My Play Style? I am a Bonding Story-Dweller!

A couple of days ago Christof Heimhilcher blogged about his style of play (in German) and it resonated with a couple of observations I made over the years. Roleplaying games allow for a broad spectrum of interests to overlap and being catered within the same game. Not all combinations work well though. So, what is my style of play and how does it affect the games I play and write?

Roleplaying games are often asymmetrical and offer two distinct modes of play. Either you are the game runner or you play one of the cast characters. Let's look at those separately.

Playing a Cast Character

I will follow Christof's lead and use the types created by Robin D. Laws, which I find … debatable. If you are interested in a little quiz to find out how these may apply to you, don't put too much weight into the results. It's neither a scientifically supported theory nor a scientifically crafted quiz. But it is something to start with. According to this quiz, I would be first and foremost a Storyteller, then a Method Actor, followed by similar amounts of Casual Gamer, Tactician and Power Gamer, rounded up by some drops of Specialist and Butt-Kicker. I know that this is wrong and I can easily demonstrate it. Just one step at a time.

Casual Gamer

My strongest motivation for roleplaying is one that is either badly described by Laws or he just didn't see it as a possible reason to play. Laws' casual gamers would do anything else than roleplaying as long as their friends would do it with them. They are not particularly invested in the game.

This is not me. I would almost never play without at least some friends present at the table, because I want to be with my friends, to see them act and react within unusual circumstances, to understand them better and to create shared memories. I will gladly leave the spotlight for a friend if they need it more or if I can learn something about them. This doesn't mean I am not invested in the game.

I am not a casual gamer. I am a bonding gamer.


When playing a cast character I wouldn't call me a storyteller. I want to explore the environment, explore the backstory of the situation, get to know the characters presented within that environment, understand why they do what they do, interact with them, build relations and fulfil a purpose. I don't like crafting the story myself while I play or try to make sense of the results of a couple of random tables. I'm not that interested in whims of the moment and I abhor imposing meaning onto coincidence. I want to explore pre-existing connections and develop them.

When playing a cast character I am not a story-teller, but a story-dweller.

Method Actor

This is probably the one play style from Laws model that fits me the most. I like to make difficult decisions, to feel the weight of possible consequences. This relies on lasting relationships within the game environment and the authenticity of my character.


Tactical thinking and decision making are for board games. As soon as tactics dominate the game, I am not playing a role anymore. I am just handling a stat block. I am not saying that this can't be fun. I am saying that I don't consider this to be roleplaying.

Power Gamer

Optimizing a stat block can be fun. I played enough D&D 3.5 and Shadowrun to know that. But it is fun that happens between sessions. Fun for you alone. It is not fun to hang out with an optimized stat block if it doesn't come with a character.

Even if I give in to the fascination of building and min-maxing stats, I optimize a supporting character like a protector or healer.


I don't like repeating myself. Playing the same concept, again and again, is not an option.


I don't like the thrill of the fight. If everyone agrees that combat is the best option, the scene has not enough conflict. The most interesting fights are the ones where at least one side would prefer to do something more useful. Mutual decimation of hit points does not attract me.

Also, butt-kicking almost always leads to competition between players about who is kicking the most butt. And I am not into competing with friends. I prefer cooperation.

Playing as a Game Runner

I prefer playing as game runner over playing a cast character. It is the perfect opportunity to bring my friends together and explore their interests and how they interact within the game. I spend a ludicrous amount of time preparing a session. I want a consistent and interesting back story. I want to really understand how the environment and the characters would react to any surprise my friends might come up with. I plan for meaningful and emotional scenes that allow for different approaches and interesting decisions. It is the intersection of bonding with friends, developing a story and representing convincing characters.

One-Shots or Campaign?

A one-shot adventure doesn't allow me to develop my character's relations much. Quite often I can't even present my own character appropriately. I expect a one-shot to compensate this with a really interesting story or emotionally involving scenes - which they seldom deliver.

Campaigns offer me more. Even a short campaign of a couple of sessions supports my play style much better. The best campaigns are the ones, where participating players are not fixed, but might change from session to session. This allows more friends to join in, talk about it between sessions and create a much richer social experience.

How does this affect me writing my own RPG?

I started working on my own system to be able to switch genres without having to switch the system. That is my interest in exploring stories speaking.

With time I realised I had other requirements as well. I wanted to make sure I don't accidentally kill off a cast character. Players may decide to put their character's existence on the line, but it should be a clearly visible step. A character dying on bad luck is the most extreme form of having a player not participate in the game anymore. That is my interest in bonding with friends speaking.

I want players to have more choice than to solve conflicts by force. Many games have detailed procedures for combat and provide an interesting experience with these tools. Social or mental conflict are seldom more than a single dice roll. They are not of equally valuable options in terms of mechanical entertainment and they don't combine well. I want a group of adventurers being able to fight off a pack of wolves with sword and bow on one end of the camp, while at the other end they resort to intimidating the wolves with loud cries and waving torches. That is my interest in method acting speaking.

The current version of my game should do the trick, but I still have to test it at the table.

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Image credit: Book Lin - Some rights reserved

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