This 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.