Alex and Jordan:
The Psychographs of Role-Playing Gamers
This blog article is inspired by two things. First, Mark Rosewater’s now famous article about Timmy, Johnny, and Spike; hypothetical player profiles that represented his conclusions and observations of three unique psychographs among Magic: the Gathering players.
Additionally, this article is inspired by a thread started by Emerikol on the Dungeons and Dragons Next forums. A remarkably civil discussion (given that this is the Internet) occurred regarding two distinct methods players used to interpret the material provided by a Role-Playing Game. Something of a consensus was reached about these two differing desires for what players expected game developers to provide for them. This post takes a more detailed look at that distinction between players and asks if it can be applied as a general rule.
IntroductionPresented below are 4 sample abilities for an otherwise non-descript Fantasy Role-Playing Game followed by a quick scenario for each. At the end of each scenario, an open-ended question is posed about how you would like your games to play out. There are no right or wrong answers. The questions are designed to make you think beyond the implications of the question itself, and I’ve done my best to word the questions in such a way as to not slant your conclusion. Your answers are personal, and please use them as context for reading the profiles of Alex and Jordan at the end of the post.
(Note: As a nondescript Fantasy RPG that you are familiar with, assume you know any answers to questions you may have about how the abilities and scenarios are worded).
The warrior lunges forward into his foe, slamming into it and knocking it backwards.
One target adjacent to the warrior suffers 3 times normal damage and is pushed one space. The warrior moves into the space left by the target.
The warrior is in a fight with a dragon that is much larger, stronger, and more massive than the warrior.
Question: If you are the Game Master, and the warrior’s player wants to use the ability without rewording any part of it (use the ability exactly as written above), do you allow it? In full, or in part?
Circle-ohedron of Fire
The magus points in a particular direction; a short distance away, as the caster desired, a ball of flame erupts.
At a point within 100ft from the caster, all targets within 20ft of that point suffer 2 times normal fire damage.
Scenario: Great balls of fire
The magus is in a fight underwater against a number of angry giant shrimp.
Question: If you are the Game Master, and the magus’ player wants to use the ability, how does the conversation between the two of you play out?
The ragamuffin catches a lucky opening in his target’s defenses, aiming directly at a vital organ and crippling their actions.
The ragamuffin may only use this attack while in a state of advantage against the target. The target suffers 3 times normal damage and may only use half a turn until made better.
Scenario: Jello Shots
The ragamuffin has encountered a Cylindrical Ooze monster that is apparently unaware of the character.
Question: If you are the player, do you expect your Game Master to allow you to use your Sharpshot ability against the monster? In full, or in part?
The spoony bard taunts a foe with insults and slander, driving it into an unfocused rage and causing it to hurt itself in its confusion.
One target suffers 3 times normal damage and is given a minor penalty on all rolls until made better.
Scenario: Domo Arigato
The spoony bard is debating with a robot.
Question: If you are the developer of this RPG, does the game allow the spoony bard to use his ability? If so, why and how? If not, why not?
Alex and Jordan, the PsychographsAlex
When Alex plays a Role Playing Game, he or she wants a system that provides a balanced game that can be cool for everyone at the table. The important parts of the game are the rules it provides for conflict resolution; Alex relies on the game designers and developers to make that work.
As such, Alex considers the flavor to be inspirational descriptions of what is presented by the mechanics. It’s okay, and perhaps even desirable, for that flavor to depict a common theme. But Alex should not be bound to the presented flavor, and should have the freedom to substitute a different narrative instead. Alex likes to reflavor rather than reengineer.
However, overly restrictive or complex mechanics may hinder Alex’s freedom to create new narratives, so the mechanics provided are ideally balanced, as well as simple.
For Alex, a player wielding a fire sword will do as much damage to a fire elemental as the rules say, and Alex will provide an appropriate description for that to happen regardless of what the game says.
When Jordan plays a Role Playing Game, he or she wants a system that provides an internally consistent game that can be immersive for everyone at the table. The important parts of the game are the descriptions it provides for setting an environment; Jordan relies on the game designers and developers to make that come to life.
Jordan considers the mechanics to be systemic derivatives of what is presented in the flavor. Those mechanics are derived from an assumption of a standard set of conditions. To Jordan, the description of an ability is unchanging, so if the conditions are not standard, Jordan has the freedom to rework the mechanical effect. Jordan prefers reengineering to reflavoring.
However, overly broad descriptions may hinder Jordan’s understanding of how new situations should apply reengineered effects, so the flavor provided is ideally detailed, as well as relatable.
For Jordan, a player wielding a fire sword won’t do as much, or any, damage to a fire elemental, regardless of what the game says about resistances.
The psychographs above are simplified concepts of player preferences. Many players will agree that statements about both psychographs apply to them, but one profile may apply more than others. Generally speaking, all Role-Playing Games have these psychographs within their audience, to varying extents. Knowing what each of these psychographs desires is critical to designing and developing a game that those players will enjoy.