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People often present breakdowns claiming to enumerate the various types of tabletop player, such as the rule-lawyer and the power gamer. For example, "The lurker is generally a player who attends a session, participates in a minimal fashion and is usually gaining enjoyment simply by hanging out with other people to see how the game goes."

What are some of these classification schemes of players, playstyles, or modes of play? Are they just for fun, or have you actually used one and found it to help your game in some way? I personally have used the threefold model and it's helped me understand why I like what I like in games, but I'd like to hear some other uses.

It seems like there's a couple major ways to consume such taxonomies:

  • For grins - just to get a bunch of humorous categorizations.
  • As a player, to critique and maybe alter your playstyle
  • As a GM, to determine what motivates your players
  • As a game designer, to figure out what people will respond to in products

What classification schemes have you used in your gaming and what has been the result?

P.S. This is being constructed to replace in a more RPG.SE appropriate format an old CW list question getting mod-closed, Tabletop Player Styles.

P.P.S. As with all answers on this site, please pay attention to the Good Subjective, Bad Subjective criteria of have YOU done it and what's the result - your opinion is irrelevant and not wanted; your experience is relevant and helpful. Please restrict answers on this to breakdowns you have used for some purpose in your gaming and not simply "your thoughts on" something you've read.

P.P.P.S. Apparently this question is confusing. Answers should consist of two parts.

  1. Some existing play/player/playstyle taxonomy, breakdown, or characterization, from Real Men, Roleplayers, Munchkins and Loonies to GNS. Usually not one you just came up with yourself, unless it rises to that level.
  2. An explanation of how you/your group has used said taxonomy for a purpose other than self entertainment - in your play, prepping your play, designing your game, etc.
    In other words, what playstyle breakdowns exist that are actually useful and not just novelties, and prove it using Good Subjective, Bad Subjective criteria.
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Guys - read the question. Not asking for "a list of types of players you've seen." Looking for classification schemes and usefulness in your gaming. The last 3 answers are not answering that. –  mxyzplk Sep 25 '12 at 23:50
    
I don't think I understand the goal of this question. Are you asking for a way to label people so that they have more fun with play? –  B.A. Thomas Sep 27 '12 at 19:57
    
I am asking for existing taxonomies of players/play styles/etc that people have found actually useful in playing or prepping or designing games. As opposed to "cute" or "so true!" Do they serve a purpose besides entertainment? –  mxyzplk Sep 27 '12 at 20:08
    
I h ave re-clarified the question above, though somewhat under protest because I think people aren't exercising their reading skills much this week. –  mxyzplk Sep 27 '12 at 20:15
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4 Answers

up vote 15 down vote accepted
+100

Metagame Rewards: The Different Kinds of Fun

The most useful classification scheme I've found is about the different ways that people find roleplaying games satisfying and rewarding to play. It's best expressed† in the article "Metagame Rewards, or the Different Kinds of Fun":

[M]etagame rewards are a form of reward that encourages the players to keep coming back. These aren’t things “in-game” that boost character stats, or represent new gear, these are the rewards that make the player himself lean back with a grin, look the GM in the eye and say, “Great Game!”

The article continues with a list describing 16 distinct kinds of fun that players can get from a session of a roleplaying game.

The 16 metagame rewards describe the underlying motivations for players' behaviours – a player motivated by agon is going to try to out-do the other players in a cooperative game and enjoys games where inter-player competition is allowed or encouraged, while a player motivated by catharsis is going to want play deeply-emotional stories that might not have anything to do with "succeeding". Any given player will have a few of these motivations, and the particular combination of metagame rewards a player finds interesting is a kind of gamer "fingerprint".

I found this classification scheme useful in three ways.

  • Knowing the motives of my players and myself as GM allowed me to diagnose why a particular group wasn't working well together. The problem was that most of them were highly motivated by sociability (the game is a social event) and paida (loose free-wheeling fun), while I was primarily motivated to run the game for the sake of kairosis (fulfilling story/character development) and kenosis (engagement with the fiction). This wasn't a gap I was prepared to bridge at the time, and the players weren't interested in playing the kind of game I wanted to run, so we split.

  • Knowing the preferences of my players (assuming the group is gelling in the first place), I can tune the style of play and focus of gameplay onto the elements that we all find most fulfilling. If nobody finds kinesis especially fulfilling, then I'd best not run a game that is miniature-heavy, and there's little point in my putting effort into props.

  • Not only can you classify players this way, you can equally well classify games, making it a very useful tool for matching a game system to a given group. I know now that the group I mentioned above doesn't like Burning Wheel, and figuring out later that there was a mismatch between the metagame rewards of the game and the group largely explained why that campaign failed (BW doesn't do paida well at all, for starters).

