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For GMs who need advice on how to wrangle players.
The purpose of this list is to categorize the common types of players who participate in tabletop roleplaying games, for the benefit of GMs who are trying to figure out how to accommodate different kinds of players and want advice on how to make the game fun for everyone. Different player types can be characterized by their motivations: what they desire when they come to the gaming table can tell you a lot about how they’ll play and how they’ll interact with other players.
Note that these archetypes are not absolute categories that never overlap – most well-rounded people are going to show qualities of more than one of these archetypes.
…and that’s one more dragon for the boneyard. Hell yeah!
Attitude: The Challenger plays to overcome obstacles. They want to “win,” by triumphing over challenges that are placed in their path, and their main reason for being at the table is for the sake of the emotional high they get by achieving something. This doesn’t always mean combat – while there are plenty of Challengers who get their kicks by slaughtering enemies (the tougher, the better), they might just as well be playing sneaky thieves who search for ever more valuable or well-guarded treasures to steal, or diplomats who never miss an opportunity to persuade people to their way of thinking. Generally, a Challenger sees a GM’s world as an arena or playground, and the plot of a story as a framework to provide them with hurdles to jump. A mature Challenger with a good sense of sportsmanship can give a lot of energy to a group, leading the charge and encouraging other players to use their skills to the fullest in the hopes of scoring a victory. On the other hand, the worst stereotypes of munchkins – players who hurl their minmaxed characters into impossible odds with no regard for the story and then throw a tantrum when they get their asses handed to them – tend to be about Challengers.
How to Identify: Challengers tend to be highly focused during character creation, determined to squeeze as much use as possible about of every distributable point they get. They’ll often pour a lot of points into one skill or attribute, and try to apply that skill or attribute whenever and wherever they can. During play, they’re usually the first to volunteer a direct action, like “I attack!” or “I pick his pocket while he’s talking to the others.” Of all players, they’re the most likely to engage in risky or dangerous behavior, usually with reasoning along the lines of “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”
How to Handle: Challengers want challenges, as you might expect. A combat-focused Challenger will want fights to win, an investigation-focused Challenger will want mysteries to solve, and a con-focused Challenger will want Eskimos to sell ice to. They tend to get bored quickly if they can’t apply their characters’ strengths, and frustrated if they try to apply their strengths but fail too often. How often is “too often” varies from player to player, but as a rule anything below 66% will drive them nuts. They must win more often than they lose. For this reason, they can be good barometers for GMs who are concerned about railroading their players – the Challenger will be the first to notice if the plot is consistently thwarting him. Not all Challengers mind losing, but they can’t abide losses they feel are “unfair.”
My character stares at the blood on her hands, and whispers “What have I become?”
Attitude: DRs want to develop their characters. They like to develop imaginary people with (they suppose) complex characters and rich histories and throw them into a game environment to see what happens. A character-centric viewpoint is basic qualification for DR-ship. For them, a world and a plot are primarily devices by which a character is forged and shaped. This can put them at odds with Looters and Challengers, who tend to see their characters as tools to interact with a world, rather than the reverse. A practiced DR who can balance the needs of her character with those of the other players can give emotional depth to a story, providing more of a human element to the broad expanse of a GM’s plot. Conversely, an unpracticed or selfish DR provides the stereotype of the “Drama Queen” roleplayer, who demands that all attention be focused on her special character and disregards both the other players and sometimes the plot in order to give that character more face time, which will be spent on masturbatory melodramatics.
How to Identify: DRs are the most likely to be actors or writers in real life. When designing a character, they’ll tend to build around some kind of personality concept, and during play they’ll be the most open about what their character is thinking or feeling. They may be chattier than the other players while in-character.
How to Handle: DRs thrive on character-driving conflict, and there’s no story without a conflict, so usually it’s not a problem to make a Deep Roleplayer happy. For some players, you can improve the experience by tailoring events to their characters in ways that could change and shape their personalities. For others, most of their energy is turned inwards, so providing them with the usual stimuli of the game is enough. A bigger problem is balancing the DR’s needs with the rest of the group, whatever the composition of that group might be. Try to set a clearly defined limit on how much personal drama is permitted per character early, and remind everyone that tabletop roleplaying is a shared experience. Also, keep in mind that DRs tend to be very attached to their characters, and are more likely to be upset if those characters die or are removed from play, but are also more likely to volunteer their characters for martyrdom or suicide missions.
