Thursday, October 3, 2013

An Experiment in Gamer Motivation

I know gamer types/motivations have been a thing for a long time now, since Strike Force at the very least - thanks Mr. Allston for that entire book - but to me it's always been one of those theoretical things that I never thought had any practical use. Then I finally got around to reading the 4E Strategy Guide and there's a nifty little ten question test in it that is supposed to identify your gamer motivation. Being an old school DM at heart I did exactly what you would expect - I made my players take it.

Now I've known most of my players for a very long time.You can read the basic rundown here.

  • I've known Lawful Steve for 25 years now and there's almost always been a game on that we were playing in together or one that I was running and he was playing
  • Eclectic Dave goes back 17 years, I think. He's almost always involved in at least one of our current games as well.
  • Mastermind Will has been around since my first D&D 3E campaign so about 12 years now.
  • Lady Blacksteel I have known for about 15 years but she's only been playing for 5.
  • Barbarian Warlord Jeremy is the newest member of the group but even he's been in for about 3 years plus.
So I'm not running a new table here. In normal life they're a mixture of office workers, accountants, amateur thespians, techie guys, parents, married guys, single guys - a fairly normal mix of things. In gaming it's pretty much D&D first and then if we can work something else in we will give it a try. Steve, Dave, and Jeremy have all run other games at some point and I've played in some of those. Most of the time when we get together though, I'm the DM and they are the players. After this much time I think I know them and their gaming preferences pretty well but I've never tried to officially test and score any of this stuff - it's always seemed kind of pointless, but I thought about it and figured it was worth 15-20 min out of our game session to see what came of it. 

My group's general tendencies:
  • Plan A or "Frontal Assault is a perfectly viable strategy"
  • One or two characters may be good at sneaking but it's rarely going to be used other than to find which door to kick in first
  • At least one will be good at talking but it's not the main way the team operates. That same character generally also has some kind of mind control power as well so they're not in it for the conversation.
  • The most memorable sessions generally involve some kind of fight where some ridiculous tactic or stunt or plain stroke of luck worked out spectacularly or failed just as spectacularly. Also: fun with dead dragons.

Heck, you can read a few of the session reports and get a feel for how things usually go. My thinking was that doing this little quiz might reveal something I had not noticed or some hidden interest that one of them had that I could include in our current games, but I wasn't expecting major revelations.

The results tie into eight different "gamer motivations":
  1. Actor
  2. Explorer
  3. Instigator
  4. Power Gamer
  5. Slayer
  6. Storyteller
  7. Thinker
  8. Watcher
I'm sure you can figure out the details. 

The test is 10 questions long, there are 4 answers to each question, and there is no set pattern to the answers (i.e. "A" is not always "Slayer"). I read the questions out loud and had my players write down their answers without a big group discussion. Scoring is that 2-3 answers for a certain type means it's a secondary motivation for that player while 4 or more mean it's a primary.

So what did I get back?
  • 4 of my 5 players are "Instigators" - one as primary, three as secondary. Yeah. The sh*t I get to deal with...
  • 3 of my 5 are "Slayers" - two primary, one secondary. No big surprise there.
  • 3 of my 5 (not all the same three as above) have "Power Gamer" as secondary. Not a huge surprise either.
  • Beyond these I had one Actor secondary, one Storyteller secondary, one Thinker secondary and one Watcher secondary. 
What does that mean? ACTION BABY! They are a very action oriented group. they don't want a long backstory, they don't want the complete history of the region, they want to DO SOMETHING! Exposition is best presented in sentences, not paragraphs. 

Definitions form the book:
  • Instigator: "You enjoy making things happen. You prefer action over planning, and sometimes make deliberately bad choices to see what happens." My addition: "The clock is ticking - to boredom or potentially disastrous choices if you leave them alone too long"
  • Slayer: "You just love to kill monsters and you prefer combat to any other situation." My addition: it's the point of the whole game and most of the stories later involve what they fought and how that fight went"
  • Power Gamer: "You like to optimize your character, choosing the best mechanical elements to create a perfect build." My addition: "Which one does more damage" is a common question when leveling up.
Any big surprises here? Not really, though the Instigator factor was higher than I expected. Lady Blacksteel actually had 3 secondaries and no primary. I'm not sure what that means, but they fit right in with the rest of the group. I'd say my Instigators are more disciplined than some - I've had a wild child before and that player would do deliberately crazy stuff and typically played characters like an illusionist thief that were good at getting into trouble. My current crew is not nearly as random as that.  

