Roleplaying

Six Types of Players, and How to Direct Them

Lots of articles out there* talk about different types of problem players and how to address them. That’s a worthy topic, but the vast majority of players are rarely disruptive enough to count as a “problem.” Instead, most players will have distinct strengths and weaknesses that GMs must be aware of. While I can’t give you a complete list of every player type possible, I can show you some of the the most common, so you can learn to spot them at your table and plan accordingly.

1. The Reactor

Yes, and? Yes, and?

No, not the nuclear kind. Rather than converting mass into energy, Reactors wait for whatever stimulus the GM throws their way. They don’t go out looking for something to do, preferring for a problem to come to them. This might be because they’re unfamiliar with the system, they’re shy, or they’ve had a long day at work and would like to be entertained without expending too much brain power.

How They Can Be Difficult

Have you ever described what’s happening, only to have the Reactors in your table look at you like they’re expecting a punchline? The game comes to a screeching halt as you scramble for another hook. What seemed like an obvious call to action in your mind falls flat in the delivery.

If you’re low on material, you can’t count on Reactors to pick up the slack. They’re either unable or unwilling to fill the gaps in your story. This is especially difficult if the Reactors are playing leader-type characters. While they’re hesitating, the rest of the party has a difficult time moving forward.

How to Direct Them

Make sure you always give them something they can react to. The surest way is to have an NPC ready who prompts them, someone the Reactor is used to dealing with in-character. That way, you don’t have to describe some dragon attack and hope they understand that it’s time to go slay a dragon; you can have their trusted adviser tell them.

To avoid the trap of having this adviser NPC ever take over the story, it’s best to build in a reason they always have to stay home. The Professor X archetype works well here, though there are plenty of options beyond a physical disability. If the Reactor’s NPC is a politician, then they might be constantly tied down with work and unable to go out into the field. If they’re a wise mystic, they might have an ancient curse forcing them to stay within a protective circle.

Because Reactors rarely come up with their own plans, they can usually be counted on to go with whatever you give them. That’s a valuable asset, especially when you have a plot element that absolutely must happen in order for the story to work. If you can’t risk a quest being taken off the rails, give it to a Reactor.

2. The Actor

Antoine_Watteau_054

This player won’t wait for your story to find them; they’ll get out there and hunt it down. Or they might have their own story to pursue. Regardless of theatrical ability, this player acts; hence they are an Actor. You didn’t plan for the Yakuza to be a big part of the story, but one of your players is a serious Actor, and they keep insisting on ridding the town of organized crime.

How They Can Be Difficult

Without any malicious intent, an Actor can dominate the spotlight at the expense of other players. This isn’t really the Actor’s fault. They’re just doing what they’re supposed to do, after all. But it becomes a problem when no one else is able to break in with what they want to do.

It’s also common for a bored Actor to sidetrack a narrative with something completely inconsequential. No matter how many hints you drop about your doomsday cult, the Actor is convinced that the Yakuza are the real menace. Even if the other players are interested in the cult, they might not be able to get a word in edgewise.

How to Direct Them

Don’t fight the Actor head on. That takes a lot of your energy and destroys a potential resource. Instead, guide their attention back where you want it. When the Actor gets fixated on something that seems inconsequential, leave clues that the object of their passion is actually super important to the main plot. The Actor might find some interesting artifacts in the Yakuza’s secret safe, for instance. Those artifacts will eventually prove that the crime syndicate was actually a front for the doomsday cult – those diabolical fiends!

To make sure the Actor doesn’t drown out anyone else at the table, link their interest to another player. If the Actor is dead set on taking down the Yakuza, reveal that a less active PC has a trusted contact in the organization. That way, all the Actor’s energy is spent engaging with another PC rather than going off on their own.

Actors are also useful if you just haven’t had time to prepare. Instead of scrambling to come up with notes at the last second, consider giving the floor to your more active players. Describe the setup, and then give a knowing “What do you do?”

3. The Captain

Look sharp! Look sharp!

“You say there’s a griffon attacking? Ok, PC Sally will brew us up some griffon poison, and PC Bob will go see what a griffon-hide is worth. Meanwhile, PC Tanya and I will practice our bow shots.”

