Last time, we talked about players roles, in particular the practical things your players do at a table and what they are, how to recognise and use them to get the most out of your players as a resource for the tabletop.
While it is useful to recognise those skillsets and use them to add extra elements to your game, it is easy to overlook the other skill set that people bring to your table: social roles.
In any social grouping of humans, people fall into roles within a group, creating an interesting web of dynamics. While a complete understanding of how every player relates to each other isn’t necessary to get the most out of your group, navigating how those roles manifest in play may create a smoother game for everyone.
Knowing which player enjoys what type of social role and that you can lean into that means that you can make most scenes exciting because once one person figures out how to make a scene work, they will teach the rest how.
I know this is a side of the hobby we don’t talk about much and can seem a bit like pseudoscience. But trust me, this works. If you’ve ever had that moment where a group aren’t able to agree on a course of action, seem apathetic or feel fractious with each other, then knowing who fits which of these archetypes can be a blessing.
These are just a fraction of the social roles I have recognised during my time as a DM. Here’s who they are and how they are useful. It’s worth mentioning in different groups, the same player can fulfil different roles depending on the dynamics of the group.
Ever have that player who seems like they are just up for most things?
The player who is always going to do something? Starting a random conversation with another PC about how they feel, bring back a story detail you’ve forgotten as a crazy solution, dig into a detail about the plot that fascinates them?
The Instigator is a very valuable type of player to have. If there’s one in your group, you can literally generate an hour of content by going ‘is there anything anyone wants to talk about/do?’ and they will just rocket into something.
Just cruise in their wake and invent or modify things that bring other players into their orbit. A good Instigator is defined by their curiosity, so pointing them at other players characters can often cause them to bring other player’s investment to the table and generate player-to-player character moments of roleplay.
Storyhound cares mostly about the plot. They are very invested in the story and can, at first glance, seem a little too momentum focused to be helpful. But they care deeply about the game and can be a guiding force back to where things make sense.
Their steadfast desire to work out what is going on and where this is going means they always have an eye on the prize. If you keep feeding them small movements towards that goal, they will not only maintain the forward momentum, but they will be the person at the table who is keeping track of where it is all going.
If you have a Storyhound and an Instigator in your group, it’s a good idea to take them time to give them character moments together that are deep and move the plot forward. It ties them together and means the characters feel closer and more willing to work together as players.
The Storyhound can pull the Instigator’s action in the direction toward the plot, and the Instigator can help weave a wider story that just doggedly following one lead might accomplish.
It is core to any group that if you have players who are very much these types you find a way for them to work together, because if they pull in different directions, they will annoy each other. This doesn’t make either of them bad players, just with slightly different priorities. But they are both really excited to be here.
The giver, by contrast will often seem like they aren’t excited to be here.
You can toss them a plot point, and they will just shrug and bury it. This is ok, lots of people don’t want the spotlight, and that’s fine. They might still play a great character, but they are prepared to let others take centre stage or maybe they are here to hear their friends have fun. But you can lean on this player to be a team player.
They care about the group as players and friends and want to see the story unfold, so let them have moments where they push other players to the foreground or provide crucial background assistance when they pick their moments.
Givers will also be really good at ideas that spotlight other players strengths, and the one place you should make sure you take a moment to make sure they are heard are the scenes where a group has to make decisions. They will remember some skill somebody else has and make a point of bringing it up.
Stones are the cool head in any group. They never get over-invested in the drama of the game or social dynamics of the group.
It means they tend to make very level-headed decisions and are very good at resolving disputes where a group doesn’t know what to do next. Look to them to be the kind of ‘den parent’ of any group who just gets on with things.
If you have a Giver (who is often looking for community and peace) and a Stone (who is cool headed and often tactical) in a group, encouraging one then the other a chance to talk in any moment of disagreement or fractiousness can calm the temperature in the room at any given moment both in and out of character.
This player asks a lot of questions. Often about things in the gameworld and how they make sense and fit together. They also ask you to describe stuff or for more clarification often.
While this might seem like an annoying habit, they are attempting to define the world for themselves and their friends. You should take any question they have as an opportunity to world build and give them details if you can.
Always give them a chance to clarify because they can spot assumptions a group make about things, meaning that you can save a problem where you have to backtrack later because the gulf between what you mean and what you say is misleading.
Sometimes, a player comes along who just naturally assumes leadership.
Other players trust them and let them make decisions for the group, often because they listen to the views of everyone.
When this happens, make sure that the dynamic is healthy and if it is, count your lucky stars. Having this focal, often charismatic, player to hang things on can simplify things for players who then know how the dynamic works. Be clear that doesn’t mean this is the ‘main character’, just the group Leader.
If a Leader has a Giver in their corner, testing that relationship in character can actually be great way to give both players a unique bond in a ‘Frodo and Sam’ type of dynamic and often brings a giver into an RP role they are really comfortable with.
Try and give your players a positive spin and see which of them are good at these particular traits!
We are gonna stay on the subject of group dynamics for a little longer, and next episode, we are going to examine a campaign from a social grouping perspective.
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