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D&D General Why is D&D 4E a "tactical" game?

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Hex08

Explorer
I've never played D&D 4E, I quit D&D when it was released, but I have noticed it is frequently referred to as a "tactical" game, more so than other versions of D&D. Why is that? 3.x was a very tactical game, combat was pretty much designed to take place on a battle map with minis. Is something else meant by 4e being tactical or were a battle map and minis even more of a requirement?
 

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It gives more turn-to-turn choices for players, in a few ways:

Everyone has several different viable main action choices every round. You have a couple at-will attacks that have differing riders, a few encounter attacks available every fight to chose form, and a few dailies to consider. And then a fewe minor action powers to pick from. Other editions tend to give you one at-will (maybe two for full casters, but since attack cantrips compete with utility cantrips many people grab only one attack cantrip), and then maybe a daily if you're not a full caster. Full; casters tend to mostly have strategic decisions (is this the right fight to cast this spell?) but once you've picked your big spell for the fight you just direct it.

In addition, 4e made heavy use of the map. It was very easy to create zones on the map where you would want to be (allies' auras) or where you'd want to put enemies (damaging zones), plus monsters and other opponents did the same, plus most characters had ways to move other people around - you were moving a lot, because where you stood mattered a lot. In 3e and 5e, zones are a lot less effective than direct damage spells so using control effects isn't common, few monsters can, and therefore in many battles you just walk up to the thing you want to hit and stay put until it's dead. This is better for Theater of the Mind, but removes a whole vector of tactical decisions.

4e is, if anything less strategic than other editions - attrition over the day is a minor factor since you can usually heal up between fights and aren't reliant on daily powers, and it's a bit less strategic at the build level than 3e because 4e did try to avoid trap options (although some hybrid class builds were overpowered). But 4e is way ahead in the tactical decisions it asks of you as a player.
 

I've never played D&D 4E, I quit D&D when it was released, but I have noticed it is frequently referred to as a "tactical" game, more so than other versions of D&D. Why is that? 3.x was a very tactical game, combat was pretty much designed to take place on a battle map with minis. Is something else meant by 4e being tactical or were a battle map and minis even more of a requirement?
A battlemat and minis were even more of a requirement.

3.X was I think more of a strategic game than tactical. In that most of the time the choices that really mattered were character advancement ones.

4e still has a lot of that (too much to my mind) but makes a lot more points for tactical choice to matter.

Things like the importance of forced movement and tactical synergies between characters and positioning matter a lot more.
 

Lord_Blacksteel

Adventurer
A few points to add to the excellent points made above:
1) The forced movement aspect cannot be overstated - push, pull, slide ... all made terrain and positioning significant. Push that enemy into the lave pit or over the cliff edge, pull this enemy that's vulnerable to fire into the zone the warden just created around himself and into the reach of the fighter with a reaction that can hit them when they move into range ... it placed a lot more emphasis on that kind of thing than any other edition of the game.

2) Player involvement - you really had to pay attention all the time as every class had reaction abilities that could be triggered by enemy movement or other actions. Also some classes had the ability to give other characters a chance to act on their turn, Leader roles generally, and the Warlord class in particular, could hand out actions pretty regularly.

"Tactical" doesn't just mean a map and mini's - it mainly means what you can do in the course of a combat. Lots of interesting choices to be made with a solid party of 4E characters. Watching people discover it as they played was pretty entertaining.
 

There were a lot more things going on in a 4E Battle than other editions. Some (rightfully) consider this a lot of bookkeeping, but there's no denying it made battles interesting since everything was getting pushed around, throwing out dangerous terrain, making decisions about walking through one aura, or potentially getting stuck to the fighter who themselves deal auto damage just for being near them. And even when you end your turn, you're still watching to see if someone triggers any of your reaction criteria.

Information overload for some. But dang if you were not handed a hot pile of choices.
 

beast013

Explorer
I've always seen 4e as closing the loop - back to Chain Mail. 4e is a tactical set of combat rules. Players must be engaged, studying the map as the players have chances for interrupts and reactions. 4e (IMO) is not for the casual role player - designed more for a wargamer.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/They)
Positioning really, really matters in 4e combat. 3e tried to make positioning matter with the rules for attacks of opportunity, but mostly it just meant everybody just stood still and full round attacked every turn. In 4e, there were so many abilities that created sustained zones of effect, and so many abilities that forced enemy movement or allowed ally movement, it made positioning both crucial and highly dynamic.

In addition, turn-to-turn decisions (literally, tactics in the war game sense of the word) were very impactful, and you had a lot more options for what to do.

