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Is there demand for a “tactical” RPG akin to 4e?

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Randomthoughts

Adventurer
Curious about people’s thoughts on this. I always liked the tactical aspects of D&D 4e, though didn’t play much of it myself. I think in a lot of ways, 4e suffered due to marketing and the fact that it was so different from D&D 3.5e, yet had the same name.

I’m sure there were many other issues that 4e had which turned away gamers, but I am curious now if there is demand for another game, which takes the best of 4e, and is designed and marketed as a “tactical” RPG. That is to say, an RPG with emphasis on grid-based combat, with depth for character creation, “powers” chosen at different levels (unique to the classes), and of course, a functional “social”/RP mechanics, with related skills, etc.
Pretty sure there's always going to be demand. I've modified 5e on FG to run a bit like 4e, but it's not really the same (nor should it be).
I'd really like 4e to be re-released with a OGL or something similar so I can play it on a VTT. Yes, I know there are alternatives out there and many are playing it now, but it requires a bit of tech savvy I haven't mustered yet. I'm still hoping....

I already mentioned LANCER and Gubat Banwa, both heavily inspired by 4e, but Tom Parkinson-Morgan (LANCER) has also released a playtest version of the ICON RPG, which uses some of the tactical mechanics of LANCER, together with narrative framework borrowed from Blades in the Dark. The feel of the setting is very much a techno-magical one, with angel-summoning gunslingers, shadow-teleporting assassins and lighting-throwing spellblades. The grid-based combat design has a strong Final Fantasy Tactics influence, but with the same kind of pushes, marks and in-combat healing you'd see in 4e.
Hadn't heard of Gubat Banwa so thanks for the link! I have LANCER (hard and electronic copy); have a group willing to play over the holidays. I also joined the KS for Role so looking forward to playing that online. I also downloaded ICON but haven't played it.

TBH, I still want 4e to be re-released, ideally on my fave VTT (Fantasy Grounds). Mainly so I can use all my 4e stuff!
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
When I specifically want to spend hours on fantasy themed tactical combat, I usually turn to Gloomhaven, rather than an RPG.
 

The Fantasy Trip is an old school (like, literally...published in 1980) game that was based on a couple of tactical "Microgames", the first of which - Melee - is available for free in PDF format. Melee was specifically written in response to early D&D's lack of tactical options and "realism", as the author (Steve Jackson) saw it. A companion game, Wizard, was also available, introduced magic, and the game were compatible with each other.

Though presented as board games for arena battles, they had many of the trappings of an RPG, including abilities like Strength, Dexterity and Intelligence, as well as Experience Points gained for winning a battle. They both formed the basis for a full blown TTRPG - The Fantasy Trip. Unfortunately, due to a company rift and fights over publication rights, the game went out of print within a few years. However, it had fans with dedication sites up even in the 2010's.

Fast forward a few decades. The rights reverted back to Steve Jackson as the original author, and a hugely successful Kickstarter brought back the game in a slightly more polished version. As you can see here, the game is getting plenty of ongoing support, with new products just released this weekend.

So, if you're interested in strategic combat - facing, pole arm advantages, damage absorbing armor - where things are tightly balanced against each other (for instance, Strength is both hit points and what Wizards use to fuel spells) I recommend you check it out.
 

Im assuming folks are thinking of the marks, and push, and blast elements of 4E that are unique to that edition. I'd love to hear more from folks on this tho.
When I specifically want to spend hours on fantasy themed tactical combat, I usually turn to Gloomhaven, rather than an RPG.
I've played in multiple campaigns for 13th Age, 4E and 3.5, PF1, PF2, Savage Worlds, Fate and AD&D. I've also got 100+ hours of Gloomhaven under my belt, so I've feeling pretty much the target person for this question!

I strongly enjoy tactical group play -- and by that I don't mean just "pieces on a board", I mean the need for a group to consider each other's strengths, and to significantly require team coordination to be highly effective. Of the games in this list, I'd rank the order as:
  1. Gloomhaven
  2. 4E
  3. PF2
  4. Everything else (SW might head the list)
Gloomhaven has specific rules on NOT sharing plans, because the entire game is about tactical teamwork. I played the main campaign at level +2, and at that level if you tried to do your own thing, you would fail, almost certainly.
A very typical round might have conversation: "I'm not going as fast as I can, but I'm going pretty fast and I can be the target for most of their attacks if you can move slowly" "Ahh, not sure I can move slow enough, I'll plan to go invisible then if I am faster than you"

For 4E, you don't need that level of coordination for most encounters, but it makes things very smooth if you do, but for big encounters, it's not uncommon for our group to plan 10 minutes on what we expect to do the first round, and powers that help your team move around, give them extra abilities and so on.
A very typical round might have conversation: "Keep that 3x3 square open, I'm going to daze those two bodyguards in it, but it's not ally friendly" "Hey, delay for me then; I'll move Janet out of that space and have a good chance of sliding the boss into the zone for you"

PF2 has a number of classes who do operate pretty independently; but it does benefit significantly from a bit of planning. I think mostly because the game is harder than other current D&D versions by quite a bit, so even small tactical considerations make a big difference.
 

