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Planning for Play-Styles in Your Module



Players can be classified among four play-styles. Most players will play using all four styles at one time or another, but will focus most of their time on the play-style that suits them the most.

The four play-styles are:

  1. Power Gamer: This player has his own agenda. His biggest interest will be to amass treasure and XP, and become the highest level PC in the fastest time possible. A sub-class of the Power Gamer is the "Munchkin": a player who plays the rules to best possible effect, and will often make requests of the DM. He ignores all other play-styles in order to maximize his PC's power. Another sub-class of the Power Gamer is the Combat Junkie: a player who likes action, and gets bored if there aren't some monsters to fight every so often.
  2. Explorer: He wants to delve into your module, find out how things work in your world, and find all its secrets.A sub-class of the Explorer is the Hacker: a player who will find loopholes in your scripting or bugs in the game engine in order to take advantage of the DM, other players, or the module itself.
  3. Role-Player: Interested in the story, and playing his character in it with other people. He enjoys relating with people, joking, listening, and entertaining.
  4. Player-Killer: Wants to dominate others, and kill them for the sport of it. He gets a rush knowing that he can ruin a person's fun and that person can do nothing about it in the real world.

Each play-style has its perception of how the other play-styles fit into the game.

Power Gamer (PG) thinks:

  • Exploring is for finding treasure and XP.
  • Role-Playing is for getting information from other players about finding treasure and XP.
  • Player Killing is only required if treasure and XP can be gained.

Explorer (Ex) thinks:

  • Power Gaming is only necessary for reaching places or doing things that were previously inaccessible.
  • Role-Playing is for getting information from other players, but few of them know anything useful.
  • Player Killing is just a form of Power Gaming, and is rarely worth the trouble.

Role-Player (RP) thinks:

  • Power Gaming is sometimes required to gain knowledge or status.
  • Exploring may be needed to understand what everyone else is talking about.
  • Player Killing occurs only in rare cases of impulse or revenge.

Player Killer (PK) thinks:

  • Power Gaming is necessary to gain enough power to kill the other PCs.
  • Exploring is only useful if the rewards grant power.
  • Role-Playing is most fun for taunting victims, conspiring with other killers, or discovering weaknesses.

Identifying and Managing Players

Discovering what play-styles your players use and dealing with them adequately is one of the primary skills of being a good DM. You should realize that most players use a mix of play-styles and that labeling them too early can put a damper on the fun. Eventually you will learn if a player favors one play-style over the others, and how best to manage them.

Each play-style is listed below, and presented as follows;

  • ID: how to identify this style
  • Good: the better aspects this style offers
  • Bad: the worst aspects this style may exhibit
  • Deal: how manage this play style
  • Quote: What you may hear this PC saying more than once

Power Player

  • ID: Looking for XP, gp, and magic items (Combat Junkies also look for monsters). May be disguised as a Role Player (for a short time). He is proud of his level, and of how short a time he took to reach it. Likely to be a human Rogue, Monk, Fighter, or Rogue/Fighter.
  • Good: They attract Player Killers.
  • Bad: Munchkins can ruin other players' fun.
  • Deal: Lure him into the company of other Power Players. If they're itchin' for a fight, seem undirected or bored, and before they consider attacking PCs, try to throw NPC monsters at them. If they can't find something to do, use an NPC to give a hint.
  • Quote: "I only have 200 XP to go!"


  • ID: Travels all over the map (Hackers are difficult to detect; watch for repetitious actions, strange text, or extreme luck). He is proud of his knowledge of the world you have made, and the game's finer points. Might consider himself a sage or spy.
  • Good: Becomes familiar with the terrain; keeps you on your toes.
  • Bad: May find ways to short-circuit your best laid plans.
  • Deal: If he seems bored or has missed a clue, use an NPC to give him one. (Hacker: kick 'em out of the game as fast as you can. Then lock him out.)
  • Quote: "I know a shortcut..."

Role Player

  • ID: He gets into character. He values his friends, contacts and his influence.
  • Good: He adds color to your world.
  • Bad: May slow down the action.
  • Deal: An asset for DMs who involve PCs in the story He may generate sub-plots and adventure ideas on his own, and you would be wise to follow-up on them.
  • Quote: "Hail and well met, traveler!"

Player Killer

  • ID: May be bossing other PCs around, or threatening them. You might not know it until he attacks a PC. He is proud of his reputation and his fighting prowess.
  • Good: He can help to keep Power Players in check.
  • Bad: May ignore the plot completely. His victims will probably resent being killed.
  • Deal: Give him a cause, a mission. If you give him a good reason to hunt a PC while it fits into your plot, he'll love you. Just don't make it easy. If he's just a troublemaker, send in the guards. You should consider rare acts of PKing allowable if there's good reason, such as if you know he's roleplaying, and especially if parties involved have agreed to a fair duel.
  • Quote: "Die! Die! Die!"

Kid: although not strictly a play-style, you may have to deal with immature and inexperienced players if your module is open.

  • ID: A mix of all of the above. Watch for erratic behavior, simplistic reactions.
  • Good: Potential to grow; creative; unpredictable.
  • Bad: Unpredictable; acts with little forethought.
  • Deal: Carefully. Provide positive feedback for good roleplaying. Be prepared to kick 'em if they're purposefully being rude or abusive, and make them aware of their errors to avoid them in the future.
  • Quote: [message to DM] "I died! When do I rez back?"

Balancing Your Module

When designing your modules, you may have already decided which play-style it will support. A short one-shot adventure or a special non-RPG sub-game might be suitable for one play-style, dismissing the rest. A simple Player-vs-Player arena will interest Player-Killers (and perhaps Power Gamers), but Explorers and Role-Players will be bored. A simple tavern for meeting and discussing possible adventures is fun for Role-Players, but boring for others. These are viable options, as long as your players know what they are getting into. However, for long-term campaigns that span multiple modules, you will need to accommodate all four play-styles.

This chart shows how certain aspects of your modules will effect each play-style. For each aspect, its degree is indicated by a plus sign (+) or minus sign (-), meaning that an increase (+) will have a positive effect and a decrease (-) will have a negative effect on given play-styles. For example, having lots of monsters is good for Power Gamers, but not for Role-Players and Player Killers, and doesn't matter for Explorers. This does not mean that you should necessarily have no monsters if you want to encourage Role-Players or Player Killers, but you should not make defeating monsters a requirement for reaching the module's conclusion.
Module Aspect PG Ex RP PK
World size + + - -
World complexity/detail   + +  
Connectivity between areas   - + +
Number of players     + +
Number of monsters +   - -
Difficulty of puzzles + - - +
Amount of treasure + - - +

Ultimately it is up to you to find the balance you are most comfortable playing. There are generally three types of worlds where play-style balance is concerned. The first is where Power Gamers and Player Killers compete and maintain a balance of power. Role-Players and Explorers are usually weak or non-existent here, due to the lack of interesting things to do. The second type is a world where Player Killers are discouraged or banned, and Role-Players flourish. Power Gamers and Explorers are sometimes mixed in, but Role-Players tend to gather in numbers. The third type of world is where all four play-styles are supported equally. This is the most difficult to design and maintain, but also the most rewarding for DM and player alike.

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