Editor’s Note: David Gordon currently writes the You Should Be Playing column regarding tabletop RPG recommendations. This is great for articles about specific games, but sometimes topics come up that fall outside this normal purview or require more in-depth analysis than YSBP allows. To that end, David will be rolling out two new segments. The first of the two is called Up On A Soapbox, where he’ll opine on gaming-related topics. This is the second of those.
The Cardboard Republic discusses the subject of Gamer Archetypes a great deal. While it is, admittedly, not a perfect system of categorization, it is one that many of our readers find resonance with because of how well it does work. As gamers, what draws us to the hobby is as different as the people we are. The Archetypes detailed on our website are simply broad strokes by which we can measure ourselves and those around us. They are not meant to be restrictive or exclusive, but instead allow us to present games in terms that our readership can easily identify with. Ideally, the Gamer Archetypes serve to inform us better as to which games we will enjoy, and which games we will not.
The Gamer Archetypes here, however, are written primarily with the whole picture of traditional tabletop gaming in mind. We call out specifics in trading card games, board games, deckbuilders, and more, seeking to present an overarching picture of these Archetypes. Of them, only the Immersionist mentions roleplaying games in depth. While the Immersionist is arguably the most iconic of the roleplaying game Archetypes, it may surprise some to know that it is far from the only one. Each Archetype has its adherents in gamers who are roleplayers first and foremost. In order to better examine roleplaying games, then, it would be useful for us to examine the Archetypes through a roleplayer’s lens and help further define them in terms of roleplaying games as well.
System and Social Intelligence
Roleplaying games exist in a balance of social intelligence and system intelligence, with each to varying degrees applying to different games. System intelligence is reflected in how a game uses risk and reward, along with a system of conflict resolution, to tell a dynamic story. Social intelligence is reflected in how a game presents interpersonal interactions at the gaming table, fostering roleplaying between players and the narrative structure in a story. In other words, it is a combination of crunch and fluff.
Among the Archetypes, this balance turns in one direction or the other, with certain Archetypes enjoying roleplaying games focusing on system intelligence, with others preferring the ones requiring social intelligence. As not every game has the same balance of these two intelligences, not every gamer type will find the same games appealing.
Contrary to the Stormwind Fallacy, these two intelligences are not mutually exclusive, and gamers engage to both at differing levels. A player who is skilled with system intelligence can also be skilled at social intelligence, or skilled at neither. By examining the Archetypes, however, we can find which intelligences engage the interest of gamers regardless of skill.
For the Socializer, it is social intelligence that unsurprisingly reigns supreme. The ultimate in the casual roleplaying game player, the Socializer is drawn into games for the people at the table. They are there to hang out with their friends and enjoy a fun story with them. Socializers may not be the greatest roleplayers at the table, but they will find more traction with games that are light on rules yet big on interaction.
Games like Fiasco provide just enough structure to facilitate the fun back-and-forth conversation between friends that is the Socializer’s bread and butter, without going so far as to slow the action down. However, a Socializer may find the long term plans of a weekly campaign to be too much commitment, and the more abstract or system-intense games will be a turn off. The Socializer should look for rules-lite, fun social games that tend to be ideal for impromptu gatherings or conventions.
RPG systems can be elegant things, and it is in these elegant games where the Tactician finds their niche. Bringing a keen awareness of system intelligence to the table, the Tactician will find their natural tendencies rewarded in games that celebrate system intelligence. The root of tabletop roleplaying games have come a long way from the Chainmail days, but the Tactician will find a great deal of attraction to the tactical combat simulations of games like Dungeons & Dragons and Iron Kingdoms.
Tacticians will be able to pick apart nearly any set of rules, remember countless situational variables, and will be regularly a powerful piece on any game board. However, these same tendencies can lead to them being accused of rules-lawyering and/or losing sight of the social aspect to the game. A dyed-in-the-wool Tactician likely should avoid games that emphasize descriptive resolution over dice and miniatures, or ones where the rules can change at the drop of a hat. Like an armchair general, the Tactician is at home amidst complex systems and careful calculations, and they find satisfaction in the many action combat simulation games.