Zaukrie

New Publisher
I've played in multiple campaigns for 13th Age, 4E and 3.5, PF1, PF2, Savage Worlds, Fate and AD&D. I've also got 100+ hours of Gloomhaven under my belt, so I've feeling pretty much the target person for this question!

I strongly enjoy tactical group play -- and by that I don't mean just "pieces on a board", I mean the need for a group to consider each other's strengths, and to significantly require team coordination to be highly effective. Of the games in this list, I'd rank the order as:
  1. Gloomhaven
  2. 4E
  3. PF2
  4. Everything else (SW might head the list)
Gloomhaven has specific rules on NOT sharing plans, because the entire game is about tactical teamwork. I played the main campaign at level +2, and at that level if you tried to do your own thing, you would fail, almost certainly.
A very typical round might have conversation: "I'm not going as fast as I can, but I'm going pretty fast and I can be the target for most of their attacks if you can move slowly" "Ahh, not sure I can move slow enough, I'll plan to go invisible then if I am faster than you"

For 4E, you don't need that level of coordination for most encounters, but it makes things very smooth if you do, but for big encounters, it's not uncommon for our group to plan 10 minutes on what we expect to do the first round, and powers that help your team move around, give them extra abilities and so on.
A very typical round might have conversation: "Keep that 3x3 square open, I'm going to daze those two bodyguards in it, but it's not ally friendly" "Hey, delay for me then; I'll move Janet out of that space and have a good chance of sliding the boss into the zone for you"

PF2 has a number of classes who do operate pretty independently; but it does benefit significantly from a bit of planning. I think mostly because the game is harder than other current D&D versions by quite a bit, so even small tactical considerations make a big difference.
I'd agree with your rankings.

I'll also say, at the risk of getting the ire of people aimed at me, 4e can be as much about role playing and exploration as any version of any RPG. It is all about what the group wants to be / do. We had nights with no combat.....but that was rare. Not because the game forced us that way, but because the group I played with enjoyed the combat aspects quite a bit.

I prefer 4e to 5e, but play 5e because that is what the people I play with play. It is just easier to play games that are supported with official character sheets and whatnot (the monster builder for 4e was the greatest tool ever. So easy to make new monsters).
 

univoxs

That's my dog, Walter
Supporter
I scratch this itch with Rangers of Shadow Deep. But I've always played D&D with tactical combat so idk. Like many, disliked 4e, don't care for 5e so much either.
 

(the monster builder for 4e was the greatest tool ever. So easy to make new monsters).
Yes, totally. 13th Age has easily the best monsters that are ready to go, but 4E made customization and creation of unique, fun, tactically interesting monsters so smooth.

Here's a couple of my favorites ... first, a medusa that leaps away from you and pushes you back out of range of all your player's nasty attacks, but can also pull in the squishes. I ran her on a rooftop city combat and pushing epic archers off buildings while dragging mages nice and close was a lot of fun

http://willsfamily.org/files/rpg/4e/Medusa.pdf

And here's the monster I grew at them in the final fight of my 4E campaign. She's labelled a solo, but I threw in 4 other level 32 creatures (2 soldiers and 2 strikers) to keep things interesting.

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vincegetorix

Jewel of the North
I'd suggest the 13th Age, but I can also say that 4e runs pretty well with the math fix of 5e.

I use only the one of those 3 books setup:
  • PHB 1-2-3 only (PHB 3 being only the Psionic classes)
  • PHB 1-2-3 plus ''power books 1'' for every power source
  • Essentials only.

Special rules:
no feats, no themes.
no + half-level, use Proficiency bonus instead.
Attunement limit of 5e.
Items from 4e

Or, if you want to keep it simple, use 4e with:
No feats, no themes, PHBs only. Use Inherent Bonuses (an option from DMG 3, IIRC ?)
+1 to all Defenses at 11th and 21th levels, +1 to all Attack rolls (I call it Paragon Boons and Epic Boons, merged with the base +1 to all stats that a PC gets at 11th and 21th.)