I found the metagame rewards taxonomy so useful that I made a metagame rewards survey PDF to print out and have everyone complete, in order to find out where group preferences overlap and what the "orphan" preferences (ones that are highly-rated by only one player) are in the group.

If there are many orphan preferences and few strong overlaps, then I know the group is going to need special effort if I want to keep it together for long. If there are lots of strong overlaps and few orphans, then I can safely ignore the types of gameplay that are outside the core preferences, and I can jump quickly to figuring out an scenario that emphasises that core.

The author of the original post on metagame rewards actually used my PDF survey with his group and blogged about the results, so you can read his own experience of applying this taxonomy to understanding a group:

If distilled into a single sentence, one could say that “This gaming group enjoys working as a group, and enjoys taking risks against adversity. They are is success-oriented, focusing on definitively ending threats and challenges with a variety of creative means.”

He looks at how the survey explains why Paranoia fell flat for his group, why a particular Hunter: the Vigil group plays the way it does, and how different games naturally emphasise different metagame rewards via their setting and mechanics.

† I believe the concept of metagame rewards was first articulated by Levi Kornelson of Amagi Games, but that early form of the rewards list seems to have been lost when his site was attacked and brought down some years ago. It was mostly the same if I recall correctly, with a few of the rewards having different names and lacking one or two of the current 16.

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Player and Character motivations

When I've examined my playing group to fit the game style around them (which seems to be part of the goal of this question - "how can I run my game 'better' for my players" and "what does my game need") I break my analysis down into two sections:

  • What do the players want?
  • What do the characters want?

My assessment for both these break down entirely into a motivation/goal interest for each of these; this isn't so much a classification scheme into generic types as a list of things I mentally know that the players want or enjoy and what the characters want or enjoy - which can be entirely different things!

Example

A player in my Pathfinder game is playing a Ogre character, the character is a simplistic warlike brute who is looking to make a name for themselves to tell great stories to their kinsmen when he returns to the tribes in years to come. The player however is a veteran gamer who likes intrigue and cloak-and-dagger style games with intricate plots, complex NPCs and layered and believable worlds.

So what does this tell me? This tells me that for this player to keep the game "fun" and interesting, I need the following:

  • Engaging combat. The Ogre character wants to be able to boast of epic battles and combats, all too often fights may be about challenging the players, but a few combats here and there where the Ogre can wade through hordes of minions slaying them left and right will give him those stories of glory. I don't focus too closely on map based combat and I need to emphasise this to the player, but by the same straw given the player has a keen story focus I can give them rope to try things beyond the simple "roll d20 to hit" that can feel like the mechanics sometimes.

  • A believable world. Ie actions and NPCs that suffer analysis. Although the Ogre is mentally simplistic the player is far from it; they want to be sure the motivations and world feels "real" that NPCs aren't doing things purely to provide combat for the players and that treasure isn't just lying around for no reason that NPCs should be using in the first place. Systems like The five whys help immensely with this.

Obviously I can put down more goals for each player and character than this, but this is just an example. To add to this I want to work out what the other players want as well and mix it all up and then when I have a story/idea in mind blend the two together to help me make something that they will enjoy - or at the very least colour what I'm doing with these goals in mind so

For example again, if I know I have one player in the group who really hates romance in stories and the rest of the players are not bothered by such things then it's not worth my while doing a romance style plot. Instead I can adapt it so, perhaps take it a step away by making it an NPC with a romance who hires the players to do related things - but not get involved in the "romance" element of it.

What has been the result?

When I've ignored examining player/character goals the games have always felt more forced and awkward and less fun to play; once I've examined and worked more on running the game the players/characters want everything has flowed much better, the game has been more enjoyable and after the investigation it has been easier to run as I know what the audience wants.

Classifying

So. What I do is draw up almost a "requirements specification" (Too much project management) for my players listing what they and their characters want from the game. Until now for me this has largely been an entirely mental exercise so that I can steer my game towards this and make it more enjoyable for all, I know (for me) the most rewarding part of a game is when a session ends at the players are still pumped from it and like to chat about it, for ages afterwards perhaps. :) I want them to enjoy themselves!

But in thinking about this question I've realised that as I've been mentally doing this for a long time now I think writing it all down and goading players into telling me more (or explaining, asking for feedback, etc) and actually recording it to keep me focused on it will really aid me in making my game all the better.

Obviously there are things that all players want and I need to keep in mind - that they've being involved, that what they're doing is helpful, that their character is useful (although, I can think of players who wanted their characters to be useless!) and so on! These can be added to group motivations; if elements for players crop up more than once then I can prioritise the game towards that goal. For example if several of the players like thwarting villains then I can create a layered command system for my big bad villain and they can go from boss to boss James Bond style, with the big bad guy escaping until there is a grand finale!

