D&D 5E "Tactics are an Important Part of D&D" (a poll)

True or False: "Tactics are important part of D&D"

  • True.

    Votes: 70 72.9%
  • False.

    Votes: 26 27.1%

Burnside

Space Jam Confirmed
Supporter
I think strategy is always important.

I think tactics are MORE important if you're not running theater of the mind. But even if you are, they still matter to a degree.

I'll confess that as a player sometimes find it a bit exasperating when other players aren't tactically solid, especially when using a battle map or VTT.

I went with "yes" because tactics are an important part of D&D to me.
 

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Celebrim

Legend
In case anyone is wondering, tactics broadly mean the use and employment of weapons and exploitation of terrain through movement and denial of movement to the enemy. As such, yes, tactics are an inextricable and huge part of D&D at every table, including the tables that don't think tactics are important.

No matter what edition of D&D you play, there is some limited combat resource where the timing, selection, coordination and implementation of that resource greatly enhances the party's chance of success in combat. In D&D those limited resources are often spells, and how and when and which spells you use in D&D is tactics. (In 4e those 'spells' were called powers and aside from a few mechanical differences, they worked the same way and served the same purpose.)

When I was running large groups of strangers at open tables, one repeated problem that came up was players not directly involved in the current combat deciding to move around and pursue personal goals on their own and almost invariably pulling new monsters into the combat or setting off traps in the middle of combat. This is also tactics, albeit bad tactics. I mention this as an example of the sort of basic tactics that are so fundamental that we hardly ever think of them as tactics like focusing fire to burn down individual targets and not moving on to new rooms until we've cleared existing rooms. You can't remove tactics from D&D and players that are good at them gain advantages over those that aren't in terms of the sort of challenges that they can overcome.
 

In combat tactics are not actually necessary to the game, but they greatly improve it. Strategy, meaning tactics used outside of initiative, is just a different playstyle of the same thing (combat as war vs. combat as sport).

By tactics I mean things like cover, elevation, flanking, making use of the environment in other ways, and coming up with plans that are actually sound (and don't only succeed because of DM fiat), and so on.
Theater of Mind does not preclude tactics.
These two sentences contradict each other. In TotM, everything is subject to DM fiat, including the usefulness of cover, elevation, etc.
 

Larnievc

Adventurer
This poll is open to be looked at from the perspective of a DM or player, and has a very simple premise:

True or False: "Tactics are important part of D&D"

By tactics I mean things like cover, elevation, flanking, making use of the environment in other ways, and coming up with plans that are actually sound (and don't only succeed because of DM fiat), and so on.
I dunno. When I read fantasy novels it’s very rare that the protagonists are a small group of amazingly competent individuals who work as part of well oiled unit.

Unless it’s for the Worf Effect to happen and the real ragtag heroes bumble along and pull a Rocky.
 


Last gaming session we had an encounter that absolutely illustrated the importance of tactics. They stumbled onto some guardians and entered battle willy-nilly as they usually do. They all took a couple 30 HP hits and ran. The guardians were magical and only cared about defending the room they were in. They spent 10 (real-world) minutes healing and planning, then tried the encounter again with a sound strategy that made use of a bunch of their strengths and while they still took some lumps, they beat the guardians with only two people getting as low as half their HP.

Tactics absolutely make a difference, provided the party sticks to the strategy once combat actually starts. I've seen so many times where they say "we'll open with a fireball from the wizard," but then someone charges right into melee before the wizard has a chance to do anything.
 

I'd say the failure of 4E and success of PF1 and 5E shows this to be flatly false, and people saying it's true are kind of fooling themselves.

D&D, in most editions, is about strategy, not tactics. I.e. sheparding your resources over "the adventuring day", and attempting to get ambushes on every possible encounter. Note in warfare ambushes are primarily produces by strategy but can be created by tactics. In D&D that tends not to be the case - they're pretty solely strategic.

Are tactics involved in D&D? Sure, but they're usually extremely shallow and often offer very limited real-terms benefit. 4E was the most tactical edition of D&D by a huge margin and a lot of people definitely didn't like it.
 

