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!

Spotlight Maintenance and the Three-Skill Trick: A One-Shot Prep Technique

After several cons in the last few weeks, I’ve come to realise how important spotlight sharing is in One-Shot games. In some games, a structured turn helps to make this happen naturally, especially in combat; in D&D, for instance, everyone has a role to play in combat, so generally a fight has the spotlight shared reasonably equally. But in games that are less combat-centric, such as investigative games, it can be easy to neglect some characters and favour others. And even in D&D, outside of combat it can be easy to make the game focus more on some PCs and not others.

So, in thinking about this, I present…

The Three-Skill Trick

You do this at some point in your prep after you have your pregens ready. You might only have the bare bones of your plot – in which case this might take you in unexpected directions – or you might have the game basically prepped – in which case this will add detail and options that will check that everyone has plenty to do.

Start by looking at your pregens and working out what they are really good at – this will include their “Apex skill,” whatever they are best at, but also anything that they have a Talent/Stunt/whatever your system calls them that can boost it. Sometimes talents can have specific instances – for instance in FFG Star Wars Talents sometimes just remove penalty dice – so consider if those instances can occur in the game.

Then list three places in the scenario for each pregen where these skills can shine. Make sure these are skill uses that hinge on success – passing them adds significant value and plot leverage to the game.

Why three? Well, not all of them may come up, no matter how obvious you think they might be. By having three, you’re guaranteeing as close as you can that it’ll come up at least once. This is easier to illustrate with an example, so let’s look at a classic/boring adventure structure, and let’s stick to D&D, the “Bandits on the Road” adventure.

Imagine this is as far as our prep goes for this 1st level D&D adventure: the PCs are hired to escort a caravan through the dangerous woods; part way through they are ambushed by bandits, who run off with a vital item. The PCs are offered double their fee to track the bandits and recover the item, from which they can then return to civilisation.

Just to stick to the cliche, let’s assume a bog-standard D&D party of Fighter, Magic-User, Thief, and Cleric, and let’s make them good at standard 1st Edition AD&D things – the Cleric can heal and speak to people, the Fighter can, er, Bend Bars and Lift Gates, and hit things with his sword; you get the idea.

Let’s look at each PC in turn and look at what we can add to give them a proper spotlight.


  • during the ambush, the caravan is forced into a rut and loses a wheel – it needs lifting up and repairing
  • during the ambush, one of the bandits is carrying a shield bearing the heraldic crest of the Duke’s bastard son – foreshadowing that…
  • the bandits have a champion, the Duke’s disgraced bastard son, who seeks to duel the fighter in single combat


  • The camp is nestled up a cliffside – by climbing the (fairly easy) cliffs it can be scouted and alarms cut off
  • The bandits around the camp (or even during the ambush) carry obvious keys that can be pickpocketed from them
  • The camp has tripwire traps all around the approach to the forest


  • At the start of the ambush, the merchant’s wife is shot and dangerously wounded – she needs healing
  • During the night – during which the PCs must travel to get to the bandit camp – restless spirits and ghosts stalk the forest
  • There are druids in the forest who are none too happy about the caravans coming through, but a friendly approach leads to their help against the bandits, who they are equally displeased with


  • the stolen item is an arcane box that can be magically tracked
  • during the camp ambush, there are lots of braziers and pots of oil (that can easily be mage hand-ed to cause distraction)
  • from the ambush, they find a map to the bandit camp – but it is in code

Obviously, this isn’t quite game-ready, but I’d argue it’s a significant improvement on the standard adventure already. All it needs is a re-arranging into order and a few stats and names, and it’s a pretty serviceable one-shot. Watch this space and I might even do that – after all, I did try and chisel a decent one-shot out of another classic/corny adventure plot, “The Orc And The Pie.”

What are your tricks for managing spotlight in one-shots? Have you tried a similar technique? And watch out for Part 2, where I’ll apply it to a more complex base adventure.