PoG: Player Archetypes

As Described in On the Vocabulary of Role-Playing by Phil Masters,

Found on RPG.net, 1999

Builder: One of Aaron Allston’s terms: A player who “wants to have his characters have an impact on the world – to build institutions, to clean up a city, to change things”.

Builders are generally harmless and even useful players, who can add much to the interest value of a game for all concerned. However, their interests sometimes clash with those of other participants, as they demand that the campaign focuses on their character’s achievements; like any highly-motivated player, a Builder can have a strong influence on the game – to its benefit or detriment.

Combat Monster: Allston’s term for a player who “wants his character to fight, fight, fight.” This is not (necessarily) equivalent to Mad Slasher play, power-gaming, or even to a taste for Hack and Slash; the Combat Monster may recognize the existence of other aspects to the game, but chooses to emphasizes this one.

The Combat Monster’s chief interest in a game generally appears to be catharsis. Although such a player can contribute a useful element to a group of PCs (most games having aspects that require a violent solution), a single-minded obsession with combat can be tiresome to other players.

Copier: Allston’s term for a player who is strongly interested in reconstructing a character (or a close equivalent thereof) from another source – usually a favorite book or film. Although not impossible in any game, this behavior is generally easiest under a Character Design system.

Copiers are often enthusiastic players, but their approach to a game is sometimes rather one-dimensional, as their sole concern may be in adapting the game to the model.

A variant of this model is the “One-Character Player”, who “copies” the same character – from whatever source – into every game they play. This might indicate a deep interest in developing a particular characterization, but it might also indicate narrow-mindedness and lack of imagination.

Genre Fiend: Yet another Allston term, referring to a player (or GM) who is determined that a game should emulate all the conventions and tropes (and clichés) of the fictional genre on which it is based.

To the (large) extent that games are a highly derivative form, the genre fiend can be a useful stabilizing force. However, such an individual can also seem tiresomely obsessive in their attachment to cliché, and may also disrupt attempts by other individuals to explore, modify, or subvert the genre.

Mad Slasher: Aaron Allston’s label for a type of gamer at the extreme end of the “Combat Monster” and “Hack and Slash” spectrum; someone whose sole concern with games is to use the combat system for personal catharsis. The Mad Slasher’s character responds to all obstructions by killing the other characters involved.

Generally, Mad Slashers are either immature personalities who find the repetitious description of extreme violence amusing, or genuinely disturbed and perennially frustrated individuals. Fortunately, the former are perhaps the more common, and less violent playing groups eventually respond by ejecting them. However, there is a suggestion that, like other player vices, this one has a subtle, player-level variation.

The “Player-Level Mad Slasher” is one who responds to personal frustrations by attempting to dominate the player group. This is unlikely to involve physical force, but it can involve a great deal of psychological and emotional manipulation. This type of play is also seen from personally assertive Power-Gamers, and here, the two types may overlap.

Mini-Maxer: A player who attempts to exploit every aspect of a game’s rules to maximize character power for minimum cost of any kind – hence, by implication, a variety of power-gamer.

“Mini-Maxing” is often easiest within complex character design systems, but potentially, any game that allows a degree of player choice within the rule system – say, in combat – may be susceptible to this treatment. Mini-Maxers are not widely admired, at least in their extreme form, but many numerically adept players behave this way from time to time, and they at least serve to demonstrate the potentialities and quirks of any system. Arguably, too few games on the market were properly play-tested by competent mini-maxers before publication.

Plumber: Aaron Allston describes this type of player as liking to “create a character with a finely-detailed and intricate personality, and then spend his gaming career plumbing this character to its depths”. Such an exploration generally demands a morally and emotionally complex game-plot.

While the Plumber would be regarded by many as the epitome of good role-playing, see the comments below under “Power-Gamer” for reasons to qualify this praise.

Power-Gamer: A player whose primary interest in the game is the acquisition of a sense of raw power. This is usually taken to mean physical power in the context of the game-world, pursued either by legitimate if limited character tactics, or manipulation of the game rules.

However, it is interesting to consider that the underlying urge – to personal dominance in the context of the game – may find other, more subtle forms of expression. For example, a player might seek power over plot development, or simply over other players.

