Player Archetypes: What is the Best Mix For A Game Group?

Role-playing gamers play characters based on common archetypes: fighter, thief, healer, intellectual among many others. Most balanced game groups contain at least one of each type. This diversity empowers the party to overcome complex challenges beyond, say, a group of fighters alone. It occurs to me that players also conform to certain archetypes. Assuming their is some benefit to a  game group from a diverse group of players, what is the optimal player archetype configuration?

Unlike a discussion of PC groups where overcoming obstacles or game mechanics are usually the primary focus, players seek different ends. In my opinion,  most players seek a great gaming experience. Since this is a subjective measure , I am choosing the criteria below to define “a great gaming experience.”

1. Have fun
2. Advance an interesting story
3. Maintain some sort of player harmony

Using this criteria, here is my “dream list” of player archetypes that constitute a great game group. I am not distinguishing between game masters and players. A player’s role in the game (DM or player)is not really critical to this discussion, just their participation.

1. The Clown

Any third-rate peasant can kill a brigand. Clowns give the brigand a wedgie and then parade him through town to humiliate the poor bastard. No matter how serious the game, count on this half-crazy player to lighten the mood. While his plans often fall into the “crazy, but funny” category, do not underestimate the occasional flash of brilliance in the madness.

2. The Tactical Computer

Intelligent, cautious and always watching the game table like a hungry shark, the Tactical Computer is the epitome of a wargamer. Yes, he contributes during the role-playing sections, but that is not his strong point. When battle erupts, he grows quiet and dangerous. When he says to the fighter, “go stand next to that orc,” game masters know that his orc is doomed. In a round or two some subtle, unseen tactic will become clear and that orc will suffer a horrible demise. Very rough on players if this is the DM.

3. The Dramatist

Dice and combat are a distant second to the role-playing aspects of the game for this player. When he is playing the mentally disturbed prince with an impossible quest in his destiny, you feel the character’s fear and uncertainty. Having a dramatist at the table raises the bar for role-playing and even non-rpg focused players try just a bit harder to get “in character.”

4. The Combat Junkie

Unlike the careful planning of the Tactical Computer, this player is all about beating down the enemy with sword, mace or a large rock. In some encounters, you have no choice but to charge the dragon head-on. It helps to bring someone along that thinks this is a good idea. Powerful on his own, he really shines when “aimed” by the Tactical Computer at the enemies weak point.

5. The Storyteller

Usually the game master, but sometimes a player, the Storyteller lives for the plot. Expect him to throw out more twist endings than an M. Night Shamylan movie and even fewer hints about where the story is going. Honestly, it is tough to get a really quality game without a Storyteller in the mix.

6. The Judge

Some call him a “Rules Lawyer,” but this is an insult to this valuable archetype. Rules lawyers use their rules knowledge to gain an advantage during the game. A Judge merely has all the rules in his skull and stands ready to quickly resolve any rules issues arising during a game. Even game masters look to him for the truly difficult rulings and value his input.

This is my wish list for a group of players, such as it is. Before I close, I feel it important to list a few archetypes that will NEVER be welcomed at my game table.

1. The Basement Troll

Fourteen year-old children living in their parents basement is fine. Thirty year-old adults who live in their parents basement are just creepy. Yes, this is the gamer stereotype, but it is sadly all too common. No interpersonal skills, poor hygiene and no clue how pathetic they truly are.  Most people play games as a fun pastime, this archetype plays to achieve some success in their unhappy lives.

2. God’s Gift to Gaming

I read an article once that the most competent people tend to underestimate their skills and the most incompetent tend to overestimate their skills and not realize it. That  is the essence of the GGTG. This archetype knows every rule and tactic, met every game designer and is working on the “next big game system” that no one has ever seen. Expect him to substitute volume for substance when speaking. Incredibly annoying and my personal pet peeve. Avoid at all costs.

3. Mr. Flaky

Games really do need a commitment. A regular game group operates more smoothly than one with irregular attendance. Mr. Flaky is the guy that stands at the precipice of ejection, but never quite goes over the edge. He shows up at the game group just enough to stay “active,” but not often enough to really contribute. Also expect Mr. Flaky to assume some critical role in the campaign and then promptly disappear for the next three sessions. Nothing like having the “Chosen One” vanish at irregular intervals during the campaign.

Feel free to throw your own player archetype into the comments. I am very interested to hear the opinions of other gamers about the “type” of player they seek out for their game group.

Trask, The Last Tyromancer



Trask is a long-time gamer, world traveler and history buff. He hopes that his scribblings will both inform and advance gaming as a hobby.

6 thoughts on “Player Archetypes: What is the Best Mix For A Game Group?

  • March 16, 2009 at 10:37 am

    Don’t forget the “Crack-whore”. Those players who sole purpose it to get he most cracked out death machine of a character possible. Their skill at tactics and roleplaying maybe be good or bad, but their goal is to have the most efficiently built character as possible. All equipment, feats, traits, and skills go into place, not for story, but do deal out more then normal.

  • March 16, 2009 at 11:29 am

    Where do I fit in?

  • March 16, 2009 at 5:35 pm

    I want dramatists and storytellers, because I’m enough of a clown for all of us, and I’m not great at monster tactics. A bit of combat machinery is fine, but someone who is all that and no storyteller is going to lead to a lot of “You had your thing now sit and be bored while he gets his” compromises.

  • March 17, 2009 at 4:21 am

    What about the Puzzle Solvers? You give them something with no clear answer or path to take, within twenty minutes they’ll have a plan, a backup plan, and a couple of stopgap measures to keep from getting bored in the meantime.

    Or Team Builders. This one takes it upon himself to make sure the group’s getting along as well as possible, making sure The Plan requires everyone’s skills or mediating the disputes between two of the others.

    I’m a Dramatist/Storyteller/Puzzle Solver/Team Builder hybrid (I call them Currents), and most of my friends have strong Dramatist leanings. It makes for a pretty darn good game.

  • March 17, 2009 at 2:52 pm

    There’s the ‘Disinterested SO’ usually a girlfriend, but sometimes a guy, who is not interested in the game and is just there to be with their snugglebunch. This sort comes in two flavors: Annoyed and Snuggly. Annoyed ones sigh with exasperation, say ‘I swing my sword or whatever’, roll some random dice which may or may not be the right ones, and make it very clear they just want to be elsewhere. Snuggly ones are so focused on the other player who brought them that they both ignore the game in progress to be cute to each other and detract from the whole experience.

    There’s also the ‘Goofball At All Costs’ who, unlike the Clown, is there to show off how funny he is and dress his male gnome character up as a Babushka, put on a bad Russian accent, and generally irritate everyone, regardless of how serious the scene or campaign may be.

  • March 18, 2009 at 11:53 am

    I just wanted to say that I liked the article. Never really considered the role of the clown before. I liked the positive spin given to most of the roles / player types.

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