Monday, June 6, 2016

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Feedback for GMs and Players

In my offline DnD group, we recently wrapped up a 6 month campaign. It was a great ride, with a lot of action, intrigue, fun background, and player impact. It was even more impressive because it was our DM’s first try at the big chair. He put in a massive amount of elbow grease into both his world-building and his session-running skills, and he introduced a feedback mechanism that I found I found intriguing and haven't seen elsewhere.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Here's how it works. After play is finished, the GM holds as many of the players as possible. Then they ask each player to give them the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly from the session they just played.

The Good: Specifically, this is what the GM did that worked the best. It could be a fun fight, a great plot twist or game mechanic that was introduced, or a fun and well-acted NPC. Or it could be how a table issue from last time was fixed, or how the GM handled having more or fewer players than expected. Just tell the GM what you liked about how they handled the session. If someone else has made some praise that you agree with you can back them up on it, or you can choose something else that was fun to talk about. Hold off on praising the other players for just now.

The Bad: Now it's time for constructive criticism. If the GM needed to brush up on some rules, if the pacing was weird, if someone got unfairly hosed, now is the time to talk about. I would say it’s occasionally fair to bring up other players here, if someone was grossly disruptive. Ultimately, that's on the GM to police. The important thing is that complaints are about specific things the GM can address. Again, you can choose to endorse or reword previous complaints if you want, or come up with another one.

This might be a slightly more accurate title
The Ugly: What about the players?! Give credit where it's due your one of your fellow players for something awesome and/or hilarious they did in character. There are just two rules: Don't vote for yourself, and don't repeat other player’s Ugly moments. If someone has praised Bob for the way he saved the party with a well-timed fireball, throw it out to Amy for RPing how shocked she was that Bob from Accounting was actually a wizard. Or maybe how Bob passed the fireball off to the police officer as “swamp gas” later in the session.

Player Moments: Our traditional follow-up, where the GM gives credit to each of the players in turn for something cool they did. This can reinforce Ugly moments that the player might have been awarded, but we usually used this for a more measured assessment of the best parts of how everyone played. In particular, this lets the GM talk up something good that a newer or quieter player did very well that the other players might not have noticed.


This is a great example of how sandwich feedback works. What's the sandwich method? Simply put, when you give feedback you start with positive notes, then cover criticism and things that should be done differently, then finish up with more positive feedback. Talk about cool stuff the GM did, talk about what the GM could have done better, talk about something cool another player did. Done wrong, it comes across as insincere and unable to get to the point. Done right it places a fair amount of emphasis on the both the good and bad. Play with good people and they should have no trouble doing it right.

It also forces players to think about and discuss GMing issues and the actions of other players. By putting everyone on the spot, it forces players to articulate both what they liked and didn’t like about the sessions. Conflict-avoidant players have a socially-mandated “excuse” to voice concerns and malcontents are forced to acknowledge what they do like about the game. The GM gets a chance to acknowledge and respond to player concerns. And everyone’s forced to think about how hard it is to get GMing “right”.

So, how does this work in practice? Quite nicely in my experience. We did this with a really large group (7-9 players on a typical day), and the large size worked to our advantage for once, as it was easy to identify which Good and Bad nominations were widely agreed with and which were just individual preference. It also led to players keeping an eye out for good moments to award an Ugly to another player. Scaling it down to a small party (say four players or less), I would encourage players to bring up any Good or Bad moments on their mind.

What are the downsides? Well for one thing it eats up time. If a lot of players have a tightly defined amount of time to play in, you might be better off just playing instead. And the focus on what the GM can do to make the player experience better is going to wear on some GMs.

The Ugly and the MVP

I know some GURPS GMs like Peter Dell'Orto and Christopher Rice have their players decide on an MVP who wins a CP bounty to encourage good play. How would that interact with awarding players Ugly moments? Well, I wouldn't recommend turning The Ugly into MVP nominations. The latter tend towards consensus, while the whole point of the way the former is constructed is to recognize multiple players.

One possibility is to hand out MVP after the Good, the Bad and the Ugly. This reminds everyone of the cool stuff that happened during the session. But that might turn Ugly moments into defacto MVP nominations. I  think it's a better idea to award the MVP first, and then reserve The Ugly for funny bits and great roleplaying by all the players, and awesome stuff that players who weren't MVP did.

The Last Word

So, should you start recognizing the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly at your table? That's ultimately up to you. It absolutely requires a GM that is attentive and interested in player feedback. If you feel like your table already has a good feedback culture, you definitely don’t need to start a new ritual. But I'd strongly recommend this tool for a GM who is new or feels that they need to level-grind their Session Running skill.

No comments:

Post a Comment