Last gaming session we had an encounter that absolutely illustrated the importance of tactics. They stumbled onto some guardians and entered battle willy-nilly as they usually do. They all took a couple 30 HP hits and ran. The guardians were magical and only cared about defending the room they were in. They spent 10 (real-world) minutes healing and planning, then tried the encounter again with a sound strategy that made use of a bunch of their strengths and while they still took some lumps, they beat the guardians with only two people getting as low as half their HP.

Tactics absolutely make a difference, provided the party sticks to the strategy once combat actually starts. I've seen so many times where they say "we'll open with a fireball from the wizard," but then someone charges right into melee before the wizard has a chance to do anything.
I mean this seems like a superb example of strategy, not tactics. You even called it "a sound strategy". I think conflating the two terms is unhelpful myself, even though it is common. If the question is "does strategy matter in D&D", then I'd answer it very differently myself.
 

For TSR-era editions of D&D, yes, tactics are vitally important as you’re all but guaranteed to get a pile of dead characters without them. Tactics are less and less important as WotC editions roll by. The game’s balance and design allow for PCs to blindly charge into combat, so they do.
Is this really a pattern? It was 3e and 3.5e (due to full attacks, and the lack of inter-character synergy), and IMO it's true of 5e, but not 4e. 4e required teamwork, support, careful use of your resources. I have plenty of first-hand experience, much to my chagrin, with "once we got coordinated, and tactical, we started winning."

Separately, I'd argue TSR D&D wasn't "tactical." It was logistical--what is usually called strategic, not tactical. It leaned into the word "campaign"; each combat was a battle, one step in the whole war. WotC D&D is far more tight-focused. This has been a trend in D&D since before there was "D&D." D&D grew out of wargaming: "hit points" once measured how many "hits" a squad could take before being no longer fighting fit, but Chainmail turned it into a single person's ability to continue fighting. Early D&D retained that wargame ethos/conceit, hence the "FFV" epithet. But D&D has steadily done more and more of that "from an individual, low-level perspective" shift over time. In jumps and starts, to be sure, but it's a clear trend across the decades.

Old-school D&D was strategic. Note, for example, your own description here: speaking negatively about being allowed "...to blindly charge into combat." That's VERY much a strategic/logistical judgment, annoyed by a game that doesn't have strategic consequences for (claimed) unnecessary combats. Meanwhile, new-school D&D is can be tactical...but it often isn't. Because tactics aren't rewarded, ruthless personal optimization is rewarded.

I find a significant portion of the problems with D&D can be traced back to the fact that many DMs do not realize how the official rules and their personal house-rules/rulings/tweaks create perverse incentives. 3e/3.5e was CHOCK-FULL of perverse incentives that dragged the game away from its intended goal--which is the bigger reason why I say 3e/3.5e is a "badly designed game," beyond the implementation issues (which are a matter of balance, not whether the design is good.) A well-designed game makes it so the effective play choices are also (a) the fun play choices, and (b) the experience intended by the designer. Both 3e and 5e have some very big problems with rewarding players who do things that are not the intended design experience.
 
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I'd say the failure of 4E and success of PF1 and 5E shows this to be flatly false, and people saying it's true are kind of fooling themselves.

D&D, in most editions, is about strategy, not tactics. I.e. sheparding your resources over "the adventuring day", and attempting to get ambushes on every possible encounter. Note in warfare ambushes are primarily produces by strategy but can be created by tactics. In D&D that tends not to be the case - they're pretty solely strategic.

Are tactics involved in D&D? Sure, but they're usually extremely shallow and often offer very limited real-terms benefit. 4E was the most tactical edition of D&D by a huge margin and a lot of people definitely didn't like it.
People often do not realize what they actually want. I find that this is true in both directions WRT 4e. There are a lot of people who claim to want a "tactical" game, but in truth they really don't like tactical thinking at all. Instead, those folks generally want a combat system which is very nearly not there, just barely present enough to give the feeling that a serious obstacle is present but not actually inducing any problem-solving thinking, whereas the "real" game is in (as you say) the strategic/logistical layer. Then, on the flipside, there are a lot of people who think that making a game "tactical" makes it boring and staid and dry, so they actively avoid trying to engage with such a thing, but they would in fact be pleased with a game that actually supported tactics if they allowed themselves to play it without prejudice.

