Last night JoDee and I played a game of Ironsworn. I'll spare you most of the details of our characters and our quests, but suffice to say we had a lot of fun. Our main goal was to find the Spear and Magic Helmet to help our friend regain her rightful place as the leader of our settlement. Along the way we had a monkey pester us, an influential merchant named Bob promise to give us details of where the Spear and Magic Helmet were in return for contraband magic mushrooms (which got us into trouble with the authorities), and crossing a rickety bridge in highly reflective ice caverns protected by The Lagina brothers from Oak Island (who were thralls in search of wood). Did this track anywhere near the default setting of Ironsworn? Hardly. Did we have fun together? Absolutely. Did we make mistakes. Of course. It's a game. There's bound to be mistakes. But in the end both JoDee and I had a great time in a not-so-serious world that we created together.
And this is part of why I've gravitated to Role Playing Games in recent years. I've tried to like a lot of board games. Many of them are exceptional pieces of work with great mechanics and gorgeous artwork. Unfortunately most of them have only one way to play them. I'm not talking about tactics or strategy for actually playing the game, I mean that the games are highly tuned for a specific experience to be had at the table. If it's a game about itinerant monks in France then you'll feel like an itinerant monk in France. If it's a pick-up-and-delivery game set in space then you'll feel like you're constantly picking up and delivering things (in space). If you're fully invested in that then you can have a great time. Unfortunately most of these games have scads of rules and exception-based rules to keep track of and learn. Worse, if half-way through you want your monk to stop being an itinerant monk in France the game doesn't allow for that or (worse) penalizes you for not being more itinerant monk-like. There will usually be some mechanic that rewards certain styles of play and should you not manage to play that way then you won't score victory point or will receive negative scoring.
Role Playing Games tend to value the experience at the table over any mechanical aptitude (that said there are games that definitely reward mechanics mastery, but I'm specifically discounting those games for the sake of my point). If everyone is in agreement that a monkey in a Nordic forest is some much needed diversion then there's nothing stopping you from making monkey happen at the table. You don't have to have monkey mechanics, or know the stats of a monkey outside of that monkey trying to steal your supplies.
Now, that's not to say that you should make a monkey happen in your setting. If someone will lose their fun because a monkey appears because it's a frozen wasteland and what will the monkey eat, and this is just ecologically untenable, then fine: monkey doesn't need to happen. But if everyone is in agreement then why the fuck shouldn't a monkey happen. Or a giant spaceship. Or clones of Abraham Lincoln saying "Emancipate This."
Having some flexibility to make things happen is one of the benefits of Role Playing Games. Telling stories together is the most important part of Role Playing Games for me. Hopefully we'll have more sessions. Who knows what will come out of them? That's for us to decide. Board games are about a tight mechanical experience that can be very rewarding, but for now my mind needs a little less rules and more creativity.