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Sean Punch [userpic]

Another week in the life of GURPS

May 11th, 2012 (09:11 pm)

current mood: working

Lots of news this week, so let's call it Boann. She has these tidings for you:

• Nikki sent out the production PDF of Pyramid #3/43, and PK (peekitty) turned around comments on it. Expect this soon.

GURPS Locations: Hellsgate, by Matt Riggsby (wombattery), got its art and a production review! It now awaits prepress, although there's still a fairly long queue for that.

GURPS Power-Ups 5, by y.t., also got its art and a production review!! It, too, is now waiting for prepress.

• We got some art news on GURPS Banestorm: Martial Arts, by David T. Moore; GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 15: Henchmen, by Peter Dell'Orto (peterdellorto) and y.t.; GURPS Hot Spots: Constantinople, 527-1204 A.D., by Matt Riggsby (wombattery); GURPS Locations: St. George's Cathedral, by Michele Armellini; GURPS Locations: Worminghall and GURPS Underground Adventures, both by Bill Stoddard (whswhs); and Transhuman Space: Wings of the Rising Sun, by David Chart. None of these are out of the woods yet! However, the trees now look more like shrubs.

• I reached the 87.2% mark by word count on the new edition of the Discworld RPG, by Phil Masters (phil_masters). That takes me to the very end of the NPCs.

• We kicked off the playtest of GURPS High-Tech: Adventure Guns, by Hans-Christian Vortisch.

• We also started the peer review of GURPS Thaumatology: Chinese Elemental Powers, by Bill Stoddard (whswhs).


Posted by: whswhs (whswhs)
Posted at: May 12th, 2012 02:26 am (UTC)

I'm eager to see the maps for Worminghall, especially because I have a campaign set there starting up in mid-July, but also just because maps? how cool is that?

Posted by: Þorkell Sigvaldason (thorkell)
Posted at: May 12th, 2012 01:30 pm (UTC)

What determines if a book gets a playtest rather than a peer review? Or do they get both?

Posted by: Elizabeth McCoy (archangelbeth)
Posted at: May 12th, 2012 03:41 pm (UTC)

In my experience, all GURPS playtests are closer to peer reviews, though if time allows, there can be actual play as well.

Edit: (silly tablet!) I haven't seen anything billed as a "peer review" before. Perhaps this indicates a more limited, pre-selected group of reviewers, rather than an all-call lottery on the forums?

Edited at 2012-05-12 03:43 pm (UTC)

Posted by: whswhs (whswhs)
Posted at: May 13th, 2012 06:40 am (UTC)

That is indeed how it works. Social Engineering had a playtest and has playtest credit to about fifteen people. Worminghall had a peer review, and will acknowledge help from, I believe, four people. The size and preselection of the group are indeed the real differences between the two; an actual playtest is nice, but can't be counted on to happen.

Posted by: Sean Punch (dr_kromm)
Posted at: May 13th, 2012 03:32 pm (UTC)

Internally, we've been using the term "peer review" for about 10 years. It's code for "a review exclusively by freelance writers and editors who have demonstrated a grasp of SJ Games' style and editorial process." These are effectively the peers of the author of the work under the microscope, whence the term.

There is an intermediate step between "peer review" and "playtest" which involves a small, handpicked group of very experienced playtesters who aren't technically the writer's peers (they're unpublished) but who are so good with rules that they might well be the writer's betters in that department. This doesn't really have a cute name . . . internally, we've called it things like "closed playtest" and "focused playtest." We informally call the playtesters who do this the "A-Team," though they rarely shoot down helicopters.

To playtesters wondering how you get picked for the latter task: A decade or more of ordinary playtest credits on dozens of books is a start; nobody gets to jump in without experience. Consistently pulling out the spreadsheet and double-checking every NPC, template, etc. down to the last point gets our attention, too. And running actual playtest campaigns and delivering after-action reports is vital. Those who put this stuff behind trying to do the editor's job, and who use playtest time to critique writing instead of to check crunch and evaluate actual-play value, aren't likely to get tapped for this duty.

Posted by: Elizabeth McCoy (archangelbeth)
Posted at: May 15th, 2012 02:57 am (UTC)

Huh! How had I missed that? *ponder* Oh, having a 12-year-old kid might explain some of that...

Posted by: Sean Punch (dr_kromm)
Posted at: May 13th, 2012 03:09 pm (UTC)

The two main determiners are length and rules density.

If the manuscript is short, the economics of it are such that we must keep all parts of the process short. The final work will fill relatively few pages, and the low price we can charge for that means that we have to be speedy about getting it from first draft to published product. This forces us to use fewer reviewers and give them less time. This in turn pushes the review toward professional work; a "crowd-sourcing" approach isn't really compatible with "fast and systematic." Experienced writers have a better grasp of deadlines and review processes in general, and thus are a better match to the realities imposed by filthy money.

If the manuscript is more qualitative (adventure seeds, genre analysis, GM advice, setting description, etc.) than quantitative (equipment tables, new rules, NPC character sheets, templates, etc.), then it's a candidate for peer review. This is because the main work needed is a critique of the writing – and for that, published writers are more qualified than most playtesters. Whereas if crunchy stuff dominates, it's important to have many people check the math (a task at which gamers excel) and trying the rules in play (which is the very definition of "playtest").

Which means that playtests are more for long, rules-filled items (like GURPS Martial Arts and GURPS Powers) that need lots of math checked and lengthy trials in actual play, and that represent so much auctorial and editorial work that, alongside those time budgets, the time needed for a full-fledged playtest is justifiable.

I know that at least a few playtesters will read this explanation and be insulted that we don't want them critiquing writing. So it goes. The fact is that this was never the role of playtesters, even if some appointed themselves to the task. Since before my time on staff, SJ Games' playtest instructions have spelled out that this isn't really the playtesters' job. What we really want and mostly need from playtesters is actual playtesting and stats-checking; therefore, if we think a work doesn't lend itself to the first and/or doesn't require the second, we're liable to prioritize critiquing the writing, at which point writing professionals are the more qualified candidates.

Edited to Add: In summary, it comes down to whether we're more concerned about writing or game play. Logic dictates that we have writers assess the first and gamers look at the second.

Edited at 2012-05-13 03:18 pm (UTC)

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