Player Personas: A Guide To Understanding Your Players
The History of Player Personas
To first understand player personas we first need to be back to the year, 1990. In 1990, a game designer named Richard Bartle wrote an essay about player types in Multi-User Dungeon games. In his essay, Bartle, discusses four distinct players types, how these players usually play games, phrases the might commonly say, and how they interact with other play types. Bartle’s work was conducted for video games, but the principles are easily transferrable to tabletop roleplaying games without much modification.
The four players types Bartle discussed:
- Achievers: Gain levels, boost stats, push their characters to the limit (min/max). Achievers want to progress above all else.
- Socializers: Interested mostly in player interactions. Socializers gather around the table for the snacks, drinks, and friendships.
- Explorers: Poking around every nook and cranny for information or treasure. Explorers want to unearth any, and every, refuge of information possible.
- Killers: Sweet, sweet, combat. Killers revel in the bloodshed and seek to crush other monsters and players.
In his article, Bartle concludes a unique way to remember our player types with reference to a deck of cards.
An easy way to remember these are to consider suits in a conventional pack of cards: achievers are Diamonds (they’re always seeking treasure); explorers are Spades (they dig around for information); socialisers are Hearts (they empathise with other players); killers are Clubs (they hit people with them).
– Richard Bartle (HEARTS, CLUBS, DIAMONDS, SPADES: PLAYERS WHO SUIT )
Creating Roleplaying Game Player Personas
I rather enjoy the images of my players as card soldiers from Alice in Wonderland. It amuses me. However, as good as Bartle’s analogy is, it’s better to create a reference point that humans can empathize with. Thus, we can create player personas based on Bartle’s player type research. Player personas will help us determine who will enjoy what part of our adventures.
Our journey begins with Sally. Everyone, meet Sally, the Socializer.
Sally, the Socializer
Sally is a darling person. She consistently comes to the gaming table, week after week. Always in a great mood, Sally is ready to rock on the quest for the day. She is probably the one who brings most of the snacks. Most importantly Sally loves socializing with everyone at the table. She always tries to break the tension or calm any rising tempers between other heated players.
Sally is an excellent addition to any roleplaying group because she loves to coordinate with other players to solve challenging problems.
How Socializers Talk
- “Sorry, I missed that talking to Edward. What did you say about a dragon?”
- “Gang, we have to help this person. They have been through so much pain.”
- “Calm down everyone. We can go to the tavern and pick up clues to solve this crime there. We can accomplish both goals.”
- “I brought Cheetos, Mountain Dew, and some chocolates. How is everyone doing today?”
How Socializers Act
- Prefers interactions and socializing with players.
- Seeks to build relationships and improve bonds with their friends.
- They’re in it for the group. All for one and one for all.
- Has a high aptitude for roleplaying as their characters.
Edward, the Explorer
Edward loves information. He wants to venture to the farthest ends of the words and poke his nose in every nook and cranny. Edward takes meticulous notes at the table. He wants to remember every bit of lore and information for later. He’s convinced it will always be useful to learn more or to bargain the groups way out of a sticky situation. No town, village, or NPC is too dull for Edward.
Edward is an excellent addition to any roleplaying group because he loves to unravel the secrets of the world.
How Explorers Talk
- “Wait, you found what? How can I get there?”
- “You want to shortest path to Triboar village? Sure, let me whip out my map.”
- “Don’t worry gang, I checked the bed, inside the pillows, the toilet, the ogre’s loincloth, and under that rock over here. There are no secrets left here.”
- “Yea, you guys do that. I’m going to knock on this wall all dungeon looking for secret sliding doors.”
How Explorers Act
- Loves love history, lore, and background of the world.
- Seeks to uncover information wherever possible.
- They are concerned more with the journey than the destination.
- Has a high aptitude for roleplaying to discover information.
Allison, the Achiever
Allison understands Edward. She knows that if she explorers she will find the magical bow hidden in this dungeon. With her new bow, she will become more powerful and one step closer to her goals. She scarfs any equipment, focuses on pragmatic paths for leveling up, probably metagames quite a bit, and revels in even the smallest bit of competitive advantage.
Allison is a great addition to any roleplaying group because she is constantly improving the group’s mathematical survival rate.
How Achievers Talk
- “Yea, I’ll help, but what are you going to pay me?”
- “Edward, map the shortest path to Triboar Village. I don’t want to waste time.”