(Just so it's clear...I was in the latter category until I actually engaged with 4e. Because, as much as I speak positively of it today, I was a straight-up 4e hater for its first couple years, due to former friends presenting it in the worst, most hostile way possible and straight-up confidently speaking falsely about it, and I took them at their word.)
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
If the question is "does strategy matter in D&D", then I'd answer it very differently myself.

So if strategy is the overall plan and tactics are the individual steps/tools/actions used to fulfill that plan, you are saying the former is important but the latter is not? Just trying to make sure I get you. I have a hard time separating them out in practice, though the distinction is clearer in theory.
 

People often do not realize what they actually want. I find that this is true in both directions WRT 4e. There are a lot of people who claim to want a "tactical" game, but in truth they really don't like tactical thinking at all. Instead, those folks generally want a combat system which is very nearly not there, just barely present enough to give the feeling that a serious obstacle is present but not actually inducing any problem-solving thinking, whereas the "real" game is in (as you say) the strategic/logistical layer. Then, on the flipside, there are a lot of people who think that making a game "tactical" makes it boring and staid and dry, so they actively avoid trying to engage with such a thing, but they would in fact be pleased with a game that actually supported tactics if they allowed themselves to play it without prejudice.

(Just so it's clear...I was in the latter category until I actually engaged with 4e. Because, as much as I speak positively of it today, I was a straight-up 4e hater for its first couple years, due to former friends presenting it in the worst, most hostile way possible and straight-up confidently speaking falsely about it, and I took them at their word.)
Absolutely, this is extremely well-put, and yes I've seen both groups a ton.

The second group are particularly interesting. In Indie RPGs right now we're seeing a few RPGs vaguely inspired by 4E (obviously Lancer being the biggest one), and I think from the whole 4E discourse, you'd have expected RPGs inspired by it to be serious, staid, combat-centric affairs, but that is very much not the case, these are very role-playing-heavy, narrative games, which just happen to have a very tactical combat design.
So if strategy is the overall plan and tactics are the individual steps/tools/actions used to fulfill that plan, you are saying the former is important but the latter is not? Just trying to make sure I get you. I have a hard time separating them out in practice, though the distinction is clearer in theory.
Pretty much yes.

Strategy is the overall plan and preparation and resource management. Stuff like how you're going to approach an encounter or dungeon beforehand is strategy, deciding what spells to memorize is strategy, even building your character is often strategy. Whereas tactics is stuff that's on the fly, particularly responding to unexpected stuff, improvising, acting outside any plan in a way that's genuinely effective (rather than Keystone Kops slapstick which is what most adventuring groups manage).

Historically you often had commanders who were great at one but not the other. Like Caesar's invasion of Britain showed awful strategy, but amazing tactics in battle. His plan was outright dumb, he lost most of his ships and cavalry because he was an idiot who ignored well-known conditions he'd been advised of (almost by his own account), but the approaches he used when fighting the British (who he knew very little about) were very clever and he pulled out some victories that a lesser commander likely wouldn't have.
 

Mezuka

Hero
As a wargamer, with 4e I got what I wanted.

But it turns out too many tactics and power synergies didn't sit well with me as a DM. Beyond level 6 I was mentally drained after our sessions. More drained than my games of WH 40K or Warmachines. I felt I was playing a wargame against 5 opponents at the same time. It didn't help three of the players are very good wargamers.

I stopped playing 4e because I could not mentally sustain it anymore.

So, yes I'm for tactics and strategies in D&D but not to the point where we spend one afternoon doing a single mega-combat that can kill death itself (me the DM)! If I want to do that I'll play a wargame instead.
 

