Two Schools of RPG Gaming


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For years I have noticed two general kinds of Players (and we are players on both sides of the DM Screen) – which I refer to as falling into the “Two Schools of RPG Gaming.”

School 1: RPG’s are games that pit the skill and wit of the player against DM (and her skill and wit).

School 2: RPG’s are games in which the players (the DM being one) have adventures together.

For myself, I’m in School 2, which is why I often show my "gimmicks" to the other players (even the guy running the game). I mean I may never use them in the game, but if I share them we can all enjoy them – or looked at it another way I “use” them each time I show them to someone. I like to think I’m playing the game WITH the other players when I do this, not AGAINST them. And the guy/girl running the game is (to me) just another player so why wouldn't I show them the cool thing too?

But there are lots of players (again, both sides of that DM screen) who are in School 1. When I show them a cute trick they are driven to try to counter it, perhaps spending hours or days coming up with reasons why it wont work (often keeping these secret so they can spring them in a "gotcha!" moment) – sometime saying it will not work for this or that reason, or even “not in my game!”. Sometimes these can be real stretches of reality or game mechanics. But you see, they are playing against the other players and a gimmick is something they have to counter to "win".

Personally, I try to avoid the School 1 types – both Judges and players (I think there are lots more players then judges in school #1). IMO School 1 types don’t often make good Judges.) Mostly I do this because I seem to have less fun in games with them.

This is not to say that a School 2 Judge (or player for that matter!) will let something slide – good ones don’t. But if we are “talking shop” they will often say – “that might not work because of X” and some might even add “but if you did Y also…”.

School 1 - Confrontational - "It's US vs. THEM" or "It's YOU vs. ME".

School 2 - Conspiratorial - "We're playing this game TOGETHER".


Its usually a mix. I try to dial the skill and wit up or down to give the players a bit more of a fight or to not permanently kill anyone.


I honestly think that many judges are in first school till you become part of their in crowd then they start act in the second school.

I do admit it might be my area. Just the other day telling my Venture Captain about my brawler who using improved trip, ki throw, and spinning ki throw so I can describe them as Professional wrestling moves. This gimmick isn't meant to be anything but fun, and my VC started trying to figure how to counter it with feather fall. Basically he stop after saw that feather slowed you down after so many feet, and the feats only tripped in moved you 5 feet per 5 over CMD, which would only be 5 to 10 ft on average.

Grand Lodge

I prefer the gamist-narativist-simulationist trichotomy.

The gamist views the system as a game that can be "won" (or at least can be lost.) Balance, fairness and challenge are the gamists highest priorities.

The narativist is playing to tell a story. Successful development of theme, consistency of plot and satisfying conclusion are their highest priorities.

The simlationist wants the game to replicate the real world, or some other canon as faithfully as possible. "Common sense," consistent physics, and logical outcomes are their highest priorities.

In reality, very few gamers are one of these exclusively. Most gamers are some combination of the three at any given time. (I personally prefer to tailor my style to the game system I am playing. I prioritize gamist when playing D&D or Champions, Narrativist when playing White Wolf, and Simulationist when playing GURPS.)

School 1 as you put it is usually a form of gamist philosophy. Though I have seen adversarial-narrativist (we are each telling a story, lets see whose story triumphs.) But that was actually between players in a larp rather than between players and GMs. (Player vs GM is pretty pointless outside the gamist paradigm, since unless the GM is constrained by rules to play a fair game, they can always win.)

School 2 can actually be any of the three. Especially in PFS. I have seen GMs who run game as GM and Players vs the Scenario.

So 6 schools, more if you accept permutations of all three paradigms.

Liberty's Edge

As GM, I'm pretty much School 1. If any of the players care, I will tell them why they are fighting, but these are fairly rare in PFS.

In a homebrew, there is quite a bit more narrative as there may not be any shared base to jump into. I always start with the big wheel of the story and have a couple of smaller wheels turning within it. Each of these smaller wheels have various obstacles to be overcome. All of the wheels keep turning even if the players aren't necessarily ready. The narrative is to lead them to the next obstacle in an interesting and internally consistent fashion.

As a player, I want to know why I'm fighting, where and who. Most GMs seem to appreciate this, but I don't get the impression that the guy behind the screen is on my side.

In FLite's philosophy, I would be a Simulationist-Gamist with an appetizer of Narrativist. I firmly believe a fantasy RPG needs some grounding in reality to make sense and that Good Wins (but not always), with a detailed, reasonable world populated by memorable allies and enemies (but not so much as to be confusing).


