Playing tabletop RPGs is an inherently social experience. If you aren’t playing with an immediate circle of friends, it’s likely you’re playing with the people who haunt your friendly local game store on the reg. And when you do that, there are certain gamer… Archetypes that come into focus.
Not all of these archetypes are positive, and not all of them are negative. Just like every other hobby in the world—except maybe noodling—tabletop RPGs represent a kind of core sample of humanity. A group of wholly disparate individuals with different goals, different lifestyles, and different outlooks on the world, their only link an undeniable need to play pretend using numbered polyhedrons.
And so I give you the first part of what will undoubtedly, eventually, be a long list of the Denizens of the Tabletop World.
1) The Excited One
I tell you what, it took me a while to get there, but I love this guy. He or she is totally stoked to be at the table and gaming right here and right now. They can’t wait to get to the next character level because their dude will be able to do a cool new thing, and you can’t help but get kinda psyched about seeing it in action just because of the way they talk about it. The Excited One loves to describe their character being awesome, usually in small ways that don’t step on the toes of the other players. Like how their character flourishes a weapon when they make a critical hit, or what their character does to get ready to use their special move.
Counterintuitively, The Excited One really digs a small subset of classes and abilities. Maybe they just love playing arcane spellcasters who are Good Guys. But even within this narrow focus, they still get excited about what’s coming up next. It is damned hard to convince The Excited One to not have fun, and why would you.
2) The Edgy One
Let me tell you about this asshole. I mean, I did mention that this list was a mix of the good and the bad, so I may as well dish up some bad right here up front.
The Edgy One is only happy if their character looks like a Satanism-inspired death metal album cover and behaves like one, too boot. This would be hilarious if they weren’t deadly serious about it all. This is the person who will sit down at your table in the game shop at the barest hint of an invitation and tell you all about their character’s black leather trench coat and their scythe and how their magical aura manifests as translucent black angel wings.
And then they tell you about the custom spell they created that is designed to incapacitate enemies with a crippling combination of utmost pleasure and utmost pain, and you begin to regret ever mentioning that you’ve played tabletop games before, because if you hadn’t opened your big fat mouth you wouldn’t have to listen to them describe how their overpowered, anguished, My Immortal-esque character became Lord of Hell or some shit.
Just smile and nod until this one walks away. They’re probably wandering off to play more Darksiders, which they haven’t realized is basically making fun of them.
3) The One Who Critfails
Basically every RPG system has a mechanism for when characters succeed stupendously and, on the other end of the spectrum, fail gloriously.
Somehow, against all the laws of probability, and in cruel mockery of the hidden mechanisms of the universe, The One Who Critfails invariably does just that. They roll a one in Dungeons & Dragons, or they roll 100 in Call of Cthulhu, or they critically glitch in Shadowrun. Whatever mechanism is available for brain-melting failure, they will seize it by the nads and never let go, no matter how badly they want to roll well.
I love having The One Who Critfails around, especially with the right GM. Because critical failures are comedy and/or storytelling gold in the hands of a capable game master, and the hilarity increases exponentially with each critical failure.
The ur-example of The One Who Critfails is Jerry Holkins in the Penny Arcade D&D podcasts.
4) The Useless One
To understand The Useless One, you must first have a sound understanding that the enjoyability of a game is dependent on all the characters being able to pull their weight. Sure, you can have your backstory and your character concept—everyone has a right to those. And there’s nothing wrong with a character having some weak points—you wouldn’t need the other players to have your back, otherwise.
But as soon as your character choices begin to lessen the fun of the rest of the party—for example, if your character can be knocked over by a stiff breeze in a firefight because you expended all your points on Knowledge: Matryoshka Dolls even though the GM warned you that you’d be in a South American warzone—then you become The Useless One.
Best case, The Useless One provides flavor to the adventure, like a mascot. This is rare. More common is the worst case scenario, which is when The Useless One is an albatross necklace for the rest of the party, a constant escort mission for the more capable characters.
Note that The Useless One is an intentional state of being. You are not The Useless One if you just haven’t mastered the system you’re playing yet.
5) The Walking Rulebook
Rounding out this first list is The Walking Rulebook. This is the person in the group who has all the rules for the game stored in their head, ready for immediate recall at any moment. There’s a good chance they have most weapon stats stashed up there, too. And it’s not uncommon, after some time familiarizing themselves with the game, for The Walking Rulebook to be able to create a rules-legal character without referencing the character generation chapter at all.
As a GM, this guy is great to have on your side—given a few provisos, a few quid pro quos…
Whether it’s fun to play with The Walking Rulebook is entirely dependent on their personality and flexibility. There are those who are shackled by their encyclopedic knowledge of the game rules, and there are those who are freed.
The Shackled Walking Rulebook does not feel comfortable unless everyone is following all applicable rules to the letter, even if it is to the detriment of other players’ enjoyment. Depending on whether they’re obsessed with system mastery, the Shackled may tip over into rules lawyer territory.
The Freed Walking Rulebook is a fine companion to have. They know all the rules, inside and out. They know them, and are also one hundred percent willing to discard them if they get in the way of the group having fun. That, right there, is a magical combination.
In the next installment of Denizens of Tabletop, I’ll introduce another five archetypes: The New One, The Perma-GM, The Doppelganger, The Theater Major, and—because it has to be done—The Douchebag.
So how about it? Am I missing anybody? If you’ve got another tabletop gamer species, tell me about ’em in the comments! That’s what they’re there for, and I’d love to hear about it.