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Player Archetypes

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When they encounter a sleeping dragon:
Real Men wake it up and THEN attack it.
Real Roleplayers sneak away quietly.
Loonies tie its shoelaces together.
Munchkins kill it instantly and then carry off all its treasure in one backpack.
— The Munchkin Files

Different people want different things out of their games.

For instance, one kind of player may have absolutely no use for Awesome, but Impractical abilities; they avoid even getting them, they write to the company asking them not to put them in future games, and they deride players who do use them as ignorant newbies. On the other hand, other players go straight for them, and use them as often as possible, just because they like the impressive visual effects and the feel of doing the maximum possible amount of damage. And yet another player will acquire them, but not use them except as a Finishing Move, because it's more dramatic that way.


Now, if you're making a game, it's very important that you know who, exactly, you're trying to sell the game to. Thus, a fair amount of work has been done into codifying the relevant psychographic profiles. All of them, to a greater or lesser degree, are about what the player thinks is fun.

Several different categorizations have been proposed. Most of them were made for the purposes of one specific game or genre, but can be applied more widely with a bit of tweaking.

  • Timmy/Johnny/Spike. The minds behind Magic: The Gathering decided to sit down and personify the three major motivations that (so far as they could tell) drove their players. Nowhere in their original article or its followup does Wizards of the Coast suggest that you can be only one of them, but they feel that most people empathize with one of them more than others.
    • Timmy, Power Gamer plays to have fun. He doesn't care if it's Cool, but Inefficient as long as it's interesting, because for Timmy, "fun" is more about the journey than the destination. Timmy puts the most emphasis on the game as a social experience. Timmy lives for awesomeness, and enjoys deploying the Infinity-Plus-One Whatever that makes your eyes bug out. Wizards deliberately prints cards that are Awesome, but Impractical to keep him happy.
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    • Johnny, Combo Player plays as a form of self-expression. The more customization there is in the game, the more Johnny's interested, because he thrives on taking the pieces the game gives them and making something uniquely his own. He lives for the strategy that makes your eyes bug out. Cards made with Johnny in mind tend to be open-ended; like LEGOs, they can be combined in new and different ways. Johnny also loves Junk Rares with hideous Necessary Drawbacks, because if he can just find a way to get around that drawback, he's got a Game-Breaker on his hands—not to mention the fifteen minutes of fame associated with turning a Joke Character into a Lethal Joke Character forever.
    • Spike, Tournament Grinder sees the game primarily as a competition, and likes to win. They're most likely to be a Tournament Player, spend time analyzing and scrutinizing any available strategies, looking for the one which gives them the best odds, and is most likely to copy other people's designs and strategies (as opposed to inventing his own) if he thinks that holds the key to victory. Spike is also the most likely type to be a "Mr. Suitcase," a player who spends unusually large amounts of money on the hobby; as such, Spikes determine the market value for almost all components, since they're the ones first in line to grab them. His favorite cards are Boring, but Practical or Simple, yet Awesome ones; efficiency is king for him. This culminated in Modern Masters, a set composed solely of cards with a proven impact on tournament play.
  • Magic also has another set of archetypes, Vorthos/Melvin. This is a separate axis; one's Vorthosity is unrelated to one's Timminess. Essentially, it's a matter of appreciation for form vs. appreciation for function: Timmy/Johnny/Spike is about why a person plays (and what he plays), whereas Vorthos/Melvin is about what he appreciates. When evaluating cards, Vorthos likes them based upon how they make him feel, and Melvin likes them based on how they make him think. Original article: here before we elaborate.
    • Vorthos is primarily interested in fluff, setting, background, story, etc. A Vorthos-Johnny might build a deck with contraints of "Soldiers only. It doesn't matter the color, because soldiers are professionals, and know how to work together." Or, "I am going to buld a zombie deck, with a handful of necromancers and maybe a powerful demon. It fits storywise." Or (and this one's straight from the Magic website), "How about about a deck focused solely around clams, with a single Mox Pearl in the middle?"
