Sunday, March 9, 2008

Gamer Types

Greetings again to you, my faithful readers! This week, I shall discuss the Lawsian Gamer Types. A prominent creator of gaming resources in the gaming industry, named Robin Laws, wrote an amazingly useful book called Robin's Laws of Good Game Mastering. Although this book is geared towards GMs, it has some very useful information for players as well.

One example of these doubly-applicable tidbits is the idea that gaming is supposed to be fun. You know, that sounds pretty obvious, but the problem is that a lot of people forget that gaming is a collaborative effort, and work hard to have fun at the other players' expense. The book suggests that everyone involved work to have fun together as a team, rather than antagonistically.

But that's not the topic of this week's rant.

Today, I thought I'd talk about Gamer Types. This was particularly useful for me, both as a GM and as a player. I'd struggled for years with the others in my gaming group, getting upset at them for ruining what I thought was an otherwise incredible game by insisting on doing nothing but killing the enemies for personal glory. It never occurred to me that different people play role-playing games for different reasons. And for that, I owe a debt to Robin Law.So here we go. There are seven player types described in his book (which he says that he adapted from other sources, but I don't know what those sources are). They are as follows:

The Power Gamer

The Power Gamer comes to the gaming table because he enjoys the feeling of power that he gets from gaming. He tends to see his character as "a collection of super powers optimized for the acquisition of still more super powers." However success is defined in your particular gaming system, he wants more of it. This is the character that looks for ways to get great abilities at minimum cost. In D&D, he's obsessed with gaining more Feats (and spells, if playing a spellcaster class), and possibly even looking to gain Prestige Classes. In Vampire, he's after ever more dots in Disciplines and seeking to commit Diablerie as often as he can. In GURPS, he's after cool equipment, higher skill ratings, and spiffy advantages. Shadowrun sees him seeking newer and fancier cyberware and weapons. He games to be powerful, in whatever way power is defined in his game of choice.

The Butt-Kicker

Like the Power Gamer, the Butt-Kicker seeks power, but the Butt-Kicker always channels his power into the ability to commit massive acts of violence. Whereas the Power Gamer seeks power as defined by the game system (for example, he may desire political power in the heavy potential for political intrigue in Vampire), the Butt-Kicker only appreciates one sort of power: physical. No matter what game he's playing, he will write up a character that is capable of dishing out bloodshed and raining down the pain on his enemies. He only wants to play games in which the GM provides him with masses of enemies that he can kill (or at least seriously maim).

The Tactician

This player type seeks the thrill of the clever strategic gambit, the rush he gets from seeing his well-planned tactics result in a near-effortless victory for him and his companions. He prefers games in which he has many opportunities to use his mind, setting up plans and finding the best way to "win." This player type in particular loves to see the GM squirm as his plans are effortlessly foiled by a clever player. Anticlimax is the Tactician's ultimate success, as the tension of a climax is a result of uncertainty, and the Tactician lives to think up ways to guarantee success. He despises characterisation, because good characters are seldom tactically sound.

The Specialist

This is a sort of catch-all category. It describes those players who have a certain character type that they like to play, and want to play every time. The most common type of Specialist is, of course, the player who wants to be a ninja every time. I've known Specialists who insist on being magic-users in every game. I once knew someone who was a "fairy princess" Specialist. Whatever their chosen speciality, they want to find some way to make their character into that, regardless of setting. They're likely to play an Assamite in Vampire, or an Akashic Brother in Mage, or a physical adept in Shadowrun.

The Method Actor

Method Actors see gaming as a dramatic exercise, similar to acting on stage. For them, gaming is an improvisational theatre, and they game for the chance to develop a bond with their character. They develop complex personalities, and refuse to take any action that is out of character for their PC. Even if this derails the plot (which often leaves him at odds with the Storyteller [below]), or is tactically unsound (which causes tension with the Tacticians), or prevents combat (which rouses the ire of the Butt-Kicker). The character is everything to the Method Actor.

The Storyteller

Players of this ilk want a plot in their games. They expect the action to follow the format of a story, with exposition, conflict, climax, and resolution. Combat often bores them, unless it's essential for the storyline. They can be seen to break character if it is helpful to the story to do so. And they get angry at other player types when their actions ruin the flow of the story.

The Casual Gamer

These are the players who are gaming because it's what everyone else is doing. It's not something they dislike (else they wouldn't do it), they just don't have the passionate desire to game that other player types have. If everyone else games, so will the Casual Gamer. If no one else is gaming, the Casual Gamer will not be upset. Some people tend to see the Casual Gamer as unimportant, but they can often be vital to the survival of a gaming group, both in character (because they fill out the ranks and supply vital abilities that no other player has chosen) and out of character (because they tend to play important roles in the group's interpersonal dynamics).

Of course, it's entirely possible that you may be partially one type and partially another type. I, myself, am about 60% Storyteller and 40% Method Actor. For me, the most important thing is the story, but since I believe very strongly that the most important part of a story is plausible, believable characters, the Method Actor can be a large part of my personal dynamic. I will usually follow the needs of the story, but I have been known, on occasion, to be true to my character's personality even if it derails the plot.

Anyway, it's often a good idea to get a feel for which character type(s) you are. This makes it easier to find a gaming group that will satisfy you. I've been in more than one group where the enjoyment was ruined because I was pissed at the other players for killing everything in their path instead of finding a more plot-satisfying way of doing things. I GMed for a group for a while that was mostly storytellers and method actors, but there were two butt-kickers in the mix, and they caused a lot of tension with the other players. Eventually, the two butt-kickers dropped out of the group, and all subsequent sessions were seen as vastly improved. This is not because the butt-kickers were bad players, but because they wanted different things.

Anyway, this is something that everyone should think about. And that's this week's entry! I'll see you here next week, and until then,

Game on!

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