We Only Think of the Gold

RPT GM Patrick writes in response to my tip about playtesting our encounters with mental playthroughs:

Good morning my fellow GM!

This approach has been truly amazing, as you mentioned, in addressing any peculiarities that might have been overlooked during the initial creation phase.

I’ve been employing this method for several months now, and the impact it has had on both my players and myself has been remarkable.

Mentally playtesting scenarios has significantly leveled up the quality of information and descriptions provided for every conceivable situation.

The catalyst for this shift in my prep approach was realizing that I had been only scratching the surface with my NPC details and I felt uneasy roleplaying them.

Through playtesting, I determined that my discomfort stemmed from not delving deep enough into the NPC motivations and personalities.

Consequently, engaging in conversations with my players has become much more organic, as I’m now able to empathize with the NPCs and build interactions from there.

Overall, this approach has been truly game-changing; sessions have become more immersive, and players are naturally drawn to interact more with the prepared environment.

Thank you for all the invaluable tips and guides you’ve shared over the years!


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Thanks Patrick. That is amazing to hear!

I like what you said about identifying a core problem that you could focus on and level up, like your NPCs.

The primary pitfall of GMs who get blindsided by their players often is assuming the party will only make plot-perfect choices.

While we need to imagine how encounters fail to reach their potential, you went one step further and identified a GMing factor that, upon fixing, gave you permanent GM XP.

Well done!

How can we all use this technique to improve our encounters and GMing?

  1. Design an encounter.
  2. Play it through in your mind.
  3. Start your mental playthrough by testing every hook.
  4. Imagine how you’d describe the encounter by scanning the situation in your mind’s eye and calling out what you see.
  5. Guess what each character will do on their turn.
  6. Imagine how you’d GM each character’s action.
  7. Imagine how foes will respond to character actions.
  8. Imagine how the ConflictScape evolves each round.
  9. Imagine how the encounter ends.

Perfect! We discovered all kinds of details and, hopefully, opportunities to improve our design.

However, we can also review the encounter playtest and ask ourselves:

  1. How could the hooks fail?
  2. What player decisions would derail your ideal encounter outcome?
  3. How can you involve every character in the encounter?
  4. What might the NPCs say?
  5. Are there any better tactics the foes could use?
  6. What parts did you gloss over or imagine in far less detail?

That last question could surface areas of weakness, lack of confidence, or lack of knowledge. A very important self-discovery, if made!

Have more fun at every game!

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