- “I’m busy…”
- “We could go in that door, but it’s probably a mimic. That’s what I would do.”
How Achievers Act
- Sucks up equipment like a vacuum.
- Supremely pragmatic and focused on their goals.
- Has a high aptitude for roleplaying when it allows them to progress.
- Highly competitive.
Kevin, the Killer
Kevin is here to kick ass and chew bubblegum. And, baby, he’s all out of bubblegum. Kevin rushes into rooms and crushes all who oppose him. He grinds through traps and goblins alike. Preemptive bloodshed is his strange way of protecting you. Despite usually having a negative intelligence modifier for his character, Kevin always seems to have a sound tactical strategy.
Kevin is an excellent addition to any roleplaying game group because he will kill things, so you don’t have to.
How Killers Talk
- “I’m rolling insight to see if this guy wants to arm wrestle me.”
- “This door is probably trapped. I’ll charge through and check it out.”
- “Did that guy’s eye twitch just now? He’s a demon, kill him!”
- “Die! Die! Die!”
How Killers Act
- Seeks combat superiority and trophies.
- Has a high aptitude for roleplaying if it involves combat.
- Wants high octane action packed encounters.
- Tends to turn on the party because of … “fun.”
Player Personas and Your Table
The first and most important thing to realize is that personas are generalizations. All players are unique humans and thus are not 100% one persona. Instead, they are a mix personas. Think about your table, and you’ll see this to be true. Each player likely has a large chunk of multiple personas in their play style. Players often have different moods from day-to-day, and that can alter their persona for individual play sessions.
The question then becomes, how do we harness player type personas to improve our games?
Ask yourself persona-based questions
When you’re creating a new dungeon for your players. Run through each room and ask yourself – “Would Kevin, the Killer enjoy this room?”. If Kevin wouldn’t enjoy it maybe Sally, or Edward would? You don’t need to have everyone enjoy everyone room or encounter, but asking yourself these questions will help you identify any consistent holes in your design.
Keep tally and balance your dungeons
As you ask yourself persona-based questions, you should keep a tally of which personas liked what. At the end of the review add up all the tally marks and see which personas you are neglecting. Take this tally score as an example for a hypothetical adventure dungeon (please note this is a loose example):
- Kevin, the Killer – 7
- Sally, the Socializer – 3
- Allison, the Achiever – 6
- Edward, the Explorer – 2
Making improvements based on player personas
Kevin and Allison will enjoy this dungeon the most, but what about Sally and Edward. How about we add a secret door to the dungeon. As the players approach the door, a knock will come from the other side and out pops an NPC to interact with the group. The NPC presents a challenge to the group and asks them to proceed through the secret door. Finally, the players work together to solve a puzzle and uncover ancient texts about the dungeon’s history and a magical weapon.
- We’ve introduced a secret door to the dungeon, explorer players are now inclined to look harder for more possible secret nooks. (+1 Edward for Secrets)
- The NPC can present the part with new information and an objective they may wish to complete. (+1 Sally for group discussions, +1 Edward new information to learn)
- The players must collaborate and solve a group-based puzzle. (+1 Sally for group problem solving, +1 Edward a unique puzzle to solve)
- Lastly, we gave some rewards to our players. (+1 Edward for ancient texts to uncover lore and history, +1 Allison a magical weapon to improve her prowess)
Tally up the dungeon after these changes:
- Kevin, the Killer – 7
- Sally, the Socializer – 5
- Allison, the Achiever – 7
- Edward, the Explorer – 6
Now we have a much more balanced dungeon for our players. In my opinion, equal persona balance is not necessary for a quality dungeon. Each persona-based interaction doesn’t equate to a length of game time. For example, talking with the NPC and the secret puzzle will take longer than a couple of battles with goblins for Kevin.
Focus on empathy for each player type persona, and your players will leave satisfied, week after week.
Player Personas and Your Content
In a previous article, we discussed ways how you can improve your content on DMs Guild. I was hesitant to jam player personas into that article because of the bloat would cause. With that being said, player personas are a fantastic metric for judging the encounter diversity of your published content. Take two of your published works, one that sold well and one that didn’t. Now analyze them again with player personas in mind. Would explorers like your content? How about killers, socializers, achievers?
It’s easy to write content we want. It’s harder to acknowledge your player persona mix and cater to other personas.