Strikers will often be known by their reputations in tabletop RPGs. Enjoying the conflict of player vs. player or player vs. the GM, they excel at games where fast wits and clever manipulation can give them the upper hand. As such, Strikers are drawn to roleplaying games based primarily on social intelligence over system intelligence.
Both Amber Diceless and Vampire the Masquerade will appeal to the Striker who seeks conflict against their fellow players, while older editions of Dungeons & Dragons or newer games like Agon will allow them to shine in conflict against a GM. Strikers, however, may find it difficult to gather players if they wish to be the GM themselves, and they quickly grow bored in games which rely on cooperative storytelling. The Striker should look for games that feature intrigue and competitive mechanics.
As fickle as the love of the dice can be, the Daredevil will risk it all time and again for the chance of glory. Driven by the sense of excitement and risk that comes with gaming, Daredevils often favor games where the dice are the focal mechanic. Daredevils will use their system intelligence to find the precise odds on their path to victory, and they enjoy systems that favor extreme turns of luck – for good or ill.
Palladium and Rifts are appealing as they offer systems where the dice hold ultimate sway, and Deadlands’ inclusion of drawing cards to make Poker in many mechanics can bring a nice variety to the table. Daredevils may find games with reliable systems, or systems that do not reward risk to be less appealing to them, as will some of the more social intelligence games that rely on careful manipulations and certainties. These games prevent a Daredevil’s methods from succeeding. The Daredevil is in their element in the fray of dangerous, high risk dice rolling, and games with double or nothing clauses will let them shine.
While the Immersionist may be known for their preference for roleplaying games compared to other tabletop games, they are often the least demanding gamers in terms of RPGs themselves. What appeals to the Immersionist is not a game requiring system intelligence or social intelligence, but a vibrant and appealing world for the game to live in. Licensed games, such as the Serenity RPG or the Dresden Files, can provide the Immersionist the world to get lost in, as can games with unique concepts, such as the hot-blooded anime meets cosmic horror of CthulhuTech.
Even games that have a weak rules system, or may not have the best social economy, can still appeal to the Immersionist. Immersionists ultimately care the most about the story that a game can tell. Games that serve as more abstract exercises, or without a fleshed out setting to call their own rarely appeals to them, causing more generic games to require a skilled GM to keep them satisfied. With the desire to lose themselves in the world of the game part of their makeup, the Immersionist can be the most accommodating of the Archetypes in roleplaying games – so long as the story is good.
Conversely, the Architect can be the hardest to please Archetype in roleplaying games. The Architect, however, can often find roleplaying games to be the most rewarding on their investment. No other game type offers quite the same amount of control in the process of building a character or a world.
Games with both a strong system and social interplay between characters and setting, such as the oriental high fantasy of Legend of the Five Rings RPG, or the expansive science fiction universe of Eclipse Phase, will hold their interest the longest.
Games with little progression or very linear storytelling will not hold an Architect’s interest, though, and it is often the Architect who finds the flaws in a system the most unbearable. When given a game with a wide variety of elements and a clear plan of progression, the Architect can and will build the amazing stories that draw people into the hobby to stay. It usually just takes some extra legwork to get them there.
As with all Archetype overviews, none of these are hard and fast rules. And above all else, they are not meant to be exclusive. Just as there is no mutually exclusive correlation between system intelligence and social intelligence, roleplayers bring a myriad of preferences to the table. There are Architects who enjoy their short, simple games, and there are the Daredevils who like to talk rather than let the dice decide everything. What is important is to know that roleplaying games are written with both of these intelligences in mind, and that not every gamer will like the same games. It is often how the games use different combinations of system and social intelligence that determine how much we enjoy playing them, and knowing your own tastes can go a long way in making informed choices. Just like the rest of tabletop gaming, there likely is a roleplaying game out there for you, and it’s just a matter of finding it.
David Gordon is a regular contributor to the site. A storyteller by trade and avowed tabletop veteran, he can be reached at email@example.com.
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