Since D&D was created in 1974, eight player archetypes have been common across all editions and gaming groups. They are as an important step in designing campaigns and encounters as they are to human psychology. Try to figure out which you are, and then ask around to see if everyone sees you that way.
The actor likes to pretend to be her character. He emphasizes character development that has nothing to do with numbers and powers, trying to make her character seem to be a real person in the fantasy world. He enjoys interacting with the rest of the group, with characters and monsters in the game world, and with the fantasy world in general by speaking "in character" and describing her character's actions in the first person. The actor values narrative game elements over mechanical ones. Unlike the storyteller, he values his character’s personality and motivations over other story elements.
- Provides PC background, emphasizing personality.
- Plays according to her character's motivations.
- Prefers scenes where she can portray her character.
- Often prefers social encounters to fights.
An explorer loves to see new places in the fantasy world and to meet the residents of such places, fair and foul. All the explorer needs is the promise of an interesting locale or different culture, and off she goes to see that place.
The explorer wants to experience the wonders the game world has to offer. She also wants to know that there's more out there to find. She presses for details: proper names of characters and places, descriptions of the environment, and some idea of what's over the next hill. She's sometimes interested in the adventure plot and his character’s motivations. (The explorer is close kin to both the actor and the storyteller.) The wonder of new discoveries is what is key to keeping the explorer happy.
- Seeks out new experiences in the game’s setting.
- Likes learning hidden facts and locating lost items and places.
- Enjoys atmosphere as much as combat and story.
- Advances the plot by being willing to move ever on.
An instigator enjoys making things happen. She has no patience for careful planning or deliberation. She'll open an obviously trapped chest "just to see what happens." She provokes authority figures and opens dungeon doors to bring more monsters into an already difficult fight. The instigator loves the vicarious thrill of taking enormous risks and sometimes just making bad choices.
The instigator can be disruptive, but she can also be a lot of fun for the other players. Things rarely grind to a halt with an instigator in the group, and the stories that get retold after the game session often revolve around whatever crazy thing the instigator did this week.
- Likes to make things happen.
- Takes crazy risks and makes deliberately bad choices.
- Thrives in combat and dislikes having nothing to do.
- Takes decisive action when things grind to a halt.
A power gamer thrives on gaining levels and loves the cool abilities that come with those levels. He defeats monsters to take their stuff and use that stuff against future enemies. The story and roleplaying are secondary to action and awesome abilities and magic items. Most players have a little power gamer in them. A couple of the core elements of fun in the D&D game are the accumulation of power and the use of that power to accomplish astonishing deeds. Nothing is wrong with enjoying that in the game.
A power gamer…
- Optimizes character attributes for combat performance.
- Pores over supplements for better character options.
- Spends less time on story and roleplaying elements.
- Prefers combat to other kinds of encounters.
The slayer is like the power gamer, but she is even easier to please. She emphasizes kicking the shit out of monsters. Maybe she does so to let off a little steam in a safe way, or she likes the joy of feeling superior. Perhaps it’s the pleasure of having the power to mete out punishment to villains.
D&D combat is thrilling. Few other aspects of the game put a character in such apparent jeopardy. Beating the bad guys is a clear success. Most players enjoy these D&D elements, but the slayer seeks them foremost.
- Optimizes like a power gamer.
- Might pick simple options to get into the action quicker.
- Spends less time on story and roleplaying elements.
- Wants to fight monsters and take bold action all the time.
The storyteller is a player who prefers the narrative of the game to individual character motivations and personality. This player sees the game as an ongoing chronicle of events in the fantasy world, and he wants to see where the tale goes.
For the storyteller, the rules are there to support the game's ongoing story. He believes that when the rules get in the way, the narrative should win. Compromise for the sake of the story is more important than individual character motivations.
- Often provides an extensive background for his PC.
- Works hard to make sure his character fits the story.
- Likes dramatic scenes and recurring characters.
- Prefers adventures that include at least some plot.
A thinker likes to make careful choices, reflecting on challenges and the best way to overcome them. She also enjoys herself most when her planning results in success with minimal risk and use of resources. Solving a challenge in a creative way is more important to the thinker than character power or roleplaying issues. In fact, the thinker might prefer sound tactics to acting in character or straightforward, brute force battle.
A thinker …
- Engages any challenge as a puzzle to be solved.
- Chooses her actions carefully for the best possible result.
- Is happy to win without action, drama, or tension.
- Prefers time to consider options over bold action.
A watcher is a casual player who comes to the game because he wants to be part of the social event. A watcher might be shy or just really laid back. He wants to participate, but he doesn't really care if he’s deeply immersed, and he doesn't want to be assertive or too involved in the details of the game, rules, or story. He enjoys the game by being part of a social circle.
- Shows up to be a part of the group.
- Helps calm disputes by not being as attached to the game.
- Often fills a hole in the PC group, facilitating the fun.