Player Types, or Crafting Your Group of Players

A classic discussion on player types includes stuff like Power Gamer, Butt-Kicker, Tactician, Specialist, Method Actor, Storyteller, and Casual Gamer (the types used by Robin D. Laws in his booklet on GMing). Maybe this isn’t enough. I’m not talking about finding more types, but rather a totally different typing based on different personality traits.

Some time ago, a few years back, we played A Quiet Year, a strongly narrative game, but a game only in a very loose sense of the word. I’ve discussed it previously on my RopeCon reports. We had three players (myself, Ville, and Peetu, from our Guild). The game was thoughtful, the narrative moved nicely, characters had nice arcs, there were creative plot twists and all that stuff. All in all enjoyable.

But something was missing. Especially compared to most of our oneshots. Thinking back to my earlier experiences with the game, I think we were missing energy. The three players we had were thoughtful and imaginative, but unlike most of our games, we were missing the exuberant player who has fun and we – as social beings – are dragged along. So, we didn’t have bad players, only a less than optimal mix of players. We have our place in groups, but apparently we shouldn’t try to form a group for roleplaying amongst ourselves.

Of course, this is problematic. How to get the right mix of people? How do you analyze such things? I don’t have any answers on this one. I’m just trying to work this out myself and maybe start some conversation. I do some ideas of the types. I have no idea about the mix. I’m also trying to stay away from negative stereotypes. I’m not trying to judge anyone.

However, let’s talk about Freud for a minute. Freud wasn’t exactly scientific in his approach, but what he did do was bring plenty of new ideas into the discussion. One of these ideas was that of an ego, which is pushed around by superego and id.

Id represents the basic drives in all people. The need to eat, mate and whatnot. It isn’t interested in long-term goals. Id is all about immediacy.

Superego, on the other hand, is all about control. Its the ethics in us. Its an idealized form, which we hope we could be, but usually can’t.

Between them is the ego, which has to balance these two sides of our personalities.

So, what does this have to do anything? Many of the best group dynamics in fiction are based on this idea. Take the original Star Trek. We had Spock, who was the superego and wanted to approach things through logic and reaason. Bones, on the other hand, liked simpler things and wanted to approach things through emotional responses and instinct. Between them was Kirk, who was a very capable leader, finding a way to use both of these approaches and make them work in order to resolve the situation, whatever it might have been.

So, recently, when Lauri asked me to run a minicampaign with Blades in the Dark (we managed to play one session, which Ville wrote about), I was faced with the problem of finding the correct players. I decided to use the aforementioned model provided by Freud.

Lauri, for one, is a clear id. He doesn’t like to think things through too much, and would much rather do things in the moment. I decided to ask Ville, because I know he likes to test new games. But what would be his role? This is a bit complicated, because in certain regards Ville is the perfect ego, but maybe not others. He wants to follow what the game is supposed to be about, but that might also be problematic if you have a certain role in the group. Anyhow, I decided it would be just fine. For superego, I decided to ask Henkka. He was a bit hesitant at first, fearing he might not be able to hang, so to say, with the other two, because he wasn’t interested in too much immersion, bleed-through. The thing is, even if I didn’t want to tell him, or any of them for that matter, that was just the thing I wanted him for. His approach is always much more thoughtful and planned, which is exactly the right ingredient to this group.

… and it worked very well. Again, I tried not to goad them into these roles, but the dynamic just emerged quickly. Perhaps the balance was a little off in general terms, but this particular game is about scoundrels, who live on the edge, taking risks to further their plots and status in life, so it felt pretty much perfect. Sorry, if I’m a bit self-congratulatory, but yeah. Try it.

I’m not saying you should use this particular model. I bet you can find better ones, but I am saying that you should think your group through this way. Find a model, be it some sort of version of MBTI or the Five-Man Band or whatever. Then find the right people to do it. And try to fit your model into whatever you are playing. You should find people you know can handle the genre.

Of course, social bonds often enforce our hands on such decisions, but I don’t think you should let those dictate decisions like this. Certain mix of players might take away from your campaign idea, so try to avoid such situations.

One final note: I didn’t want to push anyone into being a leader in this little gang. Quite the opposite, actually, I decided I would have different NPCs make different assumptions on this. Sadly, we only managed to play the one session, because I had to move to another city. Maybe we’ll get to continue this someday, or find a weekend I can sacrifice for this purpose, but I’m not holding my breath.

One thought on “Player Types, or Crafting Your Group of Players

  1. That description of me went straight to my signature. Always loot, always burn!

    Personally I think I have indentified my playing style as you describe it. I am quite sure this has more to do with me usually acting as the GM than any other factor. And that’s totally ok. When you get to be the player only a handful of times during a year you try to get the most out of it.

    On the whole I think you are on something here. I believe that quite many GMs do this without thinking about it once they are familiar with their “player pool”. Social bonds can be a real burden while thinking about the players but on the other hand it really helps to think about the group’s enjoyment of the game over single individuals.

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