Stars and Wishes – because Feedback is Hard

If I can point to one technique that’s changed my play through 2021, it’s getting regular feedback after sessions using a technique called Stars and Wishes. It’s become part of the end-of-session routines both for campaign play and especially for one-shots, and I can honestly say it’s made for a better experience every time.

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Great Technique, So-So Name

Yes, it sounds like middle-management speak. Or, to those of us working in education, like “What Went Well / Even Better If” and a million useless feedback strategies used to make teachers feel busy when having no impact. I grabbed it from The Gauntlet, where it used to be called Roses and Thorns – which in some ways sounds even worse. The shift to Stars and Wishes was to make its purpose more explicit, and I can see that.

I should say that the link above shows a few different ways to use it – like everything, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. But here I’ll show how I use it.

What is it?

Stars – At the end of the session, everyone gives some highlights – moments or techniques that they enjoyed. For me, these can be really flexible, but they often include a mixture of

  • Appreciation for the GMs prep work – if running online, and especially if they’ve taught the system e.g. for a one-shot
  • Key moments of roleplay from the other players, or ways the plot twisted – this is more common in PBTA / FITD games
  • Memorable scenes and situations – “I really liked the fight with the Dianoga as we tried to hack the reactor…” / “That skill challenge worked really well” / “I loved the scene between X and Y’s PCs”

Wishes – Everyone also gives some wishes, which can either be things they weren’t too keen on, or things they’d like to see more of. Again, the line between these is often a bit blurry – especially in a one-shot.

  • Requests for more of some things – “I’d like to see more of the Klingon Captain soon, he feels like he should be recurring.”
  • Rules that didn’t quite flow or sit right – sometimes even rulings. These are usually raised by the GM about their own rulings!
  • Structural requests – we had “I’d quite like to fight a bit more,” once in a D&D game

Why it works

Predicated on all of this are some fundamental beliefs I have about how RPGs work – that the GM is as much a player as the rest of the table, and that we all share responsibility for the fun. The GM also does stars and wishes, and their feedback is as equally valid as everyone else’s – it can be as much about player engagement and approaches as their own prep (often, my wishes are about my own prep though – it’s very easy to over-analyse).

If you’re reading this and think you don’t agree with those beliefs, I’ll admit, Stars and Wishes might not be for you. But even if you’re running at a con – I’d ask you to try and get feedback after a session. It’s really difficult sometimes to judge what goes well with players at the table, especially over video chat, and any feedback can certainly help you to improve.

It also provides a good end for a one-shot. Running con games online often leads to a dive in energy at the end – you spend 3 hours in a high-energy game with strangers, and then drop out and back into the real world. At a face to face con, there’s the interstitial bar chat and banter around the venue where you can talk about games and reflect on how it went – but online there isn’t. Stars and Wishes gives you the chance to reflect, and also to thank and engage with your fellow players!

So, have you tried this or similar techniques for feedback? Let me know in the comments!

One Comment

  1. I started using Stars and Wishes last year as well (I don’t mind the name).

    I find stars are a really nice way to finish off a session – a way for everyone to appreciate (and remember) the good things about the game.

    Wishes seem trickier. I run a lot of published one-shot scenarios (over three or four sessions) and so there’s less scope for going beyond the scenario. And wishes often seem to be for the GM to take on board rather than the players.

    One wish that I remember making as a GM was for the player playing the captain to be a bit more captain-y. That worked well, as he stepped up in the next session. (I have no idea if that was the result of my wish or not.) But I’ve not often seen players use wishes on each other such as “I’d like to see your character do a bit more XYZ”. Perhaps that’s for me to tease out.

    However, at the end of each session I ask players where they want to go next, so that I can plan/think about it. That’s a kind of wish, I guess.

    How do you find wishes work for a one-shot? Given that it’s a one-shot, what do you do with them?

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