    • Melvins, at the opposite end of the spectrum, would see such constraints as pointless. They still care about what's written on the cards, but focus on mechanics rather than flavor. A Melvin might build a deck around a mechanic such as vampirism (dealing damage while gaining life) and completely ignore any flavor. A Melvin-Johnny might say "I am going to figure out how to use these oddly-worded cards that seem kinda counter-productive, figure out how they actually work, and then build a Goldbergian deck that I understand, but will leave my opponent hopelessly confused". Melvins LOVE the Yu-Gi-Oh! CCG, and were deeply offended when a card for a demon had the number "7" in every possible spot except one (the casting cost).
  • Richard Bartle wrote an article back in 1996, "Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds, Spades: Players Who Suit MUDs", describing four different player archetypes. It's had quite a bit of influence on subsequent development on massively multiplayer games; Kingdom of Loathing references it directly, and the Path system in Wildstar is clearly influenced by the four archetypes.
    • Diamonds, AKA Achievers: These players go for the goals of the game themselves. Gaining Character Levels, getting a High Score, slaying the Bonus Boss, and so on. Also called power gamers or raiders. A subset of these are the kind who like collecting rare items.
    • Spades, AKA Explorers: These players like to explore the game world itself. They're the ones hunting for the Easter Egg, Sequence Breaking just because they can, and being the first one to write a complete Walkthrough.
    • Hearts, AKA Socializers: These players play to hang out with other players. They play because their friends play, and if their friends all packed up and moved to another game, they would too. To the extent they play single-player games, Socializers prefer ones with a heavy focus on character relationships.
    • Clubs, AKA Killers: These people play to have an effect on other players. Sometimes, this can mean healing, buffing, and generally being helpful, but most often, it means kicking their asses. These are the ones most likely to engage in Player Versus Player content.
    • In short: Diamonds sparkle, spades dig, hearts care, and clubs hit things.
      • Modern varieties of the Bartle test generally subscribe to the opinion that nearly everyone has parts of all four inside them and give their ratings accordingly. For example, E/S/A/K gives the proportions of each from highest (explorer, or spade, in this case) to the lowest (killer, or club). The newest Kol Bartle test will give the top two percentages if they both are close enough together. (For example, a 'Roving Hugglebunny' is mostly heart and spade, in that order).
  • "The Munchkin File" (AKA "Real Men, Real Roleplayers, Loonies and Munchkins") is a list that has been passed around the Internet in various forms for decades which describes four types of Tabletop Games players:
    • Real Men: "The tough macho type who walks up to the dragon and orders it to leave before someone gets hurt", who's into RPGs for the two-fisted action.
      • A subtype of The Real Man who enjoys the combat aspect of RPGs, but prefers tactical roles such as a healer or status-effect-causer to being out in the front line whaling on or blasting away at the enemy. There's no consensus on what this subtype should be named, although "The Real Woman" is moderately popular due to the amount of guys who make their token female characters a healing class.
      • Female gamers have also compiled variations on "The Real Woman", i.e. the one who isn't a Dungeonmaster's Girlfriend. Often these involve scathing remarks about all the other (male) archetypes' attitudes, although Self-Deprecation is also common.
    • Real Roleplayers: "The intelligent cunning guy who tricks the constable into letting you out of prison", who's into RPGs for roleplaying and problem-solving.
      • The Five Gamers divides this archetype into "Brains" ("the mad genius who actually disarms the Six Skull Trap") and "Thespians" ("the melodramatic type who writes novel-length character histories and talks to every monster in the dungeon").
    • Loonies: "The guy who will do anything for a laugh, including casting a fireball at point-blank range", who's into RPGs for fun.
    • Munchkins: "Need we say more?", who's into RPGs to "win", even if the game isn't supposed to work that way. See the Munchkin page for more detail.
  • Robin Laws has identified a few other flavors of role-players:
