Part 2 – Who 

(You can find “Part 1 – Why” here:

Last time, we talked about the Why of getting into Dungeons & Dragons – how to juggle your expectations as a Dungeon Master (DM) and those of your players. Keeping both of these balls in the air is key for getting a good game off the ground. Today, we are going to be focusing on your players in more depth. Once you know why they are at the table, you have to figure out how to keep them there. The “vibe” of the game is only part of the equation when it comes to what makes D&D fun. 

Dungeons & Dragons is a game with a lot of moving parts. It combines a complex rules system with the unique feature of roleplaying. This combination creates a lot of depth within the game and makes D&D compelling for a legion of fans, but how each individual within that legion interacts with the elements of the game will vary wildly. Some folks are looking for a World of Warcraft raid that they play with pen, paper, and a custom miniature; others are looking to become emotionally invested in a tightly-plotted story that twists and turns around the rolls of the dice. 


Adding to the Axis

Last time, I talked about a scale that ranged from “casual” to “dedicated”. Today, we’re gonna go full political compass and add another axis that intersects the first. This new scale ranges from “crunchy” to “fluffy”. That probably sounds like a lot of nonsense, so let’s get some definitions out of the way:

When someone refers to a game’s “crunch”, they are referring to the rules and systems that make the game work. In Magic, “crunch” is things like the reminder text behind a keyword or Oracle rulings on a card’s Gatherer page. “Crunch” can also exist on a meta-level – especially in competitive games. If you are a League of Legends player looking up ideal counters and synergies for your champion of choice, you are focusing on the “crunchy” aspects of the game. 

In the context of helping you decode your prospective players, I will be using “crunchy” as a descriptor for players who get their jollies by interacting with the game’s rules. These are the folks who want to build the best version of their character they can. They always want to be making the “optimal” choice for their stated goal. If they are picking an offensive spell, they want it to be the most efficient one; if they are choosing a weapon, they are going to go for function over form; when choosing their race/class combination, they are going to make sure the strengths of their race align as cleanly as possible with the needs of their class. 

On the opposite end of our new axis, we have “fluff”. In the context of games, “fluff” refers to the more immaterial aspects of the game; the narrative embellishments that encircle the dry numbers and transform them into something more than just a collection of systems and functions. Magic has flavour text, Pokémon has Pokedex entries, and Yu-Gi-Oh has its anime. 

In Dungeons & Dragons, “fluffy” players are going to be bringing you multi-page backstories for their characters, asking you about the small details of the world in which the game is taking place, and getting deep into the roleplaying. They will be willing to choose races that specifically clash with their class’ needs because they have an “interesting idea” and might be totally satisfied with a session that never once contains combat. 

With the definitions out of the way, let’s take a look at the graph we have made before we examine its quadrants in more detail: 


Obligatory Disclaimer

I will probably hit this point a few times before this article is over, but I want to address it specifically before we get in too deep: these definitions are not hard and fast. What a player finds appealing about Dungeons & Dragons can change over time and evolve as they gain more experience with the game. Additionally, very few D&D players exist in the furthest extremities of this scale; most of them land closer to the center than the far reaches. 

With that out of the way – 


Dedicated/Crunchy: The Technician 

These are players who are very into Dungeons & Dragons and who focus on the guts and gears of the game’s rules. 

When they are new to the game, they will usually zero-in on the role they want to play in combat as their starting point for building a character. From there, they will pick the class that gives them the best options for their playstyle, and then choose a race with features that compliment that class. It won’t take them long to memorize all of their various abilities and the ones they can gain as they level up. Odds are good they will head to the internet to see how they can further improve their “build”. 

Expect them to consume the rulebooks as they gain more experience. They will research the other classes so that they can take their optimized approach and apply it to the whole party – figuring out the best strategies for any given encounter. There is also a good chance that they will quickly pick up the mechanics of the game, leading to them being both an invaluable resource and a monster pain-in-the-ass. They will always be able to provide a second opinion in a rules dispute, but they might also use this power to nit-pick calls you make as the Dungeon Master. 

