Playing Styles

Recently, I have been thinking about playing styles and the way players approach games. While it is something I have been aware of for quite a while, game groups normally sort themselves out reasonably quickly. For example, I run a game for a table-top group who come together once a year for a weekend of gaming. For the first few years, we invited a lot of my RPG friends. Over time, it settled into a group of players who all trusted each other and who all enjoyed a bit of IC banter. Now the same people come back year after year – and we all have a good time. It was a self-selecting game group. The same sort of thing has happened in all TT groups that I have played in – sooner or later a regular group of players develops – who are right for that game, that group, the GM etc.

On RPoL, which is a text based playing environment, the same sort of thing happens. Players who don’t fit with the GM style move on, new players come in – and sooner or later a fairly homogenous group forms. It can often be a slower, but sooner or later you get a group of PCs who can live with each other and their playing styles.

However, the game I run at the moment is a bit different. Rather than being a standard small group game, I decided to run a large multi-group game. I had played in a couple of similar games, and I had enjoyed them – so I thought why not? It has been great fun – an awful lot of work, but I have enjoyed it immensely.

To make it more complicated, the game has three different aspects that I try to merge into one semi-coherent setting.

  • I normally have about fifteen players split into three adventuring groups – at the moment we have two groups (to cope with lock-down related absences) although we have, occasionally, had four adventuring groups in the past.
  • The game also uses a home-brew set of kingdom building and campaign rules, which have grown and developed as the game has progressed.
  • Fuzzy Threads are ‘out of time’ role-playing adventures. They aren’t there for combat, and rarely require any dice rolls, but they are a place for players to Role Play their characters, and to interact beyond their adventuring groups. Characters can be in these RP thread at the same time they are out slaying monsters (etc) with their adventuring party.

Now you can see why I say it is a lot of work. However, there is no requirement for any player, or character, to take part in any aspect of the game. We even have a couple of characters who don’t go adventuring, but hang around in bars looking for RP opportunities.

It has really highlighted the different ‘styles’ of the players. Some are writers, some are gamers, some are rules people – although, in reality, they all have some element of each aspect in their playing style. Before I look at it further, I want to say that I value all of my players – they all bring something different to (what I think) is a brilliant game, and they represent the tapestry of life really well. Without them, and their different styles, my game would not work 🙂

Writers

Everyone who plays on RPoL is a writer, those who aren’t drop off of the platform fairly quickly – and while I get a few non-writers, they tend to leave the game quite quickly. However, there are some players who are serious writers, who could probably be writing good fiction, and I have been privileged to play with quite a few over the twenty years, or so, that I have been playing on RPoL and PBW. They tend to develop a strong backstory for their character, and then keep building and exploring the character throughout the game. They spend a lot of time role-playing with other characters and invest a lot of time in their characters and their writing. Each of their characters has their own story, and it is a major focus is a writer’s playing style. I am in awe of them, and thoroughly enjoy their interaction – but I can’t maintain the intensity and effort they put into their RP. And I say that as a published author (of text books), someone who has written poetry for pleasure – and someone who writes stuff like this for the hell of it.

For a world build, like me, it is great. I get to build and work on the parts of my game world that the character needs for their story, and my game world has benefited immensely from the co-operative work that I have done to help flesh out Character backgrounds, and help lay future plans.

In game management terms, it can be an issue when characterization and story building clashes with key parts of the game’s story line – but that can normally be managed OK.  Another occasional issue is when long RP posts dominate more general threads, but I tend to deal with that problem by adding extra threads for people to play in.

Gamers

Again, everyone is a gamer of some sort, if they weren’t they wouldn’t be playing in an RPG game at all, however, there are some players who play the adventure threads more innovatively than others. And that is how it should be – a party where every player tries to set group tactics, solve puzzles or coming up with inventive ways to use their abilities, can kill a game very quickly. There has to be concerted and group action for a party to succeed in adventure threads, it just plays straight into the DM’s hands – and then I have to be careful not to set up a Total Party Kill.

That said, gamers are important and it would be boring if everything went according to plan and everything was easy for the players. Games like that tend to die off very quickly and, personally, I enjoy it when a group comes up with something I haven’t planned for. Sometimes, it means the party get a quick win, other times it means that I have to rework parts of the adventure, other times it means that a party member might die (or get very close to it) –the game becomes a less predictable and more fun.

