A creative agenda is the sort of enjoyment or fulfillment that is sought and (hopefully) experienced by a player of a role-playing game. A player's creative agenda is the reason that they choose to play RPGs in the first place, and their primary goal when playing.

Not all players want the same thing from role-playing, meaning that different players can have different creative agendas. Furthermore, some games and systems will be more appropriate to satisfy certain creative agendas than other games and systems, so players may be more satisfied with their role-playing experience if they play a game that suits their own creative agenda. A given player may even want different things from different games, meaning that their creative agenda can change over time or depending on situation.

Since players can have different creative agendas and a player's enjoyment partly depends on how well a game suits their creative agenda, it follows that some groups can have members with conflicting creative agendas that no single game can satisfy. As such, a group's overall enjoyment of a game can depend on how well aligned the creative agendas of its players are.

Attempts to classify creative agendasEdit

People are complicated, and there may be as many creative agendas as there are role-players. Nevertheless, there have been several attempts over the decades to categorize both players (player types) and creative agendas. However, Avery Alder said in September 2019 that, while creative agenda itself is a useful concept (one of only three Forge-era ideas that remain relevant), "no meaningful applied knowledge has come from the prolonged debates about how to itemize and categorize it".[1]

Early approachesEdit

In October 1980, Glenn F. Blacow's article "Role-Playing Style: Aspects of Adventure Gaming" was published in Different Worlds #10,[2] and described four basic types of player:

  • Power Gaming - The player's goal is to accumulate power for their characters.
  • Role-Playing - The player develops their characters' lives and invests emotionally in their characters as people.
  • Wargaming - The player enjoys pitting their tactical abilities against the other players (or GM) within the limitations of the game mechanics.
  • Story Telling - The player enjoys participating in a fully realised game world developed by the GM, which may have its own story that doesn't revolve around the players.[3]

Blacow's piece was one of the first published articles to say that different players have different goals from role-playing games. It even mentioned that GMs could have their own preferences, and that group enjoyment depended on aligning the preferences of the players with the GM. The article was quickly followed up, including by two articles in the next issue of Different Worlds in February/March 1981: "The Fourfold Way of FRP" by Jeffrey A. Johnson, and "Personalities of Role-Playing Gamers" by Lewis Pulsipher. It continued to have impact for several years afterwards, including the article "Profiles from the Four-Fold Way" by Greg Costikyan in Different Worlds #37 in November/December 1984,[3] and it served as an inspiration to Robin D. Laws for his 2002 book Robin's Laws of Good Game Mastering.[4]

Meanwhile, other approaches were taken both inside and outside typical role-playing circles. This includes humorous or un-serious lists, such as the one developed by Jeff Okamoto, Sandy Petersen and others, originally posted to Usenet in 1985, which identified the player types as Real Men, Real Roleplayers, Loonies, and Munchkins.[5] Outside tabletop gaming circles, similar discussions were taking place relating to MUDs and other forms of social play. Richard Bartle documented four types of players based on what they wanted out of playing a MUD, as follows:

  • Achievers/Diamonds - They want to achieve things within the context and rules of the game.
  • Explorers/Spades - They want to explore the game world.
  • Socialisers/Hearts - They want to interact and socialize with other players.
  • Killers/Clubs - They want to impose themselves on other players (occasionally beneficially but often disruptively).[6]

Although these various approaches were developed by different people and for different reasons, there is considerable overlap between the categories presented by the different models. However, from the late 1990s and early 2000s, approaches to classifying player types and creative agendas diverged into two streams. One stream, based heavily in traditional role-playing games, built on early approaches with a view to advising GMs how to manage different types of players. The other stream was based instead in the indie gaming scene, and it focussed on rigorous definitions to help game designers make new games that were more suited to their players.

Traditional gaming classifications: Advice for GMsEdit

In 2002, Steve Jackson Games published Robin's Laws of Good Game Mastering by Robin D. Laws. In this book, Laws provided a list of player types based on motivation that were based on Blacow's original four-category system. However, where Blacow had merely identified the types of players and said that it would be more enjoyable for players if they were in a game that suited their preferences, Laws' list was based on the idea that every game would have players from several different types, and that it was the GM's responsibility to manage the players according to their motivations and creative agendas. As such, Laws provided advice for each player type of the ways that the GM could best satisfy their agendas.

