For a very long time, my approach to roleplaying games was that I tried to balance the role and the game. To me, it was the combination of having the character and making tactical decisions. However, in the last few years, my personal interests have changed.
Perhaps the major reason for this is the rise of board games. Board games used to be shit. They would sometimes have great themes, but they never delivered. You could never get the experience you wanted. They always fell flat. Then came the German or European games, whatever you want to call them. They had a completely different approach to the way games are designed. Theme was no longer the king. In fact, often the game was designed first and the theme added later.
Now, after a few years of development and evolution, board game technology has reached a point where designers no longer need to compromise theme and mechanics. Games like Lords of Waterdeep are fun as games and incorporate the theme in a great way. Often the games are easy, but deep, with enough variance to keep them interesting.
Then, last year, I rediscovered Magic: The Gathering after 13 year hiatus. I had thought the game had all but died around 2000, but apparently it is more popular then ever. The design of the game is now great. Like board games, there has been huge strides, which actually make the game much more fun and manages to steer the game back into what it was supposed to be. The top-down design is both making cards very flavorful and more interesting from a tactical perspective. With MaRos lead, Magic seems to be on the right course. Mistakes are still made, but they are fewer.
All this has taken care of my need for tactical thinking. RPGs are not the best outlet for that kind of challenge any more. At least for me. Therefore, my emphasis has changed. Now I’m thinking they are primarily ROLEplaying games. Interest in the life of the character has risen above the tactical concerns. Now when I’m looking at how I’m going to use experience points, I’m no longer looking at how to optimize the character for future challenges. Instead, I’m more interested in how I think my character would progress. How does he or she change over time? I do like the added options whenever I can get them, though.
Another reason is the evolution of RPGs. Like board games, design has moved forward. Like most arts, the mainstream has only moved a little, while the fringes are taking risks and covering new ground. Therefore games like D&D are better than they used to be, but not as much as they could be. One important change is the role of the GM. It is now better defined. In games like Agon, the GM has a clear job of presenting challenges so that the players can see who can best step up to them. In some games, such as tremulus, the GM is more like the director in a improvised story.
In any case, GMs don’t have the same kind of ownership of a game they used to. Now games seem more like a group effort. I have never enjoyed GMing in the style where players are there mostly as spectators to my grand design. I just couldn’t identify the problem before this new generation of games, where I can just let the players take a big part of the creative process. After all, I’m no more creative then they are. In fact, my bias based on my thinking probably makes me less creative regarding the material.
This emphasis on the group effort has changed how I perceive games. When the story is a group effort, I no longer feel that I have to somehow compete with the GM. I know this was always a poor way to look at things, but the secretive nature of what GM was doing, would always have me on edge and therefore not trusting of what the GM was doing. Now I’m more open to letting my character have ups, downs and often the inevitable final fall. Again, this is partly due to the aforementioned MtG and board games.
I’m still not willing to go fully freeform. Random variables make games more interesting. When you can’t decide when you fail (and of course there is the fear of players who are not willing to fail), you won’t be ready for it.
All in all, we are living in a wonderful age of discovery for games. I can’t really say how long this will last, but than again, we are now in a very good place. The change has been so radical, the roles different games play in my life has changed.