ST 352: Proactive vs. Reactive Players

Every player operates as either a Proactive or Reactive player.  Most people switch between each at different points and with different characters, but gravitate towards either one or the other.  The goal of this document is to identify some of the common and dissimilar traits between these two basic player types.  We will cover how to identify which type of player you are working with.  Finally, we will discuss strategies for managing both types of players effectively without trying to change their modus operandi.

For this guide, we will use the terms “proactive player” and “reactive player.”  You could just as well use “proactive character” and “reactive character” for those players who switch between these roles.

Common Traits

Both proactive and reactive players come to the World of Darkness setting for a love of the game.  You can expect that most will be interesting in a good story, having fun stuff happen for their characters, being somehow important to the story, and earning rewards for their characters in the course of play. Whichever type of player you encounter, whether expressive or not, will have this internal interest in being involved in the chronicle.  The degree and specific type of involvement can vary, but to be certain:  If the player wanted no involvement, they would not have joined the game!  Both types of players have goals.

Whether proactive or reactive, players are not always powerfully introspective.  This means that a player may not automatically realize how they work as a communicator.  A player may have self-perceptions that do not match the perceptions of others; a person who feels shy may actually act extroverted, while a quiet person may think they are the life of the party.  It happens with high frequency.  Because of this, players of either type may not know best how to communicate their desires to you as the storyteller.

Proactive Players

Proactive players tend to act when they want something, either by word or by deed.  These players often will dive after interesting plot without spurring, whether with a powerful speech or a quiet whisper to the storyteller.  Eloquent writers may be quiet in game, but then develop extensive and ingenious downtime actions to thwart the plans of their enemies in secret.  Being proactive does not mean being loud.

Proactive players will try to control the narrative insomuch as the character can and in the way the character wishes.  This does not necessarily mean selfishness on the player or character’s part; a character with the Charity virtue might “selfishly” drive the plot towards helping the other players achieve their goals.  But it does mean that the proactive player will actively attempt to steer the story towards his or her character’s goals.

Reactive Players

Reactive players tend to act when they are asked to do something or told to react to something.  These players often wait their turn, respond to challenges issued, or deal with immediate threats as they appear.  They may craft highly creative downtime actions, designed to deal with the specific threats.  They may stoically draw a heavy blade, and stand between the enemy and their allies.  Or they may react with a rousing speech, in the case of a political inquiry into the “character” of their PC.  Being reactive does not mean being quiet.

Reactive players will let the narrative drive their actions.  This does not necessary mean the player “doesn’t care” what happens.  Rather, the player may be more interested in observing the story, acting only when it is necessary to do so.  This does not mean that the character will simply let the plot bowl them over.  Reactive players can still be a force to be reckoned with, and will take up arms to achieve the goals of their characters.

 Opposites Attract

There is a key concept here which will save a lot of heartache and stress, when working with proactive and reactive players.  As we stressed at the beginning of the document, certain players are adept at switching between proactive and reactive methods of storytelling.  As the storyteller, you must develop this skill.  Proactive players can become frustrated when STs interject plot into their own ongoing stories.  Reactive players can become frustrated when there isn’t a clear plot set out for them to interact with.  And so, the notion is this:

Be Reactive towards Proactive Players

Proactive players tend to make their goals and motivations known most readily.  They will, in absence of a prompt, take action to pursue their objectives.  These players often create plot for themselves, given the opportunity.  For these players, you should take notes of the common themes in their self-starting activities.  If you are fortunate enough to have a background document or CCDD for the character, read this to find out more.  Using this information, you can be better prepared for what would otherwise be extremely surprising plot twists that a proactive player might generate.  For these players, be prepared for the narrative they will seek to drive.

Be Proactive towards Reactive Players

Reactive players, alternatively, tend to keep their wishes tucked away.  Rather than trying to make those goals happen, they wait for the storyteller to present opportunities which the character would need to act upon.  Again, if you have a background document or CCDD for the character, read this to find out more.  But in the case of a reactive player, you should be all the more encouraging of developing such documents.  Do not “come down on” the player.  Simply explain that you want to incorporate story elements that the character will be interested in, and that this sort of background would help you to do so.  If you cannot get these things, then try to craft a variety of possible plot threads.  Bring these a little closer to home, and see which threads are important to the reactive player.  If you find interest, start developing plot that the reactive player will respond to.

Find Common Themes

With proper preparation and development, you may begin to see threads that connect the goals of proactive and reactive players.  By properly weaving these threads together, you can sometimes allow the plot-driving proactive player to generate story that the reactive player will willfully engage.  This will not always happen, and will not necessarily be perfect.  As the storyteller, you still need to maintain the proper balance.  You have to avoid letting reactive players sit and watch while proactive players drive the narrative.  You have to avoid ignoring the proactive players while handing out plot of your own to others.  Mix the two, and carefully find the blend that works.  This is a process, with changing goals and motivations for you and the players.  Be vigilant, take notes, and come prepared to make the game fun for everyone.  Finally, remember:  Proactive does not mean “loud,” and reactive does not mean “I don’t care.”