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Superhero vs Fantasy

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1 hour ago, Lord Liaden said:

However, I would disagree that Hero Games skimped on published adventures over their history. From the company's earliest days, through the Fourth Edition of the game, those were a significant part of their output. The Island of Dr. Destroyer. Deathstroke. The Great Super Villain Contest. The Coriolis Effect. VOICE of Doom. Wrath of the Seven Horsemen. Scourge from the Deep. Target Hero. Wings of the Valkyrie. To Serve and Protect. Atlas Unleashed. Invasions: Target Earth. Day of the Destroyer. Invaders from Below. Demons Rule. Road Kill. The triple-adventure compilations, Champions Presents 1 and 2, and Pyramid in the Sky. If you're willing to count shorter scenarios, you'd have to include the multiple ones in Challenges for Champions. Not to mention third-party publications, like Atlas Games' Dystopia, Foxbat Unhinged, and Blood Fury; Gold Rush Games' own tri-adventure book, Heroic Adventures Vol 1 (volume 2 was marketed as for Dark Champions); and Chaosium's adventures statted for several games, Bad Medicine for Dr. Drugs, and another multi-adventure book, Trouble for HAVOC.

 

Admittedly the output of adventures slowed greatly during the DOJ era of 5E and 6E, but for the previously-noted explanation. Licensed producers such as Blackwyrm Games did pick up some of the slack, though.

 

 

Hmmm I stand corrected. I guess to DOJ's credit,  None of the 5 Gms I knew in my high school years ever purchased anything but rule books, Villains books, and Rule upgrades. But all of the 3E and 4E genres were purchased.

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14 hours ago, drunkonduty said:

there's no significant difference between old adventures and new ones.

 

I can only conclude that you and I have very different notions of what constitutes a "significant difference".  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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A few musings...

 

I agree that the mega-overarching, split between 9 titles over 8 months and 20-odd issue, story lines turned me totally off, especially in conjunction with the massive decline in artistic effort.  Cripes, the newer stuff looks like elementary-school doodles sometimes.  

 

I think another potential explanation is, the existence of a build path is inherent in fantasy RPGs;  they were designed with that as a core assumption.  So yeah, fine, 1st level is WIMPSVILLE, but we can approach the power levels of at least a good chunk of fantasy heroes.  Trying to pull off the more popular comics heroes is really tough.  Power levels are hard to translate.  The versatility one tends to see is tricky to pull off, and generally expensive.  Thus, the fantasy RPG leads to wish fulfillment better than the supers RPG.

 

Something else that hasn't been mentioned.  Complexity and support.  Point buy is inherently more complex than level-based.  Mechanically, a level-based character takes little time to build.  (Well, possibly in later D&D 3.5 it got messy because of the explosive proliferation of PRCs that you wanted to plan for.)  Never true in point-based.  Plus, I find I need a more complete concept for point-based, because there are so many more options.  Support...monsters.  Items.  Locations.  Plot hooks.  TONS of everything for D&D that you could use or adapt pretty easily.  Not so much for supers.

 

That said, I also strongly suspect that the freedom to act as you bloody well want to act, with no repercussions whatsoever quite often, and the more concrete rewards system...the sense of moving forward steadily and consistently...are central points.

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9 minutes ago, unclevlad said:

A few musings...

 

I agree that the mega-overarching, split between 9 titles over 8 months and 20-odd issue, story lines turned me totally off, especially in conjunction with the massive decline in artistic effort.  Cripes, the newer stuff looks like elementary-school doodles sometimes.  

 

OMG Yes!!  Now with me I transitioned to Independent comics as a consumer, and as an artist, but continued to read the mainstream titles until sometime in the mid 90's, and pretty much stopped picking up comics after 2005, or 2007, a little bit after I re-located to Los Angeles. I still visited comic shops, and browsed the titles picking up the occasional issue or two. However  Marvel fell off their position of the King of the Hill when they made Thor a woman, and after that there was an unacceptable editorial slant on marvel titles that just made them radically unappealing to me. And the art... the decline has been precipitous, with "The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl"< becoming the poster child of how not to do a comic.  D.C  is still  steady at the moment (Batman/ White Knight, is a supremely good piece of storytelling with good art),  and they have kept their prices down. But as for interesting comics, there isn't any that compell me to pick up or subscribe to, other than some titles that I subscribe electronically to. (Small apartment, no room).  It may be that Superheroes at the current time might not be as interesting as they were in the Chris Claremont days.

