Relevant to my recent posts about my board game group is this post by James M. over at Grognardia. The OSRIC guys have it right. RPGs in general, and D&D specifically, are best when they're about the exploration.
I'm not attempting to come up with some sort of 3-fold model (there are better ones out there), but I get the feeling people in my current group like different aspects of 'exploration.'
For me, the OSRIC quote hits it right on the spot. D&D is about searching through dungeons and crypts, creepy forests and dismal swamps for the lost treasures left there by who knows who? Sure, you battle some monsters along the way. You cast spells, encounter traps, talk to NPCs, etc. But the real meat and potatoes of the game is that dungeon or wilderness exploration phase.
I think for some of the guys, though, the fun exploration comes from exploring not the 'shared imaginary space' to borrow a pretentious Ron Edwards-ism, but the meta-game level of the game system and mechanics. Alex, in particular, seems to really enjoy the crunchy, option filled character creation phase of games like 3E, 4E, and RIFTS, and the crunchy, tactical combat phase of the games as well. The more rules options and combinations on the table, the happier he is.
Myself and Josh, on the other hand, seem to enjoy the exploration of the world, and its dungeons and mystical places, and how the characters we bring into it interact with and change that world.
The third option for a 3-fold system I guess would be players who get their kicks exploring the psyche of the PC they've created above all. I don't think we have anyone like that in this group, although I've played with people like that in the past.
Are these just gussied up ways of looking at GNS stereotypes? I don't think they're quite the same. But then I've just been thinking about this as I ate dinner, then sat down at the computer to write it up. I'll give it some more thought and come back to it another day.