There are a handful of types of players I have observed in the 25 years I have been playing and game-mastering RPGs. Understanding them and trying to ensure that everyone enjoys themselves at a role-playing session can be a daunting task. It doesn’t have to be difficult at all if you keep the player types in mind and prepare for them. Take some time to figure out why people play and how they play and everyone will be happier.
There are three basic types of player; the go-getter, the reactionary, and the observer. All three have their own distinct characteristics and require different things to enjoy an RPG. Players can be any combination of the basic types but most are predominantly one of the three. You may also notice other types of player behavior like the “rules lawyer”, and the power-gamer. Any of these can be difficult to integrate into a gaming group or campaign, but if you follow my guidelines it will be much easier.
The go-getter has a very dominant personality and they have the ability to drive a storyline all by themselves if you let them. They make a good choice for party leader and need to be involved in many scenes. If you have a go-getter in your gaming group, make sure you are ready to improvise and have lots of material planned ahead just to keep them busy. If you don’t prepare for them, they can (and will) go off on a quest you didn’t plan. I once planned an adventure around rescuing a minor diplomat from orc raiders. The go-getter in the gaming group took it on themselves to find out what the diplomat was doing when he was captured and then proceeded to take control of the entire barony. Like I said, a go-getter can get out of hand if you aren’t prepared.
The reactionary waits for things to happen before they take any actions. They aren’t likely to go off on their own, but they need guidance to keep them going. This is the most common kind of player behavior, they wait to be given a quest and then they follow the clues you give them. A well-planned adventure will keep them perfectly content. Have everything planned and don’t expect them to do anything without guidance from you.
The observer tends to just watch from the background while the other players solve everything. Newer players tend to act this way for a while until they fit in and get comfortable with the group. Some players however, play this way all the time. They only speak or act when they are directly spoken to or acted upon. They will follow the leader and do whatever they are asked. I always try to have something planned that keeps them directly involved in the adventure. Have them create a detailed character and then you can easily find something to keep them more actively involved.
The “rules lawyer” is the kind of player that has read the sourcebooks from cover to cover and memorized them. They are waiting for any chance to argue that you have made an error in applying a rule. The arguments of a rules lawyer have destroyed many a game session. To be ready for them ahead of time, I always instruct my players that I have adapted the rules to suit my particular campaign. I make sure that they understand that the rulings of the GM are final and not up for debate. I do pay attention if I have made an honest mistake and make corrections accordingly, but I do not let a mistake turn into a long argument.
The final type of player is the power-gamer. They are becoming more and more prevalent in RPGs because of the increase in popularity of RPG video games. They want their character to be the most powerful with the most damaging weapon they can get. They tend to find something in the character creation rules that they can exploit in order to make a character that is a powerhouse. I know someone who was playing a GURPS superhero game and created a psionic based character who could pull the moon out of orbit. They turned out to be more powerful than anything the GM could throw at the party, all from creation. Keep an eye out for players who use a calculator to create a character, and make sure you read everyone’s character sheet thoroughly before you approve them.
Understanding the types of player you will encounter will help you create and run a game that everyone will enjoy. Have plenty of extra material prepared for the characters and ensure that they are making detailed characters. Have them create well-rounded characters and submit them to you for approval. With some preparation and my guidelines, your players and you will have better and more memorable game sessions.