 

9 minutes ago, unclevlad said:

 

That said, I also strongly suspect that the freedom to act as you bloody well want to act, with no repercussions whatsoever quite often, and the more concrete rewards system...the sense of moving forward steadily and consistently...are central points.

 

I will say, that Fantasy Hero was a more popular choice for the groups I gamed with and I ran two successful campaigns for a number of years. I sort of dropped GMing Superheroes or any other genre, because of what my local players wanted. So Fantasy works pretty decently on a point buy system, but it takes fairly experienced players to build what they want. it's not a friendly start for novices.

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15 minutes ago, Scott Ruggels said:

I will say, that Fantasy Hero was a more popular choice for the groups I gamed with and I ran two successful campaigns for a number of years. I sort of dropped GMing Superheroes or any other genre, because of what my local players wanted. So Fantasy works pretty decently on a point buy system, but it takes fairly experienced players to build what they want. it's not a friendly start for novices.

 

 

But if we consider the fantasy tropes, at least 2 are very easy to define...fighter of any stripe, and rogue/thief.  Even the healer-type has most of his points pretty much defined in advance.  Plus, isn't Fantasy Hero built on many fewer points?  Obviously, the more points, the more involved the effort.

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50 minutes ago, unclevlad said:

 

 

But if we consider the fantasy tropes, at least 2 are very easy to define...fighter of any stripe, and rogue/thief.  Even the healer-type has most of his points pretty much defined in advance.  Plus, isn't Fantasy Hero built on many fewer points?  Obviously, the more points, the more involved the effort.

 

Fantasy Hero is "heroic" so the builds were around 150 or 175 points. (4e), and most Superheroic campaigns  then tended to start around 250 points.

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2 hours ago, unclevlad said:

Thus, the fantasy RPG leads to wish fulfillment better than the supers RPG.

 

I think that depends on what sort of wish one is looking to fulfill. I found it far more rewarding to experience the imaginary life of a superhero than that of a fantasy hero. I'd rather be Thor than Conan any day. But that's just me. The fact that most teenagers don't feel the same way probably explains why more fantasy RPGs are played than superhero RPGs. So I guess your assertion probably holds true for most young gamers. It's just that it didn't for me or for the other players in the various Champions campaigns I played in over the years.

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1 hour ago, zslane said:

 

I think that depends on what sort of wish one is looking to fulfill. I found it far more rewarding to experience the imaginary life of a superhero than that of a fantasy hero. I'd rather be Thor than Conan any day. But that's just me. The fact that most teenagers don't feel the same way probably explains why more fantasy RPGs are played than superhero RPGs. So I guess your assertion probably holds true for most young gamers. It's just that it didn't for me or for the other players in the various Champions campaigns I played in over the years.

 

True.  Better is likely the wrong word.  More often is probably the correct sense.  Motivations will run the gamut.  Hey, I love havoc as much as the next guy.  The combat monster inside of me doesn't sit quietly in the corner;  I'm a competitive SOB.  (Overly so, I've been told.)  But I also love pure role playing;  I love Vampire because of its story tension potential.  Toreador and old-school Lasombra! :)  So the Champions aspects of Be Careful! and Be Part of the Solution, not Part of the Problem work fine.

 

Hmm.  Here's a side factor.  Level based is somewhat hard to abuse by micromanaging.  Point buy has min-max all over the place.  If Johnny and Steve want to build simple and sane compared to mad powergamers Vlad and Ivan, the balance could be shot to hell.  Sure, in D&D you can have the conflict between "let's loot the next dungeon!" and roleplayers, but I think that's usually manageable.  In point buy, the GM IMO has to be much tighter and pay rather more attention to character sheets.  

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11 hours ago, unclevlad said:

In point buy, the GM IMO has to be much tighter and pay rather more attention to character sheets.

 

Yep, totally.

 

But then, I feel that managing the balance and fairness of the campaign, whether we're talking about combat encounters or PC builds, is part of the job of the GM in any game. The fact that it requires more care and attention in Champions doesn't give the GM an excuse to be lazy on this front; rather that the game should only be run by someone willing to put in the necessary effort.

