If I hunt around for a random post of mine on ENWorld over the years, there is a non-trivial chance that I’ll be talking about one of the smallest and most worn books in my RPG collection: Robin Laws’ ‘Laws of Good Game Mastering”

A friend loaned me that book years ago and the philosophy of "player types" contained therein has probably made a bigger impact on my gaming than any other thing I've read. It has changed the way I design my games, communicated with my players and judged whether my games were successful or not. If you don't own this book then fear not. Similar, in fact more refined, versions of that info are contained in other things the estimable Mr. Laws has written. Notably the 3.5 DMG2 and the 4e DMG. I highly recommend you check it out.

Basically the notion is that players fall into one or more player types that have the most fun in certain specific ways. I was able to determine that my players were not just generic (if awesome) gamers. They were a Story Teller and a Buttkicker, a Casual Gamer and a Power Gamer. And that one other guy who was harder to pin down but we later found his niche in the Super Coolness type. I also learned that my player type was a Tactician. I loved designing complex tactical situations for the players to find ways out of...and nobody really cared but me. That didn't mean I needed to stop being that way. I just needed to stop expecting them to care as much as I did because they were different types of players.

Their own buy-in was important in this process. I didn't just point at them and say, "You're a Buttkicker." This was a discussion. That part was hugely important because, even though I like to think we were a communicative group of friends, there was clearly some stuff that needed to get out in the open. Mr. Laws book gave us the vocabulary to talk about how we were going to make sure everybody got their "emotional kick".

Designing toward that emotional kick was one of my biggest changes. I won't lie, I thought I was a pretty good GM prior to that. But suddenly I was no longer accidentally designing good adventures. I was making them be great for these specific players on purpose. I'd open the game with the battle that everybody knew was coming since the cliffhanger ending the week before (Buttkicker is already happy!) and have the leader of the opposition drop some vital clue that could be incorporated into the evolving plot (the Story Teller would be chewing on that for the rest of the session). I'd make sure that the combat environment was right for my Power Gamer to pull of the special move that he designed his whole character around. In the next scene there might be a challenge designed for the Super Coolness player to shine in that one thing he really wanted to be recognized as awesome for.

Note that I made no mention of my Casual Gamer. That was another huge leap for me. This guy had been our friend for years and years and I had done everything I could think of to get him more involved in the game. I had woven big chunks of plot all around his character. I had NPC's focus on him during many scenes and ask him direct questions that were all about him. I had designed intelligent magic items that would interact really well with his PC. None of these things had worked and I was stumped until he frantically came forward as a Casual Gamer. The one thing he hated most was being in the spotlight. He just wanted to get together on game night with his friends and roll a few dice without it really being centered on his character.

As I implemented this kind of game design I noticed right away that everybody was more engaged. They all knew that they were going to get what they wanted out of the game because I had let them see behind the curtain of game design. They knew what I was starting with at home was a list of their names and player types. As I was letting the upcoming game sessions form in my mind and weaving what the players told me as a group they wanted to accomplish in the game, I would make sure each of their needs were being met. Even my Casual Gamer was more involved now that he knew I was never going to shine the spotlight in his face on purpose.

Another thing happened too: Everybody was aware of what was going on and taking active steps to either get out of the way while another player was getting their moment OR (even better) doing stuff to purposefully enhance the fun of other players. I remember well the times that the Story Teller would gleefully point to the place where the Super Coolness player could bring his expertise to bear on the plot. Once the Super Coolness player was running a Diplomacy guy who on purpose maneuvered an enemy into a botched negotiation so that the Buttkicker could kick butt on a night that had mostly been about chatting and unraveling plot. And I saw others turn a comment by the Casual Gamer into a group discussion rather than force him to make his point all by himself. Team effort.

Time after time here at ENWorld I have reiterated the transformative effect this had on my games. In my opinion, there is no smarter starting point in running good game than "Know Thy Players". You'll very soon be running games they are clamoring for because they know that fun will be there in abundance, not just for themselves but for their friends at the table as well.

It was partly due to my adoption of this philosophy that I so readily grabbed the concepts in one of my other favorite books. The 5 Love Languages by Dr. Gary Chapman has become a cornerstone of my work as a relationship coach. As I frequently tell my clients, there are no magic bullets in creating harmony and greatness in your marital or romantic relationship, but the Love Languages are the magic-est bullet I know of.

The concept is that most people have a dominant Love Language, which is the way in which they most naturally express and experience love. The Love Languages are Acts of Service, Gifts, Physical Touch, Quality Time and Words of Affirmation. One of those may already ring a bell with you. If it doesn't, take a minute to go take one of their short (10 minutes max) Love Language assessments at their site (You can also find links on the Resources page of my website). This is valuable information to have about yourself and your spouse or significant other.

The reason it is so empowering and effective is efficiency. It's easy to get distracted doing things for your spouse that are nice but are not really their Love Language. That's because ALL the Love Languages are nice. Who doesn't like to get Gifts or hear Words of Affirmation? But if what your spouse really wants is Quality Time then handing them a present or telling them they look pretty is nice but not truly delivering their emotional kick. Sound familiar?

My wife is an Acts of Service person. I'm Physical Touch (with a strong secondary Language of Words of Affirmation). So when I tell her the dinner she made was wonderful and give her a huge hug, that's nice. But not nearly as nice as when I wash the dishes afterwards. That is an act of service.

But even if we don't always do a perfect job of speaking the Love Languages of those we love, it's helpful just knowing them. For years and years my wife made me coffee every morning even though she rarely drinks it. Once I understood her Language was Acts of Service then I could see that what she was saying to me each morning, in her own language, was "I love you."

What this all boils down to is that my marriage has grown by leaps and bounds ever since my wife and I started loving each other in a more intentional manner. It’s certainly not the only thing we’ve done to awesome up our love for each other but it has become our way of establishing a strong baseline and it sure makes it easier to know what to do for each other on holidays and birthdays!

I’d love to hear how the rest of you are designing your adventures or relationships intentionally to make your efforts feel more effective, efficient and appreciated.