Player Motivation and Types Revisited, Again

The Gen Con 2008 seminar I’ll co-host with my friends DNAPhil, Zach and Vicki is going to be about sharing tips with GMs about prepping RPG game session .  My parts of that seminar (What I’ve been doing most nights of this week and possibly the next one) will cover Using Tropes (yay!) and Player Types.

As I was re-reading the player types part of my review of Robin Laws’s Book, I reworked the list to feature some new types brought in the 4e Dungeon Master Guide.

As I was writing my seminar outline, it dawned on me that player types (as presented in Robin’s book and the 4e DMG) are different from player motivations (as presented in the 3.5 Dungeon Master Guide II).  The first one is, IMHO, mostly a convenient label that simplifies discussions while player motivations is what a GM needs to understand to get the most out of the RPG experience he/she shares with the rest of the group.

So here is my updated list of player motivations (So yeah it’s partly reposted stuff, but bear with me for a min, I think it’s worth it):

Post publication edits: Rechecking the DMG II, I found that Player motivations are the incentives that make players excited and motivated to act in the game.  Thus, I will move/remove things like the lurker and such around to better fit that definition.

  • Player motivations in a RPG(Adapted from DMG II and paraphrased by me):
    • 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.
    • Make Things Happen: Pushing Buttons, opening doors and start things regardless of the group’s wishes. Pushing the game’s and the gaming group’s limits.
    • Escapism: Get away from the humdrum of work and life.
    • Cheetoism: The game is just an occasion to get together with friends and socialize
    • Competition: Match wits against the GM and players to ‘win’ or gain advantage.

Question Number 1: Are some missing? Should we add more to that?  Post suggestions and let’s have a mini debate on this.  I’d like to have the most complete, yet concise list of motivators.

I now believe that understanding those and pegging which motivations are stronger in each of your players is more useful than assigning player types.

Still, player types are useful as a simpler, one word model to peg players.  Here is the revised list:

  • Player types (Adapted from Robin Laws’ of Goodmastering and the 4e Dungeon Master Guide):
    • 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 Watcher/Lurker: Shows up to be with friends and share the social energies of the group without necessarily being motivated by the usual incentives.
    • The Instigator: Likes to make things happen and trigger awkward situations
    • The Outlier: Seeking the emotional kick of subverting a group’s dynamic by creating weird characters or actively seeking failure.

One thing that bears remebering is that player don’t usually fit one player type perfectly.  I’d say each player features a major type and one or two minor ones (which mirrors thier top 3 motivation to play RPGs).

Question number 2: While I’m doing this, are there other player types that are misisng that don’t fit in these ?

Question 3: Most of your readers are hybrid GMs players.  So I ask you, what are your main motivations as a player and how would you peg your main player types?

Have a great weekend.


  1. In reply to Question I, here’s a few more Player Motivations I’ve seen:

    Escapism: Being able to get away from the humdrum of life for a few hours a week is a big draw for many players. It’s good to be Bob the Barbarian for a while! Escapist players cover the whole range of Player Types, though are most often Method Actors or Storytellers (or at least like to think they are!)

    Competition. Sad but true. Some players are competitive by nature and that means they see other player as well as the GM as opponents. If carefully channelled however, these competitive players can become excellent Puzzle Solvers. Players who are motivated by Competition are often Power Gamers, but they can also be Tacticians, Butt Kickets or even Method Actors.

  2. Excellent suggestions, I’ll consider adding them to the list if I get a general sense of approval from later comments (yah, I’m baiting… Fridays are slower at the office)

  3. You might also ask, how important it is to find all these types of players? Why is it important? And if we start finding all kinds of types, aren’t they just variants of the pre-existing, this one being the powerplayer listening to jazz, and this one being the powerplayer listening to blues?

    Futhermore doesn’t this mean a whole lot of work from the DMs side? Something that ought to be shared among the players? Instead of me as a DM guessing my players’ types, they could inform me, what they want, and I might actually do my players a disfavor, if I try and secondguess their desires. I’ve met several players, who delighted in being challenged in their preconceptions as to what they liked, and players who complained about being typecast.

