Player Archetypes are exactly that: the kinds of players you can find around the table.
In this article I will address Positive or Constructive Archetypes, the kinds of players you want to see at your games. The ones who enrich the gaming experience and lead to a fun and successful campaign.
I have narrowed the basics down to four essential archetypes:
- The Planner
- The Fighter
- The Actor
- The Explorer
What is it? The Planner is what it sounds. The Planner considers all options and formulates plans of action that are most likely to lead to success.
What role does the Planner play in my party? The Planner is often the leader of both the players and the characters. The Planner organizes and directs the party in combat or strategic situations where teamwork is required.
The Planner is the strategic core of the party. To have an outgoing leader is the best as he will not shy away from taking the lead or giving orders to the party.
Identifying the Planner The Planner often seeks a broad knowledge of the rules to use them in strategy. The Planner is the player that asks questions about rules and mechanics. The Planner keeps careful inventory of all items and spells and can often be found reading through his list before any significant encounter.
How to entertain and reward a Planner The Planner is helpful to the party in mundane situations, but absolutely instrumental when the challenge ramps up. Because he will be needed, it is important to show the Planner that his skills are necessary. Not every adventure requires careful planning, but if it can be added, try to place a little bonus for those who think. This is good policy anyway, as it keeps players on their toes and always thinking, but in the case of a Planner, it keeps him in his capacity. A Planner who does not believe his thought necessary eventually leaves this role behind in addition to becoming bored. Then when the party needs him the most, the Planner is out of practice, unused to this level of depth and the whole party suffers without his ability to find and shape solutions.
It would seem that the opposite of a positive archetype would be detrimental, yes? But in fact the Fighter, as the antithesis of the Planner, is still instrumental to the group.
What is it? The fighter is you're party's... well, fighter. Or barbarian. Maybe even brash paladin. The Fighter is the only archetype that can usually be tied to a specific in-game class. The fighter is the character who simply acts. When tensions build, the fighter acts first, usually in a violent or angry outburst. Now, note that in this case I mean within the context of the game. To have a violent or angry player is an intensely detrimental thing and I do not mean to suggest otherwise. I simply mean that the fighter is the man of action who leads with an outthrust jaw and the point of a blade, not with tediously marked plans (in most cases; I did have a fighter once draw out a map of the siege of a fort but this was, of course, the siege of a fort). He is always found on the front lines axe/sword/hammer swinging.
What purpose does a Fighter serve? The Fighter is an instrument of chaos. In a recent game my players, cornered by guards to be arrested, turned to each other and started to form alibis, lies, quick responses to hurling accusations, hurriedly tossing plans about, when out of nowhere our fighter shouts "I attack!"
As the whole party cries out and the die cracks against the tabletop, I could only smile. Sure, the party could have talked their way out of the arrest. In fact, they still did in the end. But with a good Fighter things never quite go as planned. To a Planner, this is often chaos. To most players and a skilled DM, this is fun. I could see from the beginning that the players would talk their way out and escape. The Fighter keeps me on my toes. He throws the game into new directions when plans net it down into certainty. We keep dice in our hands and pockets and bags because we play a game of chaos. A Fighter ensures that we don't forget this.
A Fighter also adds pacing. More than likely your game has suffered slowdowns. A Fighter urges the players to action. A Fighter usually has a brief tolerance for the mundane before comes the familiar cry "Let's fight stuff". The antithesis of the Planner keeps a game from becoming all planning and prep. Fighters keep the game moving.
How to entertain a fighter The fighter is generally an easy player to please: give 'em monsters! Not wildly, not willy-nilly, but be sure to keep fights fresh and challenging.
The risks of the Fighter I would say that every table needs a Fighter. A Fighter. In large groups maybe two, but there should never be many Fighters. Too many Fighters, being of strong personality, threaten control of a party. When Fighters control a party, it can quickly become nothing but dungeon crawl. Sometimes this is okay, but most DMs want to run other adventures, dabble in riddles or intrigue, string together extended plots. My Fighter is often found asking "Why are we doing this?", half joking and half having forgotten or lost interest. Fighters are necessary to keep the party going, but Fighters in control severely limit a DM.
What is it? We all know that there is a particular facet of DnD referred to as roleplaying that many find optional. Less so for a DM than for others but in either case. For the Actor, roleplaying is the central attraction of DnD. The Actor creates character back stories and creates a persona for his character. The Actor interacts with every NPC, and can also often play a leadership role when communicating with NPCs in social context.
What purpose does the Actor serve? Mechanically speaking, an actor is not necessary. But then we all know this is a game beyond mechanics. The purpose of an Actor? Fun. And depth. The Actor treats the game world as a real place, interacting with it as a real person, doing things that may not be necessary, but that "his character would do" (more on this later). The Actor draws the other players into this illusion of a real world, pulling them under his veil of boundless suspension of disbelief. The Actor has the strongest imagination and the fun one can have with this is contagious, drawing everyone into a deeper experience.
