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As a GM, I strive to make the best experience for my group and adapt and improve my style and skill. I usually do this by live observation and asking for inputs after the session.

My problem lies in after session Q&A. Usually I ask them "Do you have fun? Which part is fun? Which part is not fun? How can it be better?" and they answer generally "Yep, it was fun. I like every part of it. I think it's fine."

I don't want to look for problems that aren't there, but I feel like I'm not improving the group's experience this way. There are some parts where they are distracted enough to play with their phone - they are not engaged enough, so it's obvious I can change some things, like pacing, so they can enjoy the session more.

I want my players to give feedback on every session. How to make them do so?

I've tried to make the questions as guiding as possible and as brief as possible, but they stick with the general "it's fine".

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Could you expand a bit on the line between your stated questions ("Do you have fun", "which part was fun", etc.) and your stated practice of making the questions as guided and brief as possible? Are there ever more precise questions than the stated ones, or is that representative of the questions you generally as post-session? \$\endgroup\$ – Upper_Case Feb 27 at 16:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ They are the exact questions I asked at the end of a session, so not a summary of questions. If they give feedback on particular scene, I expand with more detailed questions like "is it too long? do I describe clearly?" \$\endgroup\$ – Vylix Feb 27 at 17:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think you've already received several useful answers, I would just add one more point: Sometimes you have to take someone's word for granted. If people tell you they had fun, it might just be safe to assume that you don't need to pour a lot of effort into "improving" in any way. Similarly, if someone spent some time playing with their phone, that doesn't inherently mean they were disengaged in a negative way. Sometimes, even when I'm in the middle of doing something I'm really enjoying, I find it natural to pause for a mental break and poke at my phone for a minute. \$\endgroup\$ – dwizum Feb 28 at 20:34
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Obviously, this question cannot have an objective apply-everywhere answer, however, I can tell you what works and doesn't work for me.

Session Feedback Is Not Very Useful

I also ask my players if they had fun during the session, and their answer is also "Yeap, it was great, I had fun!". The thing is that if your players/friends are even slightly polite they won't tell you anything else unless the session has gone really bad.

However, this is expected not only because your players may be polite, but also because every sane person knows that not every session can be equally exciting. A story has ups and downs. Also, it is impossible for every player to shine in every session, as it is impossible for every session to have the desired level of battles, role-playing, exploration, political intrigue, etc.

So, how can you get useful feedback? This is what I do:

Campaign Feedback Is Usually Very Useful

Every few sessions -- the number may vary based on how often you play, for how many hours each time -- before a session starts, I ask each of my players to:

  • Describe a thing they like about the campaign so far
  • Describe a thing they dislike about the campaign so far

This makes wonders. First, they get the opportunity to gloat about something ridiculous or really cool their PC did and then, after they felt that they praised the campaign, they feel better about opening up about the thing(s) they don't enjoy as much.

An example answer is this: "The sessions where we planned and executed the heist were the highlight of the campaign for me so far. However, I don't enjoy the turn of events in the last 2 sessions so much because of the heavy political intrigue that's going on. I want to experience a proper battle!"

I then proceed to note down the things my players liked and disliked and I try to adjust the following sessions to better suit their taste.


Another note:

It May Be Better to Get Feedback Before a Session Starts

I know that the usual thing is to ask your players for feedback after a session, however, I've noticed that this is not ideal. The reasons is that most players, including the GM, are somewhat tired after a session. And when you're tired you're not best suited to critique or to receive critique. Also, sometimes, we need time to process some events properly. For example, we may get frustrated about an event but we may later realize that this happened because it served a very important purpose in the story progression. Or, we may realize that it was foretold long ago by a series of events/clues we ignored.

However, before a session starts, everyone is excited and positive. Furthermore, the events of the previous events have "sunk in". This combination is perfect to offer criticism because you can see clearly and you have a good grasp of the events that took place.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Feedback between sessions - e.g. midway through the week - might also be good, especially if it's not expected to be immediate or in-person. It lets people think about the issue and come up with a real assessment instead of being put on a spot. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Feb 28 at 7:23
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Focus on specific elements instead of asking yes/no questions

The #1 question we tend to ask, as you said is "did you have fun?" or "did you like it?" which can be answered by a simple yes/no. When I want feedback, I asked three specific questions.

These questions force the person to give you one element, something concrete that can't be just "yeah, I liked it".

  1. "What did you like best?"

    By first inviting compliments, you get to see what people thought was the best element of the game. Makes people feel good about it.

  2. "What did you like least?"

    By asking this one second, you have people in a positive state of mind and criticism will come out as constructive criticism rather than an equally not useful "it sucked, bye"

  3. "What would you change to make it better?"

    This one opens the floor for constructive criticism.

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I think that the most important thing is to know what information you really want.

Questions like did you have fun? and which part was fun for you? are reasonably specific from a GM's point of view, but less so from a player's point of view. Players are a lot less likely to keep a running annotation of the game's narrative flow, structure, and the precise, planned elements which impact their fun.

