Handy Haversack: Identifying Player Profiles
I love Gamer Lingo. Recently Ryan Costello wrote a fascinating article discussing the difference between the three primary psychographic profiles of Magic: The Gathering players, and how it applies to Pathfinder. His article is great, but it left me thinking about how we can use these profiles in our games. Specifically, how does one identify each type of player and use that profile to mitigate potential negative play experience.
First you have to remember these player profiles are research & development tools. In the real world, no player fits only one of these profiles. And yet, there are definitely game elements that are intended to appeal to one of these players. When a problem arises in one of your games, it’s important to know what player profile drew that player to that element. It can allow you to more quickly defuse a situation, while avoiding negative play experience for everyone involved. For reference, the primary articles describing these profiles, penned by the fabulous MtG lead designer Mark Rosewater, can be found here and here.
Timmy/Tammy: “The Impact Player”
Timmy is there to experience something special. They are players whose primal instinct is to chase that gut feeling of having fun playing the game. They aren’t there to win with the most effective and reliable strategy. They don’t care if they have to play a Pregenerated Character. They are there to go home with a story to share.
Before a game, a player with the Timmy mindset is most likely focused on social interaction. They are most likely to have forgotten to level their characters or upgrade their gear, or will just play a Pregen. They are most likely to want to talk about what happened in a prior game, with a big focus on having done something incredibly strange.
The Impact Timmy just wants to do something big and memorable. They know that even if they fail, they will have fun being in the room when the attempt is made. You really need to gauge other player’s responses to their shenanigans, making sure they don’t steal the spotlight for too long, but sharing in their enthusiasm for when they “go off”. I can’t think of a better feat than Branch Pounce to define the Impact Timmy (and come back next week if you want to learn more).
There is also the Social Timmy, whose only interest is being with their friends. They will usually play a Pregen, and are least likely to cause a rules problem, but can cause some balance issues if they aren’t contributing something in character. If you can identify them quickly, you should encourage them to play Pregens other party members understand well enough, and be prepared to give them simple, friendly advice if they start struggling to contribute.
And then there’s the Griefer Timmy. The Griefer Timmy only has fun if other people at the table are having a miserable time. Oftentimes they are there to criticize the game rather than play, pointing out flaws in the system and setting, oftentimes by trying to “break the game”. Some will just try to grief the GM by using the same save-or-suck at every opportunity. Others find pleasure in using things like Grease, Apocalyptic Spell or Putrid Summons without warning the party, subverting the “no PVP” guideline. There is nothing even remotely resembling a silver bullet solution for helping a Griefer, but I find trying to make myself the target of their negativity a way to at least make sure the rest of the table is having fun. If a player is clearly making the game environment a significantly worse place, I do highly recommend some out of character talk one-on-one, perhaps with a Venture Agent present.
Johnny/Jenny: “The Creative Player”
Jenny is there to express something special. They want to do something no one else has done before, or at least do something no one else at the table has seen before. They don’t care if they are the strongest at the table or even have the most impact, as long as they do it on their terms. To them, the mechanics of their character is as much an art as any illustration or backstory.
Identifying a Jenny is as easy as asking the table if anyone is doing anything “odd” they should know about in advance. Letting a Jenny gush about their character’s mechanics for a while is the best way to earn their trust, and setting them aside before a game starts to go over potential rules problems is the fastest way to nip rules problems in the bud. The rules_questions channel in the official PFS discord is a great place to get almost instant answers (usually just by searching, adding “in:rules_questions_pfs” to your query).
The Synergizer Jenny is what most people think of when you mention the Profile. They are the ones who optimize the synergy of their character’s design elements, creating a whole gestalt far greater than the sum of its parts. The Songbird of Doom (and its varieties) are an excellent example, taking several feats, archetypes and magic items that are only niche by themselves, but together make for an absolutely devastating melee monster (who is no longer as effective in PFS due to a later campaign clarification).
The Outlier Jenny is inspired by weird things no one bothers using. They love things that were clearly intended for NPCs in niche scenarios. They’ll read things like Oozemorph and are challenged to figure out how to best use that game element. As a GM you have to make sure the party has enough balance to carry a potentially subpar PC through the scenario. If the Outlier isn’t an optimizer, you can try to help encourage them before a game by going over their gear and helping to round them out with finishing touches like alchemical weapons and wands.
And when they combine? You get the Uber Jenny. The Uber Jenny plays the game to break conventional wisdom and find a powerful use for a game element most people consider unplayable. For example, I noticed how many people were calling the Magical Child a useless archetype, especially at low levels. But if you pick apart the elements of the class, you might discover it has the potential to be a level 1 Orator with +21 Linguistics…
Spike: “The Competitive Player”
A Spike wants to win and prove how good they are at playing Pathfinder. Their goal is overcoming the obstacles of a scenario as efficiently as possible. Note that a player who wants to overwhelmingly overcome a scenario would be more of a Timmy/Tammy. The Spike doesn’t care if they did an impressive victory, only that they achieve victory. They are pejoratively called “Munchkins” and “Min-Maxers”, but a good GM can encourage players to save their “Aces” when a party needs it most. Encouraging Spikes to play support characters can help a great deal, especially if they are diplomatic enough to help their party members without micro-managing everyone else at the table.