    Morten Greiss last blog post..[Transhuman Menneskejagt] Optakt til kapitel fire

  4. @Morten: I agree completely… To make it less of a chore, you can plop down the list of motivations on the gaming table and discuss it… if and only if the group is not adverse to doing some Meta-RPGing (talking about how the game plays).

    That being said, after having played with a stable group of players for some time, the motivations can become easier to catch… Whenever a player gets intensely focused and/or excited, you are probably treading in their Motivations.

    I found the success rate of my games increased when I started taking into account what motivated my players when creating/hacking adventures.

    As all my tips and opinions on this here blog, your Mileage may Vary.

  5. This is an awesome list. I can see some of my old players in this. It would have probably helped me a lot back when we did play too.

    Dianes last blog post..Independence Undertones In Movies, Shows, and Games

  6. FekketCantenel says:

    Once you’ve got a good, comprehensive list, you should make one of those quizzes that figures out what your top three or four traits are. A GM could have all his players take the test (and even lie and say it’s just for a lark) and then judge based on that.

  7. Flying Dutchman says:

    I think you should definitely include “good ‘ole times with good ‘ole friends” as motivation (not just casual gamer type), I find that nearly half of the time reserved for a session is spent on talking, laughing, and gossiping like a bunch of old women…

    The quality of the GM’s story (in this case) is irrelevant, we’ve had the best sessions, and still talked half of the time away, in other words; the social aspect of it all is, IMO, not a sign of player boredom.

  8. Flying Dutchman says:

    By the way, @ Greywulf.

    The competition element is very true! I have two players who have kind of opposite in-game personalities. One is a very biased paladin, and the other is a secretly evil rogue (we have house rules on the detect evil spell which rule out detecting his EVIL AURA muahaha). I know these two players intentionally chose opposites at the very start of the game because they have done this every campaign so far. They love competing with each other. They recently went face off against one another, and the paladin was magnificently outstaged by the rogue, who managed to persaude the other players to join his side, because he had managed to keep his alignment hidden to them. The paladin’s biased position (killing orc babies without even thinking about it) naturally contributed.

    In any case, competition-motivated players should indeed be handled with care. In the case above, the situation didn’t escalate (as fights between players are prone to do), simply because these players like each other, not because I’m such a kick-ass GM (even though I tell myself this) and managed to channel their competative vibe into the story. Au contraire, I put them into the situation that caused this whole confrontation… Were these two players who didn’t know each other, I think one of them would have cried…

  9. How about Cheetoism? Which is exactly what gaming with the ole friends and sharing a meal is all about.

  10. Anonymous says:

    One type that isn’t mentioned (and is very problematic, so probably needs some discussion) is the “Greedy” or “Selfish” gamer (with associated need/want in the game) that demands the spotlight, just for the sake of being the lone hero of the story. If accused of munchkin’ing or selfishness, they attempt to undermine the other players or ruin it for the rest.

    Though perhaps this could be replaced by “ex” gamer 🙂

  11. Flying Dutchman says:

    I had to google that, but it’s exactly what I mean. Although I find the very smell – not even to speak of the taste – of cheetos more revolting than the cheesy smell of a 24-hour gaming marathon with ten smelly guys in a small room with no windows. (Hypothetical, thank God)…

  12. Yeah sorry I’m at work and things are going a bit faster than I can deal with them right now. Here’s the link, which you found, IM sure!

  13. @Anon: It’s obvious that my antispam doesn’t like Anonymous commenters. I restored it.

    The books I read on RPG table psych mention that you can have selfish players of all types and that selfishness more than motivation leads to trouble.

    I had a post on this earlier on, let me see…

  14. Flying Dutchman says:

    I just keep commenting, I know.

    But another motivation, which might be interesting, and is (naturally among others) a certain motivation for one of our players; would be exploring the rules, systems, and the possibility to manipulate/alter such rules. Not for the causes of powerplay, mind you, but to develop a deeper understanding of game mechanics. The player in our group who does this, is fascinated when a new house rule is presented, studies it in detail, and knows it inside-out in a week. This guy constantly develops new classes, weapons, races, and rules. They are rarely unbalanced, as he sees balancing as a challenge in itself. I don’t know if this type of player is rare, since I’ve only played with one group, but we have at least one such player, and I myself am a bit like this too, and all the other players also show interest occasionally.
    I would say that understanding and controlling a comprehensible system with great possibilities could be a drive for this kind of player.