I was a little disappointed at the lack of "Explorer" - I tend to think that I have that in my own mix somewhere but apparently none of my players does.

To feed this what do I do?
  • For the Slayer I try to come up with varied and interesting opponents. I think I've done OK here, but they hate it when their character bites it.
  • For the Power Gamer I allowed pretty much any class/race combo in 4E in my latest campaign and I don't say no to much as they advance - if it's in the game it's fair game. 4E's character builder and inherent balance makes this a lot easier to deal with. That said they hate it even more when their character bites it.
  • For the Instigator I try to come up with interesting environments, from terrain to NPC's, that change fairly often and have different ways to interact with the PC's. Red Hand of Doom has a fairly varied set of scenarios and I've mixed it up way beyond the original module. The tools for 4E make this fairly easy to do when prepping and skill challenges give us a nice mechanical structure to work around. 
Now I don't know that I succeed on every one of these in every session but I do keep them in mind. They all really just involve variety and 4E specifically has a fairly good set of mechanics and systems for keeping that variety, at least in ways my players seem to like. 

Thoughts on what else I could run for them:
  • Could I run Pendragon for this group? Probably not, and I'm 100% sure D&D is a better fantasy game for what they like anyway. A fantasy Savage Worlds game would probably work well.
  • Shadowrun? Not as much as I thought at one time. It does have a lot of action but it also has a lot of planning, scouting, and NPC interaction and that's clearly not or main thing.
  • Traveller - combat is deadlier and less flashy, and a lot of the game ties into accounting or engineering. Probably not.
  • Trek? Old school two-boots-to-the-chest diplomacy Trek maybe but it will be a tough sell.
  • Star Wars? it didn't go that well last time but I'm wondering if it's because Saga is a little heavy. A d6 Star Wars game might give them all the action they want and still have fun for builders.

Trendy Stuff:
  • 13th Age - less tactical combat, more story game elements - uh oh. Wrong direction. probably not "better" than our current games.
  • Numenera - lots of emphasis on exploration, less detail on combat and action, less complex character construction - all of these scream "NO" to me right now. 
  • D&D Next - Less character detail but still fairly combat-intensive. I suspect it would be alright.
  • Pathfinder - Detailed characters, detailed combat, lots of quirky options for race/class/feats/skills. This would be just fine - one reason we're running it as Game #2
I also feel it in my bones that this set of motivations and personalities would have a blast with a superhero RPG. Action heavy, detailed character builds, lots of funky abilities to mess with things - right! Plus the Necessary Evil campaign went really well a few years back (it might as well be tailor made for my group) and our limited runs with M&M went well too so I have some evidence alongside. One of these days...

Now of course, all of this information and reflection leads me to what I think is an obvious question: I've been playing with these guys for years - do the preferences shape the game, or does the game shape the preferences? Are they Instigating Power Slayers because that's what they like to do and I run a game that caters to that, or do I run a game that caters to that so they develop a taste for it? If it's not DM-inflicted then  how much of it is self-generated and how much is rubbing off from the other players? The general thought seems to be that players come to the table with these motivations built-in and stick around if the game feeds into them or leave if it does not. I am not convinced that it's that one-sided. I'm juts not sure of the real breakdown.

That's probably enough of this for one post. Tomorrow, back to the Savage Swords!

This is a problem?

1 comment:

Barking Alien said...

Wow. I wish I could get that test separately so I could give it to my current crop of players (wouldn't mind taking it myself).

Sadly, it unlikely I will be able to as there is no way I am buying that book just for that one section (I wouldn't be buying it otherwise).

I have one player who sounds like he would fit in with your guys pretty well, though he stands out as a bit of thorn for us.