Running 4E for Your Magic Buddies: Timmy, Johnny, Spike, Vorthos, and Melvin

All right, if you’re strictly a D&D player and you have no idea who the five people in the title are, go here, then here and educate yourself.  I’ll wait.

(I know we’re only one sentence in, but indulge me in a digression: a lot of what MaRo says about design is quite interesting for optimization work.  I’ll probably whip up a post on elegance at some point.)

Back?  Good.  So now you’re familiar with psychographic profiles, as well as understanding what I mean when I use their names.   “But Tsuyo,” you say, “those are psychographic profiles for Magic: the Gathering!  What do they have to do with D&D?”  Well, I’m glad you asked!  The correct answer here is “just about everything.”

See, Magic was originally supposed to be a quick-play version of D&D.  (Seriously.)  As such, they have and always have had a lot in common — I’m a bit of a fogey when it comes to Magic now, but I hear there are even creatures that can level up.  One of the things I think they share are the three psychographic profiles and their two motivational companions.

So what do these psychographic profiles look like in the 4E world?

Timmy

Let’s look at MaRo’s definition of Timmy:

The first question I always ask of a profile is: what does this profile want when they play Magic? Timmy wants to experience something. Timmy plays Magic because he enjoys the feeling he gets when he plays. What that feeling is will vary from Timmy to Timmy, but what all Timmies have in common is that they enjoy the visceral experience of playing. As you will see, Johnny and Spike have a destination in mind when they play. Timmy is in it for the journey.

One of the great myths about Timmy is that he is young and inexperienced. I think this comes from the fact that a non-Timmy (particularly a Spike) looking at a Timmy play reads his choices as those of inexperience. Why else would he play overcosted fatties or coin flipping cards or cards that, simply put, aren’t that good? Because Spike misses the point. Timmy plays with cards that make him happy; cards that create cool moments; cards that make him laugh; cards that allow him to hang with his friends; cards that cause him to have fun. Winning and losing isn’t even really the point (although winning is fun – Timmy gets that). For Timmy, the entire reason to play is having a good time.

Cool, we can work with that.

Timmy likes things that are fun, essentially.  Timmy likes things that make big booms, or do really weird stuff, or may not even be that good, but are tons of fun to play.  Timmy’s the guy at the table that’s playing a kobold or a gnome; Timmy’s the guy that chose his level 29 Barbarian Daily pretty much at random because to him it’s Rage Strike food; Timmy’s the guy that plays the Chaos Sorcerer because not knowing what’s going to happen is hysterical; and Timmy’s the guy that’ll pay for pizza every week because he likes hanging out with the group.  And none of these are bad things.

This is all pretty typical Magic stuff, but there’s one big, almost Timmy-exclusive realm in D&D that Magic doesn’t have.  That’s theoretical optimization.  “Madness!” you exclaim.  “TO is the realm of Johnnies who make combos, or Spikes who want to win!”  Well, no.  That’s not entirely untrue, but the fact of the matter is that Johnny doesn’t really care about the goal of TO and Spike is looking at your build and saying “Impressive numbers, but your defenses are too low.”  TO is about getting big, big numbers, and that is definitely a Timmy thing.  Johnny applauds your methodology but is looking for a more cohesive whole; Spike thinks that you can’t afford to make the trades you are for an extra +1, and notices that you’re not LFR legal anyway.

Now, everyone but the Timmies go away for a second; I’ve got to have a quick word with them.  (This is mostly adapted from what MaRo said, but D&D is a different game, so I can’t just quote him.)

Timmies: congratulations.  You are the most likely people to walk away from the table smiling, and considering we’re all doing this for entertainment, that’s really, really good.  I also happen to think that you all make the best DMs.  That’s a matter of opinion, but my reasoning is this: you understand fun best; therefore, you’ll be able to help other people find it the best.  Now go forth and Rage Strike, and don’t feel a second of guilt about it.

Johnny

Again, we go to the MaRo:


So why does Johnny play Magic? Because Johnny wants to express something. To Johnny, Magic is an opportunity to show the world something about himself, be it how creative he is or how clever he is or how offbeat he is. As such, Johnny is very focused on the customizability of the game. Deck building isn’t an aspect of the game to Johnny; it’s the aspect.

