Have you thought about player preferences in relation to the kinds of adventures and campaigns that you run? I hope you have, since knowing your "target audience" is fundamental to meeting their needs. But you may not have thought in terms of the styles I'm going to describe today.
I call these modes "playing styles," as opposed to preferences such as Gamist/Narrativist/Simulationist. Today I'm talking about Planners and Improvisers, about the fluidity in the game.
I'm using "fluidity" to designate how quickly (or how often) the state of the game changes significantly. In some tabletop games there’s relatively little change from turn to turn, or minute to minute, or move to move. In others there's a great deal of change in those same timeframes. Players sometimes have strong preferences about the fluidity of games, especially serious or hard-core players. In RPGs, it’s as much the GM as the game rules that determine the level of fluidity, making this an important consideration for GMs.
“Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential.” Sir Winston Churchill
Planners like to think well ahead, to plan their path through the game. You change your plans to accommodate circumstances, but always plan to the end. Planners are often good at military strategy (as opposed to tactics). They're especially interested in what happens before the battle.
At the other extreme, Improvisers don't want to think ahead. They want a game where they only need to figure out what to do in the short term. They focus on tactics.
Many players are in between; they plan for the middle term, a few moves ahead but not the entire game (Adapters).
Planners like order and may not care for games with lots of overt uncertainty mechanics such as dice rolls (partly depends on how they’re implemented, I’m a planner but I like 1e D&D). Improvisers like chaos, they may like games with lots of uncertainty.
Chess players are often planners, poker players often improvisers.
Planners like to have lots of information; they’ll take prisoners for interrogation, for example. They’ll use spells to gather information. Improvisors are more likely to just barge into a situation. Planners also like time to think; they’ll dislike a GM who suddenly speeds things up when there’s an encounter, trying to turn it into real-time. Improvisers like a bit of chaos.
RPGs tend to be fairly fluid by nature, I think, especially if combat is the primary activity. Whether intended or not, D&D 4e catered to Improvisers when many of the strategic, information-gathering, spells were removed and the game was heavily focused on combat.
If a GM wants to encourage one style or the other:
- Give planners time to think, move improvisers right along.
- The less information players can get "up front", the less they can plan.
- The "strategic" side of the game helps planners, not so much improvisers.
- The greater the emphasis on combat, the more improvisational the game is likely to be.
- "Just wandering around" favors improvisers; clear objectives helps planners.
- In general, the more fluid the game, the more it favors the Improvisor.
Another time I'll describe Classical and Romantic styles.
This article contributed by Lewis Pulsipher