As a player, I have always felt that the best encounters are the ones that a party just ‘wins’. As a DM, the best encounter I can run is one where the party just wins, and comes out depleted and surprised. In table-top games, I like to leave a party on single figure hit points (between them!) with next to no spells (etc) left. On RPoL and similar sites that is more difficult to achieve, but it is good to leave a character or two in negative HP, when they weren’t expecting it. It adds to the jeopardy of the whole game, makes it interesting for everyone, and justifies the ‘loot’ that help the characters grow. It doesn’t need to happen all the time – but that risk has to be there to keep adventures enjoyable and ‘adventurous’.

In game management terms, I try to split the gamers between groups. I try to put a leader, a puzzle solver and a maverick into each group – and hope that it helps keep the group working together. It has worked so far 🙂

Rules People

Again, we all need a basic grasp of the rules to be able to play the game, but some people love to delve into the rules. In the past they might have been called min-maxers, now the favoured term seems to be optimizers, it doesn’t matter – we have all done it at some point of our game life. If you haven’t done it yet, you almost certainly will do at some stage in your playing life 🙂

I can remember constructing tables to see how I could get the greatest weapon damage for a druid under the 1st ed D&D rules – and then expanding it to show that, at low levels, a druid could do more damage that a paladin. Even now, I have been known to go hunting through the skills and feats lists to find something that will let my character do what I want them to. It is all part of the same thing.

And it is important, because it keeps the game growing. I have learned a lot about the pathfinder rules in the last few years, just because people have asked to take skills, feats or combinations that I wasn’t aware of.  I have certainly incorporated some things I have learned into my NPCs and game structures. My game world is better for that.  It also keeps other players on their toes … ‘How did she do that?’ or ‘How can I learn to do something like that’. It encourages players to think and to look at the rules in a bit more depth.

As for my in-house Campaign Rules, they have grown (and improved) significantly. Those rules have been tested and used to the limit, and every time that has happened, they have evolved. In some cases it has come from general questions such as, ‘can I run a magic shop’ or ‘how can my shop expand’. Both of those questions led to an expansion of the business types offered within the rules, and eventually to a simplification of the system used to manage businesses. At other times, players have found ways of using the rules that I never realized were possible. Sometimes that has led to a rewrite (although never to the disadvantage of the player who found the loop-hole) other times it has led to additions or expansions.

I manage that, in game, by disallowing classes, races and feats – there are two reasons for this. The first is a bit selfish, my game world (even though it is based on material published by Paizo) reflects my ideas of a fantasy world.  It is those ideas that underpinned the game environment that I fashioned, and form part of my ‘world vision’. I want to keep enjoying my game and its world – so I tweak it to my tastes.

The second reason has to do with game-play balance. Not every player is a rules’ guru, some even have a limited understanding of the basic rules and occasionally need help with which die they are supposed to roll – but they still add to the game. So I disallow feats that I think would allow a character to dominate and adventuring party and hog all the action.  There is nothing worse, as a player, than having to sit back and watch the action because you know your character isn’t in the same power league. A well optimized character will work out as significantly more powerful than an unoptimised character (that is the whole point)  but when the party also includes poorly designed characters, the difference is immense. And every character needs to feel that they can be involved in the adventure situation – or else what is the point of going adventuring?

Conclusion

My game benefits from all three of those attributes and most players have all three of them – but in different ratios. My job is to try and balance them, so that no one group of players dominates the whole game at the expense of the other players. So far it has worked out quite well. I have seen some brilliant writing and Role Play. I have been pleasantly surprised by the way parties use tactics – and am often kept on my toes – and I have also learned a lot about the rules, both Paizo’s and my own house rules.

As I said, for me, it is a brilliant game – well worth the angst that comes with managing some on the (minor) excesses. And, let’s face it, while players and their enjoyment is important, we are all a bit selfish. If I didn’t enjoy the playing the game, it wouldn’t exist.

Now, to be fair, I suppose I should tell you where I fit in those categories 🙂

I would love to be a really good writer – but I am not. I am not bad, I get quite a bit of RP in and I write some decent posts.  I rate me as average. It is the same on the gamer scale. I come up with a few good ideas and manage to surprise DMs occasionally – but again, I rate me as fairly average. Rules? I love rules. I came to this game back in the very early 80s when a flat mate left the PHB and DMG (AD&D I) out on the settee when he went to bed. I read both of them from cover to cover in one hit (Yes, I am a quick reader), and never did get to sleep that night. BUT, I can never quite see the right ways to take advantage of them. So again average.

That doesn’t worry me in the slightest, and in real life I am a jack-of-all trades. I even had fairly successful careers in both teaching and IT by having lots of ‘average’ skills. Lots of people could do things better than me – but I did a better job, overall. The moral of this story is – take what skills you have, and use them well. 🙂

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