I would also say I generally see a mix (or perhaps more accurately a hybrid) in games I run. I encourage players to treat the rules of the game as rules of the universe so that unique corner cases become powerful because that's how the world works. I don't like to know about that stuff ahead of time because I like it when their enemies (me) are in prepared for their tactics. I find that not knowing helps me not to metagame and gets my nerd juices flowing when something new hits the table. But the game isn't adversarial between the players and me at all, it is very much confined to the characters and the world.


I'm a pretty thorough blend as well. As a GM I really do my best to have no stake whatsoever in the party, neither in its success nor its failure. My jobs are two-fold. First to present an awesome and engaging world replete with awesome, and the second is to immerse myself in the collective character of that 'world,' roleplaying it appropriately and dragging the players into character as people living and struggling in that world- kicking and screaming if I must.


As a DM I become ecstatic when the players do something great and when something horrible happens to them.

Because extremes are what they will remember and retell. I am a very tactical person and I will play my monsters if they warrant it. But this is not a separate thing from telling a story. Infact they are interwoven. I will tell you a story with the tactics the monsters use. I have bad guys monologue during fights. Having a PC brag about critting or dropping PCs is a quick way to get the emotionally motivated into a fight. I poke at the PCs during an entire scenario and then give them a villain to vent it on.

I take a great deal of thought and effort brainstorming and developing this for my PCs.

I try to give them a tactical fight to challenge them and the best story I can along the way. I DM that way because I want a DM that does the same.

Silver Crusade

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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I have found there three schools of gamer:

1) Those who can count.

2) Those who can't.


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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Rulebook, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber

I never found the school for gamers, I learned by getting disintegrated by my brother, over and over again :-)

And don't get me started on what I learned in Undermountain, it haunts me still...

Silver Crusade

I pretend to be of the first school when I GM, but I'm really a big softie at heart. I find it's more satisfying to defeat an opponent who's asking for it.

Grand Lodge RPG Superstar 2015 Top 32, RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

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nosig wrote:
For years I have noticed two general kinds of Players (and we are players on both sides of the DM Screen) – which I refer to as falling into the “Two Schools of RPG Gaming.”
Flite wrote:
I prefer the gamist-narativist-simulationist trichotomy.

Interestingly, I think there's an even more fundamental divide than either of these breakdowns.

I think the most basic, root-level way to classify players/GMs is whether or not they're open to seeing things go differently than they expected. I think there are some gamers who, if thrown a curveball, will get upset or argumentative and try to force things back toward their own vision (and shame those who get in their way), while there are others who will encounter such twists and simply adapt (possibly even loving the fact that such adaptation was warranted).

The reason I think this is a more fundamental categorization than the others presented is because you could take any of the categories listed above and find that it contains this division.

For example, take nosig's #1 (the "Us vs Them" gamer): If it's the GM, then he probably has an idea of how deadly a given encounter will be. If the players then do something which bypasses, shortens, or otherwise overcomes the obstacle with less time/resource loss than anticipated, then the GM will react in one of two ways: either they'll accept it and think "Okay, next time I've got to be ready for that possibility," or they'll fudge HP, mysteriously always make the save (at least until a PC is unconscious), or start arguing about how absurd it is to think that the players' ideas/capabilities would actually work. Or on the player side, you can see this divide when he encounters a peculiar situation where his normal specialty doesn't work: does he think "Ouch, I didn't realize this gap in my capabilities would be this harsh; I need to find countermeasures"? Or does he (much like the GM, above) start arguing about the difficult circumstance being unreasonable?

For another example, take Flite's "narrativist". They're playing to tell a story, but have they already created that story (whether through worldbuilding on the GM side or elaborate backstory on the player side) and they'll get upset when the game goes in a direction that doesn't spotlight their masterpiece (foil the BBEG the wrong way, use an unanticipated solution to an obstacle, fail to include the network of NPC contacts from the backstory, etc)? Or are they coming to the table with only a starting point, intending to discover what story gets created as it happens?

Regardless of whether someone likes winning encounters, telling a story, defeating the other side of the screen, or whatever else; to me, the big thing is whether or not there's a certain thing they need the experience to end up aligning with.


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Jiggy your talk of curve balls reminds me of the first campaign i ran after I got married. Things went great and fairly predictable for the first several months, mostly due to having 5 fresh no ttrpg experience players. I ran them trough Expedition to Castle Ravenloft when they hit the right level. The group was so intent on stopping this evil vampire they rushed the castle the second day there without weakening Strahd at all. My plan was to play it straight and give them a reason to back out and plan, so when they met the first real tough opponent (the demon on the parapets) I expected a death and run, and was more than willing to let them escape. The party fighter ( a very holy and devout warrior of Kord) and the groups barbarian decided to save the others by bullrushing the demon off the edge. Both of them rolled 20's and sent it and themselves plummeting. The party druid saved them from death by healing them after flying down in wildshape. So they rolled with it finally encoutering Strahd the next week. This time I was sure I could scare them out. Instead they trapped him in a wall of stone with the druid. The druid dropped a sphere made from dust of dryness and then shifted into a large Crocodile. 6 rounds later she had managed to hold the vampire lord under water for 3 rounds to kill him. This was one of the only times I have ever truly wanted to change things up and let the bbeg pull a John Cena. But I rolled with it they freed the towns people. Never did send a vamp against them again though.