As you may have picked up from the previous two paragraphs, these players will usually be focused on combat as their favourite element of D&D. Encounters are the part of the game that rely on rules the most, so it makes sense for Technicians to fixate on them as their preferred form of creative expression. 

For these folks, figuring out the “correct” solution to problems is the fun of the game. To keep this quadrant of players happy at your table, I suggest making sure that each of your sessions contains at least one encounter that requires them to make use of their abilities. Technicians want the chance to put all of their hard work to good use – give them the opportunity to show off and they will be happy. Escalating the difficulty of encounters and incorporating unique challenges that force them to use their powers in new ways can up the ante and keep them engaged over a long period of time. 

Since this quadrant will frequently know the rules as well as you do, try and keep DM hand-waving to a minimum if it directly thwarts what they are trying to do with their character. They will usually know when you are fudging something, so make sure there is some artistry to the fuckery you perform around them. 

Subclass: The Memer

Eventually, The Technician will acquire enough experience with the game that building the “best” character is no longer a challenge. When this happens – if they still want to keep playing D&D – they will sometimes develop into The Memer. Rather than focus on building the all-around “best” character, they will shift to building a character around a gimmick – a meme. Usually, this kind of character will be exceptional at one specific thing or be built to accomplish something that requires a very deep knowledge of the rules to pull off. 

At this point, The Memer will be a lot less focused on making sure that the party is performing at its best and will devote themselves to making sure their weird build does what it’s supposed to do. If you have a Memer at your table, try to give them plenty of chances to do what they have built their character to do. Don’t make it too easy for them – after all, the challenge is one of the reasons they do what they do – but give them plenty of opportunities to try and do their thing. 


Dedicated/Fluffy: The Roleplayer 

Much like The Technician, The Roleplayer can be a lot. They are motivated by a desire to leave their normal life behind and completely immerse themselves in a character for the duration of a Dungeons & Dragons session. They are going to be constantly striving to not only be in-character, but to ensure that their motivations while in-character are consistent and that they are making choices informed by their backstory. 

Speaking of backstory, these are the players who will have one and will probably make it detailed. For The Roleplayer, breathing life into someone who is more than just their personal fantasy game avatar is the main creative appeal of D&D. These players want to take the freedom of choice provided by the open world system of Dungeons & Dragons and use it as a tool to tell someone’s story. 

Funnily enough, while The Roleplayer couldn’t care less about how “optimal” their character is, their passion for the game will frequently lead them to know the rules almost as well as The Technician. For The Roleplayer, the right combination of rules will help them perfectly express who their character is. They read every option available to their character so that they can get their selections just right

Keeping a Roleplayer at your table happy is pretty intuitive. Give them some compelling NPCs, a world with some meat on its bones, and a chance for them to use their backstory in a practical way and they will be happy. Bonus points if you can find a way to weave their backstory into the unfolding drama of the campaign. Make their character an integral part of your world and the story you are trying to tell and you will make The Roleplayer’s day. 


Casual/Crunchy: The Wildcard

This is the beer, pizza, and a good laugh quadrant. These folks are usually the players who are playing D&D because they are fans of the fantasy genre and it’s a chance to hang out with their friends. They aren’t going to spend the time getting their character to “peak performance”, nor are they likely to delve deeply into the world of the game you have built. They still care about the game, but the depth of the experience is not something that impacts their enjoyment. These players might sometimes come across as disinterested, but they still show up week after week and participate with a smile on their face. 

This quadrant wants a good time with friends – full stop. They will usually know their character well enough to have a “script” they stick to for most fights and will be willing to respond “in character” even if they’re not going to put on a voice and think through their actions too intensely. While you might never get them to engage as hard as the other quadrants, what you want to do to keep them involved is meet them on their level. They want fun and excitement – an experience they can share – so keep the game high-energy and entertaining with some solid “whoa” moments, and they will be happy. 

