Player Survey Tips

From John Four

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0342

A Brief Word From Johnn

Need Some Article Editing Help

With some wonderful help from Steve B. I’m getting caught up on a few article submissions for the website. If you have editing skillz, enjoy editing, and have time left this month to edit an RPG article or two, please drop me a note.

Gaming With Fantasy Grounds Over The Holidays

Over my holiday break I had a chance to game in two Fantasy Grounds (FG) virtual pen & paper games. Each GM had a different style and ran their games well (thanks Vince & Jason!). I got to see how roleplaying, combat, investigation, wilderness setting, city setting, maps, player handouts, and character sheets worked, among other things.

Gameplay in FG was slower than real tabletop play due to typing and distance-communication. However, I was able to multi-task in the comfort of my computer room and game time seemed to fly by.

I found the roleplaying quite immersive. Different text commands style text in the chat window, so you can carry on in-character, out-of-character, player-to-player, GM-to- player, and NPC-player communication easily and simultaneously. I quite enjoyed roleplaying in-character while asking the GM questions at the same time, and immersion was kept quite high.

Game rules were dealt with seamlessly and comfortably. Dice rolling, character sheet management and reference, taking actions, skill checks, spells, and so on were easy once I learned how to use the software.

I found FG facilitated standard tabletop gameplay and didn’t become the gameplay. It felt like a group of people gathered to play games, and the software let us do that without getting in the way.

Overall, I was surprised by how stable and well things ran. I have the desire to GM more this year and have now put Fantasy Grounds on my options short list. It’s not the same as in-the-flesh gaming, but it does solve many of the logistic problems in-person gaming has. There’s no commuting, and long distance friends can play. It’s computer facilitated, so maps, rules, and information are all com-pu- ti fied. Game logs create permanent records and reference. Character sheets and dice are never forgotten.

While short game sessions and long ones are possible, I suspect short-session campaigns would thrive, whereas they’d suffer in many real-life situations. For example, if you travel an hour to game, you’ll want more than two hours of gameplay. However, a two hour game session every week would be easy to prepare for, gaming would get done, and over the long term a fun and memorable campaign would emerge. Of course, length of session is up to you, but the short form of gaming is now more feasible than before.

Todd Landrum, of DM’s Familiar software fame, wrote me about Klooge Werks and how that software also makes virtual tabletop gaming fun and easy. I haven’t found a forum thread anywhere with an objective comparison between the two, but I’m sold on the concept of virtual gaming software.

Digital Adventures (a FG site related to Jason Sandeman, a DM who ran me through a Fantasy Grounds session):

Get some gaming done this week – virtual or in-person!


Johnn Four
[email protected]

Player Survey Tips

In Issue #335 I posted a reader request about player surveys. In my experience, surveys have two keys to success: participation and quality of response.

Past surveys I’ve done have had a wide range of participation, from no one (!) to the whole group. You want to do everything possible to ensure every player feels motivated to respond and gives you the information you’re hungry for.

Responses I’ve received over the years have ranged from useful and exactly what I wanted to learn, to me scratching my head wondering if a player misread the question. I’ve had answers left blank, or that were so short as to not be helpful. Quality of response is just as important as participation, because if the answers aren’t decipherable then you and your players have wasted time and communicated nothing. However, it’s often the survey that leads the quality of response – if questions are confusing, so too will be the answers, for example.

Fortunately, there are a few methods in your power to maximize participation and quality of response. Following are a few tips that will be obvious to some, but hopefully useful to many, about using surveys successfully as a tool to craft better experiences and game sessions.

Make It Fun

For many players, surveys feel like work. They have to stop and think. Long surveys can get boring. Not all questions are fun to answer. In addition, surveys often represent the GM’s agenda, not the players’.

Surveys take time, too. If you’ve assigned the survey as homework, then players have to carve the time out of their busy lives. If you hand out the survey in-game, then players are being denied the fun of playing the game.

The key here is, if you can make the survey fun and interesting, your players won’t mind answering. If you can make the survey useful or valuable to them, you might even get an enthusiastic response.

Ideas for making a survey fun:

  • Use humour. Throw in a humourous question, such as which character has the worst haircut, or ask for nickname ideas for the other players. You could also play the straight man and make it easy for players to respond with humour or make a joke.
  • Use pictures. Ask the players to draw their answer. Long ago I was given a test at school that involved a sheet of paper with a grid of 12 large circles drawn on it. I was told to be creative and turn the circles into interesting objects, such as eyeglasses, wagon wheels, planet Earth, a bicycle from the 1800s, and so on.

Next time, instead of hitting the players with straight, dry questions about genre, campaign type, and campaign length, give them a sheet of circles or a starting image and ask them to draw their response.