Jiggy wrote:
nosig wrote:
For years I have noticed two general kinds of Players (and we are players on both sides of the DM Screen) – which I refer to as falling into the “Two Schools of RPG Gaming.”
Flite wrote:
I prefer the gamist-narativist-simulationist trichotomy.

Interestingly, I think there's an even more fundamental divide than either of these breakdowns.

I think the most basic, root-level way to classify players/GMs is whether or not they're open to seeing things go differently than they expected. I think there are some gamers who, if thrown a curveball, will get upset or argumentative and try to force things back toward their own vision (and shame those who get in their way), while there are others who will encounter such twists and simply adapt (possibly even loving the fact that such adaptation was warranted).

The reason I think this is a more fundamental categorization than the others presented is because you could take any of the categories listed above and find that it contains this division.

For example, take nosig's #1 (the "Us vs Them" gamer): If it's the GM, then he probably has an idea of how deadly a given encounter will be. If the players then do something which bypasses, shortens, or otherwise overcomes the obstacle with less time/resource loss than anticipated, then the GM will react in one of two ways: either they'll accept it and think "Okay, next time I've got to be ready for that possibility," or they'll fudge HP, mysteriously always make the save (at least until a PC is unconscious), or start arguing about how absurd it is to think that the players' ideas/capabilities would actually work. Or on the player side, you can see this divide when he encounters a peculiar situation where his normal specialty doesn't work: does he think "Ouch, I didn't realize this gap in my capabilities would be this harsh; I need to find countermeasures"? Or does he (much like the GM, above) start arguing about the difficult circumstance being unreasonable?

For another...

True, but those examples seem to line up pretty closely with good/bad (or mature/immature?). Nobody is actually aiming to be the guy who gets upset when the game doesn't go his way.

The GNS paradigm (and I think nosig's two schools) are actually different good & valid approaches to the game. Different things to strive for. And potential causes of conflict when that isn't acknowledged and different people in a group are pulling for different things, assuming the others also want what they do.

Grand Lodge RPG Superstar 2015 Top 32, RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

thejeff wrote:

True, but those examples seem to line up pretty closely with good/bad (or mature/immature?). Nobody is actually aiming to be the guy who gets upset when the game doesn't go his way.

The GNS paradigm (and I think nosig's two schools) are actually different good & valid approaches to the game. Different things to strive for. And potential causes of conflict when that isn't acknowledged and different people in a group are pulling for different things, assuming the others also want what they do.

Although some of the specific behaviors I described aren't great, the core divide I described is not one of good/bad or mature/immature.

For instance, maybe a group of friends decides they'd have a blast playing out a hyper-cliche'd "horror" narrative for laughs. To that end, they might all be interested in things going as one might expect in pulp horror (like investigating strange noises alone in your most revealing underwear while there's a killer on the loose). Curveballs (in this example, things like having your character behave with a sense of self-preservation) would ruin the fun of such an endeavor. There's nothing wrong with a game like that.

Just like with the GNS paradigm, it's a good and valid way to play, and the issues arise when not everyone's on the same page (i.e., some players want to play up the unrealistic pulp horror tropes while others want to start with that premise but then act like real people and see what happens as a result).

EDIT: And I'll go ahead and add that in my experience, 99% of the instances of people NOT being on the same page mostly has to do with one or more persons not realizing that there are different pages to be on, and/or which one describes themselves.

Sovereign Court

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Sometimes you cant be on the same page because you are in different books. Over the years I have learned well that getting on the same page is the goal. However, sometimes that goal cant be met or isnt worth the effort for either player(s).


1 and 2? The DM is working with the players, but is supposed to contrive ways that players can enjoy themselves by overcoming things. Every problem has a solution but some will be more difficult than others, not to win/lose but to reflect an important conflict.

I hate the ideas that players work against DMs because I have found that it invariably leads to competitive bad feelings. Also, it's pointless, because the DM can "win" whenever they want. They have access to everything, whereas players just get their PCs and what the DM allows.

It'd be like a minimum wage slave competing in a bidding war against a billionaire.

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