MM3/Monster Vault/Threat to the NV for the DM's side.
 

I never really considered the gimmick-loaded 4e a tactical game; but every version of D&D has been a combat-focused game with few real options.

Zweihander, my current go-to system, is a lovely tactical game which also handles social situations well. It is incredibly lethal, fast, and grim.
 

Jacob Lewis

Ye Olde GM
You know what? I am sick and tired of waiting for someone else to come out with a version of the game that I want. 4e works great! It's not perfect, but no edition ever is.

So what if there is no new material to support it? This is the easiest edition I have ever run as a GM. Session preps were cake. I still have all my books, plus the magazines I downloaded while my DDI subscription was active. And anything I am miss is probably in pdf on one of the DriveThru stores.

No, I already have the tactical game like 4e. It's 4e. And I am going to make it my own, for me. Finally, I can have all the rules and components I want to use, consolidated and updated in one place. Probably gonna make some changes, too. Why? Because that is what we do since 1974! We homebrew!
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But now we have nicer tools. ;)
 

My rankings for 4e-like tactical RPGs (that I've played) are as follows:

Player character creation and development - diversity of builds
  1. D&D 4th Edition/Essentials - For sheer variety of builds and abilities, 4e is still unbeatable. I collected the books up until Heroes of Shadow, and I had the Essentials books (although one of them has gone missing). Some books were better than others - Divine Power, for instance, was full of really good stuff in my opinion (and I watched my players make full use of the Paladin and Invoker powers). Whereas Heroes of Shadow had some good concepts but not so much good execution. If only we still had the online character builder...
  2. LANCER - The game's gradual accumulation of mech licenses (29 in the core book) - from which you can pick-and-choose various components, weapons and software to build your dream fighting machine - is a winning concept. It helps that even the starting mech and its huge weapons list is already quite flexible and powerful, so players feel like they have a lot of good choices right from the start. Expansions The Long Rim and No Room For A Wallflower Part 1 add some useful new mechs and alternate frames, allowing for martial arts mechs, time manipulation and other unique tactics. LANCER gets a big boost for having COMP/CON, a highly polished online character builder/tracker that blows every other character builder out of the water.
  3. LANCER: Battlegroup - Caveat: this TTRPG isn't officially released yet, but I'm going by the 1.9.6 version of the rules. Players get 24 capital ship hull types to play (your character gets 2-6 ships to command in their battlegroup), with a plethora of various superheavy, primary and secondary weapons, as well as various ship systems, escort vessels and wings (fighters and mechs). Although the dice mechanics are similar to LANCER's, the entire fleet-building system is quite different. It's simpler, more like list-building in a point-based wargame, except with the caveat that you have to consider how your character's battlegroup synergizes with the rest of the party (a 5-player fleet could have as many as 30 ships). Different ships have different slot types so you can't literally combine any weapon or system with any ship, and after a while certain build archetypes do start to show up more often.
  4. 13th Age - The 9 core classes are relatively well-balanced, but some of the simpler classes (Barbarian, Paladin) lack depth by design, so there's only so much players can do with them. You really want to get the 13 True Ways book, with 6 new classes (not all of which are good - Chaos Mage, I'm looking at you) and more importantly, multi-classing rules that give players a lot more room to play with. The multi-classing is better than 4e's version, even if the variety of classes and powers isn't up there.
Player tactical space - interesting and meaningful options in battle
  1. LANCER - This game came on the tail of years of development and playtesting, and clearly builds on 4e's gameplay innovations. It shows. Players feel strong and capable from the start. Play occurs on a grid or hex map, and flying units add extra spice to this. You get one move and one full action (or two quick actions) each turn, plus a reaction on each turn (including each enemy's turn!), and within these limitations you can be a lot of things: a gunner, a melee hitter, a hacker, a combat engineer who deploys turrets and barriers, and more. Often two or more of these in the same round. The heat system lets you push your luck for extra quick actions, and some mech builds gain benefits from overheating, so it's an entire category of tactics to play with. Each mech also has a core power that can be used once per adventure, somewhat like 4e's action points (when used with paragon or epic powers for specific effects), and these can be game-changers too. And like 4e, there are limited resources (including repairs and core powers) that players must manage over the course of an adventure, so players have to pace their usage of these.
  2. D&D 4th Edition/Essentials - 4e came out almost 14 years ago, and many games have tried to build upon its tactical innovations, but 4e is still one of the top systems for empowering players to do exciting and meaningful things in battle. When a Defender hits with an attack of opportunity, it's more than just hit points, it's an event horizon closing upon the enemy's future options. Leaders determine the pace of battle and the endurance of their party members. Strikers play the hit point reduction game. Controllers...control. When 4e is running, and the players are on the ball, it just feels really, really good. There are many caveats to this, because gameplay changes as you level up into Paragon and Epic, and fights can get wildly complex, but there are more good levels of play than bad ones, by far.
