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Thursday, 17 March 2016

10th Anniversary Classic Rant: The Beta Gamer

I've waxed on repeatedly in the course of this blog's years about the GM as the "Alpha Male" of a gaming group. I've even occasionally talked about the Omega Male, the one the rest of the group tends to shit on.
And I've certainly talked a great deal about Prima Donna Players, would-be Alpha-Males who want to usurp the GM's role and ruin the fun for everyone but themselves.

But what I haven't talked a lot about is the Beta. The real, faithful Beta; not the competitor for the GM's power but the loyal sidekick and leader of the Players.

In the history of my experience with RPG campaigns, I had noticed that the group dynamic was absolutely key to whether a game was successful, or indeed any good; not the group dynamic in the sense of "what kind of games they like" or some nonsense like that, but in the sense of "what are they like as people"? Can they fill the necessary roles to make the group a good functioning and stable group.

And I would say that I've come to at least three very solid conclusions on this subject:

1. A group/campaign with a weak GM, where the GM is not the Alpha of the group, is doomed to fail.

2. A group/campaign that has an Omega, strange as it may sound, is more stable and successful than a group that does not.

3. A group/campaign that has a good solid Beta is far more likely to experience long-term success and enthusiasm.

This third point is interesting. Because what it says to me, what my experience is, is that its just not enough for the GM to work really hard and be really excited about his RPG. How many times have you seen it happen, where a GM is telling his group "This campaign I'm planning is awesome, its going to be really great! Really!", and then it isn't? I'll bet you that a lot of the times, when you think about it, no one but the GM himself was very enthusiastic about that campaign. He was trying to sell it to the players, but no one was really buying, so it was doomed.

On the other hand, if even ONE player is very keen about the idea, that enthusiasm will be contagious in a way that the GM's enthusiasm alone is not. Maybe because the player is "one of them"? I don't know.
And in the course of the game, having one player that regularly shows, that is deeply into and committed to the game, and is gung-ho about the group getting things done in the setting and succeeding in the adventures, is pretty much a guarantee of awesome.
With one caveat: that player can't just be any player. He has to be a player who the others will follow. That's what it means to be the Beta. And usually, for that to happen, he has to want the whole group to have an awesome time, to succeed, and not just himself. There can be would-be Betas as much as there can be would-be-alphas in a gaming group. When a player has enthusiasm but simply isn't all that charismatic, he can flop as a Beta.

In fact, pretty much all those "prima donna players" are likely Beta-flops. They can get really excited about campaigns too, but because they want to be the star; and that kind of ego-centric attitude is not a characteristic of the good Beta. A good Beta is not necessarily someone with great leadership qualities, or the smartest in the group or certainly not the loudest in the group, but the one that gets deeply into the campaign as a whole, not just his role in it; and therefore wants everyone to enjoy the game as much as he does. And he does all this without ever trying to be in control of the campaign itself, but out of real joy to be in it, in his assigned and chosen role of Player.

Of course, unlike an Alpha, there can be more than one Beta at a time in a gaming group. And being a Beta by no means suggest someone who isn't capable of being a good Alpha. A Beta may or may not be a great GM in his own right when he plays that part.


(Originally Posted January 8, 2010)


  1. I know these are a few years old, but: Do you subscribe to any school of psychology? It would deliver a complete picture on your categorisation of the alpha-omega spectrum.

    1. I'm a magician. Psychology is a child's cargo-cult version of magick.

  2. Yeah, I totally agree with this. Every time I have a solid "beta" or "alpha player" in my group, things seem to go a little better.