So, just as there are many different settings for campaigns to be set in, there are also extremely diverse styles that players (and dungeon masters) adopt, often based on their own personalities. This is the number one reason why having a conversation about what the campaign will be about and what everybody wants to get out of it before you start playing is very important. If the dungeon master expects their players to be very serious and in character the entire time without stating those expectations, the campaign isn’t going to go very well.
So, I think something that is more easily perceptible to people is that everybody plays the game differently. Keep in mind that while I am about to present to you a list of all the different types of players, there actually is no real “list”. I separate people into three categories, and the way I do it is very broad. It’s my own list based on personal experience of player personality and interest, which is often a very complex thing. I could diversify it into a list of six or seven types of players, but I’m going to err on the side of simplicity here and make it easy to understand.
The most common sort of player in my experience is the “Casual Fun” player. They are there just to have fun, and a lot of the time they come from a video game background. Many of these players don’t have much experience roleplaying and are therefore uncomfortable with the idea. They just want to get the quest and complete it. (This isn’t to say that everything has to be combat. These players can certainly be interested in fantasy politics and the world itself. They just aren’t interested in becoming a character and probably don’t care about having an engaging backstory.)
Another common archetype is often referred to as the “Murder-hobo”, but I equate this sort of player in the same vein as a “mid-maxer”. Often, these sorts of people actually are averse to in-game politics. They just want to kill monsters so they can level up, find loot, and kill stronger monsters. They play intelligently, usually using the best tactics they can to handle the situation. This also makes them notoriously bad meta-gamers, meaning they will often operate with information their character would not have, or telling other players to make their characters do things based on what they cannot know. For example, they might remind players of abilities or items they have when their character isn’t there to tell them. This isn’t usually a big deal, but it is a pet peeve of mine as a DM. Characters and players are two different things! The players are allowed to know (almost) everything, but they should also be trusted to do things that align with the information their character would realistically have.
My archetype, and somebody that makes the DM’s job easy, is the “actor”. This person plays Dungeon & Dragons as a means of becoming somebody other than themselves. They may use a different voice when they are roleplaying, and they love making a backstory for their character. They interact with the NPCs, often engaging in conversations for drama’s sake. No combat, very few dice rolls. They love talking and negotiating with the characters in the world. Most notably, these players make a conscious effort to do the things based on their character’s personality and the information they have. Now, I realize the way that I’m saying this sort of sounds like “This is the kind of player you should be, because it’s the best”, but that’s not what I’m saying.
Every sort of player has their pros and cons. I prefer players that are Actors because as both a DM and a player, I love character interactions the most, but that’s far from the only enjoyment D&D can provide. Like everyone else, Actors can be annoying to play with. They make terrible plays (Grog from Critical Role once haggled backwards because his character is an idiot. The player knew what he was doing, and it was a memorable moment because of it!) They can make other people uncomfortable by roleplaying when the rest of the party doesn’t want to. Their characters can just be jerks. It might make for an engaging story, where the Actor in the party is evil and works against everyone else’s goals, but it’s also pretty likely that the other players won’t enjoy it because they may feel like he’s an actual enemy rather than an obstacle. Actors can also be unpredictable and do things the DM doesn’t expect, veering the campaign off in a sudden detour.
Every player is different. But no type of player is inherently better than another. If everyone at a DM’s table is a Murder Hobo type of player, then making a combat-focused campaign is easy. Usually, though, you’ll get a mix of interests. What’s important to remember is that different types of players don’t necessarily conflict with one another. It’s the dungeon master’s job to fulfill everyone’s desires in the campaign, but everybody needs to know what they’re in for in order to accomplish this. If you only have on Actor in the group, great. Make them the voice of the party because they like being in character. Give the Murder Hobo a crazy cool weapon because they will love you. Casual Fun players might have certain interests, but one thing that new DM’s often get confused about is that they can be very comfortable sitting in the background as something of a spectator, never engaging in roleplay or being super active in fights. That doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t enjoying it. Talk to your players (or your DM) about the way they like to play, and accommodations can be made to fit any combination of player archetypes!