Another idea is to grab one or more pictures from the Internet and have players write their reaction. Perhaps you print off pictures of different genres and situations (i.e. sci-fi, fantasy, horror; combat, investigation, social) and ask players to respond about their game choices that way.

Maybe you ask players to draw out their ideal campaign or adventure-ending climactic encounter. Encourage non-artists to use stickmen and simple shapes to get their vision across.

  • Make it about the player. Personalize it. If you are wanting campaign ideas, for example, you could just ask players for campaign ideas. However, a better and more personal approach that would likely get you a better response might be to ask them what about their favourite campaign, adventure, encounter, or gaming moments.
  • Make it interactive. I suppose a survey is interactive, but it’s mostly a one-way communication. You ask, they answer. Change things up. Maybe the survey is each player gets to ask the group a survey question of their own design. You learn from the questions players ask, as well as everyone’s answers.

Alternatively, rather than a boring, five-pager, you ask a question each game session while you wait for folks to arrive and get settled. You choose thought-provoking questions that merit a bit of discussion. Maybe you pick voting questions, where players can raise their hand to vote, saving them all that pesky writing more traditional surveys demand.

If you have a list of questions, maybe players examine the list and take turns choosing what question(s) you want them to answer in writing each session during idle moments.

Make It In-Character

A sure way to improve participation and response quality is to create questions so they can be answered in-character. This allows players to roleplay, explore their character’s personality in a new and different way, and give you more information about the characters in addition to getting the question answered.

  • “Now that the campaign has ended, let’s figure out what we want for the new one. Put yourself in your next character’s shoes. What kind of adventures does he want? Where does he want to live? Who does he want to meet?”
  • “Name three things that [character name] has enjoyed most about the last three months.”
  • “List five legends, stories, or rumors that have captured [character name] interest in the past few years.”

Be Clear About What You Want To Learn

A survey is useless if it sabotages what you are trying to achieve. The best way to avoid this is to know exactly what you want to learn from the survey results. This knowledge will help you get to the point, craft shorter and clearer questions, and get specific in your survey wording.

For example, you might want to know what night is best for everyone to play. You could ask players what their preferred game nights are. However, your schedule only allows Mondays, Wednesdays, and weekends.

So, why don’t you ask specifically?

Circle the days can you play:  Monday Wednesday Saturday Sunday

A Discussion Is Often Better

Your first instinct might be to hand out survey forms for your players to fill out and return. Not everybody likes writing, and some people communicate poorly in writing, making it less likely they’ll respond, or respond with quality answers.

Instead, decide if a group discussion wouldn’t be better. You take on the role of mediator (use your GMing skills for this 🙂 and take notes as players discuss. You seed the discussion with questions, and to steer wayward chatter back on topic with a gentle but firm hand. Record the conversation if you don’t want to be distracted with note- taking.

A counterpoint is you might not get the best results from quiet players or gamers who are more eloquent with the pen than with the tongue. Feel free to conduct private discussions, or offer the opportunity for players to respond with additional comments by e-mail or in writing.

In general, discussions or verbal surveys are faster and easier than written surveys. They also allow you to make course corrections as you go. For example, you might realize you forgot a question. It’s easy to add it into a discussion, but it’s too late for a print survey.

If you opt for a group interview, note these tips:

  • Come prepared with questions.
  • Be sure about what you want to learn so the interview generates the desired feedback.
  • Consider the environment. A private place is often more comfortable, especially for quiet players. Seating can be a factor as well.
  • Listen. You are passionate about your topics. It’s tempting to talk over others, to impose your preferences, to slant discussion, or to choose to hear what you want to hear. Keep an open mind, listen with your mouth closed, and be scientific and objective. 🙂
  • Clear up uncertainties. It never hurts to clarify something. If you think a player is holding back, or people are having trouble putting thoughts into words, don’t give up. Try attacking the problem from different angles; try different questions, examples, and approaches.

Keep It Short

Surveys are only fun for a while. Then they get boring. Then tiring. Then frustrating. Keep your players happy by making your survey short.

  • Multiple choice questions are faster to answer than essay questions. They are also less frustrating than True/False. Leave room for comments to allow opt-in additional feedback.
  • Split long surveys up. Do you need to know everything right now? Could some questions wait for a follow-up survey? Could you ask one question each session, or hand out a one question survey after each session?
  • What is the most important information you want? Consider pushing off the “like to have” information until later, and just get the “need to have” answers now.

Only Request Votes For What’s Up For Grabs

Here’s another mistake I’ve made: only offer true choices. You will have strong preferences, things you will and will not game or GM, and items that have to be a certain way. There’s no point in asking for votes or opinions on things the players cannot change. This just creates disappointment and contention.