Sound familiar? More than just an active player, the Captain is an organizer. They almost always take on the mantle of party leader, devising plans within plans. Their ideas often go far beyond the scope of your game. Tell them some goblins have stolen a sheep, and they’ll come back with a plan to alleviate poverty in the goblin village so fewer are forced into criminal activity. They aren’t content to plan just their own actions and give out instructions to everyone else in the party. They see it as their own duty to make sure everyone else at the table has something to do.

How They Can Be Difficult

It nearly goes without saying that a Captain can irritate other players. It’s one thing to give suggestions, but if a Captain starts handing down orders, that’ll raise hackles fast. At the same time, it’s easy for them to dominate a game the same way an Actor does.

A Captain can also clash hard against your own plans for the story. How do you deal with a Captain who lays out an elaborate plan for transforming the kingdom into a republic when you know your finale requires there to be a monarch on the throne?

How to Direct Them

First thing, keep a close eye on interactions between a Captain and everyone else. If it ever starts to look like bullying, you’ve got to step in quick. You can either talk to the Captain away from the table and make it clear that behavior isn’t acceptable, or you can find an in-character way to address it. A strategy that’s worked for me is to give any bullied player access to some kind of strong ability or item and make it clear they have the power to do as they please.

If your Captain isn’t a jerk, they can be a huge benefit to the game. If they’re responsible enough, feel free to give them an in-character position of authority. By commissioning them the official party leader, you make it easier for them to make sure everyone else at the table always has something to do. This saves you from needing a hook for each individual PC.

Coordinate with your Captain away from the table. Let them know you’ll be providing a mission that’ll be perfect for whichever player hasn’t been getting much screen time recently. Since many Captains are GMs themselves, they’ll be open to such communication. Likewise, most Captains love to explain their master plan, and if you find out what it is early in the campaign, you can shift your story goals to line up properly.

4. The Researcher

It’s fine to be familiar with the game, but Researchers makes it their passion. Some Researchers are rules junkies, pouring over page after page, expansion after expansion. Others simply know the setting really well. They’ve watched the movie, read the novels, played the video games, even listened to the tie-in soundtrack. A few Researchers are both.

How They Can Be Difficult

While Researchers are not automatically rules lawyers, the temptation is always there. It’s one thing for them to point out that you’re forgetting an important piece of the social conflict rules; it’s another when they bring up mechanics from a supplement book you’ve never heard of.

Often, Researchers end up as power gamers without even meaning to. Because they’ve read the rules so thoroughly, they see how the math works and instinctively take the most optimized abilities. That’s not malicious, but it becomes a problem when they outshine everyone who hasn’t had time to study every inch of the system.

Researchers who focus on setting present a different problem. In all likelihood, they know the setting better than you do. They’ve already read the expansion book that explains the big bad’s secret identity – so much for that reveal. Worse, they can get annoyed whenever you change something or insist that an event can’t have gone the way you described because of some obscure trivia you didn’t know about.

How to Direct Them

Before the campaign starts, establish what material you’re using, both rules- and setting-wise. By limiting it to familiar material, you make sure a Researcher doesn’t take you completely off guard. At the same time, list the major deviations you’re making from the base game. That establishes a framework, and most Researchers will be happy to work within it.

Once boundaries are established, Researchers can be major assets. Need to know who the king of Plotville is but don’t have ten minutes to flip through the book? Ask the Researcher. If they don’t know, set them on finding out while you play out a scene with someone else. Similarly, willing Researchers can be tasked with explaining complex rules to less knowledgeable players and even helping to create someone else’s character if both parties are willing. This takes a lot of legwork off your shoulders and lets you focus more energy on making the best campaign you can. Consider throwing some bonus XP the Researcher’s way to acknowledge their help.

5. The Detective

Every so often, players will get lucky and guess what’s happening next in the story, but the Detective is a professional.* No secret or twist is safe from their powers of deduction. No bit of foreshadowing, no matter how clever, slips by them. By the end of session two, they’ve already figured out what will happen in the finale.

