I’ve been asked “How do you win” an RPG a number of times. This is closely adjacent to “Why play an RPG”, A question I’ve thought a lot about. I’m stealing from the book Finite and Infinite games for this description.
How do you win?
An RPG can be played in two different ways.
You can play a finite game with one win condition in mind. A way to reach the end of a story and everything hinges on that goal. It is some condition agreed to by everyone at the table but often suggested by the GM.
Or you can play an indefinite game, where much like life, there are many finite games along the way. Here, you win as long as there’s more ground that the players want to explore.
There is a big difference in tone in each option. Finite games are powerful, focused and serious. They are played within boundaries, time matters, they are played to be won. It’s not fair for the goalposts to move in a finite game. Players should not be surprised in that way. The conditions of play are controlled.
Indefinate games are dramatic, playful, exploratory, they’re about curiosity. The game’s boundaries will shift and even break, the reason to play is to be surprised by the results of play.