I've seen a lot of discussion about different genres in role playing games, but what about other aspects of the game? When you join a game, what kind of experience are you hoping to get from it? Are you looking for social interaction with the other players, the challenge of solving logical puzzles, do you just want to roll lots of dice and kill tons of orcs? Are you looking for cinematic drama, or gritty realism? Do you want to face moral dilemmas, smash open doors and scoop up treasure, fight desperate battles against impossible odds? Or are you looking for something else I haven't thought of? To you, what is the difference between a great role playing session and a mediocre one?
I like a good story that makes sense and has something more to it than getting the gold. I like it when my character can alter the fantasy's direction rather than just following common steps like kill, get cash, heal wounds repeat.
Both as a player and a GM I really enjoy a collaborative storytelling effort in role playing games with a fairly open world that includes a non-linear story line that is fairly dependent upon the actions of the players rather than the pre-planned story developed by the game master. I appreciate more gritty realism and the possibility of character death (The subject of character death though can take up a whole other thread so I won't broach the subject here for fear of derailing this thread).
I do enjoy combat in my games but generally I prefer the combat have reason beyond simply slay the monsters and get the gold. I enjoy the process of character development over the life of a game. I favor starting out at low levels (For games that involve the concept of level) or with little experience. I like to have a basic background story for characters but not one that is too detailed in order to allow the character to be developed throughout the story rather than fully developed at the beginning.
For me the enjoyment as a player comes from taking on the role of my character and influencing the story/game. The enjoyment as a GM comes from presenting various obstacles and encounters to the players and seeing how their characters react to them and how/if they overcome those obstacles. I like to see the decisions they make especially when it come to presenting them with things that challenge the beliefs/moral standings of their characters. I am always excited to see a player step into the role of the character and watch them make a decision that the player knows is going to complicate things or could lead to failure for their character, but they do it anyway because that is what their character would do.
My most memorable role-playing experience was playing in a double-blind scenario( the players were split into two 2-man teams, each with an identical map, separated by a curtain. The gamemaster recorded the characters positions, and told the players what their characters could see and hear.)
The backstory was that we were two competing teams of mercenaries looking for a crashed satellite in a deserted town, but the bottom line was we were playing hide-and-seek. With guns.
And when I spell it out that way, it might sound kind of stupid, but the hundreds of hours I had spent in various dungeon crawls barely add up to a pale shadow of the hour or so I spent at that gaming table.
One could argue that what I've just described doesn't sound like a roleplaying game at all, but a very small-scale wargame. And one would probably be right. Then again, Role-Playing Games are the direct descendant of miniatures wargaming, so,whatever.
All I know is matching wits with another player whose only real goal was to kill my character was a lot more involving than going up a dungeon full of orcs controlled by an impartial referee.