Tabletop roleplaying game players: You know ‘em and you love ‘em. But once you’ve sat at enough tables you start to see a pattern emerge. Through the nature of role-playing, players start to fall into a few broad archetypes. Both in the role of someone running a game and as a player, knowing these archetypes (and what they each get a kick out of!) can help you craft a better game experience with your fellow roleplayers.
It should be noted before getting into the list that of course these are not definitive. These won’t perfectly describe every player, and many players will fall into multiple categories. Archetypes like this aren’t a hard and fast rule but rather a tool you and your table can use to work together towards creating a RPG that’s fun for everyone involved.
- THE EXPERIMENTALIST
The Experimentalist is a player who views RPGs as their playground. In the controlled environment of the imagination they take the opportunity to be a mad scientist. These are the players that will come up with wildly convoluted schemes and plans to tackle whatever the game has thrown their way. At their best, they’re solving puzzles in unconventional and unique ways, and building a bond with their fellow party members through the teamwork that’s required to pull off an outrageous plan.
Likes: Feeling clever, a world that feels real, and a seemingly impossible task.
Dislikes: Feeling stuck, being on rails, and a truly impossible task.
As someone running the game, catering to your Experimentalist is easy: give them things to tinker with; strange NPCs, items with niche uses. Describe the party’s surroundings in detail, because this player will always find a way to use them to their advantage. Always be sure to “yes, and” an Experimentalist.
- THE THESPIAN
The Thespian is a player who plays roleplaying games. Their character is fleshed out and tied to the setting of the game, and usually has a backstory half a mile long. They’ve probably got a character voice they’ve been workshopping as well. The Thespian loves meeting the denizens of a world, learning their motivations, and finding out what makes the world tick.
Likes: Roleplay above all, collaborative worldbuilding, and character drama/development.
Dislikes: Overly complex rules and lengthy dungeon crawling.
The best way to play with a Thespian is in the theater of the mind. Don’t worry about how silly you might sound, because they will match your energy, if not exceed it. They love witty banter, even if it’s not plot relevant. Sometimes what makes the Thespian’s night is something as simple as playing out a casual conversation between the characters as they go along their adventure.
- THE SPECTATOR
The Spectator is an oft-misunderstood player. Many mistake the Spectator as checked out and uninvested in tackling whatever challenge is in front of them, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. This player prefers to take a backseat and watch the game unfold in front of them instead of basking in the spotlight, and there’s not a thing wrong with that. RPGs make for fantastic entertainment after all. The Spectator is frequently the note-taker of the group, and they’ll often chime in at just the right time to change the course of the game.
Likes: A well-woven story, anything exciting happening, and memories to share with friends.
Dislikes: Lingering in the spotlight, weighty decisions on their shoulders.
The Spectator is a player that’s easy to please, all you need is a spectacle or two. They love nothing more than to witness drama so tense you can feel the air thicken. If you have a Thespian at the table, you might catch them performing specifically to the Spectator, and it’s because they know this player is invested in what unfolds. Give them a night of laughs and intrigue and they’ll be pleased as punch. If you can get your Spectator to gasp at a reveal, you know you’ve succeded.
- THE BIG NUMBER ENTHUSIAST
The history of the Big Number Enthusiast goes back as far as there have been games. There have always been and will always be players who want to make the most optimal decision at all points. In character creation, in combat, and even in roleplay scenes you see these players making the most of each and every word their character sheet has on it. These players can make fantastic party leaders due to their exceptional ability to deduce the best way to get through a stressful encounter.
Likes: High rolls, winning tough encounters, and challenging high-stakes situations.
Dislikes: Roleplay without rolling, cutscenes, feeling useless.
Give this player a chance to feel impactful. Being able to utilize their character’s build is important to them, so create opportunities for them to shine using the mechanics of the game. The Big Number Enthusiast loves party cohesion through gameplay mechanics, so be sure to be in the ‘war room’ while they’re planning whatever comes next.
- THE RUFFIAN
The hothead. The wildcard. They go by many monikers, but many tables are familiar with the type who likes to stir the pot. But by no means is this a bad thing! Where the Experimentalist sees cause and effect as a tool for them to interact with the game, the Ruffian sees cause and effect as the game itself. They want to poke the sleeping owlbear with a stick, and of course they want to attempt to break into that impenetrable fortress.
Likes: Constant action, achieving personal goals, and a world that feels alive.
Dislikes: politics-driven games, and lingering too long on one thing.
Keep the ball rolling! If they don’t feel like enough action is happening, the Ruffian will often sow some chaos just to see the world react, regardless of whether or not it helps the table with their goals. Sometimes what this player needs is just a touch of guidance from the party and they’ll hit the ground running with great ideas and story beats that surprise even the Ruffian themself. Keep an eye on them though, curiosity killed the cat, and it usually kills the Ruffian too.
So, where do you fall? Hopefully you’re able to take these archetypes and apply them to your table. If you’ve got a Big Number Enthusiast who’s been waiting to scratch the itch of a tactically planned combat encounter, give them that opportunity! RPGs are a collaborative game, so everyone gets to work together to make sure all the players are engaged and having fun, be they Spectators or Ruffians.