You are better off communicating what’s already in place, has already been decided, and what you want before the players join rather than asking for votes and hoping the voting will go your way.

This way, players know what they are getting into and can opt-in fully informed. A survey will not make them agree or like something more; it will just get players upset. “If the game has to be at Bob’s place, then why did you ask us where we preferred to play?!”

If a conflict arises over something you are flexible on, then open a dialogue with the players and work something out. Otherwise, make it a requirement for joining.

For example, if you are unwilling to GM certain genres, don’t poll the players on what genres they want to play and hope their preferences match yours. Either recruit for a game of your preferred genre, or offer a multiple choice question that excludes the genres you aren’t willing to GM.

Take Your Own Survey

With what you want to learn clearly defined, take your own survey and assess your answers. It’s tough to be objective because you are familiar with the thinking that went into each question and will make assumptions, but taking your own survey is free 🙂 and is a quick test that can reveal flaws before presenting to your players.

In addition, time yourself. If it felt long to you, it will feel much longer to your players.

Another test: ask yourself if the survey was fun or interesting. Will your players enjoy taking it, or will they make excuses and do something else instead?

Use The Results

The reward for taking a survey should be that answers are read, thought about, and factored into your game. I’ve been guilty in the past of being too busy to review answers often, so their impact isn’t felt. That means the next time a player is asked to fill out a survey, they could ask, “Why bother? What difference will it make?” Don’t make them right.

Before you even begin the survey process, figure out if you have the time to do it properly, and if you can ensure the players’ efforts will bear fruit.

Surveys You Can Use

Here are links to example surveys.

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Campaign Survey

From Andreas Davour

I once read about a game master who had a questionnaire where he described in one short paragraph each campaign he had plans for and wanted to run. He also included what game system each would use.

All potential players then got to grade the campaigns, and if they put a zero grade it would mean, “I don’t want to play this, even if it means no gaming at all.” I think he said he did two campaigns a year like that and each player got a fixed amount of points to use for grading.

I’ve never used the system myself, but it sounds like a great way to get both players and GM happy. If I had 15 players and time for two campaigns a year I would try it out.

Maybe the gentleman who designed the system is reading this and can chime in if I’ve mis-remembered any vital detail. I think it was neat system that someone else might have use for, though.

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Award EXPs

From Kate Manchester

I have sent surveys to my players before. I typically considered it homework, and as such, completing it was worth experience points. Most of them did actually send them in. Personally, I think yes or no or multiple choice questions really don’t give you enough information.

I also tried to keep my surveys simple. But I would say that asking your players what they are looking for in a game could save both you and your players a lot of grief later on.

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Surveys – A Word Of Caution

From Mike Bourke

As to the request regarding surveys, I would sound a cautionary note. I once produced a survey of this type in an attempt to revitalize a flagging campaign. The players were unanimous that they were a waste of time, and for several, they were the last straw.

I have found that it’s a far better proposal to bring about, in the course of play, the opportunity for the PCs to pull key levers within the campaign format. Let them make the changes within the campaign without the bureaucratic mechanism of producing a form for them to fill out, which then has to be interpreted.

For example, put them in a situation, in which they have the option to redefine the spread of magic throughout the campaign world (vs. its concentration into rarer, high-level items), the dominance of human sentience over other species, the degree of involvement of the gods in everyday life, etc.

Additional Survey Tips

Here are more survey tips from the archives:

Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters

Have a roleplaying tip you’d like to share? E-mail it to [email protected] – thanks!

Virtual Tabletop Software Tips

From Nicole

Don’t Make Everyone Wait

Waiting can kill an online RPG fast. In combat, type out your response before your turn comes around. If you’re not sure what you’ll do yet, type out several possibilities. Keep a notepad document open and type your possible actions in there, then paste them into the gaming client when your turn comes.

Don’t make your fellow players guess whether you are just watching TV or if your connection has died. If you find your attention drifting away to something else while you wait for others to respond, turn on sounds in your client so you get a little *ping* or something similar when somebody types something. That way you can let your attention drift, but then snap it back when you know the posting has resumed.

Take Advantage of Emotes

I know in OpenRPG (my client of choice) you can type “/me does this” and it will post a message that says “Jiru does this”. Rather than typing, “I attack the goblin!”  Type “/me notches an arrow and lets it fly, aiming at the goblin’s eye socket!”

I’ve found emotes can improve your roleplaying by encouraging you to think about what and how your character does things, rather than just what she’s saying. Also, typing little random emotes (like “/me brushes the dirt off of her armor”) gives your character flavor and lets everyone else know that your connection is still working.

