We all want to run better games - and the best way to run better games....is to ask! To share what we are loving, what we want to see more of, and what we would like to see changed.
Stars and Wishes is a simple tool that encourages positive feedback and gentle forward-looking criticism.
I originally introduced Stars and Wishes to the Gauntlet community in response to negative experiences I had using Roses & Thorns - a popular debrief tool used within the Gauntlet and the wider rpg community. The metaphor it relies on is strong: sometimes when you try to pick roses, you catch yourself on thorns.
Stars and Wishes has been criticized as just a softer version of Roses and Thorns: but I’m a big word nerd, and think that semantics - the implications and feelings associated with words - is a big thing. This is clearly visible in the case of Thorns vs. Wishes: a thorn has already pricked you, and you speak about a negative experience/element of the game that occurred while you were playing. Wishes are forward facing: an optimistic request for change, and when a thorn is reframed as a wish it becomes positive and productive.
It is softer - it’s also kinder and more generous, and closely aligned with how we aim to communicate and treat one another within the Gauntlet community.
The first little section of this post - Basic Stars and Wishes - will show you how to use it. The second - Advanced Stars and Wishes - will introduce you to how some great GMs have employed and adapted it themselves!
At the conclusion of a game session everyone who played (including the facilitator, if any) offers a Star to another player, to a moment in the game, or to an element of the overall experience (you can give out more stars if you have time). You can award a star for - amazing roleplay, great character moments, amazing descriptions by the GM, the feeling you had at a certain moment, another player’s generosity, a mechanic of the game system that really sang, etc. A star is a thing you loved about the game - if the game you played was amazing it is often hard to choose!
After stars have been given, everyone makes a Wish. Each player tells the table something they would like to see happen in a future session. You can make a wish about - something you want to see happen with your own character, an interaction you’d love to see between two characters, a mechanic you would like to see come into play that you haven’t seen yet, places you hope the story might go, etc.
The following section includes examples of extensions of Stars and Wishes beyond a simple debrief tool.
1. Allow wishes to inform your planning for future sessions!
This is not so much an extension of the tool as it is part of the intent of Stars and Wishes that I wanted to highlight. Why ask for feedback if you’re not gonna use it, right!?
Stars and Wishes in Action: You can see Sid scribbling down notes about all of our stars and wishes, and he drew on these heavily in future sessions:
I have personally also used stars at the start of sessions as a refresher entering play, often framing them as opening credits scenes. This can get everyone back on the same page after a break.
3. Tyler uses both Stars and Wishes and Roses and Thorns, as he personally desires stronger criticism at the end of a series. He wants to know specifically what didn’t work - particularly when playtesting or running a new system. I have experienced him using Roses and Thorns in the final session of a series to great effect.
Of course, if as a game runner or game designer you want more specific or stronger criticism - ask for it!
Bonus age old wisdom ‘One That Plants Thorns Must Never Expect To Gather Roses’