Robin's Laws Revisited: Part 2, Player Types and Traits

Robin’s LawsThis post is part of a new series that explores Robin Laws’ seminal work on GMing. This time I tackle the book’s fundamental subject of player types and what they seek in RPGs. Part one can be found here.

The second chapter of Robin’s Laws of Good Game Mastering brings up the subject that knowing what your players seek in a Role Playing game is a must to deliver a good game. The player types definitions he brings forward, based on Glen Blacow’s classic Aspect of Adventure Gaming, form the cornerstone of his book and he builds much of the rest of it on these.

Player type could be defined as the preferences a player has for certain elements of a RPG.

They can be summarized as follows

  • The Power Gamer: Get more powers and use them often and efficiently.
  • The Butt-Kicker: Enjoys combat and pwning NPCs!
  • The Tactician: Likes to beat complex situations through thought and planning.
  • The Specialist: The one who always plays a <insert character type>. Ninjas and Dritzz clones are popular.
  • The Method Actor: Likes total immersion in a character’s assumed persona, whatever the costs!
  • The Storyteller: Enjoys exploring a story unfold around a character’s actions and choices.
  • The Casual Gamer: Shows up to be with friends and share the social energies of the group.

While very useful to help a GM determine what it is that his/her players seek in a game, many players seem to fit more than one types. For instance, none of my players are purely one type or the other. For example, Yan is definitively a Story Teller… but he’s also a tactician and shows features of the Power Gamer.

That’s probably why Robin changed his approach when he participated in writing the ‘Running the Game’ chapter of the more recent Dungeon Master Guide II (Copyright WotC, 2005) and instead listed ‘player traits’. (By the way, the DMG II is worth it just for this chapter in my opinion, the rest is gravy)

He defined those traits as “the particular emotional impulses that give your players a sense of reward”. That’s a definition I like!

The traits he defined, some of which are very similar to player types, were as follows:

  • Accumulating Cool powers: Enjoying the acquisition of loot/powers, planning a character many levels in advance.
  • Kicking Butt: Enjoying combat for the sake of inflicting mayhem and destruction on foes.
  • Brilliant Planning: Enjoying combat for the sake of winning, beating foes with brains and tactics.
  • Puzzle Solvers: Resolving riddles, short puzzles or longer investigation type puzzles.
  • Playing a favorite role: Seeking the same class/themes/roles campaign after campaign.
  • Supercoolness: Being a badass and be able to show it often.
  • Story: Seeking the range of emotions that comes from a game’s narrative and non-crunch achievements.
  • Psychodrama: Seeking to explore and develop a character from an internal perspective.
  • Irresponsibility: Being able to create trouble without having to deal with real-world consequence (ex: jumping off the rails and go wild!)
  • Setting Exploration:Seeking new horizons in a setting and learning the lore of in-game objects, locales and events.
  • The Outlier: Seeking the emotional kick of subverting a group’s dynamic by creating weird characters or actively seeking failure.
  • Lurker: No clear goal or motivation except to show up at the game and participate.

I really like those definitions because you can usually pinpoint a player’s style by grouping a few traits.

Here’s my take on my player’s current profiles:

Yan: Story-driven Brilliant planner with a side of cool power accumulation and Setting Exploration. Lillee easily gives him the 1st and the last… but he’s suffering a bit from lack of Brilliant planing that he usually gets when he plays a martial character (his default). He’s looking forward to Planescape.

Math: Supercool Butt Kicking Power accumulator. Math has fun when his character is basked in the light of coolness. Critical Hits, cool use of spells and thrashing a mouthy NPCs makes his evening.

Franky: Story-driven Setting Explorer with a taste for Power accumulation. Give him apolitical intrigue, a weird world to explore and some bitchin’ powers and Franky thrives and becomes a god of role playing…

Eric (Cruguer): Butt Kicking psychodramatist. His characters are always a daring mix of dark emotions and inner conflicts with a side order of deviance that makes other characters a bit queasy. Give him demons to kill, inner or outer ones and he’ll happily engage them!

Stef: Ex-Lurker who’s coming out of his shell to explore Story telling and good old Butt kicking Power Accumulation.

PM: Definitively a Story-driven Psychdramatist somewhat stuck in a thicker than expected lurker shell.

In both documents, Robin urges GMs/DMs to create adventures in which each player sees one of his traits addressed at least once. This basically becomes a classic exercise of positive reinforcement (or negative reinforcement in the case of the Outlier…) that will reward your players.

But what about DM preferences? Where do they stand in regards to the player’s preferences? Robin’s Laws doesn’t spell it out all that clearly while DMG II takes a decent stab at it.

Instead of making this post longer than it already is, I’m turning the question over to you.

How do you define your personal DMing preference and how do you balance it with your player’s?

I’m not asking for the theory, but your personal feeling about it.

My stance on this is pretty much covered in that post, but I’ll probably chime in the comments tomorrow.


  1. Hmmmm. Using the terms the Robin Laws uses for players as a starting point, I’d say that my GM’ing style is Tactician/Storyteller.

