Tales from the Gazebo – If you Make it, They Might Fill it Out

If you Make it, They Might Fill it Out
By Cape Rust

I know plenty of GMs that have actually developed player surveys. These surveys can contain any questions you want to ask. The goal of these is to get honest input from your players about what their gaming needs and wants are. If you decide to go the survey route, keep a few points in mind. Ask leading questions, find the sweet spot for the length of the survey, create rewards for players that complete the survey, and know when to conduct the survey.

Just like in courtroom dramas, you must ask leading questions in your survey. Yes and no answers will seldom get you the answers you need. Don’t ask if a player likes pulp action games. Take that great Idea you had and ask something like “If you were playing a pulp action game, what kind of character would you like to play?” The questions in the survey can be part of your shaping and influencing. By asking the pulp action game question, you are getting good information and planting the seeds for the pulp action game you want to run. Don’t just focus on the pulp action game questions, but slip a few in there to make sure the idea takes root. Here are a few sample questions I’ve seen or used in player surveys:

  1. How do you feel about romance in the game?
  2. Do you want a game that centers around one location or do you want the game to traverse the world?
  3. Do you like combat to have a cinematic or raw, gritty feel to it? Why?
  4. What was your favorite game ever and why?
  5. If you were playing a pulp action game, what type of character would you like to play?
  6. Is the character you thought of a Xerox copy of a character you’ve played before?
  7. If you couldn’t play your first choice of character in that game, what would your second choice be?
  8. How do you feel I could improve on my GMing style?
  9. What do you like most about my GMing style?
  10. If you could have any piece of gear in a pulp game, what would it be and why?
  11. Which of our normal house rules do you like?
  12. What would the advantages of playing a low level adventure be?
  13. Why would you want to play a higher level adventure?
  14. Do you prefer rolling stats or a point buy if you have a choice?
  15. What question should I have asked you that I didn’t? And what is your answer?

This is just the tip of the iceberg! I suggest you take questions you like from other GMs and develop a few of your own. Check the interwebz. There are plenty of outstanding player survey questions out there. Now, for the length, size does matter!

I had a GM that had a seventy-five question survey. Seventy-five questions? WTF. I swear I looked for one of those scan-tron machines in her house and I was sure I would need a number two pencil. The survey had some great questions, but I zoned out around question thirty-seven and I can’t even remember how I answered the last thirty-eight. I understood her desire to get to know me as a player but no matter how good the questions were, seventy-five was way too much and when a role player says that is too much, imagine how the roll player feels. That survey alone could kill the game before it even starts. Survey completion should have its rewards.

This is a sticky subject for many folks. I have seen GMs that will give players who complete their surveys amazing “in-game” benefits while others shoot for a more balanced approach that doesn’t hurt non-survey takers too much. I like to give the players that complete the survey an extra feat or talent or, depending on the game mechanic, an extra few points to spend on character creation. These approaches don’t disrupt the balance of power in a group and make surveys worth the player’s time. For one game, I told the players that their characters would each receive one gift if they returned a completed survey to me the following game session which happened to be the character creation session. I waited until the end of the session and based on discussions about their characters, I came up with a few gifts I thought would fit well into the game. I pulled each player that completed the survey aside and asked them what they wanted for their gift and why they wanted that gift. Two players said they didn’t care and the other two asked for specific items. One of the requested items was over-powered and would have changed the game in a bad way. The other requested item ended up being a minor magic item that was a plot-hook device that the player came up with. Talk about making my life easier! No matter how you handle it, only give rewards that you can live with as a GM. Now that you have a kick-butt survey that is just the right length and the rewards are worth your players’ time, you have to know when to conduct the survey.

There are right and wrong times to pop these well-crafted surveys on your players. Every game is different and every group is different. One of the most important things to remember is not to conduct your survey in the middle of your current game. If you know you are running the next game and are using a survey in your shaping and influencing phase, talk to the person who is running the current game and ask them for the best time to pop this survey on the group. You might want to look at doing it before a game session, while people are still fresh. I do not recommend doing these surveys online or sending them home as homework as that often leads to failure. Try to find a time when your entire group is there and knock out the survey quickly and correctly. Another technique is to have the current GM do the survey separately before the rest of the group completes theirs, then have him or her help conduct the survey. This keeps the players focused on the current game and creates some buy in from the current GM.

There are many schools of thought when it comes to surveys. These tips should help you get closer to a happy place when it comes to this often misunderstood tool. You have to remember that these surveys are just a way of getting information from your players. Don’t simply rely on feedback from surveys and if you don’t understand a player’s answer, follow up on it. I like summarizing the players’ answers and reading them back to the entire group. It normally brings up some great thinking points and makes everyone feel like their input is valued. Stay tuned for next week where we start to outline our epic adventure.

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