Recently I've been reading some articles about the eight types of fun and how these are applied to tabletop roleplaying games.

Even though I have been playing with the same people for quite a long time, I can't really grasp what some of them want. On the other hand, some others are really easy.

For example, Alistair likes repetitive micromanaging tasks and straightforward simple combat; he's into challenge and submission. Becky likes to enact dramas around tragic events that happen to her character and NPCs she created; she's clearly into fantasy and expression. There's Cecilia, who doesn't even count her own dice and doesn't care about the story but will jump off her seat excited if you ask her to do something for you; she's there for fellowship.

On the other hand, Dustin's only constant trait is to hoard aimlessly (items, power, info, everything he can get to himself and not share with others is fair game), and I don't really know what to make of that. He does have very strong opinions of things he doesn't like, but he's not as open about what he likes, and he's unpredictable and hard to read.

There are a couple others who also have me guessing, albeit not as hard as Dustin. The thing is, how can I read my players better so I can give them a better gaming experience?


5 Answers 5


You do know

"Alistair likes repetitive micromanaging tasks and straightforward simple combat" and "Dustin's only constant trait is to hoard aimlessly" - what else do you need? Based on that alone I can write a one-page adventure that will make them both very happy.

Don't sweat the theory

You missed the most important part of the link: "This includes but is not limited to ...". Dustin doesn't fit. You have 2 options: say "good for Dustin" or invest in a bed of Procrustes and stretch or trim Dustin to fit. I recommend the former as the second is unlikely to be fun for Dustin and will almost certainly put you in jail.

As with any theory, the map is not the territory. Any theory in social science is going to fit any given individual about as well as you expect - if you squint a bit and turn your head it sort of fits them ... a bit; like a jacket made by a bind seamstress with three missing fingers who's only ever had "jackets" explained to her but never made one before and hasn't been given the person's size.

Use the model if it helps - abandon it when it doesn't.

If you want to know more

Don't ask your players. People have no idea what they enjoy and certainly can't explain it to someone else.

You can and should ask at the end of a session for one thing they liked and one thing they didn't and over time and coupled with your own observations you can get a general idea of what they find fun and not-fun and tune your game appropriately.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Everyone has given me very good tools to survey my players, which is was what I was looking for, but I'm going to check this one, because you're right in something, some players might not fit the model, and that's helpful advice too. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 4, 2019 at 11:39

In my experience, gauging fun is very hard to do with high precision. As you've seen, different players are into different things. As the GM, the best thing you can do is...

Observe how players react to different situations

In a given campaign, you have ample opportunity to craft different scenarios and encounters that will challenge the party in different ways. A straightforward combat is the most obvious one, but there is really no limit to the different kinds of things you can do. If you want to be scientific, you can see what kinds of things get a positive or negative reaction from your players, and tailor future encounters to try and capitalize on this information.

For example, if Dustin is into hoarding things, how does he react to a situation where one of those items is needed? Or, where he's in a situation where he's spoiled for choice (eg, a dragon hoard), and can't take everything?

And, of course, completely new situations tend to be exciting for everyone. Maybe see what people do when they get a chance to ride an airship for the first time or whatever.

If that fails, then there is an alternative...

Ask the players

Not necessarily at the table, but maybe informally ask Dustin, "What is your character into? Does he have any long term goals?" Odds are good that if he has an answer, it would be something that he enjoys doing or thinking about.


Discover player motivation with plot hooks

Offering lots of plot hooks — corresponding to various motivations to participate in an adventure — can help you understand player/PC motivation.

The trick is to offer the myriad plot hooks in a fun way.

A Narrative Introduction

The late Jean Well’s 1980 flawed gem, The Palace of the Silver Princess (orange edition) had a narrative introduction: several paragraphs of background, that reads like a faerie tale. There are lots of hints here, but no spoilers.

Looping Motivation into Character Creation

Ahead of character creation for one campaign, I read Jean Well’s Legend introduction (page 2) to the players and instructed them: Your heroes have each decided to seek out and explore this palace. Why is entirely up to you.

This went great. Everyone enjoyed the little reading, and they created an eclectic group of heroes who had strong motivation to hang together as a team. Plus, I knew which aspects of the adventure to highlight.

Iterating on Finding Motivations / Preferred Fun

I find this technique works well after character creation as well. When a scenario wraps up and the party is looking for a new adventure, we take time to identify a motivation for each PC for the next adventure.

Some PC’s have particular goals, while others are up for anything. There are no wrong answers, but try to tease out things the quieter players/PC’s are interested in (besides just coming along).

