1) I like 'crunch'. I like my rules. I like them to be clear, and precise. I like to know what I can do, and what I can't do, within the frame of the mechanics.
2) I like setting. I like an interesting setting, and I like the setting to be at least reasonably realistic. I like the setting to feel organic, with nations, religions, conflicts, prejudices, and the whole mess.
3) I like the setting and the mechanics to mesh well. If there is an action you want to take, and it makes sense in the confines of the setting, I want the mechanics to complement your action, and I want it done in a way that doesn't shatter the setting (barring that the setting allows itself to break).
So, that's what I like in an RPG. Now, let's talk about play style.
I like progression. I like seeing my character move forward, both in the setting, and in the mechanics. To me, both have equal weight. So, as the campaign moves forward, I like to see the ripple effects of what I do. They don't have to be big things, but they should be present. If I make friends with an NPC, I expect to have that NPC to call upon (and the NPC can call upon me). If I get status or position, I expect it to carry clout. If I ticked off some people, I expect those people to come back at me later.
I also expect my character to get better, mechanically, at what they do. I don't go for the min/max on my characters, but I do tend to make my characters 'tight'. They have things they're good at, or things they're damn good at, but they can also have flaws... which I tend to compensate for by picking up allies, or by letting the other players fill in those gaps until my character can deal with them himself.
I also expect to be allowed to use the rules of the game, as-written, without a lot of beef. If there are house rules, I want them discussed ahead of time. If there's a snap-decision done which alters how the game is played, I want to be able to talk about it later, and I want to be able to compensate my character for the change in how the game is played. (If the GM decides power X is broken, and nerfs it, I want the allowance to choose a different power if I don't feel it holds up to my expectations. I won't always change powers, but I want the option.)
If I run my character well, I don't expect to be punished for it. If the game master had a threat lined up, and I somehow deal with it in a way not expected, I don't expect to be punished for it. If the GM has a back-up plan, then cool. If the GM is stumped, I don't expect my character to be 'knocked out' until the proper time for the 'big fight', for example. I also do not expect the GM to cheat / fudge so that the 'big bad' or anyone else holds on long enough for the 'right time' or so the bad guy can escape.
Caveat: There are games which allow for such things, which are written right into the mechanics. (7th Sea, TORG) and if it is done by the rules laid out in the game, then I'm fine with it. But if it is done in a game which doesn't explicitly provide for such escapes in the mechanics, I don't want to see it.
Essentially, the player should not be punished for playing smart / efficient or for being lucky. Which brings me to my next point:
My playing style emphasises setting over story. For me, the setting, the exploration of the setting, and the way the mechanics work with the setting is more important than any story. I don't mind adventures, and I don't mind plot, but neither should be set in stone. C does not come right after B, which does not come right after A. If, by happenstance, I move from A to C, or accidentally move to C2 which isn't even in the script... so mote it be.
I won't go out of my way to screw the plot, that isn't my goal. I don't deliberately screw with the story, either. But I do look at the setting, what catches my interest, and play accordingly. I tend to write out backgrounds for my characters, so the game master knows what I'm playing -- and if the game master doesn't think it will mesh, he should tell me ahead of time. Otherwise, I'll play true to the character, and true to the setting as I'm aware of it.
I had a point to this post, really...
The point is, I don't consider my style of play 'wrong', and I while I may not like or be comfortable with other people's styles of play, I don't think, usually, they're wrong either. (I may twitch, wince, or give a minor gripe, but that is mostly a statement of my play preference, and not a statement against their style of play).
Example: When I look at the Vampire: the Requiem RPG, I see a game where you're playing vampires, struggling to retain what bit of humanity you have lift, while being trapped in a Byzantine world of politics, treachery, and hunger. To me, the inhuman part of the game is just as interesting as the human part of the game. I like playing up the fact the character isn't human, and struggling with what he is.
However, a player I know has no interest in that... they want to play the sort of vampire you see in romance novels and in Anita Blake novels and comics. They want the sultry seducer who is no different than normal humans except for the fangs / blood dependency.
Now, personally, this makes me twitch, but that's because I don't see vampires as human. However, I accept that as my preference, and I accept they have their own preferences. I expect them to play the kind of game they enjoy, and if they're having fun, then cool. I will probably not play in that game, but that is because it isn't my sort of game, and I'll accept this. Will I put down their gaming? No, not really. If they're having fun, cool.