One of the strengths of Magic is the ability for players to imbue much of themselves in their decks. When you play Monopoly you don’t get emotionally attached to the board. But with Magic, your deck becomes an extension of yourself. When your deck wins, you win. When your deck gets complimented, you get complimented. It is this principle that drives Johnnies.

In Magic, Johnnies are the deckbuilders.  In D&D, Johnnies are the character makers.

This one is the one everyone’s gonna jump on and say that optimizers are, and to a certain degree, that’s true.  But Johnny is more than that.  Johnny’s the inventive one, the one that can churn out character sheets with a speed that would make the Character Builder envious.  (And Johnny’s the one most likely to buy Insider for the CB alone.)  That guy who retrains almost every level?  That’s Johnny.  That guy who shows up every week almost hoping for a wipe so he can make a new character?  That’s Johnny.  That guy who absolutely has to own every single book WotC releases?  That’s Johnny too.  And none of these are bad things.

In the same way that Johnny Magic is a deck artist, Johnny 4E is a character artist.  There are definite downsides to that: I don’t know for sure, but I suspect the player that punched an old DM of mine for killing his character was a Johnny.  (True story.)  But at their best, Johnnies are the ones who create characters that people talk about for years after the campaign they played in — for whatever reason.  Sometimes it was because they were powerful; sometimes it was because they fit the setting exactly.  But it’s always about the sheet in front of them, and generally, that’s pretty epic.

Okay, Johnny and me are getting some private time.  Everyone else, skip on down.

Johnnies: dude, I totally sympathize.  Having an attention span that falls somewhere around the mean between “hyperactive child” and “goldfish,” I can understand how frustrating it can be to have to be stuck doing the same thing for so long.  But hey — take pleasure in what you’ve got.  Timmy might be rolling more dice, and Spike might be more optimal, but I repeat: when stories are told about this campaign later, it’ll be your character this, your character that.  And that’s awesome.

Spike

Oh, can I feel the controversy brewing.  Here we go.

So why does Spike play? Spikes plays to prove something, primarily to prove how good he is. You see, Spike sees the game as a mental challenge by which he can define and demonstrate his abilities. Spike gets his greatest joy from winning because his motivation is using the game to show what he is capable of. Anything less than success is a failure because that is the yardstick he is judging himself against.

Spike 4E is just like Spike Magic in that he plays to win.  That’s right, I said it: You Can Win D&D.

D&D is, hypothetically, a game without end.  Campaigns, however, have some kind of scripted end — generally along the lines of “kill the BBEG.”  You can win that.  You can win a combat, or a skill challenge, or an argument with the miller’s daughter.  It is possible to win D&D, and that is what Spike wants to do.  Spike is the guy asking all the questions, calling out tactical maneuvers in combat, or just making sure that the group doesn’t get too far off-track.  Incidentally, he’s also the one who’s most likely to like the RPGA. And none of these are bad things.

I talked up above about how Timmy likes theoretical optimzation.  Spike is the practical optimizer.  He’s the one most likely to read the entire campaign document in order to create a character tailor-made for what he sees the campaign challenges to be.  Spike is the guy who makes up the expected attack/defense/DPR charts and then abides by them religiously.  He’s also the type of guy that is utterly and totally committed to seeing the bad guy fall, and his character probably is too.

Now, everyone else I wanted to have a word with in private.  I’m gonna talk to the Spikes, but this time, I want everyone else to listen to.  Ready?

Spike, you are the reason that D&D still exists.  Even if the Johnnies bought every book in the world, no one would play the game without you.  Why?  Because when it comes down to it, you’re the only person who cares about the plot.  Johnny loves his character, and Timmy’s just in it for the entertainment… it’s up to you to move everyone along.  You do that because you want to see that corrupt mayor fall, or you want to end the encounter, and people might hate you for that — “it’s just a game!  Don’t be competitive, you’re ruining it for everyone!”  Just remind them of this: the only player who’s likely to say, “Guys, we’re getting a little distracted — can we get back to the game?” is a Spike.

Vorthos and Melvin

I don’t think I have to explain these guys to you: one’s the guy who’s in it for the fluff, the other one’s the guy who’s in it for the crunch.  It’s worth remembering, though: the Vorthos/Melvin axis is different than the Timmy/Johnny/Spike one.  (Axis is a misnomer for the latter, but you get my point.)  As such, I want to look at what they look like in combination with Timmy, Johnny and Spike.