Laws' seven types of players were:

  • The Power Gamer - Wants their numbers (statistics, gold, etc.) to go up, and for their PC to accumulate powers and abilities.
  • The Butt-Kicker - Wants their PC to kill things.
  • The Tactician - Wants to solve problems, e.g. tactical situations in combat, and have the quality of their choices be the most significant factor in their success or failure.
  • The Specialist - Wants to play a single character type in every game and show off that character type's unique specialty.
  • The Method Actor - Wants to portray an interesting character and have character decisions arise out of the character's psychology.
  • The Storyteller - Wants to be involved in an interesting story or plot.
  • The Casual Gamer - Wants to socialise with the other players and not take the spotlight.[4][7]

Most subsequent attempts to classify players and their creative agendas for the benefit of GMs has been based on Laws' analysis. For example, Matt Colville explicitly uses Laws' list but adds two additional categories, the Wangrod and the Mad Scientist. The Wangrod is superficially similar to the Method Actor, but in their case "It's what my character would do" is an excuse to be disruptive and cruel to other players. The Mad Scientist is potentially disruptive, but often unintentionally; they are more similar to Jeff Okamoto's Loonies than any of Laws' other categories. (In fact, Matt splits all players into "players" and "audience members", but this is based on their level of engagement, not their creative agenda.)[8]

Shortly after Laws published Robin's Laws of Good Game Mastering, he was one of the writers of Wizards of the Coast's Dungeon Master's Guide II, released in 2005 for Dungeons & Dragons version 3.5. The first chapter of this book provided an expanded list of player motivations derived from Laws' original list, as follows:

  • Accumulating Cool Powers - This is similar to Laws' Power Gamer.
  • Kicking Butt - This is similar to Laws' Butt-Kicker.
  • Brilliant Planning - This is one aspect of Laws' Tactician.
  • Puzzle Solving - This is another aspect of Laws' Tactician.
  • Playing a Favorite Role - This is similar to Laws' Specialist.
  • Supercoolness - This is also similar to Laws' Specialist, but a separate aspect that was previously combined together.
  • Story - This is similar to Laws' Storyteller.
  • Psychodrama - This is most like Laws' Method Actor, but also explicitly refers to using characters to explore real and personal issues, i.e. treating RPGs as a sort of therapy.
  • Irresponsibility - These players want to act in irresponsible, potentially unethical, ways but remain as the protagonists of the story, a kind of escapism from the assumptions of the real world.
  • Setting Exploration - These players were not included in Laws' list, but are more similar to the "Story Telling" players from Blacow's original article, or the Explorers/Spades from Bartle's list.
  • The Outlier - These players like to do weird things to see what will happen. This is similar to Matt Colville's Mad Scientist player type.
  • Lurker - This is similar to Laws' Casual Gamer.[9]

Since then, every edition of Dungeons & Dragons has included a list of player types in its Dungeon Master's Guide. 4th edition and 5th edition have very similar lists, as follows (the noun forms are from 4th edition, verb forms from 5th):

  • Actor/Acting - This is similar to Laws' Method Actor.
  • Explorer/Exploring - This is similar to the Setting Explorer from DMGII.
  • Instigator - This is a more positive version of DMGII's Outlier, with a focus on taking action to drive the plot.
  • Power Gamer/Optimizing - This is similar to Laws' Power Gamer, with elements of Puzzle Solving.
  • Slayer/Fighting - This is similar to Laws' Butt Kicker.
  • Storyteller/Storytelling - This is similar to Laws' Storyteller.
  • Thinker (4th edition only) - This is similar to Laws' Tactician.
  • Watcher (4th edition only) - A new spin on the Casual Gamer/Lurker, emphasising that their lower level of attachmenet to the game can facilitate fun for the group as a whole.[9]

Indie gaming classifications: A rigorous approach to theoryEdit

Main articles: GNS Theory and Big Model.
  • Gamism, aka Step On Up
  • Narrativism, aka Story Now
  • Simulationism, aka The Right to Dream


  2. "DW#1-12". Different Worlds Publications. Retrieved 2020-02-02.
  3. 3.0 3.1 John H. Kim, Glenn F. Blacow (extract originally published 1980-10). Glenn Blacow's "Aspects of Adventure Gaming". John H. Kim's Role-Playing Game Page. Retrieved 2020-02-02.
  4. 4.0 4.1 John H. Kim, Robin D. Laws (extract originally published 2002-02-01). "Player Types (from Robin D. Laws)". John H. Kim's Role-Playing Game Page. Retrieved 2020-02-02.
  5. Jeff Okamoto et al. (1996-04-05). "Real Men Don't Play Fantasy Role-Playing Games". Retrieved 2020-02-02.
  6. Richard Bartle (1996-08-28). "Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds, Spaces: Players Who Suit MUDs". Retrieved 2020-02-02.
  7. Henry White (2013-06-03). "Gamer Typology a la Robin Laws". Fistful of Wits. Retrieved 2020-02-02.
  8. Matt Colville (2016-03-28). "Different Kinds of Players, Running the Game #11". Matthew Colville channel at YouTube. Retrieved 2020-02-02.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Run a Game (2015-06-01). "Player Types and Motivations". Run a Game. Retrieved 2020-02-04.

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