In D&D, much like in real life we see people fall into different categories based on their personality or the personality that they wish to display through their character. In real life these can vary from being an introvert, extrovert, jock, class clown and so on but in D&D there are three basic school of gameplay that players fall into. Often players can fall in between these three types or mesh the different styles of game play together, but for this post I want to talk about the main three.
Like I said, we see players fall into three different types of playing style: Explorers, Actors, and Fighters. No one style of gameplay is “correct” or better than the others. All have their perks and their drawbacks and I bet that you have noticed them even if you aren’t aware of it. Now I’m not here to try and suggest that anyone should change his or her style of gameplay. All of these styles work and are perfectly fine. If you prefer one type of gameplay and that one type works for you then great! That’s awesome, but sometimes the different playing styles can cause rifts and discord between players. Sometimes one person’s style of playing will irritate or bore another persons style of playing and this can be just as deadly for a party as a mind flayer or beholder or Michael Bay. I have seen many games derailed and players quit showing up to sessions not because of things that have occurred in the story, but because of how certain players have handled the story and because of conflicts in gaming style with other players. I want to bring a little light to this subject so that the next time you encounter a player who perhaps enjoys playing differently than you, that you can understand why they play the way they do and maybe then it won’t be such a problem. Maybe you could be the person playing this way and maybe you could tone your style back just a little bit so as to create a better environment for your party. Everyone plays differently and those different styles of gameplay should be respected, and vice versa players should be aware of their gaming style and should take notice when their way of playing might be affecting the party, halting gameplay, or causing a drawback with the other players.
First I want to outline the three different styles of gameplay and I want to pretext this with the following: I have absolutely no authority over this matter other than the fact that I have played D&D for a long time and I’ve seen these occurrences come up time and time again. These stereotypes of play style may be completely alien to you and maybe your party functions fine. But it still is a good idea to familiarize yourself with these types of playing style so that if you ever come across them you know how to react to them.
First we have players who like to investigate, poke around and get a good feeling/idea of the world that they are in. These guys would obviously be explorers. Explorers like to understand things. They like to go around to the different towns and cities and learn how the world operates. They often will be the person who wants to subdue their enemy rather than kill it so they can query as to it's motivation(s). They also will want to get a sense of the land and learn the lore and belief system(s) behind the NPCs who populate it. Explorer characters I’ve found often enjoy playing the widest variety of characters out of the three different types. While fighter players obviously gravitate towards striker/defender classes, explorers like to play a plethora of classes. I also feel that every player, no matter what style has a little bit of explorer in them. I also would like to add that explorer players die the most often. This is a lot more true is past edition than it is in 4e, but in my experiences explorer characters die a lot simply due to the fact that they can become careless and are so willing to tinker and sniff around that they will often get caught in traps that can easily result in their death.
Next we have the actors. Players who really take pleasure in getting into their character’s mindset, seeing the world from their point of view / life experiences and acting according to them rather than their own. These kinds of players are the ones who most likely have a shit ton of backstory written up before they start any campaign. They often want people to really grasp what they see in their head when they look at their character and sometimes can do this to a fault.
Why is this Dragonborn a Cleric? How come this Revenant serves Melora? What made this Elf become a Barbarian? How come this Gnome worships Modarin? These are the things that the actors like to think of and explore throughout gameplay. Actors tend to stray away from striker and defender classes though that doesn’t mean they won’t play as one. The many actor players that I have played with enjoy playing as either leaders or controllers.
Lastly we come to the fighters. Fighter type players like combat pure and simple. They like rolling lots of dice as often as they can and doing damage. That’s about it. Almost everything they do with their character will revolve solely around combat. Feats, paragon paths, how they spend their money, everything is centered on combat. These players, and I’m not trying to point fingers here, but I feel they are the main reasons old school D&D nerds have such a hard time with 4e. Most people playing 4e will be aware that 4e has been called “Dungeons and Dragons for WoW players,” and in my personal opinion fighter style players are the reason for that phrase. Fighters also tend to (in my experience) participate the least outside of combat. The second you get to roll initiative they are all up on it like a bee in a bonnet, but the moment you are done looting the bodies they check out.
I have a friend; let’s call him Russell. Russell is a hardcore fighter style player. He can’t stand not doing damage. When we are playing and Russell isn’t rolling lots of dice all the time he might as well not even be there. He doesn’t talk, he doesn’t help when interacting with NPC’s he doesn’t do much of anything. The only thing that he will talk about outside of encounters are his powers. He loves to talk about his powers. He likes to talk about how awesome they are and how much damage they can do. Russell annoys me if you can’t tell. As a friend I love the guy, but playing D&D with him is hard cause the party is basically down a player whether he is there or not. Fighters obviously play almost exclusively as strikers though some like to play as defenders.
It may sound like I’m being harsh on these topics but really there is no way getting around them. Most players just operate one of these three ways*. We have to be respectful however of the different ways people like to play D&D. In 4e, more than any other edition we see the different styles of playing clearly defined like never before so we should all be respectful of how others like to play. HOWEVER players also need to be aware of their own playing style and judge themselves accordingly. Explorer characters can really grind sessions to a halt with their constant perception checks and crazy attention to detail. They like to read into things and sometime do it so much that they miss the point. This creates conflict with fighter style players who like sessions to be a little more fast paced, which isn’t a bad thing. Actor style players mostly annoy both fighter and explorers simply because they can go over the top and just make everyone else feel as if they aren’t playing true to their character when in reality actors just take it too far. Fighters… well I already outlined those guys so yeah.
Just stop and think. Are you talking too much to NPC’s for no reason? Are you not participating enough outside of combat? Is your backstory and character overshadowing the rest of the party? Simply be attentive and take notice to the way you play and if everyone at the table does this and everyone makes sure that they aren’t overstepping their roles then the d20’s will flow like milk and honey.
*There are a few other style of gameplay but they are mostly just variations of the main three styles.
Side Note: Dear Russell, if you somehow figure out that I’m talking about you please don’t punch me in the face. I love playing with you and you are an awesome guy. You just like dice a little too much.
**Also I didn’t mention metagamers in here because those guys suck.