Words of Advice: How to Write a Good PEL

[Now that our first ever PEL period has come and passed and we have read through the insightful comments that our participants had to offer about our recent event, we wanted to offer a “Word of Advice” post about what we consider to be a “good” PEL.  We have phrased things in generalized terms in the hopes that you find it helpful and illuminating not just for Éras but for any game that you may attend.]

Every game that we have thus far attended or researched has an avenue by which participants can submit their feedback about an event.  While the format varies from game to game the general principle is the same everywhere: We care about what you have to say.

If you have been offered the chance to write a PEL, then, you have been given a great responsibility indeed—make sure to take it seriously and, more importantly, to make it count.  (This holds especially true for games like the Éras Chronicles which offer a tangible incentive to those who submit a PEL.)

Although many PEL formats include an “in-game” section, we recommend that you place a greater emphasis on your out-of-game responses than on your in-game responses.  It can be tempting to neglect the former because the latter is so much more exciting, but to be frank the latter only really matters to the person writing the PEL; it creates a lovely narration of the game from your character’s personal standpoint but offers very little which the managers or staff can use to improve the game, since it doesn’t tell anyone what you really think about the game as a whole, its set up, its aesthetics, its mechanics, and so on—which is, realistically, the whole reason why the staff has solicited PELs to begin with.

When writing your PELs, here are a few simple rules which you should try to follow to the best of your ability:

1. Give credit where credit is due.  If you think that someone—or several someones—did a phenomenal job, say so.  Even more importantly, though, is to explain why you felt that their performances were great.  Consider the difference between the following examples:

  • Example A: “John, you were fantastic.  Great job!”
  • Example B: “John, the way that you portrayed your villain as having real, concrete motivations for acting the way he did was fantastic.  The fact that the players were able to parse out his internal struggles and his back story made him into a relatable character and really forced my character to reevaluate her understanding of good and evil.  Even though in the end my character chose to stand against him, she had a great deal of respect for him, and that’s why she ended up arguing that his life be spared once he had been defeated.”

While example A is nice to hear in a very general sense, it doesn’t offer any insight as to why or how John was so fantastic.  And so even though John might feel good hearing the compliment, he has no notion as to what he specifically did well—and therefore might not know how to replicate his fantastic performance.  Example B, on the other hand, explains exactly what John did well and thereby ensures that he will continue to create compelling, relatable NPCs.

2. Offer criticism—but never without also offering a solution, if you can.  There are bound to be aspects of the game that you didn’t like, either because you didn’t understand why an in-game event happened the way it did, or because you think a skill or character might be mechanically questionable, or a host of other things.  Never be afraid to be honest about these criticisms…but never criticize in an unproductive way, either.  That is, always suggest a way to fix the problem you’ve brought up.  Consider the difference between the following examples:

  • Example A: “I don’t like the Fear spell because it’s overpowered.”
  • Example B: “I hope that staff will consider tweaking the Fear spell’s effects because, as it stands, it seems awfully powerful for a 1 CP skill.  Instead of requiring the target to move completely out of sight of the caster, perhaps the spell’s effects should simply require the target to move at least fifteen feet away and then avoid engaging the caster for the duration of the spell.”

From a staff perspective, example A is helpful but also frustrating, because the commenter has asserted that a mechanical skill is “overpowered” without specifying why or how the problem might be addressed satisfactorily.  Example B, on the other hand, explains very reasonably why the skill in question is powerful for its cost and then goes on to provide a concrete example of how the problem could be fixed.

3. Remember and acknowledge your limitations, and trust the staff to know what they are doing.  As a player, you have little or no access to the behind-the-scenes workings of the game in question.  Something which you perceive to be somehow problematic was almost assuredly discussed before the event ever took place, and the staff usually has very specific reasons for the way that plots, characters, information, and other aspects of the game are put forth.  It’s perfectly fine to offer your commentary or bring up an issue for consideration, but do so with a grain of salt.  Keep in mind that things may be exactly as they seem.  Maybe that “overpowered” character is supposed to be strong for in-game plot reasons.  Perhaps that NPC who used the “All within the sound of my voice” call simply is that rude.  It could be that staff deliberately included a difficult creature in that mod to create the possibility that the players might “lose” the encounter, because it was supposed to be a legitimate challenge.

In other words—when it comes to perceptions, particularly of intent or power-level, definitely make your comments, but give the staff the benefit of the doubt.  And, if and when staff has gotten back to you to explain the reasoning (or even just to assure you that there was a specific reason!), be prepared to accept the explanations at face-value.

Addendum: We posted this on Facebook but we have since been reminded that not everyone uses Facebook–we’re sorry for failing to keep that in mind!  So we wanted to copy and paste it here for your consideration:

We just wanted to make a quick note in response to a trend we’ve observed in the PELs we have thus far received. It seems that a number of players have been making assumptions about the power-level and/or in-game purpose of various NPCs, without having any actual knowledge of the skills or history behind these characters. We appreciate it that people are willing to speak up about the perceived power-level of NPCs, but we ask that such criticisms come as a result of specific and observable instances of excessive skill use or unreasonable in-game actions rather than from the assumption that they are powerful simply because they are played by staffers. We have made every effort on our end to ensure that the power-level of every NPC we send out is appropriately balanced and tailored specifically for the role they are intended to occupy. Generally speaking, the vast majority of NPCs are on par with or weaker than a starting player-character.

In short, it can sometimes be difficult to curb the impulse to make OOG assumptions about an NPC’s IG skills/knowledge/history, but please make the effort and give us the benefit of the doubt. And of course, all this aside, we do want to hear about it if you feel that an NPC was legitimately too powerful or overbearing. Thanks for your feedback!