Identifying a spike can be tricky. Some will spend their pregame time re-preparing their spells or looking over the shopping lists they’ve made for their PCs. Others will be asking what everyone else is playing, making sure there are no obstacles the party can’t get past. They’ll know all the lingo used on Character Optimization boards, such as “tiers” and “MAD”. They very frequently have entire repertoires at the start of each game, such as passing out Dream Journals and casting their daily Lucky Numbers.
Innovator Spikes are always looking for the next big thing. They talk endlessly about recent releases and spend their free time refreshing the Additional Resources page. They are frequently the player’s writing color-coded guides about new character archetypes and classes, crunching numbers on new feats and trying to break “records” or displace established “tiers”.
Tuner Spikes are looking to fine-tune their characters. They want the most efficient, effective and powerful characters they can have, even if it means copying builds off the internet that have proven themselves time and time again. They frequently gravitate towards time-tested builds, such as the Zen Archer or Diviner Wizard. These are frequently cited as the worst problem players in a group, as they can overwhelm other players at a table and make them feel useless. At the same time, it’s very common that these players were the weakest in their first RPG group, perhaps even with the same character that’s feeling overwhelming at your local venue. Remember just because a character is powerful doesn’t mean the player’s ego is invincible. Try not to call them out directly, instead encouraging them to overcome the challenge of keeping your strongest weapons in reserve.
Analyst Spikes want the most powerful option for the obstacles they’ll need to overcome. They are the players who pay the most attention to the first few pages of an adventure, rolling as many knowledge checks as possible to figure out what magic items they’ll have to pack and what spells they’ll have to prepare. Some will even pick characters best suited for the adventure based on the description of the adventure written on the website which…actually kind of makes sense. Why wouldn’t the Decemvirate send a cleric to Lastwall? I’ll save the rest of the analysis here for an article on metagaming. They frequently pick Wizards and Clerics for their spellcasting versatility, either carrying satchels of scrolls or printing out every Cleric spell ever printed.
Melvin/Melanie, “The Mechanics Player”
A psychographic profile explores why players enjoy a game. An aesthetic profile explores what players enjoy of the game. But in a narrative game like Pathfinder the lines between the two distinctions become a little blurry, but it still holds true that whether your a Mel or a Vorthos has no direct impact on your psychographic.
Mel is the player who finds beauty in a game’s mechanics. To them a feat is not merely a tool to survive or overcome encounters. Rather the mechanic is a delicate expression of its designers. I actually know a handful of Mels online who haven’t rolled a d20 in years, but who keep up with every major Pathfinder release, analyzing and critiquing each new mechanic in the realm of pure theorycraft. And while that would be the more extreme Mel, it’s not uncommon to find players who spend more time on rules forums and stalking asking designers on forums what their intention was behind a certain feat or archetype before the editors got to it. Mels love picking apart books like Occult Adventures that are stuffed full of new classes and subsystems. They can occasionally be disruptive when they prattle on about theorycraft builds, but are frequently brought back to earth by asking them about their current character instead.
knows the rules inside and out. They usually have a very strong grasp
on the core rules of the game, and asking them a simple question or
two before a game can help establish a friendly rapport. You should
try to make sure you are both on the same page concerning table
variation, especially if they are using forum posts by designers or
high level GMs that are not established campaign law. You should
establish a rule at the table in advance that potential rules
conflicts should be discussed during breaks between encounters before
one arises at the table.
The Designer Mel is constantly trying to perfect their own mechanics. Some just make random feats for fun. Others are active publishers or even freelance designers. Some are trying to fix what they see as broken in the existing game. They usually have rules for their campaign rivaling that of our Campaign Clarifications. Usually asking them in advance for whatever table variation rulings they need will put an end to any potential negative play experience, but sometimes it might be necessary to put your foot down and remind them there are official channels if they have problems with the rules of the campaign.
Vorthos, “The Flavor Player”
The Vorthos is a player who finds beauty in the game’s flavor. They’ve made minis for everyone’s characters, have a passionate opinion on Hermea’s alignment and know exactly what happened to Aroden. They have their character intros written out, and aren’t afraid to exposition dump their backstories. At best, these players tend to be fantastic storytellers, complete with props and an extensive knowledge of Golarion. At worst, they’ll roll their eyes at every narrative inconsistency and challenge the GM as though they were playing trivial pursuit. Most Vorthos are going to love the Object Reading ability of the Occultist, letting them get a glimpse into the setting they’d otherwise miss.
Your typical Vorthos is playing to experience the fantasy of Pathfinder, and the only real threat an ardent group of Vorthos really poses is making your games run too long…especially if they have a history of LARP. You should always ask at the beginning of an adventure what time everyone has to leave, and go ahead and ask someone else for the time to remind players when things start to get bogged down. Setting aside some time after Chronicles are awarded for in-character RP can be a rewarding solution, if you can spare the time to watch your players foff about arguing with the venture captain.
love to categorize each Vorthos, but there are as many as there are
ways to artistically appreciate the aesthetic beauty of our wonderful
game and setting. Almost as many as there are ways to successfully
diffuse players who suddenly become the worst their profiles have to
offer. But in every case its critical that you can quickly identify
what hat a player is wearing when they start to feel uncomfortable,
and knowing how to approach each type of player with courtesy and
respect to ensure everyone has a good time playing a game everyone is
free to love in their own wonderful way.