Active from 2005 to 2007 and dedicated entirely to system-neutral GMing advice, Treasure Tables was one of the earliest RPG blogs. It was also the precursor to Gnome Stew, so we decided the best way to keep all of its content -- over 750 articles and more than 7,500 comments -- accessible to as many GMs as possible was to move it here, which we did in 2012. Comments are turned off, just they as were when Treasure Tables closed in 2007. The GMing material and discussion archived below was originally featured on Enjoy! --Martin Ralya

Over on GameCraft, Levi Kornelson pointed out something I’ve never thought of in concrete terms: feedback at the gaming table is multi-directional. Feedback isn’t just players -> GM, it’s also GM -> players and players -> players — and fun is tied into each of those loops.

It’s one of those things where now that I’ve read it, it seems totally intuitive — and it makes past games where this process took place pop into sharp relief, because as a player and as a GM, I like all three types of feedback.

I’ve covered getting feedback from your players in depth, but I’ve never considered giving feedback to your players, or players giving each other feedback. As GMs, what are the best ways to approach giving our players feedback, and encouraging players to give each other feedback?

About  Martin Ralya (TT)

"Martin Ralya (TT)" is two people: Martin Ralya, the administrator of and a contributor to Gnome Stew, and a time traveler from the years 2005-2007, when he published the Treasure Tables GMing blog (TT). Treasure Tables got started in the early days of RPG blogging, and when Martin burned out trying to run it solo he shut it down, recruited a team of authors, and started Gnome Stew in its place. We moved all TT posts and comments to Gnome Stew in 2012.


7 Responses to Feedback is Multi-Directional

  1. Um, feedback in any social setting is multi-directional. We’re constantly subconsciously adjusting our behavior based on both verbal and nonverbal cues. Why indie games see something like this, turn it into a mechanic, and get praised as innovative is beyond me. Especially when the players keep subconsciously adjusting in the background… *shrug*

    Levi’s “secret of indie gamers” is very true, and worth the link. I guess that’s what I see in the indie game scene – it’s experimentation, not finding the perfect game.

  2. Um, feedback in any social setting is multi-directional.

    True enough! Sometimes I need things spelled out for me, though, and I see value in making this multi-directional process explicit, rather than leaving it implicit — or in the realm of subconscious stuff we do but don’t think about.

    It’s a lot like social contracts in gaming: you don’t have to make them explicit, but it’s usually beneficial to do so — and even if you don’t go that route, just thinking about them can be useful.

  3. Very true. I don’t mean to imply that this stuff is obvious. A lot of the time, it isn’t, and that’s where I think the indie games are showing the most payoff (to borrow their lingo) – in making us think about things in a different light.

  4. I couldn’t agree more. When I started TT, I was just starting to learn about things like social contracts (etc.), and since then one of my explicit goals here has been to bring concepts like this — usually divorced from hardcore theory, which I often don’t fully understand — up in ways that encourage GMs (myself included) to think about gaming in different ways.

  5. I think a lot of the reasons that giving advice to players, or from player to player, and in fact a lot of the reasons that indie games are seen as so unique, is because of the hard and fast rules about gaming that were set by DND in its first inceptions.

    DND pretty much set the way things were, and how things were done. Everything that has come after had to mimic or work around the precedents set by DND. Like awarding experience. The GM always does it, and there is little player input, or the fact that players are seen as strictly in control of their characters and trying to control them makes you a bad GM (which it usually does). These are the eggshells or landmines in the field that people developing new games have to step around, or GMs trying to do things uniquely have issues with.

    One of the best techniques I’ve used to get players and GMS thinking differently about how they play is to put everything up in view for everyone to see. I like to GM with a big blank wall behind me. I use a big sticky easel (made for kids drawings, it’s like a giant post it note), and write down the players names, character names, player points, etc on a sheet each. I write down important NPC names and one line descriptions on another sheet, I write down bits of the social contract on a separate sheet, and then I put them up on the wall for everyone to see. That helps to foster that kind of multi-directional conversation at the table.

  6. OK, that should have read “I think a lot of the reasons that giving advice to players, or from player to player is not readily done, . . . ”

    I’m in the midst of a horrible cold, and cold medicine is turning down the volume on my brain cells right now.

  7. One of the easiest ways I know to encourage player to player feedback is to give bonus rewards. I’ve long given bonus XP, Hero Points, and other such rewards for any player action that draws in other players to scene. That creates a defacto feedback mechanism, because players can’t draw each other in if they don’t communicate. I also tend to rush scenes that involve few players and slow scenes that involve many. And I’m explicit, OOC, saying that I’m doing it. That means that if you are enjoying a scene, you have a vested interest in making the other players involved.

    There is nothing earthshattering about that technique, either. Many GMs do it, because after all more player involvement means more fun. However, it’s one of those things where the side effects are also useful at a social level. It’s especially nice because the GM doesn’t even need to understand all the social techniques that the players use in this case. Give the players the incentive to use whatever techniques are available to them, and they will.

    BTW, I find that this is also a useful way to get player to GM feedback. When one player goes to some trouble to involve other players, exactly how that player does it tells me something–since I’m right there, watching the whole thing. A player that might be shy about giving the GM feedback can feel more comfortable giving feedback to other players.

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