Frequently, this quadrant’s detachment from the game  will lead to interesting moments. They don’t have the same tunnel vision for the rules that The Technician does, so The Wildcard will earn their name by coming up with outlandish suggestions to solve encounters. Sometimes, you will have to veto them because they push too far past what the rules allow, but other times you can entertain them. Sure, if you went by rules-as-written, it would be incredibly impractical to have the Aasimar Fighter hurl the Gnome Monk at the enemy archers on the palisade, but hey – maybe this one time you could find a way to make it work. Being open-minded to what is possible is the best way to keep The Wildcard coming back for more. 


Casual/Fluffy: The Tourist

In a vein similar to The Wildcard, The Tourist is looking for a good time. However, their good time comes from leaving the hum-drum world behind and immersing themselves in the world you are building. 

You can count on The Tourist to be consistently in-character and they will always be happy to interact with the NPCs and villains that populate your world. You may not be able to count on them to remember what all of their spells or character mechanics do, but they will react suitably shocked and excited when you throw sudden plot developments at them. 

For The Tourist, Dungeons & Dragons is about exploring their creativity in a collaborative environment. Unlike The Roleplayer, they are less interested in taking the initiative in the adventure; The Tourist has big “along for the ride – wherever it takes us” energy. They are happy to let the cues the Dungeon Master provides be their guide. The consequences of their individual decisions won’t occupy too much of their mental energy.  

Tourists react best to consistent engagement with their characters during the game. They may be happy to let you lead the way through the plot, but they want to be provided ample opportunities to explore the campaign world as their character. They will find just as much joy in haggling with a shopkeeper as they do in resolving the conflict hinted at in their backstory. Another sure-fire way to make a Tourist happy is to encourage in-character interaction between the members of the party. The Tourist is out to have fun with their friends, after all. 


Bringing it All Together 

And I mean this heading literally – very rarely will your group consist of only one type of player. As a Dungeon Master, you will be managing players who find very different types of enjoyment within the game and want very different things out of the experience. When dealing with more experienced players, this may not be an issue. Folks who have played a lot of Dungeons & Dragons are often pretty good at self-identifying their priorities and adapting to situations that wouldn’t normally be their cup of tea. 

In newer groups, it might be more difficult to figure out what each player is looking for because they might not even know themselves. How would a first-time player know that they enjoy roleplaying if they have never roleplayed before? 

A lot of new D&D games start off in a trial-and-error phase – the DM and the players figuring out how to make the game enjoyable for themselves and each other. During this period, it can be common for players who “aren’t feeling” the direction of the game to start losing interest. This can be disheartening for new DMs who may take that creeping apathy personally. 


I can offer two pieces of advice to help ensure that your early games are as enjoyable as possible for everyone involved: 

  1. Try to incorporate a little bit of everything. As a new DM, you should probably be throwing as much at the board as possible to get a hang for everything the game has to offer. Give players a chance to make meaningful choices as their characters, utilize the list of skills in a variety of ways, and try to include at least one combat encounter within every game at the campaign’s start. If you are presenting your table with a buffet of options, you will notice pretty quickly who is going for what. 
  2. Debrief after your games. You don’t have to do this as a whole group (some players will likely be shy about being 100% honest when put on the spot), but reach out to your players in private to ask for their feedback on the last session. Encourage them to be honest. The players might also find this dialogue helpful in determining what they are looking for from the game. As you get to know each other – and how you play – better, you can probably shelve this constant back-and-forth. However, the trust you foster early on will stick with your players. If you establish a channel of communication at the start, it will encourage openness and honesty later on. 


Another Ending 

As you play more and more games with your group, you will get a sense for the exact ratio of “crunch” to “fluff” that makes your players happiest. With enough experience, managing these content ratios will become second-nature, even when switching between groups. Like all new relationships, patience is required in the early stages of the Dungeon Master/Player dynamic.   

The vast scope of things that can be enjoyed during a D&D game is one of its biggest selling points. The bespoke experience it offers has made it a popular and enduring pastime. At first blush, it can seem like focusing on one part of the game must come at the expense of the others; but, with a deft hand, an open mind, and practice, it is possible to weave together something for everyone.  

Next time, we leave behind the half-assed psychoanalysis and get into the nuts and bolts of the choices you need to make about how you want your game to function. Join us soon for Part 3: Where. 

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