I'm not suggesting that no players ever do this, just that for many players the game is a gestalt experience more than it is a simple combination of interacting, but discrete, parts. As a GM, the I'm keenly aware of all of the choices I've made in setting up a session, and how all of the events unfold during the session. Sometimes I have trouble seeing the forest because of the multitude of trees a GM has to be aware of. As a player, the only time I notice specific things that made the game especially fun or not fun is when they're really noteworthy. Not every session has such moments.

So while I think I understand where you're coming from with the what are the elements that impacted your fun at the table? questions, I'm not sure I agree that those are the best questions to ask at an every-session frequency, nor are they the questions that best guide you to what your players will want.

1. "Everything is OK" is not a useful critique

Some GMs, and particularly newer ones, have a tendency to feel a little bit insecure about their performance and want reassurance from players that the game really was fun. I was this way, earlier in my GM-ing career, though it may not describe you very well. But importantly, improving games through receiving player feedback will not come through identifying things the players found unremarkable. Questions which elicit that kind of response are likely to be mis-specified. I believe that generic questions about fun tend to fall into that category.

2. "Fun" is a conclusion, and a judgement that a GM can't necessarily directly influence.

Fun is the goal, not the method. The destination, not the route. Asking a player about their fun requires them to review the entire game, correctly understand the connections between things at a high level, and report that back to you clearly. And this is assuming that the game had specific moments which the players evaluate that way-- their fun may broadly come from playing an adventuring hero in a story that provides adequate set dressing for that.

More pointed questions are better. I like to ask my players, in advance, what sorts of themes and character developments they want to explore and then come up with content to satisfy those. When a specific session brings some of that to the fore, I might ask if session events are accomplishing what the player wants. This is still around the fun of the game, but asking what specific things the player is looking for helps orient the content, and then asking if the content is actually providing what the player is looking for. Asking about the player's perception of specific things in the game makes questions clearer and more pointed.

Finally, many players want to play the game, not design and plan the game. Not every player feels this way, but heavier influence on the course of the game and plot can detract from the novelty and fun of actually playing through the stories the GM creates.

3. If you perceive a specific problem, you can be direct in asking about it.

If you're concerned that pacing is an issue, ask about the pacing. I appreciate the desire not to confront players, but if they are taking out their phones and disengaging from the game you have strong reason to believe there is an issue.

Players may not even be specifically aware of the issue that caused their disengagement-- feeling bored is not the same as understanding exactly what might have bored them. Rather than trying to entice them to come forward with a specific complaint by asking what was not fun for them, it is often better to simply ask why they seemed to have tuned out for a bit.

Sometimes it's because another player has the spotlight, and there's little for them to do in the meantime. Sometimes it's because they're really engaged but are looking up some rule or other game-related information. Sometimes they're trying to manage a social situation and feel they needed to do it right at that moment, and the game was not even a factor!

4. Your players likely find answering these sorts of questions every session to be not fun.

Answering surveys is not usually that fun. Being compelled to do so is even less fun. Being forced to come up with specific items which may not even apply is not fun-- if they liked everything in the session, having to think up the thing that they liked the least just for the sake of having a direct answer to that question is not fun. The reason I believe your players do not enjoy this is that they are apparently refusing to engage, and try to deflect the entire situation each time it occurs. In a very real way, disregarding your players' responses to and apparent feelings about these "check-in" questions undermines the idea that you will be responsive to their concerns.

It's also worth considering that, the better a job you do of running games your players like, the fewer and smaller the complaints they'll have will be.


What's better?

What I have found useful is to have debriefings with my players after a distinct narrative section of the game: a campaign, an adventure, a notable subplot, etc. Anything that is self-contained enough that the players will have had a chance to see what you did and why, as well as have a completed experience to refer to when answering these sorts of questions. If players have an impression that's stuck with them, positive or negative, that's a good time to identify and discuss it.

Plots, campaigns, and gaming groups develop over time. Requiring feedback after every session is like demanding that someone judge a movie they're watching for the first time every ten minutes during the film.

If you really want per-session feedback, defining what you wanted to do, how you went about trying to do it, and how you wanted that to impact player fun removes most of these burdens from players:

GM: I wanted you guys to have the chance to solve a "whodunnit" mystery involving a group of NPCs, so I introduced those NPCs and then trapped you all in an area where you'd have nothing to do but solve that mystery. What did you think of how that played out?

Player 1: I like the idea, but the mystery we were trying to solve wasn't interesting to me. So, for this specific mystery, it was more of a chore than a game.

Player 2: I liked the mystery, and I liked interacting with the PCs, but I didn't feel like I had enough information to use to actually do any meaningful investigation. I felt like I was just flailing around until you revealed the next plot point, so it felt more like ordinary role playing for me.

Player 3: I thought the mystery was OK, but the fight at the end was a lot more fun! The mystery part took a long time to resolve, and then that fight felt rushed. I would rather have had less mystery plot, or have the mystery plot be more combat-like in some way, since that was the part I enjoyed most.

Focusing the question on how your hopes for the session matched against the experience your players had makes meaningful feedback easier to provide. Just asking about "fun" requires players to do a lot of reflection and analysis to even bring up the specific mystery plot, and then compare it to anything else that may have happened in the session to see if the whole session was fun for them.

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