I dunno. What do you wanna do?
Attitude: Drifters go with the flow. They might be newbies who aren’t comfortable at the table yet, naturally non-assertive in temperament, or just apathetic. Whatever the reason, Drifters don’t come to the table expecting or demanding anything specific – they’re just along for the ride. Usually they’ll follow the instructions of the GM and GM-controlled characters faithfully, and tend to be confused or lethargic if they’re given the freedom to make all their own decisions. They don’t have any clearly defined expectations for the game world or the plot. Unless you can convince them to open up and pour their energy into their play, Drifters can easily drag down a game through their inactivity. Don’t dismiss them out of hand, though. New players have to come from somewhere, right? After they’ve had a few games, Drifters tend to redefine themselves through one of the other archetypes. If they stay as drifters, they might just be really lazy, and you should ask yourself if their contribution to the game is worthwhile.
How to Identify: The general lack of self-confidence and assertiveness at the table reveals a Drifter. Drifters might be unfamiliar with the rules, rarely speak up unless prompted, and hold back from joining in group decision-making. They’re usually the quietest one at the table.
How to Handle: Seeing how a Drifter is not clearly communicating what he wants, the best way to deal with one is to help him along. See how they react to personal victory, personal drama, material rewards, or new discoveries. Once you’ve discovered what makes them sit up and pay attention to the game, you can keep feeding them more of it until they’re ready to be reclassified under another archetype. If nothing you do gets a reaction from them, and they resist attempts to encourage participation, consider ejecting them from the group.
What do you suppose is down that trail?
Attitude: The Explorer likes studying his environment. Explorers play because they like to imagine the fantasy world they are in, traveling through it with their minds as their characters peer into every nook and cranny, looking for anything they might find interesting. Explorers see the game world as an actual world, to be searched and studied. The GM’s plot is mostly there to give their expedition direction and purpose. The Explorer often overlaps with the Listener. A good Explorer can encourage the group to slow down and enjoy the scenery, and they’re usually pretty good at discovering clues or hidden things to help the party on its way. A bad Explorer can easily bog the group down by engaging in pointlessly extensive searches of unimportant areas.
How to Identify: If you provided the players with a map, the Explorer will be looking at it the most. If you didn’t provide the players with a map, he Explorer may well make his own. During play, the Explorer is the one most likely to be a passive observer, and often the first to declare a desire to examine things or open doors.
How to Handle: Explorers can be tricky, because they want to be enthralled by your description of an alternative reality, and/or rewarded for looking in out-of-the-way places. If you are not skilled at narrative improvisation, one good trick is to deliberately scatter around treasures or little bits of story for the Explorer to find – nothing too vital to the group’s success, but enough to give a tangible bonus to make the Explorer feel that the time spent looking around was spent well.
“You were there at the battle ten years ago, weren’t you? What happened there?”
Attitude: The Listener wants an in-depth experience of a narrative. Listeners generally play with the explicit goal of learning about the game world and the people in it, for sake of whatever fascination they can draw from observing fantastic people in a fantastic space. They tend to tend to see game worlds as like sociological case studies, and plots as historical events within those studies that can be influenced or documented by the Listener. Listener often overlaps with Explorer, or with Deep Roleplayer. A Listener with patience and the ability to ask good questions can help you to flesh out a game world through his observations. A Listener with no patience can be annoying, and one without the ability to ask good questions can stall plot advancement indefinitely with useless hunts for trivia.
How to Identify: Listeners will be the ones who ask a lot of questions before, during, and after the game, and they’ll definitely read the rulebook if you’ve got one. They’ll also try to read any written documents they can get their hands on during play. They might play a character who sits back and passively listens, or one who makes a point of interrogating anyone who seems like they might know anything interesting or useful.
How to Handle: Get good at storytelling, and be patient. Listeners in a group of players who are not like-minded need to be managed carefully, because if they don’t feel they’re getting their story-telling fix, they’ll stop playing. On the other hand, if you spend all of a game session narrating and giving backstory to the Listener, the other players will probably be upset. The trick is to push the Listener forward with the promise of more story bits as a reward for meeting the goals of the game. Know when to indulge their curiosity, and when to usher them along.