Dangers of the Actor The following is more a danger of someone who may seem to be an Actor than someone who truly is. Someone who claims to be a strong actor may fall into the habit of detrimental behavior, throwing it behind that infamous shield of "that's what my character would do".
When players agreed to start a campaign together, though, they made a sort of pact, whether spoken or unspoken, that they would play a certain kind of game. I encourage you to read this article for more on that idea of a game-style pact.
How to entertain an actor The actor's main function and joy comes from social interaction. Mechanically speaking, though, in a game of dice and numbers it is easy to fall into purely by-the-rules play where social graces are useless and the charisma roll decides all.
My biggest piece of advice for this? Scrub the charisma roll. Charisma as a stat has its purposes, especially if you look back on the OD&D ruleset with its role in hiring companions, loyalty, etc, but nowhere there does it say that it was meant to decide all social interaction, as many use it today. Worst of all perhaps is the "bluff roll". I know of a campaign in which a level one player was able to convince a priest of his Godhood because of a "bluff roll".
But the opposite is broken as well, where the most perfectly crafted alibis fail because a roll of the dice said so.
This is where we have to intervene with common sense. If a player wants to convince the Elf King of his need to pay a band of warriors tons of money to clear out the gnoll cave, make them do it. If a player stands on the table in a Dwarven mead hall and gives a fifteen minute rallying speech on patriotism and defending one's lands to raise an army (true story) then he has his army, screw the dice.
Reward roleplaying and above all use common sense. Trained interrogators have been shown to be able to detect lies only 60-70% of the time, but people aren't idiots either. And if players have spent half an hour weaving the story that will keep them from being arrested, reward their effort. Cutting them down will only make them stop after a time and however rough a DM you are you still need someone to talk back when you start doing your best goblin voice. Otherwise you just look like an idiot.
What is it? The Explorer is the curious one. The Explorer is the player who has reached the treasure room and defeated the dragon, but still wants to double back to check that one tunnel you missed, just in case there's something interesting. The Explorer asks questions in-game, not like a Planner to gather information, but just for the sake of knowing. Chances are the Explorer is a heavy reader; Tolkien, Frank Herbert, all that stuff.
What role does the Explorer play? The Explorer is the player who makes sure your time spent carefully planning and mapping doesn't go to waste. The Explorer keeps a DM sharp, making sure he knows his world well and has planned enough to satisfy every curiosity. Chances are the Explorer facilitates the Actor and the Planner, digging up new depths for the Actor to explore in reacting to new developments, pulling up new information for the Planner to sort into new strategies.
Oh, and all the extra searching probably finds the players some new shiny/glowy/magical toys to blow up your monsters with.
Dangers of the Explorer The Explorer really should not present much danger to a prepared and talented DM. A DM who has everything planned and sorted out has nothing to fear. However, the Explorer can make it difficult to improvise sessions or run a game with minimal planning, as he will often be looking to scratch more than the surface of your frantically unfurling ideas.
How to entertain the Explorer. Simple: Plan. Take the simple joy of creating a world and run wild with it. Tolkien spent nearly his entire professional life writing the Silmarillion, simply for the sake of explaining his world, adding a depth that many of us can only dream of having in a game.
You don't have to write a thousand pages, but have most of your game world plotted out in advance, maybe write a history, know the story behind everything you have in your game. I've found it extremely helpful to keep a sort of atlas. Map out your game world, mark locations, and write at least on page about each, if not a map. The depth of your game explodes with just these small actions.
Now, most good players you encounter will be a combination of these archetypes. Only the Planner and Fighter are rarely found together.
The problem comes more when you find a player that cannot be identified as any of these roles. This may be a problem, but more on that next when I'll discuss negative archetypes.
How do you use this information as a DM?
- Pick your players well. To have a positive playing group can make all the difference in a campaign, and even in a single game. You may have to have a smaller party, but it can be worth it for the rewards that follow.
- Know who you are DMing for. It is the DMs job to run a game where everyone has a chance to enjoy the campaign together and in their own ways. We play DnD in a world where we get to be heroes, and each archetype achieves that in a different and specific personal way as well as with the group. Play to every archetype, and everyone comes away happy.
- A DM has to be a little bit of each of these. Know the archetypes because in addition to playing to them, you will have to play as them. A DM as an Actor has to be thousands of people over the course of a campaign, jumping from NPC to NPC and hopefully making each feel like a distinct personality. A DM as a Fighter must be willing to cut the crap from time to time and keep the game moving, cutting dialogue short or hurrying players through their actions to keep the flurry of combat in high gear. A DM as an Explorer must as all the questions of his own game world that a player could want to know, or even that he himself wonders. A DM as Planner has to be willing to painstakingly fill those wholes the Explorer digs up, seeing all the plans and options and being able to prepare for all the unpredictabilities of the players. And even then they will find the one thing for which you weren't prepared.