This isn't directly related to a specific play experience, but rather a general subject that (for me) stretches from play to design to observation of other people's play. I think it may be relevant to a few games that were recently played on AP, and maybe some of those that are being discussed/played right now.
The thread title is a bit pompous but the actual subject is very pratical, and requires a premise.
It doesn't start with tabletop roleplaying games, so bear with me for a second as I'll try to make this part quick. Due to the constant state of lockdown and quarantine, I have recently resumed the habit of playing videogames online with friends as a way to keep in touch. It's a very low commitment effort compared to roleplaying games (which we still play, regularly) because it can happen at any time of the day, mostly at late night, and it's a solid distraction.
The game we've been playing the most is called Monster Hunter World. You can look up online to see what it's about if you're interested, but in short – you're a guy hunting giant monsters. Once you've killed or captured your prey, you can fashion gear from it and move to hunting even bigger, badder monsters. I'm selling it short and I'll admit I consider it a small miracle of game design that shares many qualities of the best tabletop roleplaying games I've played in terms of using restraint and hardship as enjoyable play mechanics, but that's another subject for another day.
Moving back to square one, you kill monsters, you skin them, you wear them. Characters don't level up, and all your skill points are assigned on gear. Each piece has a few points (think of talents or perks), and you want to put together enough points of that particular skill across pieces to make your build work. It's simple stuff and again, has nothing to do with TTRPGs.
And here we get to the point. When you booth the game you're greeted with a look at your character. The skills are immaterial, here, as you only see what he/she looks like. And that look is a story – because you're wearing what you played. I got to my precious 6 points of Critical Eye by putting together some sort of samurai armor fashioned from a giant cat/bat hybrid. My friend is doing the same wearing a mix of bone and insect carapace. My brother is wearing a full suit of giant ape skin – and I've not been good enough to kill that, so I don't have anything like it. Our numbers are very similar, but how we got there shows.
This got me thinking.
Let's go back to roleplaying games. How often does a character's play experience show on his sheet? How often we get to say "I can do this, because I did that?". Forget the generic "I've earned enough experience points to unlock a feature of my choice, or that I would have gotten no matter what". I'm talking about "I ventured in that specific place, I've spoken with that seer, I've killed THAT ogre and this changed my character".
I think the most immediate example is Runequest, but Burning Wheel also comes to mind. In order to become better at something, I must have succeed – or failed – at it. If we expand a bit beyond the cicle of gratification that the videogame example suggest, we can see evolution as loss and then Trollbabe with relationship and lost items comes to mind.
Loot is a potentially good example, too. A very specific and significant item carries its history with it. We got that thing there, and we did that thing with it that was amazing. Every time you use the item again, that history comes up again.
I'm looking for mechanics and features (be them part of the written rules or a consistent by-product of play in that specific system) that give a solid meaning to "character growth" as a manifestation of how that growth happened. Old wounds, scars – roleplaying games tend to be good at doing that, at making loss a part of your character's heritage. But are there good ways to make that work for your successes and your victories?