Thus, an “Emotional Power-Gamer” might be defined as a player who seeks (perhaps not consciously) to dominate and manipulate the process of characterization and the more melodramatic aspects of plot development in a game. Some such players attempt to dictate to others – usually by assertively-expressed “suggestions” – the personalities and past histories of their characters; others dominate other players more crudely, through “put-downs” and snide remarks. (It might be desirable to find separate terms for the two types.) A “Plot Power-Gamer” would be a player who attempts to influence the campaign’s narrative by psychological manipulation of the GM, a “Rules Power-Gamer” continuously suggests revisions to the games mechanics, a “(Simple) Time Power-Gamer” simply takes up as much playing time as possible with their own ideas and concerns – and so on.

Romantic: A player who is most interested in their characters’ personal relationships – especially (but not uniquely) romantic ones. Such relationships may be central to a campaign’s plot, but if the campaign is highly “action-oriented”, they may be seen by other players and the GM as peripheral. This is another of Aaron Allston’s terms.

Romantics, with their interest in character and some aspects of narrative, are often highly regarded as players. However, they can be rather obsessive personalities, and in their attempts to “romanticize” every aspect of a campaign, they can prove to be the worst kind of “Emotional Power-Gamers”.

Rules Hacker: An individual with a strong and persistent interest in the “mechanical” aspects of a game’s rules, and particularly a tendency to tinker with and “fine-tune” them.

Although Rules Hackers have a very different approach to many other players, who would prefer to get on with actual play, they are generally regarded as mostly harmless, lacking the vanity and abrasiveness of Power-Gamers or Rules Lawyers. It should be said that few successful published systems have probably been designed by Rules Hackers; their productions tend to be overly detailed, reflecting too many personal quirks – and in any case, a real Rules Hacker never considers a set of rules entirely complete, which makes publication difficult.

(The consummate Rules Hacker is one who incorporates a Rules Update phase into the game combat system’s sequence of play.)

Rules Lawyer: A player who seeks to gain game advantage by invocation of the letter of the games rules.

Rules Lawyers may be the product of too much “GM As Enemy” style play. They are widely regarded as annoying; play to the letter of the rules is not usually seen as the point of role-playing. That said, they can be a useful brake on the whims of an overly self-indulgent GM, and their attitude is as likely to result from an over-developed sense of fairness and precision as from an urge to Power-Game. A true Rules Lawyer may even insist on a literal reading of the rules that works against the interests of their own character. Rules Lawyers who become GMs are usually tolerable as long as they know the rules system properly (otherwise they spend too much time leafing through rule-books), but they may not display as much flexibility as player enjoyment demands, and their games will be unforgiving of incompetence.

Rules Rapist: Another Aaron Allston term; the Rules Rapist is a player who gains amusement by stretching the game mechanics in use to the limit, usually in an extreme display of power-gaming.

The Rules Rapist may be distinguished from the Rules Lawyer, despite their similarities. The “lawyer” usually has some respect for the rules system in use – perhaps too much; the “lawyer like” approach may simply imply overmuch formality. The Rules Rapist, by contrast, displays contempt for the spirit of the rules by exploitation of their letter.

Tragedian: Another Allston-originated term, describing a player who “likes literary tragedy and wants to play out something similar”.

This term is rare but useful; the same can be said of the player type it describes. As Allston remarks, a tragedian may help develop the richness and depth of a campaign, and provide an outlet for the GM’s more sadistic urges. “Plumbers” and “Romantics” often pass through phases of tragedy-obsession, and the popularity of White Wolf’s game Vampire may indicate the existence of greater impulses to tragedy than previously realized (if it is being played as its rule-books suggest). However, “Tragedian” GMs, while known, may be regarded as a menace by non-Tragedian players, for obvious reasons.

War-Gamer: Literally, one who plays wargames – the simulations of military activity that are both cousins and antecedents to formalized role-playing. More colloquially, one who plays role-playing games “as wargames” – as conflicts to be won by optimized strategy, with little regard for characterization or narrative. As role-playing games rarely involve much balanced or impartial conflict, this attitude may be somewhat misguided, although a GM may be willing and able to set up such conflicts in the course of a game, and hence satisfy the player’s impulse. The term is part of the definition of the Four-Way Split.

A War-Gamer may be a rather more cerebral personality than a Combat Monster, being potentially willing to avoid actual combat if this is an effective way to “win”. However, the two types certainly overlap. That said, war-gaming – in the broad sense of problem solving and conflict resolution – can certainly be an enjoyable aspect of role-playing, and many playing groups find that war-gaming members provided a useful element of discipline and efficiency in play.

Comments are closed