  3. LANCER: Battlegroup - Every player battlegroup gets two actions - one maneuver and one tactic, or just two tactics, and the limited maneuver space (the gyre of combat on which ships more is basically a line with six positions on it) means that fights have a certain shape that they all fall into. Battlegroups that dance at extreme or long range, firing targeting lasers and waiting for their charge guns to power up (which can take up to 4 rounds), while others dive to shorter ranges and find themselves absorbing enormous amounts of damage and casualties. Fights have a definite time limit before ships get drawn closer and the combat gyre tightens into short ranges. Also, in a 2-3 player skirmish, it feels quite balanced, but when there are 4 or more battlegroups on each side, whichever ships dive first tend to get focus fired into oblivion, or overrun with enemy boarding parties. It can be discouraging for players to charge in first and find themselves being hammered hard, although there are builds and teamwork tactics that can alleviate this. Don't get me wrong, though. The game has gone through plenty of playtesting and balancing, and there are many different ways for players to fight, whether it's fishing for critical hits, using escorts and wings to swarm enemies for damage without having to make hit rolls, or the aforementioned long-range sniper builds. And there is no other roleplaying game where space combat feels this...big. Combat rounds cover hours of game time, but take just minutes to play through. Battles last days and cost thousands of lives. Boarding actions involve hundreds of marines and mechs fighting over multiple decks of multiple ships in the same battlegroup. Spinal petajoule kinetic cannons punch a hole clean through a battleship, and then destroy the smaller escort behind it, all in the same shot. And occasionally, the player who has charged all the way into point-blank range, all their ships gone save one, giving the order: "Ramming speed!"
  4. 13th Age - okay, there's no grid, although the engagement/disengagement and range band system sort of emulates this in a fuzzy way. But for a "4e-lite," 13th Age manages to carve out interesting areas of design space where it improves on its parent. The Escalation Die, a combat timer that increases hit probabilities (and affects a few powers) as time goes on. Reading natural dice rolls for extra effects (natural evens, natural odds, natural 2s all having different effects for some classes). And the big differentiator compared with 4e - every class plays very differently from the others! A sufficiently levelled barbarian becomes a whirling glass cannon of critical hit generation when it activates its rage. A bard juggles song effects, flexible attack rolls and spells with better action economy than anyone else. The monk chains combo moves with escalating impact, with devastating results if they get to the third turn of a combo. But again, not every class plays as tactically as the others, and most people will agree that the 13th Age fighter, while having some novelty value, doesn't hold a candle compared with its 4e counterpart.
GM ease of running - encounter balancing and handling multiple enemies in play
  1. 13th Age - Monster stat boxes that are easy to read and use, with some special powers activating on random triggers (the natural roll of the attack die), which reduces GM decision-making while still adding variety to gameplay. Encounter math that manages to be even tighter and better than 4e, despite having hit points that inflate higher in 10 levels of play than 4e did in 30 levels. A better "minion" system than 4e. And a huge variety of monsters when you include the bestiary, demon and adventure books. Roll on, Gelatinous Octohedron!
  2. LANCER: Battlegroup - Some people may dislike how this game simplifies the enemy battleline and its movement - enemy ships don't really move, only player ships do - but it makes GMing a breeze. When you need to run a balanced base capture mission involving four player battlegroups containing 20 ships, there's already plenty to track without including NPC movement. The NPC flagship template system has some similarities to LANCER and 4e's useful monster templates, and while I would like more variety in enemy types, it is a core game without supplements, so it's understandable.
  3. LANCER - I'm going to be making some of the same comments - and complaints - for both LANCER and 4e. Enemies are abstracted compared with player characters, but they still have plenty of customization in terms of special abilities. There is more guidance in LANCER for different mission types, and it offers many templates to modify enemy mechs to create sub-bosses and extremely strong boss fights. But as a relatively mature game with a lot of player options, it becomes increasingly hard for GMs to prepare for what players are bringing to the table. A gauntlet mission involving an enemy blockade and a finish line is trivially hard for Lancers with access to the teleporting Sunzi mech license, for instance.
  4. D&D 4th Edition/Essentials - A mature and well-tested system, with all the innovations to make encounters easy to build, enemies easy to handle in play. But the first two gorgeous Monster Manuals (and the Draconomicons and Open Grave) have the older hit point and damage math which makes combat drag on and on... I'd still run this game if I had to, but I'd be careful to use MM3 monster math.
Systems I've read end-to-end but have not tried yet: ICON (LANCER-meets-Forged in the Dark, but with fantasy heroes instead of mechs) and Gubat Banwa (Forged in the Dark narrative framework, LANCER-like character building, 4e-influenced combat system). Both are still undergoing playtesting and I have yet to see how the balance shakes out.
 