    • Specialists: They play one type of character, and only one type of character. The most common Specialist loves ninjas, but there's a flavor of Specialist for every race, class, and personality type. The Specialist gets terribly, terribly upset if you tell him he can't play a ninja in your caveman campaign, regardless of how silly it would be.
    • Storytellers: Like the Real Roleplayer above, but interested in the quality of the story as a whole, not just his acting within it.
    • Casual Gamers: They're into gaming because that's what their friends are doing. They aren't there for the grand plot, the fantastic magic, or even for sticking things with sharp objects. They're just there to socialize, and gaming is the social activity their friends are doing. Similar to Hearts, above. While Laws provides detailed advice on how to satisfy the needs of each of the other types of player, he specifically offers no special advice for Casual Gamers, since they'll either remain a CG, drop out, or become more involved in the game - at which point, they'll differentiate into one of the other types.
  • Usenet and specifically has come up with a classification called the Threefold which makes the division Gamist/Dramatist/Simulationist. This was eventually refined into GNS Theory by The Forge community, which divides players and games into:
    • Gamist: Focuses on playing the game as a game, often with a focus on overcoming challenges or accumulating rewards.
    • Narrativist: Focuses on telling a compelling story with interesting characters.
    • Simulationist: Focuses on representing a real and believable world modeled by credible rules.
  • The Dungeon Master's Guide II supplement for Dungeons & Dragons identifies such player types as dramatist, supercool, master planner and oddball.
  • Likewise, the Dungeon Master's Guide for Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition identifies eight player types:
    • The Actor, who has fun by developing and acting out a fictional character
    • The Explorer, who has fun by immersing in a large and detailed fictional world
    • The Instigator, who has fun by making something happen, regardless of if it would be logical or in-character
    • The Power Gamer, who has fun by Min-Maxing a powerful character
    • The Slayer, who has fun by killing things in combat encounters
    • The Storyteller, who has fun when the game sessions tell a continuous and engaging story
    • The Thinker, who has fun by solving challenges through strategy and planning
    • The Watcher, who doesn't care so much about the game itself but about having fun hanging out with his/her friends.
  • An April Fool article in Dragon Magazine, "The Ecology of the Adventurer", parodies this trope, by imagining how Player Archetypes appear to the denizens of the gameworld. Kobolds have apparently classified three types of adventurer: Gamists, whose every thought is about killing, and who never speak (The Real Man, with a bit of Munchkin); Narrativists, who agonise over the right thing to do, and can be distracted by asking them about their life story (The Roleplayer); and Simulationists, who are Crazy-Prepared, and talk in funny voices (The Storyteller). According to the kobolds "Every adventurer fits cleanly into one of these categories, without any overlap."
  • Griefer. Plays the game to piss people off, and has fun at other players' expense. A common type of Troll in the gaming world.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh gives us 'tourney players' and 'casuals'. Some people mix between these. The fun here comes that the term Scrub is eagerly applied to both sides of the debate... and then you have the Timmy-esque "Billy" players, who can consistently trash meta-tier tournament decks with the card game equivalent of Cherry Tapping (and, in fact, have their own deck type trope, as a result), and are called Scrubs for not using top-tier decks. Even though they just won against such a deck.
  • Author and game-designer Aaron Allston published a list of the Eleven Types of Champions Players in Strike Force, his award-winning campaign supplement for that game. The list applies to players of nearly any Tabletop RPG:
    • The Builder: He wants to have an impact on the world.
    • The Buddy: He comes to the game to be with his friend(s), and while he's having fun, he's not as deep into the game as everyone else.
    • The Combat Monster: He wants combat, pure and simple, and his fun is wrapped up in beating the bad guys.
    • The Copier: This guy is interested in recreating a character based on something he's seen in another media, and thus can be counted on to make a character who is a Batman clone (for example), or a Spider-Man homage.
    • The Genre Fiend: He wants to model everything after genre elements, and is disappointed when the GM veers from the usual genre tropes.
    • The Mad Slasher: He kills everything that moves, no reason needed.
