I decided to write a series of articles about how to prepare a campaign according to what your player want from the game. Perhaps others will find this useful or, at least, entertaining. I am fortunate to play with the same people for several years to this date, so I know them pretty well. Even so, there are times when it is particularly useful to know what they want from a game so they can be entertained.
In his masterful book Robin's Laws of Good Game Mastering, Robin D. Laws tells us that it is useful to identify what type of player each person is, so the gamemaster can create scenes, situations, events, non-player characters and anything to support their play style. It's a very good book with useful tips so I highly recommend you grab a copy and read it cover to cover.
Even if identifying what type of player each person is may not impact on the genre the group is going to play, it will ultimately impact on the structure of the game itself. Robin identifies the following types:
- The Power Gamer: This person wants to be the most powerful, the most rich, influential person in the game. He wants to be the best fighter, have the most powerful magic items, have lots of influence and, generally, have a tremendous sense of power, be it social, intellectual or physical.
- The Butt-Kicker: This person wants to kick butt. It doesn't matter why, he just wants action scenes, mayhem, combat, etc. He may not feel the need to be the most powerful, as long as he's engaged in combat.
- The Tactician: This person revels in methodical play, planning things in detail, focusing on minutia. He delights in facing problems and puzzles to tickle his intellect, to see his plans come to fruition.
- The Specialist: This person likes to play the same type of character over and over again and be good at it, like someone who only plays rangers or elves.
- The Casual Player: Generally speaking, this person avoids being the center of attention. He plays the game because he enjoys the company of his friends. If they would rather spend the evening at the movies, he wouldn't mind, as long as he can tag along. The most valuable asset of the casual player is that he will play almost anything.
This categorization is not hard and fast. Some players can be multiple things. Some aren't even any of these types but, as Robin says, it's a good starting point. The process of identifying each of your players is useful insofar you know them well. If you're playing with people you never met, you'll have to adjust your methods until you can determine what type of player they are. This shouldn't be difficult as most players show their play style during the first couple of sessions.
Even when choosing a game, it is important to keep this in mind. Not everyone will enjoy Call of Cthulhu, but Butt-kickers, Tacticians and Specialists will. AD&D 1e will draw most, if not all, of these types if done well. A game like Burning Wheel will draw the Tactician, Specialist and Casual Player, perhaps the Butt-kicker if the game structure allows for more focused combat scenes. However, since some players will fill two or more categories, choosing what game to play and what scenes to create will be easier.
This does not preclude a more improvisational style of play. As long as the gamemaster keeps in mind what types of players are at his table, he can conjure up situations on the spur of the moment to entertain his players. Sometimes, this is more desirable as the gamemaster can adjust the flow of the session according to how players are enjoying themselves ("We just had an intrigue scene where they persuaded the orcs to help them, now the zombies attack!") If pre-planning a sessions the gamemaster should balance the scenes to focus on each player's style, thus bringing him or her to the spotlight.
One does not have to limit his consideration of player types to the categories above. Even a player choice of game reveals much about him or her. If a player's favorite game is Savage Worlds, he enjoys fast-paced, action games. If his choice is Primetime Adventures, then he wants to involve himself in scenes of interaction, some action, with moral and ethical dilemmas. Thus, the gamemaster would do well to discuss beforehand what game he intends to play to gauge his players' interest. Some will say so outright, others not so, but a frank discussion can avoid much future aggravation. This includes the premise of the campaign. A well-pitched campaign will attract even the most jaded player. This should leave the players excited to, at least, try out a few sessions.
After the gamemaster has determined all of the above elements, it is now time to roll up the sleeves and start rolling characters. Much can be glimpsed from a player character sheet but that will be the subject of a future article.