So if strategy is the overall plan and tactics are the individual steps/tools/actions used to fulfill that plan, you are saying the former is important but the latter is not? Just trying to make sure I get you. I have a hard time separating them out in practice, though the distinction is clearer in theory.
As noted in an edit to my post above (replying to Overgeeked), I think the clearest intuitive difference between a "strategic" game and a "tactical" game can be found in the kinds of complaints that fans of one will make when they have to do the other.

A strategy fan will say things like, "This game is boring! There are no long-term consequences. You just rush headlong into every battle, confident you can win." Or derisively referring to it as "combat as sport," or expressing frustration over other people not realizing that every single combat "has a point," it's just that the point may literally be "you should not have gotten into this fight."

A tactics fan will say things like, "This game is boring! Everything is about planning hours or weeks ahead. You never take any risks at all, because you never do anything without being extremely confident you'll win." (Notice the symmetry here? This is not an accident.) Or derisively using terms like "Fantasy Bleeping Vietnam," or expressing frustration over other people not realizing that a lot of the minutiae and "consequences" are just not very engaging.

The one thing I find humorous is that both sides will complain about the other being risk-free and being about a character sheet rather than paying attention and thinking creatively. Strategic fans in a tactical-focused game complain that, because each combat is self-contained (and often the players can bounce back from a fight they have won), there is no risk--by which they mean, there is no strategic risk, because the strategic position stays pretty much uniform until the party is pushed almost to the breaking point, where things very, very quickly go from "everything is fine!" to "we are literally one bad situation away from a TPK." Further, they will complain that the game has become nothing but rote, unthinking "button mashing" or the like (this is where a lot of the nasty, mean-spirited comparisons to MMOs come from)--because what they actually mean is that strategic-level resources aren't really present, so you aren't really doing much strategic-level thinking.

Conversely, a tactics fan in a strategy-focused game is likely to make very similar complaints but perfectly reversed in reasoning. Because each combat is inextricably linked from "the campaign" as a whole, individual tactical decisions are basically pointless, because combat is so risky, you always want to go into it extremely confident you can win. There's "no risk" (in a tactical sense) because it is desirable that every tactical-scale situation be perfectly decided before the battle even begins: either you win by a rout or you lose (and, hopefully, run away to fight another day...but often not.) Likewise, the individual actions you can take in combat are...well, usually really really simple and not very interesting on their own, so there's no tactical thinking involved--the game becomes "nothing but checking to see if you have a certain piece of equipment or not," exactly parallel to one of the main criticisms of tactical-focused play from strategy fans.

The terms used to contrast these things, which I find extremely useful as a tool of analysis, are "lethality" and "volatility." A lethal game is one that tends to lean toward strategic thinking: combat is deadly, so you do everything you can to avoid it, or if it cannot be avoided, you build up every possible advantage long before combat begins, so you can utterly overwhelm the opponent ASAP. A volatile game is one where the future state of affairs is difficult to predict even if you have a very good understanding of the current state of affairs, which leans it toward the tactical: fights become dynamic sequences of puzzles to solve, trying to reason out the best maneuver to apply to this arrangement of participants, knowing that you cannot have perfect knowledge of what will come next.

Or, if you prefer examples that are more rooted in a physical product you can see and touch, Crusader Kings is a game series ALL ABOUT strategy, which involves essentially no tactics whatsoever, while Fire Emblem is a game series ALL ABOUT tactics, which involves essentially no strategy whatsoever. (Both of those "essentially no..." is realistically wrong, there are strategic concerns in the form of weapon durability for FE and in the form of deployment of forces in CK, but the meat-and-potatoes of gameplay for the two very clearly pushes the tactical in FE and the strategic in CK.)
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
I believe that there is only one correct answer. Tactics including "do I attack, whom do I attack, what do I use to attack with" as well as more in-depth things. If you've ever focus fired, decided to use one spell instead of another, decided to tank, decided NOT to tank, went after the most hurt, went after a particular target - you are using tactics.

Anyone one who says it isn't important in D&D is literally deluding themselves.

