4th Edition has a lot of good little bits in it, not the least of which is its depiction of many of the more popular player types that you will deal with over the course of a campaign. It’s by no means all-inclusive and most players are a combination of types but it’s a good start. The human mind is really good at recognizing patterns, so even if you read through the player type list and say “okay, whatever. Bob is not a Slayer or a Powergamer but he’s even less of an Actor”, that’s a good start. The point of them is not really to label your players so much anyway as it is to get you thinking about what sorts of things you can do to make them have the most fun in a gaming session.
That being said, it could be useful for you as the DM to think about what kind of gamer *you* are. Player types don’t quite translate into DM types in part because the DM wears so many hats over the course of a session and a campaign. That being said, here are some types that might get you started:
The Reluctant Dungeonmaster. No, this isn’t the person who doesn’t even want to play Dungeons and Dragons but gets sucked into it by his buddies. Really, if you’ve gone out and bought a couple of the core rulebooks and actually want to *be* a DM, that’s several steps beyond that point. This is a DM type who really prefers to play (especially with all the wonderful options in 4E) but who got hounded into DMing because nobody else wanted to and he knew the rules better than anybody else.
Don’t fret! Being a DM is much, much different from being a player, I will admit, but it need not live up to all the stereotypes. First up, you don’t necessarily need to spend several days planning each adventure (more on that in an upcoming series of posts… if I get around to it, wink wink). Second, if you remember what it’s like to be a player, that IMO is a significant advantage you have over the guy who’s done nothing but DM for the last 25 years, because you know first hand what’s boring for a player and what’s fun.
The Adversary. You frankly forgot that Dungeons and Dragons is not like Monopoly and you play the game as though you are on one side and the players are on the other. There is nothing technically wrong with this way of DMing; this was really how the game got started, after all. However, times have changed and a lot of people who want to play RPGs aren’t looking for a battle of wits so much as they are looking for a chance to help create a cool story involving a pretend person they created. You probably want to let any prospective players know what they’re getting into before they play a session with you. Ironically, though, it’s this class of DM that never does this because they are also the variety that does not understand that the game itself and the genre of the RPG in general have moved on from the late 1970s.
The Battle Tactician. You focus every game around encounters, and you love throwing in new things to torment the players. You aren’t really the Adversary in that winning isn’t necessarily your primary goal, although the Adversary mixes “well” with the Battle Tactician. You encourage your players to powergame because if they don’t maximize their combat effectiveness they will fall behind your planning skills and eventually start losing a lot. You tend to be very strict about the mechanics; dice-fudging to save a character’s or a party’s skin is generally but not always seen as a mortal sin.
Again, this is a perfectly okay way to run things so long as your party knows about it first. This gaming style is primarily built for Slayers and Powergamers, but Thinkers can also find a niche in trying to outthink you in the chess game that sits behind the mechanics of 4E. Actors and Storytellers are not going to have a lot of fun in your game. Instigators are likely to get frustrated as well; your combat tactics don’t necessarily encourage thinking outside of the box, and since you’re wedded to the mechanics you’re not likely to have a “Rule of Cool” that encourages people to swing from chandeliers and so on.
The White Wolf Guy. This is the DM type who probably started going in the 90s, back when Vampire: The Masquerade, Mage: The Ascension, Werewolf: The Furry Pervert and so on were really popular. Roleplaying is king to this type. Some DMs of this variety like to have you roll for everything and then roleplay your success or failure. Others toss away the dice whenever they can and let the flow of the game dictate whether the party learns the information that they need or what have you. In combat, you’re as concerned with your monsters being memorable foes as putting together a halfway decent assault or defense or whatever it is they’re supposed to do. You’re probably the most likely of all DM types to include the dreaded DMPC in a campaign.
As you might expect, the Actor loves this DM type most of all. Storytellers and Explorers are down with him as well, particularly if they get to contribute to some of the scenery the Actor is busy chewing on. Powergamers might get bored at battle encounters that don’t really push them due to the need for your monsters to engage in less than ideal combat behavior. Paradoxically, Slayers will probably like this just fine, although it might be tough to keep them and the Instigator from jumping the gun on combat after your Actor just spent the last half hour bartering with your NPC alchemist.