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On 12/8/2018 at 8:51 PM, Scott Ruggels said:

OMG Yes!!  Now with me I transitioned to Independent comics as a consumer, and as an artist, but continued to read the mainstream titles until sometime in the mid 90's, and pretty much stopped picking up comics after 2005, or 2007, a little bit after I re-located to Los Angeles. I still visited comic shops, and browsed the titles picking up the occasional issue or two.

 

I quit reading comics around 1990 or so. I gave all my attention to graphic novels in the last couple of years because they were edgier and more artistic, but even they became too commercial. I visit a comic shop every once in a while now, and I can't even figure out what's going on or where to start if I even wanted to start reading again.

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On 12/8/2018 at 8:30 PM, unclevlad said:

I agree that the mega-overarching, split between 9 titles over 8 months and 20-odd issue, story lines turned me totally off, especially in conjunction with the massive decline in artistic effort.  Cripes, the newer stuff looks like elementary-school doodles sometimes.  

 

Yup.

 

On 12/8/2018 at 8:30 PM, unclevlad said:

Support...monsters.  Items.  Locations.  Plot hooks.  TONS of everything for D&D that you could use or adapt pretty easily.  Not so much for supers.

 

This pretty much sums up the whole division of each genre and their success or lack thereof. There are so many assumptions made in D&D, and so much supporting material, that there is now a common language that everyone shares in fantasy games. 

 

On 12/8/2018 at 8:30 PM, unclevlad said:

That said, I also strongly suspect that the freedom to act as you bloody well want to act, with no repercussions whatsoever quite often, and the more concrete rewards system...the sense of moving forward steadily and consistently...are central points.

 

And this. Although both genres can be seen as escapist, D&D or fantasy in general has little to no "social drama" in dungeon crawls, etc. Seriously, this alone makes the game "easier" to play. Go kill things and take their stuff, advance a level, and get more abilities to be able to kill more things and take their stuff. If it were a supers game, it would necessitate (as someone already discussed above) the question about who you are killing, for what purpose, and to what end. Not that this is a bad set of questions for roleplaying, it is just a little more complex for people to learn to play. 

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On 12/9/2018 at 1:06 AM, unclevlad said:

Hmm.  Here's a side factor.  Level based is somewhat hard to abuse by micromanaging.  Point buy has min-max all over the place.  If Johnny and Steve want to build simple and sane compared to mad powergamers Vlad and Ivan, the balance could be shot to hell.  Sure, in D&D you can have the conflict between "let's loot the next dungeon!" and roleplayers, but I think that's usually manageable.  In point buy, the GM IMO has to be much tighter and pay rather more attention to character sheets.

 

Of course, D&D is the origin of munchkin players who figure out how to manipulate the rules to allow for an action, a cunning action, and a bonus action that allows them to attack then sneak around behind a target and backstab it all in one turn. That's a bit of an exaggeration, but not by much. When I tried to get back into D&D with the new 5th edition, my mind spun the first time I played because the guys I was playing with kept getting extra moves and bonuses. It seems ridiculous, like they were playing a video game. Which, of course, is probably why fantasy is so much more popular these days: video games have standardized the fantasy tropes and made them virtually universal for all fantasy games. Video games have become the expected standard for TTRPGs.

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1 hour ago, Brian Stanfield said:

Go kill things and take their stuff, advance a level, and get more abilities to be able to kill more things and take their stuff. If it were a supers game, it would necessitate (as someone already discussed above) the question about who you are killing, for what purpose, and to what end.

 

This sounds remarkably like the point I made in the third post of this thread (see below):

 

On 10/29/2018 at 11:04 AM, zslane said:

I also think it is easier for teenage boys to step into the role of your typical murderhobo adventurer out to kill monsters and take their stuff, getting more powerful along the way, than it is for them to step into the role of your typical superhero with a substantially more mature moral compass and a driving need to selflessly help others.

 

I think we may be repeating ourselves now...

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I am more a high fantasy RPG fan than a superhero fan for a clutch of reasons, some of which fall into "generational", some of which fall into "experience".