D&D combat has always been a combination of what the character can do and the player making decisions on how to use them.
 

TwoSix

Unserious gamer
Or, if you prefer examples that are more rooted in a physical product you can see and touch, Crusader Kings is a game series ALL ABOUT strategy, which involves essentially no tactics whatsoever, while Fire Emblem is a game series ALL ABOUT tactics, which involves essentially no strategy whatsoever. (Both of those "essentially no..." is realistically wrong, there are strategic concerns in the form of weapon durability for FE and in the form of deployment of forces in CK, but the meat-and-potatoes of gameplay for the two very clearly pushes the tactical in FE and the strategic in CK.)
What I find interesting is that I love both of those game series, but the idea of combining both of them together sounds exhausting. So maybe a game that emphasizes one or the other is kind of a requirement to keep the game playable?
 

But it turns out too many tactics and power synergies didn't sit well with me as a DM. Beyond level 6 I was mentally drained after our sessions. More drained than my games of WH 40K or Warmachines. I felt I was playing a wargame against 5 opponents at the same time. It didn't help three of the players are very good wargamers.
Interesting. It had the exact opposite result on me, it filled me with energy to have to deal with a "wargame on multiple fronts", as it were.

What did ultimately make 4E unfun for us was when it turned into endless sequences of Reactions, Immediate Actions, Interrupts, and so on, which usually starts around level 11 and then gets worse and worse (non-4E players may like to note 4E is level 1-30 not level 1-20). That was extremely tiring and not just for me but the players too because it went in both directions and required people to pay too much attention outside their actual turn.
 

Vaalingrade

Legend
True, but I am aware that thinking that having a variety of combat options to make tactical choices interesting is a sin and I will burn in D&D Hell* for it.

*meaning I have an excellent chance of taking the joint over.
 

Panzeh

Explorer
Interesting. It had the exact opposite result on me, it filled me with energy to have to deal with a "wargame on multiple fronts", as it were.

What did ultimately make 4E unfun for us was when it turned into endless sequences of Reactions, Immediate Actions, Interrupts, and so on, which usually starts around level 11 and then gets worse and worse (non-4E players may like to note 4E is level 1-30 not level 1-20). That was extremely tiring and not just for me but the players too because it went in both directions and required people to pay too much attention outside their actual turn.
Yeah, I really enjoyed 4e and what it was trying to do, but while I could handle the bandwidth of that, 4e's way of showing how much more powerful characters got over the levels did make it hard for a lot of people to keep up- the increased complexity just falls over with a lot of my RPG-playing pals.
 

What I find interesting is that I love both of those game series, but the idea of combining both of them together sounds exhausting. So maybe a game that emphasizes one or the other is kind of a requirement to keep the game playable?
Oh, definitely. You might be able to develop a compromise sort of game, where both layers are relatively light but feed into one another in interesting ways. But in general, it's not going to work to try to have a game that simultaneously offers rich, detailed tactical challenges and comprehensive, thorough strategic challenges.

As some of my examples have shown (and as the "combat as war"/"combat as sport" alleged dichotomy tries to assert, but IMO does a poor job of it), the two methods kind of have exactly opposite fundamental assumptions. The tactical-focused game is a matter of quick decisions, synergies, building up to impressive finishers, etc.; advantage should arise from the sequence of decisions. The strategic-focused game is a matter of logistics, exploitation, and long-term planning; advantage should arise from the sagacity of decisions. Both can take on a puzzle-like nature, but in very different ways; tactical puzzles are (intentionally) very similar to chess puzzles, while strategic puzzles are more like lateral thinking exercises. Both can involve immense amounts of creativity, limitations, surprises, and head games, but they just operate on totally different underlying assumptions.

Or, to combine the two together: it would be like having to solve a jigsaw puzzle where in order to place a piece, you have to play a hand of cards, and every time you lose a hand of cards, a piece you've already put down gets tossed back into the pile. Sure, it could potentially be fun to do, but naively stacking the two approaches on top of each other generally results in something that is less than the sum of its parts.
 

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