Last Updated: September 23, 2021
Nearly every RPG blog, podcast, and author has their own take on different “archetypes” of players, and for good reason. Different players come to the table looking for different things. Depending on their play styles, you can adjust your game to better engage disparate styles of play. Combining different play styles can often be challenging, but a better understanding will allow you to be more adaptive as a game master.
Player Archetypes will be addressed as follows:
- Description: Basic rundown of the play style
- Engaging: How to engage this archetype
- Contributions: What this archetype brings to the table
- Problems: How this archetype can cause problems in your game
- Complementary Archetypes: Other archetypes which interact well with this one
- Conflicting Archetypes: Archetypes which may have problems with this one
The actor wants to be their character instead of just playing them. Perhaps the most dedicated role-player, the Actor is interested in personality, background, and interaction. Many Actors find the mechanics of a game too restrictive, and prefer systems with a more rule-light feel.
- Encourage players to write backstories for their characters.
- Use social encounters.
- Use recurring NPCs.
- Allow their character’s personality to affect the game.
- Create plot elements which directly involve the character’s background/backstory.
- Makes an excellent “face” for the party.
- Asks lots of questions.
- Remembers interesting NPCs.
- Often artistic; may share their talents with the party
- May spend too much time on details which aren’t important to the plot.
- May hog the spot light.
- May be terrible. A boring character is still boring no matter how much the player likes them.
- The Explorer: Actors often share the Explorer’s love of experience and learning. Actors tend to enjoy exploring a character, while Explorers might enjoy exploring that character’s culture or environment.
- The Power Gamer: The Actor seeks a wholly different gaming experience from the Power Gamer.
Explorers love to see new things. The Explorer enjoys interesting places, objects, cultures, and people, but they often suffer from wanderlust. Lord of the Rings is an excellent example of a campagin written for explorers.
- Provide new experiences: New cultures, new items, new stories, new NPCs.
- Describe things in an appropriate level of detail to make them interesting.
- Require exploration, and allow the player to find interesting things.
- Reward exploration with new information, new items, or other rewards.
- Use maps and props.
- Finds hidden things like treasure, traps, and enemies.
- Makes an excellent cartographer.
- Will listen to your description text, and retain details.
- May chase every red herring you throw into the plot.
- May become fixated on details and locations which you intended to be unimportant.
- May spend a lot of time exploring empty areas.
- The Thinker: Good planning often requires complete knowledge. The Explorer works well with the thinker to plan and methodically explore subjects and places.
- The Instigator: The Instigator often blows right past important information or interesting subjects which the Explorer may enjoy.
A person of action, the Instigator likes to get things done. While the rest of the party might be stopping to search for traps, he is kicking in doors and opening dubious chests. They take great and often obvious risks for the sake of advancement. Depending on the style of your game, the Instigator can be a major asset of an enormous burden. Leroy Jenkins. Enough said.
- Invite experimentation: Make that mysterious lever do something cool.
- Reward riskey behavior occasionally.
- Allow reckless behavior to put the party in tough situations, but don’t penalize the party too heavily (i.e. don’t kill them all).
- Moves the plot forward.
- Adds a healthy degree of unpredictability to the game.
- May get the party killed.
- May have a revolving door of characters.
- Typically has a short attention span.
- The Power Gamer: The Isntigator makes a lot of poor choices, and needs a character that can survive the player’s poor choices.
- The Actor: The Instigator may find the Actor dull. Talking to things keeps the game from getting to the action.
- The Thinker: The Instigator will often find the Thinker to be too slow, and will often take matters into their own hands when the party stop to plan.
The Observer is often new to the game or new to the gaming group. They may not know how the game works, or they may simply be shy or quiet by nature. The Observer’s contributions are often subtle or unnoticed, but they can still bring a lot to the game.
- Engage the Observer directly by asking him questions.
- Do not force them to contribute more than they are comfortable.
- Provide suggestions when they are uncertain how to proceed.
- Accept that he or she is comfortable as an observer.
- Fills empty roles in the party (healer, skill monkey, etc.).
- Takes advice and suggestions easily.
- Doesn’t take the game personally.
- Is there to enjoy time with their friends.
- May become distracted by laptops, side conversations, food, etc.
- May have trouble solving problems by themselves.
- May have little investment in the game.
- May have poor rules knowledge, and may not care to improve it.
- Any: As the chameleon of player archetypes, the Observer can function in groups of almost any composition. The Observer often serves as a litmus test for the group: if they are having fun, the party is working well together; if they are not enjoying themsleves, it may be because of conflict between other players.
The Power Gamer
Power Gamers enjoy mechanical rewards: new levels, new gear, experience points, etc. The Power Gamer often has an encyclopedic knowledge of the rules, and uses them to great effect. Their presence can make or break the party in combat, but they can also bog down the game with mechanical concerns. They typically prefer combat to social encounters so that they can enjoy their big shiny toys.
- Stress rewards such as items and experience.
- Offer them new items or money as rewards.
- Encourage the use of new and iteresting character options.
- Include encounters which allow their character to show off their best tricks, but still provide an interesting challenge.
- Keep roleplaying encounters straightforward and short.
- Keeps the party alive in combat.
- Purchases and brings new supplements full of character options.
- Helps other players build characters, especially new ones and Observers.
- Has excellent rules knowledge, and will frequently share it.
- May become powerful enough that the rest of the party feels left out.
- May disract from roleplaying and social encounters.
- May miss important details in descriptions.
- May have very little investment in the plot or NPCs.
- May grow bored with characters who do not meet expectations.
- May kill important plot characters.
- The Instigator: When your character is a walking god of war, there is little that scares you. At that point, why not simply kick in every door and crush whatever you find on the other side?
- The Thinker: Building an unstoppable character can only get you so far. Some challenges require the extra planning and tactics which the Thinker brings to the game.
- The Actor: The Power Gamers values mechanical rewards over story elements, making it the polar opposite of the Actor. While there can be compromise between the two, leaning toward either side of the spectrum will leave at least one member of the group unengaged.
Perhaps the opposite of the Instigator, the Thinker likes to think and plan. He or she makes careful tactical plans, approaches threats logically, and handles puzzles and logical problems well. They love it when a plan comes together, and tend to have backup plans for when things go poorly.
- Use encounters which require forethought and planning for the party to be successful.
- Reward planning and tactics with tangible in-game benefits.
- Provide interesting logical puzzles, traps, and riddles.
- Make excellent group leaders.
- Keep the party alive through careful planning and good decision making.
- Keep track of party loot and resources well.
- Can become paralyzed by indecision when a difficult challenge presents itself.
- Can waste game time by over-planning.
- The Power Gamer: Where the Thinker plans before approaching a specific challenge, the Power Gamer plans before approaching the game itself. Having well made characters gives the Thinker lots of room to throw his wit around.
- The Instigator: The Thinker and the Instigator are polar opposites. Adding an Instigator to a group with a prominent Thinker can cause significant party strife between the Instigator and the party members who rely on the thinker.