 

As Killer Shrike alluded to near the top of the thread, I got into RPGs just about at inception, June 1975, and I was 19, and fully into the Tolkien fantasy world (won a trivia contest once under embarrassing circumstances).  It took very little time to start thinking about world building (which includes general fantastic cosmology), which still holds a great appeal for me.  Plot arc matters to me.  I still am very fond of worlds with a time abyss in their backstory; that adds an underpinning of structure to the world which I enjoy.

 

(I was also big into hexgrid wargames, Avalon Hill starting in 1967, and SPI starting 1971; this is kind of irrelevant for this thread, but that's in the mill also at some level.  It goes a ways towards explaining why my favorite D&D version is 4th.)

 

I had been a comics reader younger, but got out of that right at the end of the Silver Age.  Superhero stories are MUCH darker now, much more complex.  I'm not saying that's bad; I'm saying that most source material of the last 35 years is qualitatively different from how I still think of ... remember, really ... superhero stories.  At core, I still can't accept even the possibility of a deep backstory for superhero worlds; I think of them as cheesy grafts on top of real Earth (because that is certainly the case back in the Silver Age, and I don't see much difference now, other than a lengthy and largely gratuitous dragging through the gutters of the red-light district).

 

I think a lot of it also is backwash from my early experiences with both genres.  The guys I played fantasy RPGs early on were similarly motivated by the deep backstory, so we all played in genre and in story pretty faithfully.  By contrast, the guys who introduced me to superhero games had a very different outlook: they were shameless power gamers and butt kickers, and plot and backstory were wasted on them (and if they encountered any, they'd pretty wantonly waste it, leaving the corpse in a convenient dumpster).  Who got the best alpha strike on the boss villain, who cleaned the most clocks, etc., was pretty much the point. This reinforced my prejudice that supers RPGs are just a palookavillain of the week club, with all the plot arc, character depth, and backstory of I Love Lucy.

 

I've dabbled in sci-fi gaming, but for that I am such a hopeless simulationist that I haven't yet devised a game-world where there much for a player to do.  Haven't figured out how to make ship (and fleet) combat work (within my overly picky tastes in obeying real physics) on a human timescale.  Urban fantasy doesn't do a lot for me either, for a complex of reasons I haven't tried working out, and I have never liked horror ... whether film, novel, or game (invariably I just get mad).

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16 hours ago, Cancer said:

 

 

I've dabbled in sci-fi gaming, but for that I am such a hopeless simulationithat I haven't yet devised a game-world where there much for a player to do.  Haven't figured out how to make ship (and fleet) combat work (within my overly picky tastes in obeying real physics) on a human timescale.  Urban fantasy doesn't do a lot for me either, for a complex of reasons I haven't tried working out, and I have never liked horror ... whether film, novel, or game (invariably I just get mad).

 

As an aside, I feel your pain. The Albedo 1st edition game tried for the simulationist space combat approach. I also played in Paul Gazis' modified Traveller campaign. Pauls is a NASA Engineer, though I think he retired lat year. In his game he worked things out, to the Nth degree, but Space Combat was supremely unsatisfying if you weren't in the cockpit. In both systems the ships would plan their moves (like an old style Play by mail), and feed those plans into the ships computer,  then the Missiles would be launched.  days latter, when the enemy missiles were inbound, people would put their matresses on the walls, and strap into chairs in their vacc suits,. depressurize the inside to conserve air in case of hull breech, and You sat, sweating as the die rolls were made against the ships defensive array, and then hit locations on the ship, hoping the damage result wasnt "crew" (instant fine red mist), or the "Station" you were sitting at, (shrapnel damage. roll hit location, and hope it's not the head). Then sometime later, the results of your missiles against the enemy were picked up by optical sensors and radar returns and if you both survived, lather, rise, repeat. Not the most fun. Mustangs & Messerschmitts made WW2 air combat  with miniatures, fun. Star Wars ran with that paradigm.  Unless space combat was a hourly turn, and chit on a hex grid map, or on paper like Harpoon, I dont see how space combat could be a fun pass time, and then it would only be fun for those who have active crew stations. (Hmmm using old Harpoon Mechanics might actually work..?) It may not work as an RPG. I would love to run a "The Expanse" style Hero SF game, but to solve the space combat problem, I would have to make sure the PC's were passengers, and travel between systems would be on commercial flight, and never never ever give them an armed space ship.

