Players come to game for lots of different reasons, as do referees. Most players could be refs, and most refs love playing. One of the puzzle pieces to making this hobby enjoyable is identifying why you game, and what you want out of it. It is also important to consider what your players are looking for… First, I’m going to talk about the reasons to Ref; If these do not appeal to you, then reff’ing is probably not something you would enjoy.
A ref plays to tell, not experience, a story. They are often experimental and a bit of an over actor. They are willing to work for their enjoyment, and are at least somewhat gregarious. A ref cannot be afraid of things not working out as they had planned, and be able to pick up the pieces when they do fail. They must be fair but willing to endure hardships, such as character deaths, with their players. Now, if NONE of these sounds like you, then I’d say you probably won’t enjoy reff’ing. But…you might try it, ’cause I could be wrong!
Now…your players…and you as a player: What brings you to the table? I have kind of touched on this in a couple of earlier posts, but I am going to go in into some detail here about things to consider for each motive. But before I start, it needs to be clear that this list is by no means complete and few gamers are actually completely driven by one motive. AND, as I said before, many if not most gamers will NOT be able to tell you WHY they came…at least not without serious contemplation. But after you have watched them for a bit, you can probably figure it out. First, i want to talk about the “Evolution” of a gamer. I was talking with some of my gamers the other night and we were discussing this, and it seems a reasonable start. When RPGs first started, I mean after Chainmail and the game was not a character specialized war-game anymore, the hobby kind of evolved like this:
- Let’s go kill all the monsters in the dungeon!
- Why are they living in this dungeon?
- Who cares! Let’s go kill them. Then we will go back to town, get healed and buy better stuff, and go kill the monsters in another dungeon!
- Boy, you sure seem to be playing a greedy character!
- What? I don’t know about character, but I have an 18/90 strength, so let’s go hack some monsters!!!
After that, players and refs began to realize that towns could be more than just a place to heal and supply and the game kind of progressed into:
- What’s going on in this town?
- The local priest wants to see you <…and then this would lead to a bit of actual character interaction where the priest needed you to go clear the spiders out of an abandoned part of the catacombs!>
- So, we talked to the Priest and now we get to kill things in a dungeon Great! By the way…is there a bar where I can get drunk before we go?!
At this point, players and refs realized that this really was more like impromptu collaborative amateur drama, and there were many more genres available, that didn’t even HAVE dungeons, so we were well on our way to the gaming styles we now know.
I told you that, to tell you this: That same evolution of game, is kind of how most players evolve. That varies by how well established the game group they start with and many other details, but early characters (particularly for the main game demographic of young male teens) evolve something like this:
- OK: I want to cast fireball…and I have a very high intelligence…bamm! those guys are toast…then I’ll stab them! <This character is not really a character, but a sheet with numbers and cool stuff on it… >It says here I have soft rope…why do I need this?
- Hey! Since we are in town, I’m gonna steal from the merchants, then I’m gonna go buy new stuff with the money…then I’m going to the whore house…and to finish it off…I’m gonna hit the bar and get wasted! Can I get dope here? often playing the “light fingered thief” and he can explore a dark place in the safety of his imagination, and of course…no city guard or policeman will ever come looking for them! >
It is after that point the player usually realizes there is something more to the game. And here is where the players begin to separate into layers…so now, we can look at the layers. Let us start with probably the most common player type: The bestest! The player who is a “Bestest” is only slightly evolved from the last stage…they have an idea of who they want to play and that character is “The Best…thief, fighter, fighter jock…” whatever. This person plays these characters to be an icon and a hero, or major villain. These players are easily recognized, often describing their character idea in superlatives and bright colors…They will often push the boundaries of beginning characters, although they may recognize this and define the GOAL of the character to be the BEST there ever was…When reff’ing this sort of character, they need lots of things to do…things to beat, things to overcome…and they usually need to be in very small groups, or even single player games. In groups, they either get too bored, and interfere with others fun, or they hog the limelight or always “Just try to help out!” They seem to not realize, or care that only one person can examine the jewelry box for traps at time, and will assume that because they want to do it, it automatically happens, or that the other character will hand it over to them to do it. This is how they have fun! by doing EVERYTHING, and of course, being the BEST!