The entire 'Roll Player' label also pisses me off, as well as the idea of calling someone a 'Munchkin' or 'Power Gamer' because they like mechanics, and they like using those mechanics. Seriously, it is completely uncalled for. I like using mechanics. They're there for a reason -- to be used. That doesn't make me a roll player, it makes me a gamer. To me, a roll player is someone who picks up and throws the dice rather than thinking. If I'm interacting with an NPC, and I need information, I'm willing to just converse. But if I don't think it is willing, then I'll pick up the dice and use them -- that's what Social Skills are present in the game for. If I were a roll player, I'd not even bother with the interaction... (Player: I go into the tavern and try to pick up rumours. *clatter* YES! I succeed, what did I get? GM: Can I actually describe the place first? Player: Nah, not interested.)
In the same vein, I don't quite see 'power gamer' as much an insult as some people intend it to be. If I make a 'tight' character, where I don't waste points on things I don't think my character would have, that isn't being a power gamer. Did my character need 3 levels in Macramé? No. I don't think he'd spend the time to learn it. He might take a level or two of Trivia however, because he liked to hit the books and picked up some esoterica. And yes, he's a fighter and I took a slew of abilities to make him a killbot. If the game concentrates on fighting, I'll pick up a lot more, and he'll very likely become a very specialized death machine. If the GM runs a variety of scenarios, however, he'll spread his abilities out more -- though he'll still hone the skills and abilities I consider central to his concept.
That doesn't make me a power gamer -- that makes me a player who adapts his character to what is happening in the setting, and with how I envision my character's progression. Now, I have seen GMs throw their hands up in the air in frustration because I build according to their style of running, but I'd consider that more the fault of the GM.
Case in point: a game master running Furry Outlaws (don't laugh, it isn't actually bad -- think the Disney 'Robin Hood' cartoon combined with the really serious TV series that was out for a while.) had us in combat nearly every session. My character was a gypsy knife-fighter who dabbled in some limited magic to cover his butt. He was more the flirty type, would go into town in disguise, and pick up information to help the band.
The GM glossed over each trip to town, would just give me the information, and then it was back to camp and the inevitable combat.
So my character's magic and knife fighting skills improved... and improved... and improved.
Now, eventually, he wanted us to be scared out of the woods, and into another situation... oh tragedy, oh terror. However, by this time, my character was good enough to systematically death-blow anybody who came near him, and was able to drop two to four fully armoured knights per round. If I find myself over my head, some illusion spells would make me 'vanish' until such a time as I could ambush. Blended with the other PCs, we would mop up our opponents.
The last session involved some fifty or so knights coming at us, and the GM hoping we'd flee. Instead, the group stood its ground, and we massacred the incoming knights. Our tactics were superior, our abilities were superior, and we had the mechanics backing up everything we did. That ended the game, and the players, honestly, weren't sorry for it. If there were more sessions, we'd play -- because the interaction with each other's characters and with specific NPCs were fun, but ... eh.
Did that make us power gamers? Not at all.
Another game I was involved in was Exalted. I made a Night Caste bodyguard. Now, most Night Castes are the sneaky, shadowy type, but I decided to focus more on protection and the quick elimination of the enemies who would threaten my charge. This involved finding methods to strike first, strike quick, and strike often. As the game progressed, I hunted for the proper Charms, built up a nice Combo, and settled in for the ride. The group was, again, getting into a lot of conflict, but this GM also had interesting people for us to deal with -- and I let my charge, the Eclipse, do her job. (I offered suggestions, though, since the player doesn't like being in a position of control).
The problem came with two other characters (and only one player, the other player was okay). The Dawn, the big beat-stick, wasn't built for efficiency. She didn't have any Combos, her Charms were scattered about, and as such she wasn't as effective in combat as she could be. The Zenith was a martial artist and little guy, and was a decent fighter.
And I outstripped both of them. The Dawn's player, from what I can tell, was okay with that, but the Zenith's player took it personally. (At one point, he sat down, dissected my character sheet, and then accused me of cheating to the GM on my point expenditures. I offered to rebuild my sheet from the ground up, the GM let me, and I came out ahead... so go figure).
Now, I'd have been willing to help the Dawn fine tune her character, but she didn't want to, and that's fine. The pissing match with the Zenith's player, I could have done without, but c'est la vie. The problem, I think, was that my character had a narrow focus, and did very well with that focus... (his Combo was 'dart out, do a series of attacks, dart back to starting point, defend against all comers' ... and if his charge wasn't in danger, he'd just go out and pull off 8-16 attacks as a Stunt to drop as many foes as possible).
I don't consider a lack of character focus to be a crime... players do different builds suited to what they want. I like being focussed, I'll pick a concept, and I'll build to it (with some deviancy depending on what the character encounters), but I don't see this as power gaming or necessarily wrong, just like I don't see spreading out and exploring a lot of avenues as being wrong either -- to me, that makes a character versatile, allowing the character to do okay and fill in gaps that other characters -- like mine -- might have.
Okay, I think I'm done.. off my soap box, anyone want to give their views on gaming, styles of play, and name-calling? :)