Everybody plays D&D to have fun, but different people get their enjoyment from different aspects of the game. If you’re preparing and running a game for a group of players, understanding player motivations – what they enjoy about the game and what makes them happiest when they play – helps you build a harmonious group of players and a fun game for all.
I may have said this before, but it bears repeating; the Dungeon Masters Guide for D&D 4e is quite brilliant. It’s not necessarily a book you’d have at your side while DMing, but between games it’s your very best friend.
You don’t even have to be a D&Der to get something out of this book. I want to concentrate on the player styles chapter. This is an expanded version of the styles listed in Robin’s Laws of Good Gamesmastering ( a wonderful booklet that all GMs should read). Here’s the list of player motivations in the book:
There’s a fairly clear seperation in there between the elements of role, play and game. I’m guessing many GMs or RPG forum goers will be ticking the actor or storyteller boxes, with far fewer admitting to slayer or power gamer. I might be wrong. The sheer genius of this section, and 4e as a whole, is that it doesn’t make judgements on player motivations. Showing up is enough, and should be celebrated. Even more, the game bends over backwards to actually accomodate all these styles. It understands that players will have a mix of motivations and that any table will have a mix of players. Constucting a game that appeals to everyone is some feat. I submit that the vast majority of systems don’t even try. Look at power gamers and slayers, two groups that might raise the hackles of many GMs. In 4e, these guys are welcomed to the table, yet they are not pandered too. Instead there is advice on how to engage them, how to avoid letting them steal too much spotlight, and how to mix them in with the other types. Those are brave statements.
Incidentally, all the cool advice is in a chapter entitled ‘How to be a DM’, the first chapter in the book. For the first time I can actually see a potential roleplayer learning how to game from a book with no other help at all. Sure, a mentor is the ideal but that’s not always possible. The hobby needs well written, inclusive essays like this. I’ll post other gems from this book in the future.
So, to my questions for you. What other games actually make the effort to include all styles and motivations? Do you at your table? Many posters talk about gaming almost as if it were a solitary affair (“My favourite game is…”, “I hate it when…”, “What you need to understand is…”) and never seem to recognise that there are half a dozen people involved in making their gaming sing. I guarantee that those people all get different things from the game, so why assume everyone will step in line with the GMs personal preferences?