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+1 for Expanse; I love both the books and the tv show.

 

Personally, I think hard sci fi doesn't really work very well for RPGs. Not saying it can't be done, but I've never been in to it...

 

Space Fantasy or a narrative / dramatic approach (at least as far as space travel & combat goes) works much better IMO. Same thing for nautical or Age of Sail adventures, really.  

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35 minutes ago, Killer Shrike said:

+1 for Expanse; I love both the books and the tv show.

 

Personally, I think hard sci fi doesn't really work very well for RPGs. Not saying it can't be done, but I've never been in to it...

 

Space Fantasy or a narrative / dramatic approach (at least as far as space travel & combat goes) works much better IMO. Same thing for nautical or Age of Sail adventures, really.  

 

The problem I have with narrative resolutions, is the loss of agency. This may be the hair splitting issue that makes Fantasy the top RPG background.  I love hard science fiction to read and watch, which is why I wanted to try it as an RPG, but the space travel issue raises its head. Unlike you, I would rather War game out resolutions than have it resolved with a couple of die rolls, and a description. But then, that’s me. For Fantasy, ones choices are wider, and in Pathfinder and 5e, they have a rule and a die roll for everything, so it’s more granular, and with numerous die rolls by the player, that player feels more in control of their destiny, regardless of what may be really going on. 

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4 hours ago, Killer Shrike said:

I play wargames when I want to wargame. I play RPG's when I want to RPG. ?

 

Well yeah. I suppose I was spoiled by LDG's Danger International, and FH games, in that we DID have to plan and war game out the various encounters, and were thick tactical puzzles that did allow for a high level of role play.

But I think, is that I really dislike (and feel ripped off by) a high level of abstraction. This is why I avoid Low crunch RPGs.

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Same here, Scott. Maybe that's because I started out as a wargamer in 1977-78 before I got my first taste of (A)D&D. And given the wargaming origins of RPGs, I think it is only natural that RPGs would play just like wargames, at least when characters get into combat. I sort of feel that the various attempts in the past to abstract all resolution mechanics, including and especially combat, to a very low crunch level come from designers with little or no wargaming background. They were/are trying to design RPGs for non-wargamers, which is sort of like designing assault rifles for pacifists, but whatever.

 

Having said that, I wouldn't want a science fiction RPG session to turn into a physics exercise just to get the PCs from one encounter to the next. There comes a point where a little bit of narrative lube (i.e., abstraction) in the right place goes a long way towards making the overall RPG experience a lot more fun. I believe in putting the crunch and gameplay focus where the drama, tension, and risk is, and gloss over the rest with abstraction.

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Your theory re: lack of wargaming background vis a vis narrative game design doesn't seem to hold up, to me.

 

Surely we can agree that it is entirely possible that some or even most game designers who produce games that focus on facets of roleplaying other than dice rolling exercises are not doing so due to a lack of experience (wargaming or otherwise) but rather because they are attempting to design a game that they believe some group of people (or perhaps themselves) will enjoy playing. 

 

I would hope that we could also agree that it is also possible that some gamers who enjoy playing games of that ilk do so because they like the things those games focus on, rather than from a position of ignorance of something, such as (in the case of your assertion) the multi-splendorous joys of wargaming.

 

 

Why, take me as an example. In addition to being a roleplayer perchance I am also a wargamer (and a computer gamer, and a board gamer, and a card gamer, etc). I would venture that there are few who might successfully challenge me on my willingness to engage with "high-crunch" game systems of any variety; in fact I think it is fair to say that I like complexity more than most. And yet, I also like, play, and produce content for low-crunch and mid-crunch roleplaying games. And I know that I am not alone in this general category of "people with a wargaming background who like to play RPG's that are light on tactical map and dice roll off resolutions", as I've played with and also corresponded with fellow travelers upon that particular path over the years.

 

 

Like most things, crunchiness / procedural resolution is on a spectrum and neither a game nor a game designer nor a gamer are required by some universal law to permanently reside only at one end or the other. It's entirely possible and even advantageous to be able to slide up and down that spectrum from  time to time. 

