Immersion. Actually taking on the role of your character in an RPG; behaving, and ideally feeling, like you are a person in this shared fictional world. To me, immersion is the heart and soul of roleplaying. If I just wanted to push my character around a board and perform cool combat combos, there are a lot of wargames and stuff out there that are arguably better at it, and a lot of computer games that are definitely better at it. I often wonder why people that don’t value playing “in character” play RPGs at all.
But since a lot of players don’t “get” immersion, it can be hard to achieve. In fact, it seems like game designers don’t “get” immersion any more – D&D 4e makes it difficult with their dissociated mechanics, and that’s just the most mass-market version – a lot of the hot new indie games are more narrativist/gamist and are more interested in taking a God’s eye view to characters and scenes and thus create a story – but not to live a story. Often I think this is a result of people not having actually been in an immersive game, because the ones I’ve been in have been some of the best experiences of my life,and the other people in them don’t want to settle for less in the future either.
I read a great question on the Paizo boards about how to get more immersion and less metagaming in Pathfinder. It didn’t get near as much attention as I’d like, so I reposted it over onto RPG Stack Exchange, where it’s starting to get some great answers, especially from Runeslinger and LordVreeg.
Please consider joining the discussion here, or on RPG.SE, or on Paizo. I think that there needs to be a lot more discussion about things like immersion, which are the real core of the hobby, not “here’s some more feats or geomorphs or some shit like that.” It’s always harder to write about “soft skills” than hard skills, but the problem is that since the industry (and blogosphere) does that, eventually the hard rules stuff drowns out the soft techniques part.