AquaVertigo Publishing

Playtesting at Metatopia 2019

With Metatopia returning to hosting an in-person event on Nov. 2-5, 2023, I thought I would share my memories of playtesting at Metatopia in 2019.

What Metatopia Is

First, let me share what Metatopia is to me. It’s a convention for game designers by game designers, based in Morristown, NJ.

Here’s more: quoted text from the official website…

METATOPIA is the place to unveil new ideas and new additions to existing material, and to share them with friends and peers, old and new.

Join hundreds of Designers and Publishers for 50+ hours of scheduled playtests, seminars, panels and discussions. Events will include hundreds of role playing games, story games, LARPs, board games, card games and wargames.

METATOPIA is both a freeform exchange of gaming AND a tightly scheduled Double Exposure convention. Rather than having the gamemasters focus on the attendees, we have turned the tables and are creating an environment where the Players are there to focus on the Designers! It is unlike any of our other conventions, all tied together by the top-notch Double Exposure staff using the new Tabletop Events scheduling system.

Publishers and Designers will be cross-playtesting as part of a community peer schedule that ONLY Double Exposure could coordinate!

Even if your game idea consists of three pencils and a cat, you’ll want to be at this exciting festival, where every Designer is treated as a star. Dust it off, show it off, and let your peers help you get it ready for the 2020 convention season!

My Perspective

What I’m sharing is from my perspective, and as such, you will want to determine the purpose and value of attending Metatopia. Here’s what I recall:

  1. I visited the website,
  2. Once registration was open, I applied with two games to playtest (Dark Well and Vigilance).
  3. I received an email from Avie, and we scheduled a phone call for onboarding.


The onboarding call I had with Avie was excellent and helped set expectations as a first-time designer attending Metatopia. Avie and her team have been running Metatopia for years, and she has a good sense of the community and who would be helpful to each designer’s biggest need.

  • For my first game I was looking for people good at providing feedback on character creation and some mechanics.
  • For my second game (including a High Test) I was looking for people good at providing feedback with an understanding of the historical setting as well as probability and flow.

Know What to Test

Even with that, have a short description (verbally and/or in writing) to share at the table with participants of what you want to focus on. Chances are that what you submitted for Metatopia “now” and what you are interested in testing at the convention may change. Know mostly what you want to test to help you do so, even if it doesn’t go as planned. I included what I thought I wanted to test in the event descriptions and then verbally stated my intentions.

My Games

“Dark Well” by AquaVertigo Publishing; presented by David Miessler-Kubanek. You have experienced something you cannot explain. Something that changed you. Something that others want to know more about, hide from the public, and use for gain in the world. What are you going to do about it before they find you? Dark Well is a science-fantasy thriller RPG that explores the relationships of truth, power, and life. Players create stories explaining the unknown using fringe science and conspiracies similar to TV shows: Dark, Fringe, or Millennium. The game uses tokens instead of dice, which are drawn from the Well (tokens provided). Friday, 4:00PM – 6:00PM; Serious, Under 18 Requires Parental Clearance.

  • Game setup (including character creation in the 12 steps)
  • Game play (including Conditions and Recovery, Change and Growth, and the interactions with the Conspiramap)
  • [Repeat for Saturday, 5:00PM – 6:00PM]

“Vigilance” by AquaVertigo Publishing; presented by David Miessler-Kubanek. Part mortal. Part god. All justice. As a Living Law, you were created to right the wrongs and restore that which the Wildstorm took from your people before it strikes again. Vigilance is a Late Bronze Age mythic fantasy RPG that explores legends of loss, humanity, and justice both in a home community and in the wider fallen world. It uses several dice pools (dice provided). Saturday, 11:00AM – 1:00PM; Serious, Under 18 Requires Parental Clearance.

  • Game setup (including province/precinct and character creation)
  • Game play (including all the Moves and consequences)
  • High Test: 2hrs with designers, publishers; 3 players for probability, flow from story to mechanics to story, and setting-content fit.
  • [Repeat for Sunday, 3:00PM – 5:00PM]

My Sessions

At Metatopia, I tested each game twice. I was fortunate to have high-tests with folks for one game. I received very different feedback from every session. Some of the behavior and feedback I got was due to how I presented and guided (or didn’t) the session as well as external factors (including room temperature, I kid you not).

My “worst” session for Dark Well was the first one. I learned how to manage that for the second session of Dark Well and had a useful and enjoyable experience.

My “worst” session for Vigilance was the second one. I took some things from the first session to focus on finer mechanics. It did not go as planned. People being tired on Sunday did NOT help my last session. Every player at the table interpreted my attempt to test the focus play wildly differently, making the test almost useless, even though my first test was helpful and enjoyable.

Afterwards, when I had time to process the event, I realized that the confusion was on me, as I did not realize or have the energy to pause and reframe the session at the time.

Even when the sessions didn’t go as well as I had hoped, there were still moments or things I could consider later on with distance from the actual event. I’m thankful for everyone who shared their time and energy with me and my games.

Here’s a link to my blog where I posted some thoughts post-Metatopia,

Don’t Force Playtesting

Also, I want to add that sometimes people sit down to playtest and you do not click or get on the same page due to a variety of reasons.

On that note, if people are not “into” playtesting, I suggest letting them know they don’t have to stay at your table—do check-ins. And if YOU are not “into playtesting” I suggest finding a smaller area of the design to test or canceling the playtest altogether and doing something else, even if it’s nothing. Self-care is important when you are sharing part of yourself with others.

Practice Makes Progress

I will say this: the more I playtest, the better overall I am at doing it, even if each game with each group is almost like starting over, meeting new friends to introduce your ideas to, and working towards a goal of having a more-finished game.


Let me know what you think. Was this helpful or insightful?


DMK, the founder of AquaVertigo, is a creatively curious artist, author, designer, educator, entrepreneur, and organizer based in the Midwest, USA.

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