 

Complexity / crunchiness is not a virtue unto itself; and lack of it is not a lack of virtue. In fact, the opposite could be argued; one might reasonably default to the position that when presented with competing hypotheses to solve a problem, one should select the solution with the fewest assumptions. William of Ockham thought so, at least. Lacking some qualitative measure by which to judge one way objectively better than another way, what's left is merely personal preference. And reasoning from the position of a personal preference to project attributes or assumptions upon a set of people who do not share that preference is often prejudicial. 

 

For instance, I personally don't begrudge other people their gaming preferences, and I don't judge them based upon those preferences. It's not a good thing or a bad thing to me that someone is a die-hard gamist or simulationist or hybrid thereof. I try not to jump to conclusions as to why they prefer what they prefer, or assume that if they had just experienced the things I have experienced they would hold a view closer to if not identical to my own. 

 

{shrug}

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Lets talk about "a high level of abstraction".

 

So, this is a basic building block of RPGs:

 

One or more players convene to imagine events taking place in an imaginary setting populated by imaginary entities who are imagined to take actions to arrive at one or more imaginary outcomes.

 

The nature of the imaginary setting, the specifics of the kinds of imaginary entities (characters, monsters, etc), what sorts of outcomes are permitted, and what sort of means for accomplishing those outcomes are possible tend to be the bulk or even the entirety of individual game systems printed text. Agreement on that text among the players forms the bulk of a social contract to govern the time they spend "playing" that game.

 

 

I could noodle around the edges of that for hours, but to keep this focused lets agree that there is some kind of "character" who has some differentiating attributes specific to the game system that attempt to measure or define the character's ability to accomplish one or more things, and that there is some kind of task resolution guidance presented by the rules. 

 

A game system that says "to accomplish tasks, a player rolls one or more dice, which may be modified for a variety of reasons, and compares the outcome of the dice to some criteria to determine degree of success or failure" is offering a means to model or simulate events within the imaginary tableau of the game at very high level of abstraction

 

Rolling dice to determine what happens when something is attempted is, in fact, about as abstract as it gets. Game systems with one or more rules are a formal system. Formal systems are generally agreed to "represent a system of abstract thought". 

 

The idea that reducing a complex idea to a die roll is less abstract than reasoning from genre conventions, or reasoning from dramatic considerations aka "plot", or consensus, etc, is not born out.

 

 

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Lets talk about the statement "Unlike you, I would rather War game out resolutions than have it resolved with a couple of die rolls, and a description. "

 

So...in all the wargames I've played, and also the style of rpg with a heavy focus on wargame elements (tactical maps and minis, highly detailed combat resolution, etc), dice rolls were involved (or cards that served a similar randomizing purpose). The "description" of outcomes in those games was present...but they were generally mostly asserted by rules text rather than by one or more of the players. 

 

___

 

Once a player has initiated an action that requires dice based resolution in a game system, whether there is one roll, or an arbitrarily extended series of dice rolls by one or more players (including the GM) is basically irrelevant. In the end there will be an outcome; the number of dice rolls and the complexity necessary to resolve each dice roll to get to that outcome doesn't improve the finality of that outcome.

 

In other words, if a system requires a series of back and forth contested rolls, each of which may have various modifiers, to arrive at a final outcome and the nature of that outcome is put to words by a chunk of rules text, that is not intrinsically a better system than one that boils all the circumstantial considerations of success or failure down to a single dice roll where the nature of the outcome is interpreted by one or more of the players (including the GM). 

 

You may of course prefer one style over the other, but in the end they differ mostly in means, not in motive.

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Pretty much.  The difference between abstraction/crunchiness in RPGs vs wargames has mainly to do with focus.  In my experience wargames tend to have detailed rules for unit movement, casualties, and morale, and few to no rules for the psychological motivations behind the principals.  Conversely (good) RPGs have some mechanics for personalities and noncombat activities like persuasion and lockpicking, and rarely tend to cover unit-scale action well.  And even RPGs vary widely in focus between very-small-unit wargaming and quasi-improv storytelling.

 

That said, everyone is striving for the right balance between crunch and abstraction.  You don't want to get bogged down in minutiae, but at the same time you want a framework around available choices when it's your turn.  The latter can be really paralyzing--at a recent D&D 5E session (I feel dirty for having to type that) the party returned to town and the GM hit us with "You're in town, what do you do?"  And all the players froze in confusion and indecision. 

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