I’ll admit it: I’m new to the tabletop gaming community, and very new to gamemastering, but I know fiction, by gum, and as a compelling writer and a determined thinker, I want to walk you through the use of personality to develop your games. A little knowledge in this area will make you a better storyteller, and better at creating challenges that complement the unique preferences each of your players bring to the table.
If you’re not familiar, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is a personality test developed by Katharine Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers. Drawing on inspiration from research by renowned early psychiatrist Carl Jung, these awesome ladies developed his theories into a full-fledged personality indicator test. This test has remained largely unchanged and is used in a variety of fields today. The basic premise is that every person falls somewhere along a series of four continuums. These continuums are:
Whichever letter you find yourself closest to on the continuum after a series of questions represents your preference in that area. E/I indicates your preference for expressing energy, S/N indicates preference for perceiving information, T/F indicates preference for processing that information, and P/J indicates preference for implementation of an action. You can find a full description and a link to take the test at Human Metrics.
Once you have determined your type, you can begin to see how these four preferences combine to shape how you think about and respond to the world around you. This is an amazing tool for self-recognition, but we can take it a step further and use the MBTI in tabletop gaming. Here’s how.
The theory is simple: I use the MBTI to learn my players and their PCs. By taking a moment to divine the player or character’s type, I am then able to develop a working understanding of what affirms them and what stresses them out, but more importantly, I’m able to discern what motivates them. Probably the first rule of tabletop is that no one does anything without a reason, so understanding the motivations of the character or player can generate a plethora of ideas for what kinds of challenges (or combination of challenges) to throw at a group that will appeal to every personality in the room.
We can use my own personality type as an example. I’m an INTJ, which means that I prefer:
- Introverted energy use (I recharge by being alone).
- iNtuitive perception (I gain information by conceptualizing rather than sensory input).
- Thinking information processing (understanding of concepts and situations is influenced by thinking rather than emotions).
- Judgment-based decisions (I organize my plans and stick to them, rather than being willing to explore new paths).
The effect of this combination can be explored in vast detail, but I won’t bore you. Suffice it to say that I identify with the following:
My primary characteristics look something like this. Competence, man, competence! So what does this mean for me in a gaming situation? As a player, I prefer:
- Challenges that allow me to negotiate or interrogate from a position of power.
- Climbing social ladders and organizing people into groups.
- Maintaining the budget or a system of budgets (yes, it’s true!) or really any system.
- Combat methods that represent a high degree of personal skill. For example, getting really good at throwing knives, martial arts, or pistols so I can one-hit people. You know, by myself.
- This is what gets me hot and bothered.
A lot of this I will do myself through my skill selection and placement of points, but a good gamemaster will take these factors into consideration and offer me challenges that appeal to these particular preferences. A truly excellent one takes into account the entire group’s preferences, so that every encounter (yes, every one!) feels like it’s tailored to them.
This goes beyond simply making sure your encounters feature targets for your tanks to blow up and someone for your mage to cast a spell on and computers for your decker to hack. It reaches down into the soul of the player and tugs on the parts of them that make them people. It drives the game closer to home.
You might be saying, “Sarah, I get the value, but with the MBTI there’s just so much to learn! Sixteen personalities? How do I keep it all straight?” You are correct, it is overwhelming. So, how about we cheat a little? Sound good?
The 16 personality types of the MBTI can be grouped into four temperaments. Developed by Dr. David Keirsey, you can think of the four temperaments as an overlay on top of the MBTI, with four personalities in each group.
Using this method means you only need to learn two of the player’s preferences to get you in the ballpark. You don’t need to focus on specific letters. All you need to worry about is if the person has an Abstract or Concrete communication style, and if they have a Cooperative or Utilitarian action style.
To figure out communication style, listen to the player’s words. Do they focus on external, concrete things? Do they talk about people they know, physical projects they are currently working on, or work/home life? These are your Concretes. Alternatively, does the player talk about ideas? Plans? Theories or philosophies? If they do, this is an Abstract communicator.
Determining action style is easy. Watch your players for one encounter and you can usually see if they achieve their objectives with pragmatic efficiency or with socially-minded cooperation. The pragmatist is a Utilitarian, the team-player is a Cooperator. Utilitarians do what works. Cooperators do what feels right. Boom. You’re done there.
According to Keirsey, the four possible combinations of these Concrete/Abstract and Utilitarian/Cooperative preferences result in the four “temperaments.” So if we apply this knowledge to the previous chart, you can see which styles form which temperaments.
Once you’re fairly certain you have the right Keirsey temperament, you can continue to whittle down your players to discover their MBTI types, or you can work within the realm of their motivations based on the Keirsey score itself. In brief, the four temperaments enjoy challenges of these types:
- Guardians: these are people-people. Giving them a place to belong and a group to help will keep them focused on the game.
- Artisans: these are your crafters. Allowing them the freedom and space to develop and implement creative ideas will hold their interest.
- Idealists: this type searches out meaning and uniqueness for themselves and others. They are often nurturing types and protectors, so they will likely generate their own interest based on the mode of play, but there isn’t any reason you can’t throw in an extra person in need on occasion.
- Rationals: these are your puzzlers and tacticians. Give them things to learn and systems to unravel.
Over the next several weeks, I’ll be posting articles covering each MBTI type based on the Kerisey scale and how to keep each of them engaged in your tabletop gaming session. Subscribe to FemHype so you don’t miss out on more personality theory goodness! First up will be the Guardians.
So what type are you? Share with us in the comments—we’d love to know!