The next most common is the player who wants to escape. These players don’t really care about what kind of character they have, as long as it is not themselves. These are people who want to “read the book.” They want to play to forget about their problems for a while and do something they can’t or won’t do as players. There are several subtypes of this, but the two most common are the “dabblers” and the “Tag-a-longs.” The dabbler not only wants to escape, but they want to play somebody VERY different from themselves, or at least their own perception of themselves. These are the guilty souls who play Paladins, or the straight laced who play assassins, or brutes. The tag-a-long is one of the most passive players at your table. They have a character, vaguely defined, that will do whatever most folk want, so long as they can forget about the real world for a while. When you have escapists at your table, the best way to ensure they are having a good time is by giving them challenges that they would not encounter in their lives. Yes, the life and death combat of most RPGs will fit this definition, as will certain quests. The Escapist and the Bestest players are least likely to enjoy epic game play, as there is to many “ordinary thing” going on. With both of these player motives, they will enjoy a rousing episodic game much more.
After this, I’m not sure which is more or less common. The next motivations, the active explorer, the profiler and the storyteller, all share several characteristics. Like the earlier player motives, these are not absolute and will often share characteristics of some of the others, and I have seen them in varying levels. However, only recently have I added the Storyteller player type. As one of my characters plays to tell the story, where before I might have labeled her an active explorer with a large smattering of profiler, she defined for me a separate style.
The active explorer is sort of like an escapist, in that they want to be away from themselves and the mundane, but they do it to see what is around the next corner, to see what happens when they knock the beehive off the tree when pursued by trolls…instead of reading the book, they explore the stage. These players are defined by a few character types: avatars, troublemakers, and experimenter. The avatar play themselves in the world, playing some genre appropriate version of themselves. The troublemaker usually plays a fairly contrary to personality character who gets into mischief, to see how the world reacts to their involvement. Finally, the experimenter is the person who try’s everything. Often a bit of a munchkin player, they see what they can get away with in the game world laws. All of these characters can be difficult to ref, because they tend to be more difficult to reign in after going 6 ways to Sunday, even when they do arrive at the same place as the rest of your characters. For these players, you should have a firm grasp of what is possible and the consequences of action within the setting you’re playing. As a Ref, I would probably describe me as having an experimenter motive.
The profiler is the thespian of the gaming world…they try out attitudes and voices, and even thought processes. They try to create very deep, defined characters, and then imagine how this amalgam of theirs will respond to the challenges before them. This is me…I have even been known to use the Meyers-Briggs personality type indicator to create PCs and NPCs. This type of character can be very easy or very hard to ref, depending on the character they have created and how rigidly they stick to it, which is usually quite strongly. One of the best things I can say about this type of player, is they are usually VERY open to modifying their character, because it is just another variation on what they were trying out
The last player motivation is the story teller. This player creates a character like an author would, and then plays that character to tell their story. They will want to find out what happens to all of the background they have created, and they LOVE the detail you put into a description. Like I said, I have only recently actually realized that this IS a separate player motive…but as I think about it, I have played with them before. They have very detailed characters, with hooks looped throughout the background of the character. These players do well in any size group, so long as things are vivid. This is the key for these players, however, if they are not provided it by the ref, they will often fill in the details as they go along.
Let me remind you, that no one is all the way down one of these paths, and usually has other types scattered in, and I’d even go so far as saying that all players have some of every motivation. It is very possible that there are other reasons players play that I have either not played with or not realized they have different needs. There is nothing wrong or right about any of these styles…I suppose it is possible to look at it as an evolution, but I’m not sure what reason I’d put at the top. For me, the profiler is the most “complete” role player, but that’s because I am one, and I could easily argue that the strengths of any of them are at the peak of that evolution.
So, to finish this off, I’d like to kind of sum up each of the player needs, but remember these are VERY broad generalizations:
Bestest: small group, busy episodic
Escapist: Episodic, avoid the mundane; fantastic is much better
Explorer: Epic, lots of things, testing the world boundaries
Profiler: smaller groups, psychological challenges
Story teller: tight groups, lots of details
Sorry this one is soooo long, and just as late…Hopefully I’ll have a few more fairly shortly…but after our camping trip!