Arguably, long-term planning (strategy) was less important than in other editions because the game was much more balanced around the individual encounter rather than the full adventuring day, though there certainly were strategic elements like managing hit dice and daily powers. But in general 4e de-emphasized daily resource management compared to other editions, but more heavily emphasized turn-to-turn tactical decision-making. I think this is why some folks found the feel too “boardgamey” or “videogamey.”
 
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Staffan

Legend
Another important thing was how almost all character class powers were focused on tactical combat, and they took up a very large portion of the PHB. Non-combat stuff was mostly the domain of skills (including skill challenges) and ritual magic. So for example, the defining abilities of a druid would be elemental blasts, plant manipulation, and shapechanging into fierce beasts, but not things like Animal Friendship, Control Weather, or Commune With Nature – those are rituals and available to anyone with the Ritual Caster feat and the Nature skill.

Yet another thing that made 4e feel more tactical was monsters. In 3e, monsters were built much like characters: start with a monster type and a number of Hit Dice (similar to class + level), add in the effect of ability scores, feats, and possibly gear, generate stats from those, and compare the end result to other monsters to see how difficult it is. This was a method that looked good on paper and seemed "fair", but it could create monsters with some real weirdness to their abilities (e.g. the ogre mage).

In 4e, monsters are instead based on level and a distinct combat role: artillery, brute, controller, lurker, skirmisher, and soldier, with some having an additional leader sub-role. The monster's stats and abilities would be based on its role and level, so a Brute would have a lot of hit points, a low AC, a low attack bonus, but hurt like heck when they connect. A lurker would have a low number of hit points, generally moderate stats, but some ability to deal extra damage to vulnerable targets. And so on. The monster stats were very combat-focused – monsters in older editions often had lots of non-combat or semi-combat abilities but in 4e the idea was that sure, the black dragon might have the ability to foul water sources, but that's something that happens off-screen so it has no place in the stat block.
 

Staffan

Legend
A battlemat and minis were even more of a requirement.

3.X was I think more of a strategic game than tactical. In that most of the time the choices that really mattered were character advancement ones.

4e still has a lot of that (too much to my mind) but makes a lot more points for tactical choice to matter.

Things like the importance of forced movement and tactical synergies between characters and positioning matter a lot more.
The way I like to describe it is that in 3e, you win the game in character generation by choosing the strongest character options. In 4e, you win the game by actually playing the game and using your abilities at the right time and preferably synergizing well with your comrades.
 

The way I like to describe it is that in 3e, you win the game in character generation by choosing the strongest character options. In 4e, you win the game by actually playing the game and using your abilities at the right time and preferably synergizing well with your comrades.
This is true. But I always thought it a shame that it didn't break enough with 3e. You can't win 4e in character creation but I still think the most important choices you make are all in creation and advancement.

Those choices still overshadow the choices you make in the moment in regard to how your character plays.

(Gamma World for 4e somewhat addressed this but not in a very satisfying way).
 

Staffan

Legend
This is true. But I always thought it a shame that it didn't break enough with 3e. You can't win 4e in character creation but I still think the most important choices you make are all in creation and advancement.

Those choices still overshadow the choices you make in the moment in regard to how your character plays.

(Gamma World for 4e somewhat addressed this but not in a very satisfying way).
Yeah, perhaps it's better to say that making good choices in character generation/advancement in 4e are necessary but not sufficient to "win".
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
It got to the point I started thinking of 4E as a tactical card game. You had cards (aka powers) you could play every turn, once per encounter, once per day. Some cards could be spent out of your turn once per round to counter a power. The monsters had similar structure.

When I say cards I mean that literally. I would print out my powers, cut them up and put them in color coded sleeves people use for baseball cards and flip them over after use (except for at will cards of course).

Pretty much every PC I ran was more complex at mid-to-high levels, the fighter I built especially was much more complex to run than fighters in other editions. Whether it was a better game, more exciting, engaging, whatever, is in the eye of the beholder.
 

beast013

Explorer
This is true. But I always thought it a shame that it didn't break enough with 3e. You can't win 4e in character creation but I still think the most important choices you make are all in creation and advancement.

Those choices still overshadow the choices you make in the moment in regard to how your character plays.
It was more of tweaking the party to be in tune with each other and fight as a whole. Having played in multiple D&D Encounter sessions, I watched parties get schooled because they were not a cohesive fighting unit. I played on teams that were tuned/cohesive and they were much more successful. Use your strengths and mask your weaknesses.
 