How They Can Be Difficult

For one thing, sometimes you want to surprise the players, and that’s hard to do when a Detective is figuring out every reveal before you make it. Finally unveiling the bad guy’s big secret loses its impact when the secret is exactly what the PCs expected it to be.

Without meaning to, a Detective can destroy a story by attacking a weak point you didn’t think of. For example, say you want the PCs to have some face time with the main antagonist without knowing it. So you have Dr. Menace sneak into the PC’s base undercover, just for some foreshadowing dialogue, but then the Detective somehow puts together who the good doctor is because of some clues you accidentally let slip. You can either use GM fiat to get your villain out of there, or figure out how to run the campaign with the antagonist behind bars.

Another risk is that a Detective will put together clues in a way that makes logical sense but isn’t what you planned. No GM is perfect, and sometimes things line up in a way that looks planned but isn’t. The Detective might notice each of an evil conspiracy’s actions have lead to an important scientific installation being undefended and assume it’s central to the villain’s plans. Except, that was never intentional; the scientific installation was just something you threw in for flavor.

Then you have to either change all your plans to match the Detective’s hypothesis, which may upset other storylines, or let them go on believing a red herring. When they finally figure out their hypothesis is wrong, they’re bound to be frustrated because it made perfect sense.

How to Direct Them

The best practice when you have a Detective at the table is to keep your grand plans hazy. You always want to leave some slack in a roleplaying story, but go further this time. Put some clues before the Detective, and then see what they come up with. You may find that their idea works better than anything you had planned.

If your story needs the PCs to be surprised by a twist, then build it to match the Detective’s idea except for a few important details. Yes, they’re after the scientific installation but not for anything inside it. Instead, they’re after the top secret bunker built underneath it.

In the event that you can’t change your story to go along with the Detective’s hypothesis, work in some reason the bad guys were deliberately leaving false clues. They wanted the PCs investigating the scientific installation to distract from the real danger: an attack on the royal palace.

6. The Avatar

This is how thin the division is between player and character This is how thin the division is between player and character.

All roleplayers get into character, but the Avatar gets really into it. To them, the thin line between player and character barely exists at all. They know their PC inside and out; they’ve probably written pages of backstory. Often they play the same character across multiple campaigns, recreating their favorite PC for each new world.

How They Can Be Difficult

Because Avatars are so attuned to their character, they take whatever happens in the game very personally. No one likes failing a roll, but for Avatars, it can feel like they’ve personally failed. The same goes when their character takes a lot of damage or is captured. Heaven forbid an Avatar’s character dies.

When bad things happen to their character, Avatars can get disruptive. Everyone’s had a bad session or two where they felt like just sweeping the dice off the table and walking away, but it’s worse for Avatars. When they invest so much into a character, it can get nasty if events don’t go the character’s way.

How to Direct Them

An Avatar’s unique connection to their character allows for some deep roleplaying that might bore other players. In-depth, personal stories are perfect for the Avatar – anything that involves family drama, divided loyalties, or long lost siblings. Even love stories can work well for an Avatar, though you should always check ahead of time because romance is personal to a lot of people.

Stories that test a PC’s motivations are perfect for an Avatar, because they are always in touch with why their character does anything. If asked to betray an incompetent king, most players will decide what to do quickly. With an Avatar, you can draw out the internal struggle, keep it going for an entire session or more. These very personal stories are also unlikely to get the Avatar’s PC killed by an unlucky roll, which is a side benefit.


None of these player types are better or worse than the others, and ideally you want a mix at your table. They don’t indicate roleplaying talent or who will be the best to game with. It’s also possible for players to switch types in different games. A player might be a Captain in the game they play all the time and a Reactor for any other system. What’s important is knowing how to interact with different kinds of players so that you can run the best game possible.

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Comments

  1. Elda King

    I would call what you named “Actor” something else, perhaps “instigator” or “director”. I get that you are contrasting it with the “reactor”, but for me “actors” are those players who enjoy most of all in-character interactions and dialogue: talking in fancy words or made-up accents, perhaps making different voices, and engaging in trivial conversations with their fellow PCs and with NPCs.

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