    I like to set a good puzzle or winding plotline and see if the players can work out the threads. Sometimes they do, but more often they come up with even cooler alternative solutions. That’s where the Storytelling comes in. I’m not a stickler for following what’s on the page; for example, if the players work out a great reason why Person Y was the killer and not Person X then I’ll bend the story to fit provided it doesnt derail future planned events.

    In combat I think very, very tactically. I reckon all GMs should play chess so they can understand strategy. I started playing chess against my dad when I was 4; it took until I was 14 to be able to beat him. That was the best GM possible combat tutorial. Now, give me 5 kobolds and I could defend a fortress. The players know that and love the challenge, most of the time 🙂

  2. Don’t forget Georgios’ GM Types. I think I’m “Director” first and “Provider” second. I do like the occasional “Plotmeister” session. I used to be a “World Builder”.

    (From my own post on player types.)

    As for balancing it all: Every now and then I ask my players where they want to go. I know who my storyteller is, and I have her a legendary sword that drives the campaign as a whole. I like who my powergamer and magic item lover is, and I’m allowing the new Magic Item Compendium in the City of Brass. That should make him happy. I know that one would love to kick ass, so I give him encounters with large numbers of favorite enemy mooks to kill every now and then. And for the rest, I just want to play, so I keep on running my game…

  3. I just bought DMGII for the Robin Laws writing in it, as well as getting suckered into running D&D 3.5 because of eberron (god I love eberron), and I have to say he is as good there as he is in Robin’s Laws. I actually do like the traits better, because so many people fit in some of those traits as oppossed to fitting a player type exactly.

    As for my self as a player I am more of Story and Kicking Butt, mixed in with a little bit of supercoolness. I like to play out the elements of what we are doing, and I like to do kickass things with my role in the group, but I’m not really too picky about how I get there. I like to try a lot of different character concepts when I play.

    When I GM, I would have to say I am a Storyteller/Butt Kicker/Tactician, which to me means that I prefer to set up a good story with challenges that the players can defeat without stretching into “damn I’m getting tired of this, just tell us the answer” territory. I want people to feel like they did good when they overcome something. I like to keep the story moving and the players involved.

    I’m pretty flexible with what i want to see form players. I prefer seeing Brilliatn Planners and Supercoolness, as well as puzzle solvers and setting exploration. Few players fit setting exploration though. I least like Psychodrama, and Irresponsibility types of players. I fully get that some people like to be unchained in a game world and just cause havoc, but it makes it hard to incorporate group dynamics.

  4. Alex’s link to GM type is a good find.

    I think I’m a plotmeister/Director/Provider.

    I prefer Butt kicking, Super Cool Story tellers so I’m not complaining about my group.

    I’ve had a hard time with Outliers, mostly because I didn’t see them as such before.

    I’m getting used to psychodrama but I’ve had some times where I had to grit my teeth and restrain myself from exploding at a player that was scrapping the party’s unity just because ‘that’s what my character would do’….


  5. Big Damn Hero says:

    The breakdown of types is nice. Only issue is that there’s an awful lot of slippage between “Accumulating cool powers” and “Supercoolness,” and to a lesser degree with “butt-kicking.” Is there really much of a difference?

    Love the blog, by the way. I’m a new reader.

    Of the site, that is. Not in general.

  6. Hey man, thanks for dropping by.

    It was kind of hard to define each type without ripping off teh actual book.

    Supercoolness is actually more of a sub-set of the Specialst than the Power Gamer.

    The Supercool player wants to play Wolverine, James Bond, and Bruce Willis-type characters.

    He wants to look good from a fluff (non rules) perspective.

    But yeah… some of them are close…

  7. The link in the first paragraph is wrong.

    Sorry I don’t have a real comment yet, I wanted to make sure I’d read part 1 before starting part 2. 🙂

  8. Fixed, thanks for the catch…

  9. That was fast. Talk about service! 🙂

    And now, the comments:

    As a player I’d say I’m about

    30% Accumulating Cool powers: I likes me some new feats, charms, spells, etc.
    30% Kicking Butt: Why collect them if you’re not going to use them to smash face?
    10% Brilliant Planning: I like to have a plan, but don’t like to take forever making it, because it never survives contact with the enemy anyway.
    10% Playing a favorite role: I don’t play them exclusively, but if I can’t decide what to play I tend to gravitate toward someone with magic.
    20% Story: Not so much the emotion part, but I like to see my actions have an effect on the game world.

    As a GM:

    35% Duelist: I like to exercise my minimaxing capabilities and challenge the players
    25% Director: I learned long ago not to plan too far ahead because the players will always go somewhere else, but I do try to stay a few steps in front of them and I always know what’s going on in the background and what the effects will be should any given plot hook be ignored.
    20% Actor: I do voices and personality, but not always. My goal is recognizability more than believability.
    20% World Builder: I don’t do a lot of world prepping ahead of time (our current game being Scion helps a lot there), but if I know they’re going somewhere I’ll prep it, and I try to make sure that the world outside the party’s direct location has a presence.


  1. […] called Robin’s Laws Revisited. The one on my plate today is the second part of that series, Player Types and Traits. Because the traits offer a little more detail, I’m going to go with them and skip the player […]

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