Aids to doing this

Character goals Backgrounds, this is a key thing to helping find out what a character wants.

Game write ups: Unbelievably invaluable; I love doing these as a GM and player, but what these do is provide an insight into how the character thinks and such insight helps me colour want/where the character can go.

Watching the game: Character actions, especially outside combat can tell a lot about what the character's goals are.

Players: Knowing someone for a long time is the best sure fire way for this, know the person, know the player.

Talking: Talking to a player about what games they've played (most players love to do this anyway!) and what they've enjoyed or what they don't like is well worth the effort. One shot games can make this very hard and your first impression of a player can be very wrong.

OOC Banter: Keeping an ear open on the out of character banter during a game can tell a lot about what they want, what players talk about is what players are interested in, one way or another, i.e. what they want more of, or what they want less of.

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Sorry man - good technique but it does not address my question, which is uses for an existing gaming taxonomy. –  mxyzplk Sep 27 '12 at 20:16
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Quote blocks are paraphrased from a board at the WoTC community (follow the link and be sure to check out the Bag o' Rats Fighter!). The terms on this page are used instead for power gamer and munchkin, with the addition of optimizer.

Hack'n Slasher:

primary focus is to roll dice, kill things and take the treasure; also known as a Roll-player

Used as a term to understand what pleases the player. Quite effective

Lurker:

Appears but remains in the background, a nonparticipant

We used the classification of 'one who doesn't really want to play.' When the accused understood this, either they left the group and found other things to disrupt/do nothing at or they fell in line.

Metagamer:

uses out-of-character knowledge to benefit his character.

Enough experience here. So far, success has come from luring them into a DM versus PC knowledge fight, and then turning it into a 'you either trust me to run the game or not' (see rules lawyer, below). Often this has been accomplished by tweaking the monsters/traps/treasures etc. in my world. Has worked great. Related to this and everything else, I'll quote Shamus here:

...you could make the case that stuff like this is the result of a DM who is strict about rules and lax about role-playing, which is about the surest form of self-sabotage a DM can do. If you adhere to the rules with meticulous authority and fill the world with generic NPCs, then soon enough you’ll have players treating your world like a place to mine treasure and farm experience...

Min/Maxer:

designs a character to extremely maximize that character's advantages and extremely minimize its disadvantages.

Tons of experience here, my teacher and first DM is both a munchkin-degree min/maxer and a killer DM (see links above). Recognize that they are queens on a board filled with pawns and all can be smoothed over. For example, when the enemy army approaches, send ol' Guts out to meet a squad all on his own while the rest of the party handles things elsewhere. Often times this is also fun for the player as they get to show off.

Monty Hauler:

runs or plays in a campaign where everything is 'given away', i.e., monsters are easy to kill and treasure and experience easy to find.

We preferred 'spoiled' or 'needy.' However, somewhere on Shamus' DM of the Rings site (can't find it at the moment) is a comment about treasure description I agree with completely. If you give them a "gold comb worth fifty gold pieces," it's just coin waiting to hatch. But if you entice gamers with the "black-horned dragon embossed in gold plating whose claws will cling to one's locks as he appears to breath acid into the skull of the person behind them," your players will fight over it even if it weighs as much as a brick and is worth less than a copper. Understanding that they're spoiled is fine, so spoil them with descriptions. When one is classified as this, use this method (which is a good idea to bring in anyway).

Munchkin:

cheat and will scour for loopholes that seemingly contradict themselves to get an advantage.

We used the classification of 'one who doesn't really want to play.' When the accused understood this, either they left the group and found other things to disrupt/do nothing at or they fell in line.

Optimizer:

creates characters for fun knowing that they may break campaigns, but won't actually run them. (Or plays an unbroken optimized character)

We just call these 'good gamers.' Getting the optimizer in a group of non-optimizers is rough, but in that case splitting the party up/varying encounters so there's something for everyone to do at once works great.

Power Gamer:

creates powerful builds and "min/max" to get the most mechanical benefit out of his character.

See my reply to Min/Maxer. Same applies, just with cooler story and less focus on mechanics.

Role-player:

primary focus is the realistic personal portrayal of her character

Used as a term to understand what pleases the player. Quite effective

Rules Lawyer:

committed rules to memory and uses them to advantage

I use the classification "back-seat driver." As Pulsehead pointed out, some rules lawyering is necessary, just as some back seat driving is. "No, I do get to roll a 1/10 chance to stabilize if I'm dying" can be used to the same extent as "oh my god there's a deer on the road brake!" However, if rules lawyering was consistently needed then we stopped playing until the DM caught up on their homework. If not, and if not life or death, then the rules are just guidelines anyway.