You can use a long-form narrative for this, or just let the PC’s interact with NPC’s they trust.

So identifying PC motivation becomes an iterative process, where you periodically spend some time and energy figuring out what your players find fun. (Hint: Your players may also be figuring that out.)

LeBlanc’s “Types of Fun”

While I’ve never tried to categorize the types of fun my players are looking for, this could provide a good framework for identifying what your players want.

I’d caution that LeBlanc’s list is made for video games and may not be a perfect fit for role-playing games. Be ready to adjust based on what the players tell you.

Players and Player Characters

Don’t assume PC motivations are identical to Player motivations. D&D is a role playing game, after all, and sometimes people put on a much different persona than they do elsewhere in life.

Some players play the game differently one PC to the next. Don’t assume a player’s preferred “modes of fun” will remain constant.


Ask them

...but not in a way that's entirely obvious.

The fact is, players don't actually always know what they want. Some folks say they hate the idea of combat, yet get really involved when they have the chance to get revenge on the bad guy. Some people say they want complex stuff, but leave the complexities with just character creation, and will opt for a generic campaign where he uses the only hyper-optimized thing the character can do.

However, I find that people generally don't stray too far from what they already enjoy.

If you ask someone what they already enjoy, they answer that they enjoy action movies, and they're looking to join you in a tabletop game, they're likely going to be enjoying the combat/thematic elements of it more than anything else.

Alternatively, if you asked someone who only ever watches action movies what they wanted out of a tabletop game, they wouldn't have an answer for you.

So don't ask them their opinion about tabletop games. Ask about other stuff. Ask about their choices in books, in video games, and in movies. Someone who's spent hours reading the Wheel of Time series will obviously enjoy a campaign with mystery and magic. If someone's only interests are in The Walking Dead and The Conjuring, then maybe some horror elements should be included.

My wife loves to read, and she plays games on the lowest difficulty so that she can enjoy them at her own pace. Sure enough, she enjoys interacting with NPCs and she avoids combat as often as possible at the table. Draw similar conclusions for your players.


Abandon that model.

It’s not wrong (clearly! Look at that guy’s pedigree!), but it’s more complicated than it needs to be.

I have had extremely good results with the XDM paradigm, and I highly recommend it. The language is a bit overblown, but the “types of players” section was worth the price alone. Quoting from this review’s summary:

Warrior Player - "If it moves, kill it. If it doesn't move, kick it 'til it moves. Take its stuff. Buy bigger weapons. Kill bigger things." Give this player a pointy thing and a horde of squishy things in front of them and they're happy. Logic and setting are more or less irrelevant. Social Player - "If it moves, talk to it. If it doesn't move, talk ABOUT it. Stay in character and speak with an affected voice." May attend game in costume. In parties composed entirely of this type, the book recommends setting them in a colorful tavern and going for pizza. They will probably still be talking to each other, in character, when you get back. Love campaign settings. Thinking Player - "If it moves, how can I use that to help me win? If it doesn't move, how can I use that to help me win? The world is full of obstacles between me and winning, and I'll use whatever strategy I need to overcome them." This type requires a clear, perceivable goal, and enjoys puzzles and obstacles along the way.

The best part about this paradigm is that it comes with solutions built in: fighty player is yawning? Suddenly, ninjas! Solver is bored? The ninjas have a note with a mysterious signature! Etc.

The thing is, this approach is easy to apply and (at least in my experience) it works.

So, on your specifics: - Alistair likes fighting things. Great! That’s easy, just make sure there’s plenty to challenge him. - Becky likes talking. Also easy! Make sure she has plenty of interesting NPCs around. To mesh with Alistair, you might want to put big bodyguards on some of them, or have them need social Macguffins retrieved from dragons, etc. - Dustin sounds like someone who enjoys solving things (based mostly on the hoarding). Does he enjoy scheming with the other players about what to do, but seem to lose interest in the execution? Try giving clear but open-ended problems here, as well as letting him affect your setting in real ways. - Cecilia is actually more of a puzzle here, because apparently nothing about your game is drawing her in. It’s great that she’s having fun! But ideally she would be having more fun with this than if you all went to get pizza instead. Try to fit her into one if the three groups, then proceed as appropriate.

Look, I know this sounds to stupid to work, but again, my experience says this is the best lens.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Just for clarification Dustin doesn't like to share anything with other players (game things, oddly enough he's very kind when it comes to real life) that includes spotlight, and open ended problems tend to frustrate him. The only problem with Cecilia is that she doesn't count her damn dice, but that's another problem entirely. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 4, 2019 at 11:34

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