Aldarc

Legend
It does seem as if 4e D&D awakened a desire for more tactical roleplay among some tabletop gamers, and I also think that video games have also influenced this design. But I will also point out that a lot of these designers aren't necessarily pointing to WoW as their computer game inspiration - as was something of a rallying accusation against 4e - but, rather, to JRPGs, particularly games like Final Fantasy Tactics. (I also expect Divinity: Original Sin 2 to become a fairly significant influence too, but that remains to be seen.)
 

But I will also point out that a lot of these designers aren't necessarily pointing to WoW as their computer game inspiration - as was something of a rallying accusation against 4e - but, rather, to JRPGs, particularly games like Final Fantasy Tactics.
Absolutely. Tell me this example of play doesn't evoke the FFT battle grid...

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Retreater

Legend
This is the easiest edition I have ever run as a GM. Session preps were cake.
One of my best memories of 4e was the comraderie of D&D Encounters. That group at the local store became my house group for many years.
It was low stress, I could run a satisfying session for 2 hours, go out and grab drinks afterwards with my friends, even as my first marriage was falling apart.
Everything you needed to run the monsters were in a stat block, their actions, spells, keywords all nicely laid out. You didn't have to flip through anything.
5e and PF2 could've learned something from that.
 

Lionblade

Villager
You know what? I am sick and tired of waiting for someone else to come out with a version of the game that I want. 4e works great! It's not perfect, but no edition ever is.

So what if there is no new material to support it? This is the easiest edition I have ever run as a GM. Session preps were cake. I still have all my books, plus the magazines I downloaded while my DDI subscription was active. And anything I am miss is probably in pdf on one of the DriveThru stores.

No, I already have the tactical game like 4e. It's 4e. And I am going to make it my own, for me. Finally, I can have all the rules and components I want to use, consolidated and updated in one place. Probably gonna make some changes, too. Why? Because that is what we do since 1974! We homebrew!
View attachment 146347
But now we have nicer tools. ;)

Haha, yeah, maybe I should just grab the PDFs for the books I’m missing and dive in to 4e haha :)

I never really considered the gimmick-loaded 4e a tactical game; but every version of D&D has been a combat-focused game with few real options.

Zweihander, my current go-to system, is a lovely tactical game which also handles social situations well. It is incredibly lethal, fast, and grim.

I keep hearing a lot about Zweihander- it sounds pretty cool!
 

I definitely think there is. My group at least has some fans of it.
And we're also looking for ease on the DMing side, which 4E was definitely better at than other games we played.

I adapted some rules to create a Star Wars game even, and now I am trying to an Arcane Unearthed/Diamond Throne game while my Star Wars game is still running. And we're looking for new stuff as well.
 

Newest edition of Twilight 2k has incredibly detailed combat. Savage World has miniature rules baked into it's DNA and is basically a RPG/skirmish miniatures game. Fragged Empire was created to feel like a FPS.

The only grid-based combat game with "powers" chosen at different levels is 4e. So if you're asking if people want more 4e, I think the real answer is "do you want to bring a new game to the market that's a retro-clone of 4e?"
I think there's a huge difference between detailed combat and tactical combat. I wouldn't rate Savage Worlds at all for "tactical" combat. It's not inherently particularly tactical, despite being mini-friendly. Twilight 2000 I haven't played the new version of, but I'd be shocked if the combat was in any way actually tactical.

Whereas 4E, and, notably, Lancer, are extremely tactical in a genuine sense. I think Lancer shows people would still like something like that, to be honest.
 

Whereas 4E, and, notably, Lancer, are extremely tactical in a genuine sense. I think Lancer shows people would still like something like that, to be honest.
And I will add that LANCER, ICON and Gubat Banwa all play on a grid (LANCER also works well on hexes) and all have different "powers" chosen at each level (and more mix-and-match modularity than 4e did). They're true successors to 4e and it always annoys me that people talk about them like they don't exist.

Two of the games I mentioned (LANCER and ICON) can be downloaded for free on itch.io right now! There is no barrier to reading them!
 

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