"Fluffy" and "Crunchy" Players
Welcome back to the Zurn blog! Today we're looking at one facet of a vast (and interesting) topic that we've never covered on this blog: types of players at your table and how to engage with them. In this post, we will be looking at five different types of players that may play at your gaming table and helping you to assess where they fall on a "fluffy" to "crunchy" spectrum.
We will start by defining what we mean by "fluffy" and "crunchy" players, and then we will walk into the five types of players you'll find on that spectrum, and how you can better engage with those people at the table.
I. Fluffy and Crunchy Players
You are probably familiar with the concept of "fluff" and "crunch" in games: a chapter in a roleplay book talks about the world, history, and the flavor of the setting, and that's the "fluff" of the game. You have chapters in the book that talk about rules, special abilities, and effects, and that's the "crunch" of the game.
Most roleplay books have a mix of both because they appeal to different types of people. My wife, for example, loves the fluff of a setting, game, or world, as it attracts her far more than the math. I enjoy the fluff, and I also enjoy the crunch (though a bit less than the fluff, admittedly). I've got other friends who pour over the crunch, and give hardly any attention to the fluff: they care about making good pairings for use in-game when making a character or NPC.
And this observation helped me to assess differences in play style and player desires, which has helped me to effectively build campaigns for my players because of where they fall on the spectrum. And after chatting with a friend of mine about the topic, five player types emerged.
II. The 5 Types of Players
To start us off, you have your sweet tooth players: these people love fluff, and care about fluff almost (if not entirely) to the exclusion of crunch when they play. These people come for the roleplaying and drama of the game, not for the math. These people tend to be drama majors, artists, and others who enjoy a cool concept and a good story over and against hard and fast math and die rolls.
Second, you have your junk food players: these people care about the fluff more than the math, mostly because they have wonky, zany, and/or joke concepts done as a gag and with (often) no connection to the setting or theme of the campaign purely because it's fun. If you have a barbarian in your group named Bronan, or a minotaur in your group named Tronald Dump, that's probably a Junk Food player.
Third, you have your steak and potatoes players: these people are the opposites of the Sweet Tooth players, as they care about the math and the crunch almost to the exclusion of the fluff. Despite this, though, the character's simplicity and utility makes them wholesome: they anchor the party by filling roles and meeting needs. A player who builds a character to fill a critical role in the party (quartermaster, sentry, etc.) and who has a good spread of rolls to meet needs is likely a Steak and Potatoes player.
Fourth, we have protein bar players: these players build a character that is strong on the crunch with no fluff. This is your, "Sorcerer + Paladin so that you can get auto-crits with smites on a Hold Person target, with the spell cast a bonus action with the Quickened Spell metamagic" players. They build characters that get things done, as they are streamlined for efficiency. There's no diversity or depth to the character or character concept, they just exist as a powerhouse of crunch. It's all about the gains for this character, bro.
And finally, we have the savory players: these players care about the fluff and flavor of the character and setting, but they accompany this with an underlying substance. These characters are interesting and thematic for the setting, but when the game master calls for a roll the character will also perform well because they are built to perform. They hit a balance between the two extremes, believing in steak and potatoes, but only if you add enough seasoning to them. That's what makes the character concept appeal to them: they are fun and interesting, but also competent.
III. Engaging with Different Types of Players
I want to begin by saying (as you might get the wrong impression from the player type descriptions above) that none of these are better or worse than others. All of them are fun for different types of people. The reason this post exists is not to rank these types, but to alert you to the existence of these types to diagnose why you may or may not "click" with a given person at the table.
Sweet Tooth players are fun to have because they really engage with the setting. For people who spend a lot of time building out their worlds and fleshing out cultures, it's a joy to have Sweet Tooth players in your group. You run the risk of them never performing a successful ability check, but for some groups that isn't necessary. I'm currently running a mystery campaign where there are very few rolls performed, and there is little to no combat, and the players really love it as we have several Sweet Tooth players in the group.
Junk Food players are good to have if you just want to have a good time. A Junk Food player will make you laugh, and if zany/gag characters appeal to you, they are a good person to have at your table as they'll entertain you for hours. So if that's the kind of campaign you want to run, then you should find yourself a few Junk Food players.
Steak and Potatoes players are good for campaigns where mechanics and rules will be heavily used, as they have characters built to work as part of a cohesive party. If you want an action-packed adventure with competent characters that complement each other well, find some Steak and Potatoes players.
Protein Bar players are excellent for grim/dark dungeon crawl-style adventures, with the characters built to push the limits of the meta (if not completely change the meta) through hard, crunchy characters. These players want a challenge from a math perspective, and they have built their characters with "all muscle, no fat," so to speak.
And Savory players are great for groups that want a good mix of roleplaying and world building in-game alongside combat encounters and tough challenges involving rules and skill checks. You also want Savory players to mediate and serve as a bridge between Sweet Tooth players and Steak and Potatoes players, as they will often work to bring their two (sometimes divergent) interests together, giving ample time in the spotlight for both types of players.
So find ways to use this knowledge of your players to improve the group dynamic of your group. Are your players primarily Sweet Tooth players who get bored or lost in all the math? Streamline out a bunch of the math, or start a second group for them specifically that is devoted to exploring the cool and intricate parts of your world with a lot less rolls. Do you have players who really want a hardcore dungeon crawl with a good chance of death? Give them a few encounters that are lighter on the fluff and more intense in the crunch. Find what excites your players and what drives them, and build your group (and maybe multiple groups) accordingly to maximize the fun for everyone. And if that means training another game master to carry the load for a player type that you don't game master as well, you may want to do that.
And of course, you can make a similar comparison to game masters as well: some game masters really get into the fluff, building out cultures and histories, enjoying the geopolitics and social elements of the game. And other game masters keep it more rudimentary at those levels and devote far more time to combat encounters, dungeon design, and ways to challenge the group with difficult skill checks.
Knowing yourself as a game master can help you find the right group. If you don't care about fluff and you have a lot of Fluffy players you will likely have more friction between you and those players. If you are a fluff person and you have a host of power gamers, you might find the game unfulfilling. So keep in mind who you are as a game master and who your players are: it may improve the enjoyment of your game.