Thursday, January 3, 2013

Playstyles & Pigeonholes

I wonder if Robin Laws' most pervasive impact on roleplaying games is the quiz based on his book.

I see the results posted in gamers' signatures on various forums pretty often, as a sort of identity badge, perhaps - 'I'm a Storyteller 100%, and I want everyone to know it!' I'd taken it before, but I couldn't remember when, so I took it again the other day. Here's what it spit out at me.

You Scored as Tactician

You're probably a military buff who wants to have the chance to think through complex problems. You want the rules, and your GM's interpretation of them, to match up what happens in the real world or at least be consistant. You want challenging yet logical obstacles to overcome.

Method Actor
Power Gamer
Casual Gamer

A couple of things jumped out at me. First, it's interesting to me that only one of the scores was above 50%, but not terribly surprising, considering the number of 'neither this nor that' answers I chose. In fact, very few of my answers reached either extreme at all; for me, most of the questions were simply too polarised to elicit strong agreement or disagreement.

Second, looking over my results, I'm pretty consistent. With a little searching, I found my answers to this quiz from not quite a year ago - in both cases, Tactician was my highest score and the only answer to break fifty percent, and while there was a bit of jockeying in the rest of the pack, the answers are more or less consistent between the two. The rough consistency between the results - one score breaking away from the field, the rest varying by fairly small margins - suggests the quiz does a reasonable job of sussing out the likes and dislikes of gamers.

Here's the thing, though: as a diagnostic of my own gaming style, the most important result is not the top score, but rather the clump of answers which follow. The quiz proclaims that I'm a Tactician, ". . . a military buff who wants to have the chance to think through complex problems," who wants " . . . the rules, and your GM's interpretation of them, to match up what happens in the real world or at least be consistant," and wants, ". . . challenging yet logical obstacles to overcome." There's a nugget of truth in this: I like thinking through complex problems, and I like overcoming challenging obstacles, especially ones which must be reasoned through. And yes, I do enjoy wargames as well, though calling me a "military buff" is a bit too specific.

The description of the Tactician provided in the quiz results is a paraphrase of the description provided by Mr Laws, however. Here's the full description, as quoted in the linked passages, with bold text highlighting some of the key differences between the quiz and the book.
The Tactician is probably a military buff, who wants chances to think his way through complex, realistic problems, usually those of the battlefield. He wants the rules, and your interpretation of them, to jibe with reality as he knows it, or at least to portray an internally consistent, logical world in which the quality of his choices is the biggest determining factor in his success or failure. He may view issues of characterization as a distraction. He becomes annoyed when other players do things which fit their PCs' personalities, but are tactically unsound. To satisfy him, you must provide challenging yet logical obstacles for his character to overcome.
There's a quite a bit more here than the quiz results suggests, a much narrower interpretation of what a "Tactician" expects from the game, and, for me, the added specificity goes wildly wrong.

As far as "complex, realistic problems" go, I tend to think of 'battlefield complexity' as fun but perhaps the least interesting sort of complexity a roleplaying game may offer. Everything from traps and environmental hazards to mysteries and political intrigues interest me as problems to solve in roleplaying games, and those often far more than combat. I like the "quality" of my choices to skew the probabilities - for good or bad - of the dice, not be the "biggest determining factor" of success or failure.

And the idea that characterisation is a "distraction," or that "tactically unsound" in-character choices are annoying, isn't even in the ballpark.

So does "Tactician 67%" really come close to describing how I like to play a roleplaying game? Is Mr Laws' typology 'two-thirds' correct as it applies to me?

One of the very real problems of trying to divine players' interests, whether it's Mr Laws' game styles, or the Forge's 'Big Model(s),' or Fred Hicks' "secret language of character sheets", is that playstyle pigeonholes rarely provide even a useful fraction of the whole story. Looking at my quiz results, it's not the Tactician result which tells you most about my gaming style, but rather the bunch sprint between Method Actor, Butt-Kicker, Storyteller, and Power Gamer, all in roughly equal measure. I want action and system mastery and deepening characterisation and the opportunity to weave my character into the history of the game-world.

When I think about campaigns in which I've played, it's these qualities against which I judge how much I enjoyed the experience, not whether my character fought a duel on the deck of a burning galleon or if I adequately demonstrated my pike-and-shot tactical acumen. A referee who looks at my quiz score and tries to engage me with the equivalent of a minis skirmish game won't even be close.


  1. Yeah, I think this kind of quiz can be an interesting prompt for discussion, but as an objective measure of anything it is really less than useless. A great game is often like a fine Bordeaux, with all of these flavors, and more.

    Someone pointed out, I think it was Zak S, that back when the World's Most Popular Role-playing Game was the only game in town, you had a mix of all of these player archetypes together at the same table (and within the same person, perhaps at different times). Later, we saw attempts to gerrymander games, carving out districts where storytellers never had to interact with powergamers, method actors never had to cooperate with tacticians.

    Interesting that in your own quiz, your top two "types" are theoretically contradictory.

    "Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes."

    1. "Gerrymander[ing] games" . . . what an apt description.

      A lot of the advice I hear is to use stuff like this to 'engage' the player, in the name of avoiding the infamous 'fifteen minutes of fun in four hours of playing' meme, but I think this can lead to ridiculously contrived situations.

  2. One of the guys in one of my regular groups is really hung up both on these "style" breakouts and with the idea of a "grand unifying game design" that gets all players of all types happily playing the same rules at the same table at the same time.

    I think he'd be more successful tilting at windmills. But what do I know. *shrug*

    1. I prefer to think broadly - how many of these can I hit - rather than focusing like a laser on the top one or two.

  3. These tests amuse me in the same way as all those online tests to determine my political persuasion do - they hint at what I am, but with all the depth of a puddle.

    I agree fully with your concluding paragraph.

    FWIW, my top three results were: Tactician 100%, Method Actor 58%, Specialist 58%.

    1. Yeah, as a diversion they can be fun, but Mr Laws and Mr Hicks suggest that this sort of pigeonholing be taken seriously, and I think that the 'gerrymandering' Matthew spoke about is a real consequence.

  4. Keep in mind: that would be the description of Tactician, if somehow you got a Tactician 100%, Tactician, (Method Actor+Butt-Kicker+Storyteller+Power Gamer+Specialist+Casual Gamer)=0% player. And FWIW, I expected you to be a tactician. Tactician is more about approaching any situation as a problem to be solved using the principles of tactics - resource management, looking for weak spots to maximise your efforts, creating temporary advantages, and so on, and so forth. These all apply to relationships as well as dice games as well as battles, as you probably noticed.

    The same applies to the other archetypes.
    Let me give you an example: It says I'm a Tactician, too. It's true (for that matter, I've got the same traits as you, except Power Gamer isn't really high).
    It also says I'm a Method actor, being my second highest, and therefore don't care whether the system supports me. That's flat-out wrong as anyone knowing me can attest. But that's exactly what proves my point! All of the "archetypes" have characteristics, but they only apply in as much as they don't clash with another one.
    Otherwise, it would be impossible to combine them, as they're often in direct opposition.