Ever since I first read the Dungeoneer’s Survival Guide back in the 1980s (I’m sure I was wearing sweatpants and listening to my box radio at the time), I’ve been fascinated by the concept of categorizing players into types. The old DSG used three: adventurer, problem-solver, and roleplayer. Over the years I’ve seen other player types (the most recent of which being Robin’s Laws of Good Gamemastering, revised in 3.5’s Dungeon Masters Guide II).
Still, while I’ve seen quite a few player type lists over the years, I’ve rarely seen one for GMs. That’s understandable; it can be tough to pigeon-hole GMs with all of the factors involved in designing and running campaigns. Heck, I run two games at the moment and I’m a very different GM in one than in the other. Also, there’s a lot of room for overlap. As with player types an individual GM is going to have aspects of multiple categories.
Why do I think this is important? For years, I’ve found player-typing to be useful in designing the best campaigns that I can for my players. It’s a great tool to have in your head (“okay, I’ve got enough for the Butt-Kicker, but my Method Actor needs something. Maybe I can throw in a moral dilemma here”). Similarly, acknowledging your own GM-type (or types; we rarely fall squarely into a single category) may help raise red flags before they become problems. If there’s a Power Gamer in your group and you know that you are a Romantic, then there’s a red flag that warns you of possible rules system exploitation.
Now, how do I go about this? I decided to approach these types as “GM type when running system X”. In other words, rather than thinking about Gina the GM as a Creator, we’d look at it as Gina is a Creator when running her D&D campaigns, but she is a Fanatic when running her Star Trek campaigns. I’ve also listed the pros and cons of each type when dealing with players.
So without further ado, here are the following types of GM:
The Creator wants to design a setting and watch the players enjoy the fruits of her labor. The Creator is rarely satisfied with an established setting; she’ll want to homebrew her own or at least put as much of her own efforts into an established setting as possible.
Pros: The Creator provides a richly detailed setting that has an air of mystery about it. Players never know quite what to expect in the Creator’s campaigns, as she rarely uses anything straight out of the book. The Creator often adds touches to her campaign that the players enjoy, as she is an artist and wants to please her audience.
Cons: The Creator can get carried away with “originality.” A new race may be very similar to an old one except for name and appearance, or the players may be forced to learn a glossary of terms for their PCs to function in the new world. Also, some Creators spend too much time on the minutiae of their setting rather than the practical aspects, including the adventure itself.
The Director runs campaigns with strong themes and tight plots. She expects the players to understand the themes and roleplay their characters accordingly. The Director often shapes the rules according to these themes (“grim and gritty,” “street-level superheroes”) and is very involved in PC generation.
Pros: The Director keeps things moving and never lets the players spin their wheels; she is the ultimate convention GM. A good Director knows how to build an adventure and provide enough hooks that the PCs will want to see it through.
Con: The Director sometimes encroaches in areas where players normally feel empowered to make their own decisions. Directors can fall prey to railroading when their efforts to keep the plot moving forward runs against what the players actually want to do.
The Fanatic runs campaigns because of an obsessive love of a setting or theme. He owns everything ever produced for the Forgotten Realms, has an intricate knowledge of the Star Wars Expanded Universe, or speaks tlhIngan Hol fluently. The Fanatic ensures that the PCs always interact with or are affected by the coolest elements of his fanaticism.
Pros: The Fanatic’s encyclopedic knowledge of the setting ensures that scenes are colorful and vibrant, with interesting encounters with NPCs all along the way. PCs are seamlessly integrated into the setting and their actions often have a visible impact on the greater metaplots.
Cons: The Fanatic can become a slave to his own canon and has trouble dealing with PCs that muck around with it (or players that don’t understand all of it). When not running his ideal setting, the Fanatic tends to incorporate his favorite elements anyway, which could taint the verisimilitude of the setting (the classic example being faux-Jedi Orders in the World of Greyhawk, complete with the Force).
The Manager primarily concerns herself with how the game is played. Do the PCs cover all of the bases that they need to cover and is each competent in the role he fills? Are the challenges properly balanced? Are the rules properly being implemented? Managers tend to manifest most often when the GM is running an adventure or campaign that’s been designed by someone other than herself (such as a published adventure path).
Pros: Managers carefully read the rules and are often the first to spot and fix something that’s broken. If a Manager disallows something in her campaign then there is often good reason for it. Players usually don’t have to worry about impossible challenges when playing under a Manager.
Cons: Managers are less likely to add new elements to the game that might disturb rules balance (while this could also be a Pro, it’s definitely a Con for a player that wants to try a new supplement). Managers also tend to play to the group, not the individual, so players looking for intricate personal subplots might not find a manager’s game to their tastes.
The Opponent sees the game as a challenge for the PCs to overcome. He expects the players to use all of the tools at their disposal and to work hard to reach their goals. The Opponent doesn’t suffer fools gladly; sloppy players in combat-intensive campaigns will be generating new PCs on a regular basis while PCs in mystery games will watch their reputations suffer and the body count rise as they continue to miss crucial clues.
Pros: Unlike the Manager, the Opponent isn’t worried as much about balance; smart PCs know when to retreat or seek assistance. Players feel a real sense of accomplishment when they successfully finish one of the Opponent’s adventures.
Cons: Campaigns run by an Opponent can often feel more like a chess match between the players and the GM. Character development is less important and players need to make tactical decisions when improving their PCs.
The Player would rather be playing, but she has taken the Chair due to necessity. Perhaps she wanted to play in a superhero campaign but none of the other GMs wanted to run one; perhaps she was the only one willing to take the Chair, and if she didn’t the group would have fallen apart. What Players want most is for someone else to take the reins, but they will fill in until that happens.
Pros: The Player’s greatest asset is the most obvious; she thinks like a player. She is the most in-tune to the group’s needs and desires and usually offers meaningful rewards for their actions (ironically, this makes the Player an asset as a GM and makes it less likely that the Player will get someone else to take over).
Cons: Since the Player’s greatest desire is to play, she’ll often settle for the next best thing, a GMPC. This GMPC will be treated like every other PC, expecting an equal share of the loot (and special magic items or other bennies specifically designed for the GMPC will be sprinkled amongst the treasures) and often arguing with the other PCs over the proper course of action (never mind that the GMPC is prescient). Players also have a tendency for Monty Haulism, ramping up the campaign’s power level and granting the PCs big bennies before their time.
The Romantic cares little for rules and plots; he’s more interested in developing the PCs’ personalities and personal lives. The Romantic lives by the mantra of “never let the dice get in the way of roleplay” and often runs sessions where the dice are never rolled. PCs in a superhero campaign will spend far more time in their secret identities than combating supervillains (in some cases, they are more likely to find themselves bedding the supervillains than fighting them). A fantasy campaign is more likely to revolve around a single manor then delving into dungeons all over the continent.
Pros: With his laissez-faire approach to the rules, the Romantic is more likely to indulge players with interesting character concepts, balance be damned. PCs are three-dimensional characters with fully-developed back stories and contacts. The setting is likely to feel more real and personal than those run by other GMs. NPCs are rarely faceless and often memorable.
Cons: Even the simplest adventure plots can become long meandering affairs under a Romantic’s watch. Something as simple as bluffing past a guard could take up half a session; players often forget what they were supposed to be accomplishing at various points during the adventure. Power gamers thrive under the Romantic; there is little incentive to design balanced characters when roleplay can trump social skills.
So there you have it, my list of GM types. Did I leave out an important type? Which one(s) do you identify with the most?