Jon Shafer made the following request on the Idle Thumbs forum, " Let's say you had the ability to snap your fingers and a new strategy game would come out tomorrow, exactly to your specifications. What would it be?"
I stretched the rules slightly in my response and included a RPG with tactical combat as a strategy game, mainly because I think RPGs need more help than pure strategy games. I want a RPG that:
1a) I want time to actually matter. I am tired of being on the all important quest to save the world, but always motivated to try an explore every last nook and cranny of the world. If I really had to kill the foozle to save the world, I wouldn't explore every last inch of the world to earn a couple more coins. I would be focused on getting the job done. Now if I learned about a dungeon that may contain a powerful sword that will aid me in my quest, that makes more sense, but there should be potential consequences if I go that route and take extra time getting my main task accomplished. If my current quest is to save a town from marauding orcs, there should be consequences if it takes me an extra week to get there because I decided to explore for the fun of it. Perhaps the talented blacksmith gets killed if I don't save the town by a certain date and he could have taught me his craft or sold me a great set of armor.
1b) Now, there could be ebbs and flows of important quests so the player has some time to just explore. Perhaps the important quest isn't revealed until later in the game, so you do have time to take minor quests and do some exploring.
1c) Have different scales of success for completing quests in a timely manner. Solve it fast and everyone is ok. Take extra time and the towns economy takes a hit. Take more time and nothing is left of the town.
2) Have a realistic reputation system. If I steal from a guy in a town but I'm not caught, it shouldn't hurt my reputation. Now if I rob everyone in town blind, I was new to town, and I leave after I am done, perhaps people are suspicious of the new comer. Maybe there is a chance I left behind some clues based on my thieving skills. Maybe not enough to convict me, but perhaps there is some mob justice. Perhaps there is a chance someone in another town hears the news of my actions and recognizes me from a description.
3) Good turn-based tactical combat along the lines of a good tactical wargame, but in a typical fantasy setting (like Dungeons and Dragons). Have a detailed system where there is lots of room for strategizing. No reflect-based combat please.
4) Make death matter, but not common. In RPGs where it is expected you will die every 5 minutes and must save and reload have the effect of making death insignificant. It ruins the tension because the player isn't that concerned about avoiding death. There should be meaningful consequences for bad play, but death isn't the only option. The Dark Souls mechanic is interesting, but I don't think that it should be the common way death is handled. Make me play on with the consequences of my actions, not just reload the last save constantly.
5) Have a good world map and make travel meaningful. Provide clues as to where we need to go, but don't just automatically reveal it. Remember to make time a resource we must manage. It would be a shame to die of old age before I complete my quest, but that should be an option. Perhaps have the ability to start a family and take over as a child, a la Crusader Kings.
I'm sure there are more aspects for a compelling RPG. Someone please hop on this so I can have really good RPG to play.