Don’t Worry Too Much About Typos

You’re not writing a research paper. Speed matters more than accuracy in online games. It’s nice if you can type fast and accurately, but as long as your message is understandable no one will care whether you typed “your” instead of “you’re”.

I cringe when I let a typo slip past into the chat, but I don’t bother to correct it unless it’s completely unclear what I said. Did you konw taht you can raed alosmt ayhtning as lnog as the frist and lsat ltteres are in the right palce? Most people will simply read over a typo without even realizing it. Posting again to correct something nobody noticed can just break the flow of the game.

Set Up a Forum or Wiki or Other Online Space

For in- between game communications. You can use this space to announce when someone will be late or absent, to lay out the rules of the game, and to do some between-session roleplaying. This is particularly useful if all players can check the forum on a regular basis. If one player doesn’t manage to check the forum one week he may find himself missing out on a lot of information he needed for that week’s game.

Take Advantage of The Text Format

When casting spells or performing special actions, paste the rules for that spell or action into your post. (In OpenRPG, you can create a “node” to save text like this that you’ll find the need to paste often.) You can do this in addition to whatever else you’d like to type.

Include a link to the full online rules if you can (as in the case of the SRD for D20 games). This minimizes the amount of time it takes someone to look up whether they can affect four goblins with their spell or just three.

So, instead of simply typing “I cast bless” you can type the following (taking advantage of emotes and having prepared your post before your turn came around):

** Jiru hums a strange tune, and at the crescendo of the song she claps, sending a thump throughout the room that is more felt than heard. The shock wave alights on her allies, giving them a sense of confidence as if a god were looking over their shoulders, while the wave passes harmlessly around her enemies. **

Jiru: Bless: 1st level, casting time: 1 standard action, components: V S DF, [link].

Keep OOC Comments Out of The Chat as Much as Possible

When a lot of people are talking at once it can be hard to keep up. Out of character comments confuse the situation even more. When you absolutely have to make an out of character comment (such as asking the GM what size the tunnel is or if the goblin is in reach of your bow) make sure it’s obviously marked as such.

One standard is to put ((double parentheses)) around your text. Some clients may even have a built-in way of doing this (in OpenRPG if you enable the appropriate plugin you can type “/ooc This is my comment” to post “(( This is my comment ))”.

It’s tempting to talk about the funny commercial you just saw on TV or make fun of the way the orc spectacularly missed his attack roll, but comments like this should be kept to whispers (most clients have a way to “whisper” text so it’s only seen by one or more players, rather than the whole group) or in a different client altogether.

My weekly game has been getting into the habit of opening an AIM chat room in addition to OpenRPG, in which we chat and discuss strategy away from the main room so we don’t bother the DM.

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More Virtual Tabletop Tips

From Tom Thiessen

  1. Keep “boxed text” and descriptions short and sweet. It can be a strain on the eyes to have to read line after line of text. Get the most bang for your buck with 2 or 3 sentences.
  2. Enforce timely responses during combat. I know that using OpenRPG, the program itself indicates whether someone is responding on their initiative. I use two 30-second timers. After 30 seconds they get a warning, another 30 seconds and I skip to the next person in order.
  3. Have lots of maps handy. It’s a lot easier to draw out nicely detailed maps on-the-fly in a real-life session, but not so easy when working with an online group. SkeletonKey Games has a lot of nice maps that can be cut-and-pasted into Photoshop, or any other imaging software.
  4. Learn how to use macros, quick keys, shortcuts, and any other similar features in the software for combat, skill checks, saves, etc. This saves time having to constantly reference a character sheet or statblock. For NPCs/monsters, create nodes for each.
  5. If your gaming client has the ability to create nodes for character sheets, and you’re the DM, learn how to create custom character sheets for your players. It can be time- consuming to have to work through the various sheets out there to look for one piece of information.
  6. Insist each player use a different font color for easy referencing during play, and when reading the logs.
  7. If your client is able to produce logs, save and review them. They make a great post-session review. Make these logs available to players so they can relive their exploits, and no one gets confused on the details.
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Virtual Tabletop Software

From Tim McNeil

There are two other programs you did not have on your list:

Klooge Werks

While I haven’t used this one, it is written in JAVA, so anyone can run it. I’ve heard that while it doesn’t look as pretty as Fantasy Grounds, it has many features that Fantasy Grounds does not. kLoOge.Werks

Triaxe D&D Chat

This one is free, and while it doesn’t have all the features of the commercial products, it does have a die roller, a map board that everyone can see/draw on, and some special abilities the DM can use. It is a little unstable at times, but works pretty well.

[Johnn: check out this complete list of software, courtesy of Battlegrounds: RPG Edition: Links & Resources ]