  15. Hey, I’m actually happy someone showed up on July 4th!

    We actually have a player like that in our group… but he does that designer tinkering away from the table. Since it’s away from the table, I’m not sure I would construe this as a motivation… but having gone stark raving mad for D&D 3.X crunch for so many years before growing tired of it, I can definitively see this as a motivation to play RPGs (but I would also say that it’s a Gamer motivation, not just RPG)

  16. As for making a quiz of this… if someone wants to tackle the challenge, I’d be more than willing to host it on my site. I don,t have the chops for this 🙂

  17. Flying Dutchman says:

    Well, your international audience doesn’t necessarily celebrate the 4th of July ofcourse 😉
    But back on-topic, you are certainly right, the designer-type player usually plays (although probably not primarily) to test his own systems or to get inspiration for new ideas. I think it is indeed a characteristic of the Gaming-enthusiast. This player I referred to earlier does it with computer games as well; designing in map & campaign editors till deep in the night. But the actual designing-thingamagooeys does not (or at least, SHOULD not) take place during the actual sessions.

  18. Noumenon says:

    I noticed that you removed “Lurker: No clear goal or motivation except to show up at the game and participate.” What was good about that one is that it gave me some way to understand the dwarven monk who sits quietly at all decision sessions and never attempts anything I’d call “cool.” I used to think he must be bored, but once I classed him as a lurker then I understood why he would keep showing up to our gaming sessions.

    The downside of “lurker” is that this player does have a “psychodrama” facet that you’d never notice unless you talked to him after the game and heard him explain all the emotions his character was going through. You might miss it if you just wrote him off as a lurker.

  19. In my mind lurking was more or less a player type that could be rolled in the Casual Player… You think otherwise?

    I’d add Cheetoism as a player motivation (Along with Greywulf’s definitions)

  20. Noumenon says:

    I was comparing to the “player motivations” section from before (I was gonna save your list in my big D&D text file and found that I already had the list in there from before). I never saved the “player types” list.

  21. Reinstated Lurking and added Cheetoism, Escapism and Competition to player motivations.

  22. Flying Dutchman says:

    I was thinking about one guy who plays with us. This guy enjoys the thrill of a good fight, or when I (as GM) set a timer for them to come up with an idea or a solution in a limited amount of time. He usually just panics and blurts out insane ideas that never work or get him killed, but he enjoys it nonetheless. He can get really pissed off and hold grudges against enemies they’ve made in-game, remembers names, and actively seeks friendships with NPC’s.
    Maybe an idea for a new player type (or an explansion of the butt-kicker), because this guy also plays for the excitement. And not just combat like the butt-kicker, but also when I try to make things scary, or set a time limit; his eyes flare up like he’s some psyched dog about to go chase a Frisbee.

  23. @Flying Dutchman –

    No need. That seems to fall under a combination of Butt Kicker and Outlier. The desire to experience and overcome new challenges (not just combat) is Butt Kicker, and trying crazy, wacky ideas that often result in death is pure Outlier to me.

    Not everybody will fall under a single player type, after all.

  24. Flying Dutchman says:

    True, especially for the combat- and puzzle-aspect, but how would you explain the horror gaming? There are people playing games to get scared out of their minds. Every now and then, when I’ve managed to produce something really scary in a campaign; this guy goes bananas, he absolutely loves it! And I’m not necessarily talking about fighting or presenting a challenge, just descriptions, vivid story-telling, he loves it! Kind of like how you used to tell your friends scary stories at night when sleeping over (without the horrid sudden-flashlight-from-below effect though).

  25. That would be a combination of Storyteller and Butt Kicker. The Butt Kicker is still there for the triumph over a challenge, but the excited over description stuff is Storyteller.

  26. Flying Dutchman says:

    You are very correct. I misread the “unfold” part of that description, and assumed the storyteller persona was the type of player who makes up endless background stories in prose or poetry for his character.

  27. Nah, that’s more method actor.

  28. Points for finding a way to use a picture of Doris Day!
    Otherwise, nothing to add to this excellent article.


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