It has been a while since we’ve talked about an analog game in this space, so I figured should brush up on some of the core concepts of Tabletop RPGs. There is a great article on Rock Paper Shotgun by John Walker about flawed characters, and he touches upon the most important lesson when learning to roleplay: understanding there is no winning.
When I first started playing Dungeons and Dragons in college, the first thing that my Dungeon Master told me was that there is no end to DnD. There is no finish line and that means there is no winning. We play for the roleplay and to find out what happens. This was a novel concept because video games are about completing the game or some kind of challenge. Tabletop RPGs stress the journey instead of the destination.
Playing a character true to their personality and alignment even at the expense of their well-being is a holy and sacred act. There is something noble in the sacrifice and commitment to the true nature of a player character.
This is particularly evident when a player chooses fairly poor option because his/her character would reasonably choose that path. I’ve been in games where a character charged into an impossible situation and died saving the party with their sacrifice. Again, this is unbelievably antithetical to video games. There’s never a sequence in a video game where a player acts against their own self-preservation without some explicit benefit. I’ve only ever encountered something similar a few times. I used to play the PC version of Gauntlet with my dad on our IBM PC Jr. Regardless of situation or health, my dad would insist that I take every health item. He was more concerned I had a great time playing the game (besides we had unlimited lives and continues).
Crusader Kings II is also a great example of emphasizing roleplaying and staying true to a character rather than a end goal. While the game does have victory conditions, Crusader Kings II is set up in such a way the end game isn’t really important. I have almost one hundred and fifty hours played in CK2, but I’ve never “beaten” the game. The best part of the game is just playing to see what happens.
The most important lesson is that there is no winning in tabletop RPGs and players should roleplay accordingly.