What D&D teaches about game design

A reader asked a question this week: which games have influenced us as game writers?  As luck would have it, one of my major influences just came out with a new edition this week: Dungeons & Dragons.  Just opening up the Dungeon Master’s Handbook gives you a quick overview of infos you need in game design — whether pen and paper or MMOs.

Right at the beginning, the author encourages you, the DM, to identify the types of player motivations, many of which map to Bartle’s 4 types and beyond for MUDs and MMOs.

Actor — The person who likes to roleplay.  I’d say that’s a cross between the explorer and socializer archetype from MMOs.  Agree, disagree? 

Explorer — Just like the explorer archetype

Instigator — Likes to make things happen.  Woosh, have I been that on occasion.  I’d say this type of player most likely aligns with the architect archetype.  Instigator overlaps with killer, unfortunately.  Also socializer, if this person is a natural leader. 

Power Gamer — Achiever

Slayer — Killer or Achiever

Storyteller — The player who likes to find out what happens.  We like to think the people who care about story in games are a subset of the explorer archetype. 

Thinker — These players like to solve puzzles and strategize.  You could argue it’s a subset of the achiever type, but I believe the thinker is happy just to solve puzzles and is not doing it for phat loot.  I would say these types are most likely explorers, who want a full understanding of the game system.  It’s a bit of a stretch, though.  Strategizer — that must be an archetype, if it doesn’t exist already.

Watcher — This person is along for the ride.  Pure socializer

What’s missing?  I noticed the killer archetype seems somewhat under-represented.  My friend quite kindly points out that the catass gamer, who just burns through content as quickly as possible, is not represented either.   These types are like achievers on crack.  I’m not sure these types can exist in regular D&D.

Once you have all these player types in mind, though, you will need to avoid the 4 misuses of Bartle’s Four.  What other wisdom is buried in D&D?  Stay tuned…

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Published in: on June 10, 2008 at 11:24 am  Comments (6)  

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  1. It’s interesting, but I think there’s a flaw in your basic idea here. D&D and tabletop roleplaying has the expectation that players may be able to *contribute* to the action…That’s an expectation that is missing from (most) online “roleplaying” games.

    That’s why I think your Instigator and Storyteller types don’t quite match up to the MUD-centric Bartle types. (Although you mention an “architect archetype”, which I haven’t heard of before…)

    It might be worth thinking about “GNS Theory” if you aren’t familiar with it. (Can I do links on this blog? Well, you can look it up in Wikipedia.) The basic ideas is that roleplayers pursue one of three “creative agendas”: “Gamism”, where you try to win or at least do as well as you can (kill monsters, level up, master tactics, and so on); “Narrativism”, where you tell stories that are important to you; and “Simulationism”, where you enjoy the exploration of the fantasy world.

    I’m not saying it’s the final answer, but it might be interesting to think about. 😉

    Also, is a “Slayer” someone who kills other players or just monsters? A player-killer would be a “Killer”, sure, but someone just killing monsters would be something else…Achiever, maybe…

  2. Hiya! I’m not quite sure what you mean by the idea of “contributing” to the action. In MUDs/MMOs, players must engage in action to get the story to move forward. Perhaps what you mean is that players in D&D can go off the story rails (if the DM can handle it), while in MUDs and MMOs that’s not usually possible for technical reasons.

    The list here is from the DM Handbook — I don’t claim ownership of them 😉 It’s true they don’t all match up with Bartle’s types or the additional types that others have developed since then. Did it seem like I said they matched up perfectly or that I was only talking about Bartle’s 4?

    Architect is a type of player who likes to build things in game. For example, Second Life is an architect’s paradise.

    That’s interesting what you mentioned about GNS theory — but it definitely doesn’t take in all the the motivations. Where’s socializing, for example? It, too, ignores the architect type and the killer. I know I have definitely gamed on-line and in-person with someone who just wants to annoy me every minute of the game.

    And you’re right about the Slayer/Killer bit — I fixed it in the original post.


  3. Ah, well. I didn’t mean to imply that you said they matched up perfectly, or anything like that…I just wanted to explore the areas where they didn’t quite match up; I figured that might yield some additional insight into the subject. In other words, I just like to poke at things to see what insights I can uncover. 😉

    I haven’t heard of any player types beyond the original 4, although “architect” does seem pretty self-explanatory.

    Your comment about “story rails” is kind of revealing. The one thing that I really like about GNS theory is that it questions the idea of such rails. Many RPGs work from the basic idea of players playing through a scenario constructed by the DM. However, some RPGs encourage (even force!) the players to have control over the action. That’s the point of Narrativist play; the player acts in order to express something important to them. One example is My Life With Master ( http://playthisthing.com/my-life-master ). The players portray minions of a Gothic villain terrorizing a town (think of Dr. Frankenstein or Dracula). At the end of the game, the Master dies; depending on the way the game stats are working, there are several outcomes for each minion. The minion can integrate into the town’s society, or be killed by the townsfolk, or commit suicide, or gain power and become a new Master. The ultimate point here is that even though there are numbers involved, you as the player have the choice to control your character. If you want to play out a tragic story of an outcast creature who kills himself because he cannot fit into human society…then you work toward that in your roleplaying, choose scenes that make the numbers go where you want. You’re expected to play out the story that you will find most interesting.

    That’s what I mean when I say that RPGs have the opportunity to let players contribute to the story, almost like collaborative writing. Of course, this probably gets into “player story vs. game story”, like you posted about before…

    One other thing you’ve made me think about; The GNS theory is focused on the particularities of what people get out of the act of roleplaying itself, and thus socialization is not really addressed. The point is that if someone is a “pure socializer”, then they don’t really care about roleplaying as such; they would be happy with any activity that let them spend time socializing with friends. So I feel like GNS is sort of on a different “level” than Bartle’s types. (Of course, the great thing about Bartle’s types is that they were derived from empirical observation!)

  4. In the best games (read: those with mucho dinero and a desire for it), you can have lots of branching like you described. In my opinion, it all comes down to how much branching the game company can afford. The more money in branching, the greater the player opportunity to feel like a co-creator of the story. That’s definitely where D&D has an advantage — there’s no monetary limit to branching, just DM’s ability to go off the cuff.

    I like what you have to say, there, but I don’t think you can take socializing out of the roleplay. The roleplay is inherently for the audience, otherwise they wouldn’t be there. Just a thought.


  5. […] — the only place for moral ambiguity? I was asked earlier this week on which games have influenced me as a writer and designer, so I thought I’d draw attention to […]

  6. […] ties in with my last post on D&D 4th edition. Last week I wrote about how D&D approaches player types and tone. Today I’ll take another look at how D&D’s 4th edition can come in handy […]

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