One of the things that separates RPGs from board games is the fact that the characters within the game are unique individuals. Granted, there are archetypes and stereotypes in every game (the miserly dwarf, the sneaky thief, the mysterious man in the black cloak, etc.). But what allows RPGs to be more than other games is the investment the players and GMs put into the characters. Fleshing them out turns the game from a series of combats in a dungeon into an interactive story where the players have a vested interest in what happens beyond "what is in the treasure chest?""Well... lah-dee-freakin'-dah! Seriously, where does this pig-headed macho bullshit keep coming from? If you want to play in a role-playing game where the characters don't have any character, that's fine, I guess. But it sounds damned dull, if you ask me." - John Higgins, Ludandi Gratia
The above quote by my GM comes from a rather banal line of thought in the OSR that has surfaced recently, "We don't explore characters, we explore dungeons!" I will just add my two cents and say that I agree with John in his assessment of this line of thought is well along my own. If all you do when you play is "explore dungeons" then you might as well be playing a board game where all the characters are ciphers with nothing unique or special about them. Sure you can have the standard party of one fighter, one thief, one mage and one cleric that goes through various underground complexes with the mentality of "kill them all and take all their stuff", but that gets boring after a while. Why should I give a damn about your character outside of him helping my character stay alive? For that matter, why should I give a damn about my own character if I can just roll up a new one if he dies?
In my opinion, the problem comes from the fact that some people just can't visualize a character beyond what is written on their character sheet. I have actually seen some comments from people that they don't like D&D because "there is nothing in the rules to support role-playing". Well of course there isn't! Role-playing isn't something that can be adjudicated by rolling dice and consulting tables. Role-playing is accomplished by playing a freaking role! You need rules and mechanics for things like combat and whether a character is skilled enough to perform a certain task. You don't need rules and mechanics in how your character behaves in a given situation, you have to figure that out for yourself.
It becomes what the gaming world refers to as the difference between role-play and roll-play. The latter is incapable of defining their character outside of what is written on a piece of paper. These people, when asked, don't tell you about their character, they tell you about their character sheet. This unfortunately doesn't do a lot for the hobby as far as luring in new players. Because all they hear is a bunch of numbers and terms they aren't familiar with, instead of characters and concepts they can understand.
For example, I'm going to describe my Engines and Empires character, twice. First, I'm going to describe him how the "character sheet" player would describe him.
"Uh. I have a sixth level fighter. Uh. He has a +2 short sword and a +2 revolver. Uh. He can use focused strike twice in a battle. Uh. He has a 13 Strength. Uh. His alignment is Lawful. Uh. Oh yeah, his short sword can cast charm person once a day. Uh."Zzzzzzzz! Wha? Oh, sorry. I bored myself to sleep writing that. Here is how I normally describe my character.
"My character is Lt. Lord Reginald Hornsby, Baron of West Gogledd, Hero of Avalon, Defender of Her Royal Highness Queen Maeve and member in good standing of the Royal Society of History and Archaeology in Avalon. Reg served as part of the Avalonian Armed Forces as support for the Corps of Engineers before becoming a professional adventurer and joining up with the current party. He pretty much sees himself as the leader of this group, holding this ragtag bunch together and turning them into an effective unit. He's not afraid to take the point and serve as the target of enemy attacks to allow the other party members to do what they have to do. But as a result, he likes to brag about how his actions have saved lives and defeated great evil whenever he can. If Reg has one flaw, it's his tendency to shameless self-promotion. But it's never completely at the expense of the rest of the party. He just sees leadership as his responsibility, and takes the perks of it along with the downsides. Recently, he has become the lord of a run-down barony, and is using his share of the treasure we find to help rebuild it. Overall, he is a fair man who believes in Queen and Country, and is loyal to those who help him accomplish his goals."Now if you are new to a group of players, which character do you want in your party? Which one is going to be more fun to hang out with? Which one is going to have your back when he's down to three hit points and a dragon is bearing down on you? Which one are you going to look forward to seeing again at the next session? Which one of these characters has character?
That's what separates RPGs from other games. If you want to explore dungeons and not characters, play DragonStrike.
Me, I play D&D.