AN IMPORTANT NOTE: VORTHOS AND MELVIN ARE NOT MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE.  TEMPEST STORMWIND SAID SO; MARK ROSEWATER SAID SO.  REMEMBER THIS.

Vorthos/Timmy — You know the guy who speaks in accents?  This is him.  A V/T has tons of fun just sort of messing around with the world he’s in.

Vorthos/Johnny — The guy with the twenty-page backstory.  A V/J channels his creative energies into the fluff side of his character, meaning that the guy probably has a more detailed life story than you do.

Vorthos/Spike — V/S is, out of everyone, the guy most likely to remember what the hell the group is actually supposed to be doing.  He actually wants to find the Lost Gewgaw of McBob.

Melvin/Timmy — “Guys, look at how many dice I’m rolling!” “Check it out, I deal like a hundred damage with this attack!”

Melvin/Johnny — The guy who’d rather play with the Character Builder than an actual computer game.

Melvin/Spike — A DM’s blessing — the guy who wants to win combats and skill challenges, and is therefore the most likely to try and keep everyone on task during those events.

That’s all I got for today.  Join me at some point in the future, when I blame WotC for ruining my game.

Until then, may you always… I don’t know, rip off MaRo when you get bored enough to wire out like 2,000 words.

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Published in: on May 27, 2010 at 12:38 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. TL;DR: I read Melvin/Johnny and laughed at the profound relevance. Thanks for the read.

    I wonder if a Melvin/Johnny could have some sort of unique role in a group? As one who defines himself as such, I pride myself on my ability to create cool and interesting characters that are also functional in their own way and, most importantly, FAIR. Maybe I’m the one who comes in with his own homebrew game system that he wants everyone to check out? I know for a fact that I often prefer observing other people play games than actually playing them myself. Its easier for me to learn about the game that way, which is what I tend to be most interested in.

    I might venture to disagree that Spike is “the only one who cares about the plot”. To me, he would care mostly about the GAME. This basically amounts to the same thing you were saying: That Spike is the one who is focused on the ultimate goal of completion and success. To see how much Spike is concerned with plot, look at how they behave in online games. Spikes are the ones you see clicking the “skip scene” button as soon as a cutscene takes place and urging you to skip it as well (especially if it is one they have already seen -Spikes aren’t particularly sentimental), or choosing dialog options that will lead to a quick resolution, or not bothering to read quest text unless they absolutely need to. If anyone were supremely interested in the plot, it would be Vorthos. I guess this is why, as you mentioned, a Vorthos/Spike is such a useful person to have in a group -especially for an RPGA. A pure Vorthos, however, may not be interested in actually playing the game. Johnnies are so preoccupied with character building that a campaign with them in it might not run smoothly without a Spike around to keep things on track. A Timmy might get bored easily or find it difficult to take the game seriously enough. Gross generalisation to be sure, but roughly true.

    I also think that the way players name their characters can be a good indication of their temperament. (Note that I am talking about the stereotypical examples for each type.)
    An idiosyncratic Timmy is the one who gives their character a funny or silly name, with the intention of showing it to the others for a laugh. Johnnies take the whole character-building process seriously, so they usually have a fitting name (or at least one they feel really fits), though they are probably more attached to their character than the setting itself so the name may not actually fit with the setting. A typical goal-driven Spike may not be as good at ‘divergent thinking’ as a Johnny or another type (part of what helps them to stay focused), so they may find it difficult to come up with a creative name, and instead opt for names that describe what their character DOES (ie “Redmage” or “Killerogue” or something). The clues I get for Spike’s approach come from the names that pro Magic players use for their decks, and also the names of some player-characters in MMOs.
    Vorthos is the most likely to come up with a flavorful and setting-appropriate name, though others in the group may poke fun at it, much to Vorthos’ chagrin.
    I can’t really say much about Melvin in regard to naming. As a Melvin/Johnny, I feel I am very serious about names, but it takes me a great deal of time to choose one that is appropriate, whereas a few Vorthosians I know are able to come up with fantastic names almost at will (and especially once they have learnt the appropriate racial language!). I think if I were just a pure Melvin, I would probably draw upon an historical reference of some kind, or a reference from another game or story. Melvin’s are typically the knowledgeable type, so I expect they would fall back on that knowledge when sheer creativity isn’t working.


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