by Mike Shea on 29 February 2016
We can have a lot of personalities at our table and trying to balance them all out to ensure they're all having a good time can be hard work. Feedback is vital to ensure we grow and improve as game masters. It can be hard to get good, useful, and honest feedback for our game, however. The type of feedback we want to receive requires asking useful questions. Today we're going to look at effective questions we can ask our players to get the good feedback to help us improve our game.
This is a good positive question to ask that gives you an idea which parts of the game your players enjoyed the most. You can usually figure out which parts of the game people didn't enjoy just by the process of deduction. It also gives you a clue which types of gameplay each of your players enjoy. Players are also likely to talk about things their characters did, which gives you direct access to the hooks you can use to integrate their character into the game.
Make sure to write down their answers. Keep these notes with your game prep material (which is likely just a couple of 3x5 cards if you're paying attention) and review it before you prepare your next game.
This is another positive question that gets your players thinking about what they will enjoy later. The answers to this question can directly influence where you take the game in the next session.
You can break this question down as well. What are they looking forward to in the story? What are they looking forward to for their character?
The positive nature of this question is a good way to hear what they want more of without them bashing what has come before. If you use it correctly, this gives players direct agency over the game they're playing. Again, write down their answers and use them. None of these answers do you any good if you don't figure out how to incorporate them back into the game.
The fantasy RPG 13th Age builds this question right into their system with the "Player Picks: Adding Recurring Elements to the Game" section on page 189:
At the end of every game session that has gone well, the GM may ask you to pick an element of the session's fiction you'd like to see as a recurrent part of the campaign. You might choose an NPC, a city, a type of monster, a legend, a magic item that got away, an ambiguously aligned cult of ecstatic dancing, or any other engaging element of the campaign that appeared in the current session.
Sometimes you need to refocus players on specific story elements rather than getting general feedback like "I liked the battles today" or "that dragon was a pain in the ass". Ask questions like "how did you like the bartender, Alvond Foggyglass?" or "what did you think of the Cult of the Devourer? Do you want to see more of them?"
Michael Mallen, the Id DM, offers advice that we might focus our questions on the specific three pillars of D&D: interaction, exploration, and combat. We might ask specifically how our players enjoyed scenes based on these three pillars. Here are some examples:
"In today's adventure we had a battle with Talis the White, the interaction with the captured cultist, and the discovery of the trained wyverns. Which of these three did you enjoy the most?"
As you seek to improve your game, you'll want to tailor your own questions to help you get specific feedback on the things you want to improve. Spend some time thinking about your own questions that help you do this. Above all, keep the following ideas in mind as you tune your questions:
You're likely to get better feedback by asking these questions right at the end of the game. Don't count on getting good feedback in email. Many times they'll just ignore it or forget about what really mattered to them. You'll also miss out on their body language when they're answering. The unspoken messages you receive can give you a lot of feedback you won't simply get in text.
Above all, keep this whole process simple. People don't want to answer twenty questions about your D&D game. One or two questions is about the best you'll get before the whole thing becomes too formal and weird. Asking what they enjoyed about the game is a nice casual question that can give you a lot of good information.
However you incorporate feedback into your game, you will likely find it to be an invaluable resource as you continue to improve as a GM. Stay open, pay attention, and keep learning. That's the way to become a true game master.