    • The Mad Thinker: This player seeks clever solutions to in game problems.
    • The Plumber: He wants intricate characters with deep, complicated backgrounds and motivations, and expects exploration thereof.
    • The Romantic: This player focuses on relationships and character interaction.
    • The Rules Sea Lawyer: This player is primarily interested in bending the rules in order to min/max his character as much as he can.
    • The Showoff: This guy seeks the most spotlight time for his own character, usually at the expense of the other characters.
    • The Pro from Dover: He desires a character who is the best of his field, whatever that field happens to be.
    • The Tragedian: He wants his character to suffer, and wants to play that suffering out.
  • A known Lego builder by the name of saber scorpion made a set that codifies the Halo player archetypes during the climax of a CTF match. You can find it here
  • A pair of articles by The Angry GM divide players up into eight groupings based on what they enjoy about the gamenote , previously identified by Marc LeBlanc and incorporated into the Mechanics, Dynamics, Aesthetics model:
    • Sensory seekers derive pleasure from the visual, audible, and tactile aspects of the game. They enjoy art, miniatures, battlemaps, and all the things that you can see or feel or hear. They tend to find games done purely in the mind, without props of any kind, unsatisfying.
    • Fantasy seekers derive pleasure from immersing themselves in a realistic world and pretending to be in another time and place. They enjoy well-crafted and consistent worlds, and dislike anything that breaks their immersion, whether it be nonsensical or self-contradictory world-building or excessively "gamey" mechanics.
    • Narrative seekers derive pleasure from experiencing a well-told story as it unfolds. They crave completed and properly-shaped plots and characters that act in a logical and understandable fashion, and hate it when characters take actions that make no sense just because the plot requires it, or a campaign breaks off in the middle and the story is left unfinished.
    • Challenge seekers derive pleasure from overcoming a series of obstacles or tasks (these may include puzzles that must be solved or social challenges that must be defeated by IC dialogue). They want to be given fair challenges, the tools to solve them, and a real (or at least believable) risk of failure. They find games where the GM fudges the dice (either for or against them) or applies the rules unfairly frustrating, and are bored by sessions where there are no obstacles to overcome.
    • Fellowship seekers enjoy the camaraderie among both the characters and the players themselves. They enjoy working together as a team, getting together with friends, and the feeling of being part of something larger than oneself. Their fun can be ruined by secrets, backstabbing, or anything that turns party members against each other.
    • Discovery seekers derive pleasure from learning and finding out new things. They enjoy intricate worlds with lots of hidden things to uncover, including not only hidden treasure but also information and exposition that can be unearthed. They likewise tend to enjoy self-discovery, putting their characters through ethical dilemmas and sadistic choices in order to find out who it is they are truly playing. They suffocate in campaigns where there are no unknown regions, secrets, and lore to uncover, and no opportunities to learn who their characters truly are.
    • Expression seekers derive pleasure from creating something that is uniquely their own. They desire characterization and customization options and the chance to leave their mark on the world their characters find themselves in. They are frustrated by games that deny them the ability to create unique characters and by campaigns that don't permit them to leave lasting legacies.
    • Abnegation seekers derive pleasure from simply disengaging their brain and losing themselves in something that doesn't require too much thought. They enjoy simple, straightforward, campaigns with a clear objective and not too much necessity for intricate tactics or strategies, and dislike anything that requires them to expend too much effort to solve the problem or keep track of what's going on.
  • Sentinels of the Multiverse has Jeremies and Johns, named after a pair of Handelabra employees known for the appropriate playstyle: calculating optimisation for John, raw destructive power for Jeremy.

Note that, for most of these categorizations, blends are possible; for example, you can have someone who's part Timmy and part Spike, or someone who integrates beating up bad guys with socializing with their team. Indeed, most people will have at least a little of each category.


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