Something I've noticed in some D&D sessions I've run is a hidden motivation players often bring to the table without even realising it. They come to the table wanting to win at D&D.
What do I mean? Well, the players seem to feel that if they don't kill every creature, find every treasure, solve every mystery and rescue every villager then they haven't won the game and they can end up feeling despondent and frustrated.
So here's the thing, possibly in my opinion the most important thing about D&D...
You can't win at D&D.
There isn't a win condition, there's no counting victory points. D&D is just a bunch of stuff that happens.
When somebody comes to our community and wants to learn a game I almost always start with how you win. It really helps to know from the outset where you're heading, every other thing in the game leads to that moment, so it's fundamental. It is vital that everyone knows what they're trying to do, what they're aiming for.
If I was sitting down with a new role player, or a group I was DMing for the first time I would add that idea to my 'pre-game chat'. This is how I would describe the aim of a game of D&D,
"Have fun experiencing your character's story".
How you define that could change from session to session. Sometimes you smash through the dungeon slurping up loot and feeling like an epic superhero. Sometimes you nearly all get killed by a lurking displacer beast who runs away only to return to finish you off before you complete a rest. Sometimes you defeat the dragon, and sometimes the dragon defeats you.
A party failing to rescue all the villagers from the goblins created one of my favourite RP moments of all time - it was a failure. The characters were clumsy, set off an alarm and the goblins were ready for them! There was an epic battle in the goblin lair, the party were beaten back, bloodied and almost dead. By the time the characters recovered, the lair was unassailable. Back to town then with their tails between their legs. The players 'lost' the game (by the definitions of victory points and loot) but the moment they realised they would have to explain to the farmer's wife that her husband and children would never be coming home, that was role playing gold. It was a brilliant experience. I loved it! The players were engaged emotionally - they realised their actions had consequences, they felt the weight of their responsibilities. It was way beond winning or losing.
So, try not to worry too much about 'winning'. Whether you get the loot or not, you are writing your character's unique story and for me, that is the most exciting thing about D&D. As my dad would say,
"It's all character building stuff"
What do you think? Is 'winning' a thing in D&D? How do you define success in your sessions?