Twink:

A player whose play-style or behavior ruins or disrupts a game.

We used the classification of 'one who doesn't really want to play.' When the accused understood this, either they left the group and found other things to disrupt/do nothing at or they fell in line.

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Have you used these categorizations in your games for something useful, and if so what has been the result? I'm unsure what parts you're quoting and what are personal experience. –  mxyzplk Sep 24 '12 at 14:26
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@LitheOhm The reason mxyzplk is asking for details/clarification is because we already have an old, closed question that merely lists playstyles, and this question is meant to replace it with something more useful. That's why the core line is "What classification schemes have you used in your gaming and what has been the result?" and answers should be moulded to answer that directly. Could you de-emphasise the big quoted lists and refocus this answer on the usefulness of the scheme? It's a hard-to-read wall-o-text right now. –  SevenSidedDie Sep 24 '12 at 19:01
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Yeah, focus less on the specific terms themselves and more on why this particular set of classifications has benefited your game. Sure rules laywers suck, but how has having a set of player classifications that identifies someone as a rule lawyer helped you? –  mxyzplk Sep 25 '12 at 5:17
    
@mxyzplk I've got nothing then lol. I tried to keep the answer curbed toward it but can see that in many places it's not really. This is about as close as I could get it after a lot of editing, sorry it's not very constructive –  LitheOhm Sep 25 '12 at 7:47
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Well this modified answer has given at least me two "aha!" moments for how to better deal with / understand the Rules Lawyer and the Spoiled Monty Hauler, so +1 for that! –  SevenSidedDie Sep 26 '12 at 3:40
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There have been a number of efforts at codifying "types of players" over time that I've seen. There are three such categorizations I've used in my gaming.

Robin Laws' Guide to Good Gamemastering is one of the better "list player types" attempts because it's descriptive and not judgmental (like the online "Loony" lists). Many RPG GM guides have lists of this sort. Examples are "the powergamer," "the tactictian," "the method actor..." I only found it moderately helpful. It does remind you that your different players have different things they want to see out of the game, so I do try to tag my players with these so that I remember to offer challenges of that sort to them. But just like any other attempt to categorize people as "likes thing X" (e.g. "likes movies," "likes scifi") it backfires on me. It can be like your aunt saying "you like science fiction and movies! I bought you this copy of Battlefield: Earth on DVD! Enjoy!" Someone who likes something probably has more sophisticated tastes in it than someone who doesn't, and just as I like action movies but Con Air makes my colon go spastic, my hamhanded chess puzzle annoys my puzzle loving player. In my experience lists like this are mainly valuable for the first time you read them and your mind is opened to "Oh, people are different from me! And they like different things about the game than I do! Note to self to add 'to me' to my pronouncements of 'X sucks' in the future!"

This old WotC customer survey is another I've gone back to over time. Not only does it have the virtue of being derived from market research and then segmented instead of starting from a theoretical, but besides identifying major clusters of game style (thinker/storyteller/powergamer/character actor) it identifies things all gamers surveyed said were needed regardless of that preference:

  • Strong Characters and Exciting Story
  • Role Playing
  • Complexity Increases over Time
  • Requires Strategic Thinking
  • Competitive
  • Add on sets/New versions available
  • Uses imagination
  • Mentally challenging

Useful to game designers and publishers too, but I've found these to be true from the GM's perspective as well, and it has implications on how I construct campaigns. I focus on strong NPCs, make sure and start campaigns simple and let the complexity grow over time, etc.

The old threefold model was an attempt at a more serious classification. Since then it got "replaced" by the Ron Edwards/FORGE work which I find way too abstract to be useful. The threefold model (in short - dramatist, gamist, simulationist) has been very helpful to me because instead of trying to categorize players, which has all the general drawbacks of labeling (people are complex, etc.), it categorizes an approach to play which can be applied to a rule, a game element, a moment in a game. It helped me understand things I liked and didn't like about game systems, helpfully changing the discourse from "I think that rule is retarded!" to "I really prefer simulation, and that rule breaks out of the characters' point of view to serve 'the story,' so I find it distracting." Or "well, I like to do what my character would do, but in this case I'm going to make the gamist decision to do X instead because I know we'll get creamed otherwise." It helps break down more imprecise terms like "metagaming" into "metagaming, but why? To serve what end?" Anyway, though this one is more abstract and harder to use as a checklist for players or campaigns, it has helped me in understanding my preferences and discussing them with others (which happens a lot with RPGers!).

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