This could be seen as a misconception that since RPG has the word game in it, there is a winning objective. Through skill, imagination and wit you have beaten the game, you have defeated every challenge thrown against you and you are the champion.
While traditionally you can't 'win' in a RPG but instead of saying 'no, you can't', we could embrace the spirit of 'yes, you can!' This is where I think as GMs, we can actually use the word 'winning' to our advantage.
After giving it some thought, if I'm ever asked 'how do you win in a RPG', my answer now would probably be, 'you decide as a character'. There are so many things you can do in a RPG that it isn't a question of a lack thereof objectives but a matter of which one you think gives you the greatest satisfaction as if you have 'won'.
Think about it, would you feel like a winner if you character has accomplished the following?
- Your fighter becomes a king/warlord with his own army to command and a land to rule over.
- Your wizard has gain ultimate power, a tower with a hoard of powerful artifacts and is the undisputed mover and shaker of the land, kingdom and universe.
- Your rogue has overthrown the thieves' guild leader and now you are an influence in the underworld, feared and respected by everyone in the streets.
- Your character has reached epic levels, has learned all the feats, skills, spells/powers and a combination that he/she could ever learn to become the perfect character.
- Your character has found a powerful artifact and used it to save the world.
- You avenged the death of your village by destroying the BBEG, rescued the damsel in distress and fulfilled your destiny as written in your background.
- After living as an adventurer for 25 years, you safely retire with limbs in one piece and enough a fortune to last you and your family for a lifetime. Your children are born in a world that you know is safer by your hands and they themselves grew up to be heroes of their time.
- Your character ascends into godhood, dictating the lives of mortals and your name has been uttered in legends and myth.
- Your character went into the dungeon and slew the dragon and took their stuff.
As mentioned earlier, there isn't a lack of objectives. On the contrary, the sky is the limit and beyond. It should up to your players to decide how do they want to beat the game. Not everyone has to have the same winning condition and this is where motivation comes into play.
As a GM, letting your players choose how they want to 'win' a RPG is telling you what is the motivation of their character and you can be sure that they are willing to give it their all in order to reach that objective, it's their end goal. It not only gives their character a purpose but also your player to come to your table every game day.
So how would you win in a RPG?