The Novelist. You’ve planned out this intricate gameworld and wonderful plot, complete with subplots. It spent you literally MONTHS to put this bad boy together and now you’re going to use Dungeons and Dragons to show off to your friends how awesome you your world is. You understand the mechanics of the game pretty well but aren’t afraid to fudge the dice or bring in a deus ex machina to win a battle you needed the party to win to keep the plot going. When anybody deviates from the script one iota, your heart races and the walls seem to close in on you.
The Storyteller is the most likely person to appreciate this game. The Powergamer and the Slayer will probably be okay with it as well as long as there’s enough combat; just don’t expect them to ooh and ahh over all the time and care that you took. The Thinker, strange as it may sound, is likely to not like this way at all; they want to figure out how to make a quest as easy as possible and when you’ve designed it so that there’s no way through things but to fight a couple warm-up encounters followed by the Big Bad Evil Guy, his thinking will be stifled. The same goes with the Instigator; in fact, you and he will probably get fed up with each other before the campaign is done.
The Puzzle-Master. Your favorite games when you are not playing Dungeons and Dragons are found in Games Magazine. You delight in setting up elaborate mazes, traps that require players to solve them logically rather than make a Thievery check, runes that you borrowed from Myst, and so on. Sometimes combat can turn into a puzzle like this thanks to the use of terrain and so on. You have a tendency, in fact, to punish a party that can’t figure out your puzzles with the dreaded TPK, followed by a party debriefing that includes the phrase “it was OBVIOUS” five or six times.
The Thinker – wow, whodathunkit! – lives for these kinds of games, so long as he didn’t just buy the issue of Games Magazine you are stealing this week’s puzzle from. The Instigator might help or hurt depending on how flexible you are and on what levers, panels, etc. he decides to trip in order to make things happen. The Slayer is liable to just get frustrated if you have too many combat-related puzzles; after all, he’s there to kill stuff, not play the New York Times Crossword Puzzle. The Actor’s not going to find a lot of chances to act and so might get frustrated, but not nearly as much as the Storyteller and the Explorer, the former because he’s less interested in how to solve the puzzle as why the puzzle is there and the latter because your elaborate puzzles are usually predicated upon the party going to specific, pre-determined places.
The Buddy. The opposite of the Adversary, your game style is to always let the players win, get the coolest stuff, and constantly feel the warm glow of satisfaction. There’s only one problem with this: after a while the lack of real risk gets boring. Although your players are not likely to ever tell you that the game’s too easy (maybe more experienced ones will), they’ll still feel it and you’ll eventually feel it when they find other things to do on Sunday afternoon or whenever it is that you play.
It should be noted that Adversary DM types think that basically everybody who does not play the game on an adversarial basis is this kind of player. That doesn’t make it so. To be honest, the Buddy is a fairly rare kind of DM. But they do exist.
The Jack of All Trades. This is the DM who knows how to mix in a little bit of each type to fit their party’s needs. He gives RPing chances to Actors, chances to explore the world to Explorers, good adventure hooks that eventually compound upon themselves to Storytellers, fun and interesting combat to Powergamers and Slayers, and lots of stuff to break for Instigators. He’ll even try his best to bring the Watcher into play, as he realizes that sometimes the Watcher is just another player type waiting to be enthused by DnD. Above and beyond all, he’s willing to tailor his game to the party: if he built an elaborate plot but the party insists game after game that it wants to just find the closest goblin lair and sack it, he’ll eventually turn it into more of a sword and sorcery kind of thing or at least find different ways to hook the party back into his plot structure.
It’s probably pretty obvious that I think the last DM type is the ideal one. The difference between him and all of the other types isn’t natural skill or interpersonal skills or anything else so much as it is the ability to be introspective. Too many DMs do not make an attempt to see their game from beyond their own eyes. Coming in with a “my way or the highway” attitude seems to be standard operating procedure for many DMs. Even the Buddy generally sees himself as inadequate to the task and piles on the treasure in a misguided attempt to get the rest of the group to like him. A DM has to get past that insecurity that either makes him feel as though he’s not good enough or that twists that line of thinking around so that he refuses help or feedback lest someone tells him he’s inadequate. Like anything worth doing well, DMing is something that’s worth doing poorly for a while. And just like anything else, the way you get better at it is not just to repeat the badness over and over again but to see where your strengths and weaknesses are and work on them all.