That comes to… 3,512 GP. A few thousand more, and that Ring of Might is mine.
Attitude: The Looter is more interested in the quantifiable rewards of play than in the play itself. The Looter is often rolled in with the Challenger in games where money and experience rewards can be used to “keep score,” or where better gear and better statistical odds of success go hand in hand. They’ll grub for every monetary unit they can get, and either hoard it with extreme miserliness or spend it as fast as they make it in order to acquire ever-finer material possessions for their character. They’ll often do the same with valued property, experience points, or the equivalent. Most players are not 100% Looter – they’ll combine Looter tendencies with those of another compatible archetype, like Challenger or Explorer. Looters see a game world as an economic environment and a story as a sort of business venture. A socially positive Looter will usually try to become a group’s accountant and financial manager, and they can be pretty helpful to players who are less willing or able to keep track of their numbers. A less positive Looter will often try to steal from other players, and complain about their return on investment no matter how much they’re making.
How to Identify: Looters talk a lot about numbers. Not just the odds of success on a roll (that’s more of a Challenger thing), but about how much money they’re making, how much things cost, how much game time or how many successful adventures it will likely take to reach some benchmark, etc. During play, they’ll engage in and encourage other players to engage in profit-gaining behaviors. They’re usually the first to call dibs on treasure, which is how they get their name.
How to Handle: They want numbers? Give them numbers. Watch the Looter closely whenever you give out gold or experience or any other numerically measureable reward. If they seem annoyed, then they’re not getting as much as they feel they ought to. But mind that you don’t give them too much – if a Looter finds himself in a Monty Haul game, he’ll grow bored, more often than not, because the numbers are meaningless, and their accumulation pointless, when they grow too large. More than anything else, the Looter wants to feel that they are receiving a proportionate reward for their work in running through the game.
Alright! Go team! *High Fives* Hey, I’m ordering pizza, what do you all want?
Attitude: The Socialite isn’t there so much for the game as for the people. Socialites like the cooperative experience of gaming and hanging out with friends. Often, they don’t take the game itself especially seriously – worlds and plots are merely necessary parts of an activity that brings the group together. A good plot and a well-developed world enhance the experience, of course, but so can good food, drink, jokes, tangential stories, conversation, and/or mind-affecting substances. Depending on what kind of game you’re trying to run, the levity and party-ready spirit provided by a Socialite can be a huge asset or a huge liability.
How to Identify: The Socialite will talk a lot, but not often in character or about the game, unless quips are being exchanged. They’re usually the first to broach the subject of consumables, or bring their own to the game to share. They’re invariably friends with at least one other person at the table.
How to Handle: As stated previously, a Socialite might be more or less conducive to any given game, depending on what kind of mood you want to create, and how restrained the Socialite is. Socialites usually aren’t good for horror games, or games where personal angst or conflict are at the fore – anything demanding solemnity doesn’t mesh well with the kind of euphoric fun that Socialites generally want. On the other hand, they’re an excellent addition to comedic or action-heavy games, where joking around doesn’t detract from the story and keeps everyone’s spirits up. Generally, the best solution is to make sure the Socialite understands what you’re trying to do, and what kind of behavior helps or hinders your GMing.
Hypothetically, this guide to player behavior should be universal, so if you liked this enough to think it worth sharing, feel free to copy it to some other tabletop roleplaying game site.
I remember seeing a guide similar to this in... I want to say DnD 4th Ed. Anyway, I just wanted to say that this, along with the rules for avoiding fights, truly should be posted into a universal RP guide. You obviously put a good deal of thought into this, especially with your notes of how they can go right or wrong. It might have been nice to have suggestions for how to deal with/help with the growth of negatively aligned players, but it's a good guide regardless.
Sadly, I don't really know how to deal with negatively aligned players, except by giving them the boot. If you're good friends with them, you might be able to talk them around and help them understand how their behavior bothers other people. If you're not good friends, odds are they won't be receptive to a rebuke. And if talking it out doesn't work, then there's not much else to do.