I won't go into the detail of After Action Reports and Lessons Learned sessions that I experienced in the military, since your group is informal, but the benefit to your gaming group is similar enough:

  1. get feedback on how to improve

  2. propose a way to improving (X)

  3. get consensus/buy in

  4. implement the plan

  5. Have fun! (That's an imperative) :)

Once you have received the feedback, from your players, sit down together before your next session as a DM and come to a consensus on how to resolve whatever problems you all identified so that your desire to improve the game experience will fit with your players' expectations.

(Did I mention having fun?)

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A lessons learned is about what has worked, what has failed, and what could have been done better. It is a reflection of what has happened. You can use it to git gud whatever that means for you. I find lessons learned to be invaluable at getting (and giving) constructive criticism about the things I liked, disliked, or just did not care about. This helps me work out what I need to work in as a player or GM. It is about bettering yourself (git gud ☺) in whichever role.

Whereas the same page tool is about finding a common ground (if such exists) between players for a future game. It sets expectation about the game. In a new game, or with new players, it is always worth having a conversation about the expectation from the game. The same page tool is but an example of this which is very popular here. There are other ways. It helps alleviate the problem of different expectations.

They are both looking at the opposites end of the game and as such full fill different goals. You could use both, either, or neither.

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The Same Page Tool doesn't seem suited for session retrospectives (or mid-campaign reviews). But, retrospectives are useful and I do them at the end of every session I run.

I use a format called Roses and Thorns, which I first heard about from a LARPer I know (but never played with), and later saw in action at the end of some of Mark Diaz Truman's Youtube-recorded Fate sessions.

Basically it's asking each player to tell you one Rose (one thing they liked or appreciated about the session and might want to see more of in future sessions) and one Thorn (one thing which could have been better or they don't want to keep happening in future sessions). It takes very little time and is very valuable for people on both sides of the screen.

The Same Page Tool should be used before you ever even start playing - it's good to get everyone on the same page of what game people even want. Once you're all playing, though, you don't need something like the Same Page Tool to refine the ongoing play. Just check in with retrospectives.

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