4e (IMO) is not for the casual role player - designed more for a wargamer.
I would respectfully suggest that you are dead wrong here.

Yes, it required more engagement, but it's bad misunderstanding to think that means wargamers are the audience. On the contrary I think boardgamers were. To a wargamer 4E isn't that different from other editions in terms of engagement, but to a boardgamer, it's a much big jump in engagement.

If you look at my group, the two most casual players absolutely adored 4E. Seriously. One of them still grouses that we aren't playing it. This was a guy who was never previously a serious, engaged, tactical player, he was very much casual and about style. But 4E unleashed the beast and he loved it. In fact the two people who liked it least were the ones most keen on wargames, so there's that as well.

But even just my casual players proves that what you're saying isn't right re wargamers.
 

beast013

Explorer
I would respectfully suggest that you are dead wrong here.

Yes, it required more engagement, but it's bad misunderstanding to think that means wargamers are the audience. On the contrary I think boardgamers were. To a wargamer 4E isn't that different from other editions in terms of engagement, but to a boardgamer, it's a much big jump in engagement.

If you look at my group, the two most casual players absolutely adored 4E. Seriously. One of them still grouses that we aren't playing it. This was a guy who was never previously a serious, engaged, tactical player, he was very much casual and about style. But 4E unleashed the beast and he loved it. In fact the two people who liked it least were the ones most keen on wargames, so there's that as well.

But even just my casual players proves that what you're saying isn't right re wargamers.
I disagree as my experience was with seasoned wargamers who saw 4e as a wargame within an rpg.
 

Yeah, perhaps it's better to say that making good choices in character generation/advancement in 4e are necessary but not sufficient to "win".
I don't even thing "good" ones are necessary; just not making bad ones. That may not seem like a difference, but it is; if you have 12 options, chances were at least 10 of them would be okay and leave you with a functional character who would hold up their own in play, and the gap between the worst of those 10 and the best was rarely dramatic, with a couple exceptions.

You could not say either of these with 3.0/3.5.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/They)
I would respectfully suggest that you are dead wrong here.

Yes, it required more engagement, but it's bad misunderstanding to think that means wargamers are the audience. On the contrary I think boardgamers were. To a wargamer 4E isn't that different from other editions in terms of engagement, but to a boardgamer, it's a much big jump in engagement.

If you look at my group, the two most casual players absolutely adored 4E. Seriously. One of them still grouses that we aren't playing it. This was a guy who was never previously a serious, engaged, tactical player, he was very much casual and about style. But 4E unleashed the beast and he loved it. In fact the two people who liked it least were the ones most keen on wargames, so there's that as well.

But even just my casual players proves that what you're saying isn't right re wargamers.

I disagree as my experience was with seasoned wargamers who saw 4e as a wargame within an rpg.

So we’ve established that different people have different experiences and like different games for different reasons.
 

Raduin711

Adventurer
The two things that do it for me are

1) Theatre of the Mind is greatly disfavored in 4e. Movement and positioning is baked in to so many abilities that you are doing a disservice to the game in TOTM.

2) Putting character abilities into discreet powers, rather than generalized abilities feels more tactical and less narrative. (Not to imply these are mutually exclusive concepts.) For instance, compare a Utility power that lets you Climb X Squares for a move action, to a class ability that gives you an equivalent bonus to climb checks. If the thing the player wants to do falls out of the terms of the Utility, he can't use it. A bonus to climb checks has much broader utility, and more narrative value.
 

vincegetorix

Jewel of the North
2) Putting character abilities into discreet powers, rather than generalized abilities feels more tactical and less narrative. (Not to imply these are mutually exclusive concepts.) For instance, compare a Utility power that lets you Climb X Squares for a move action, to a class ability that gives you an equivalent bonus to climb checks. If the thing the player wants to do falls out of the terms of the Utility, he can't use it. A bonus to climb checks has much broader utility, and more narrative value.
My favorite part on this kind of things is the treatment of illusions and other mind affecting spells: they tell you exactly what the effect is. No need for interpretation or DM-may-I.
 

Eyes of Nine

Everything's Fine
IMO (so take with a grain of salt):

4E was very much trying to appeal to the card-players. I also did what @Oofta did - I printed my powers onto cards and put them into sleeves, and as I played encounter or dailies, they would get put aside.

Folks have also mentioned that powers worked together. I think this is key and also part of the attempt to appeal to card players - there were "combos" of different powers that could be used to devastating effect. This of course didn't appeal to everyone; but I really liked it. I like 5e plenty, and I REALLY like that a ton ton of people are playing, and that I can now say at work that I'm going to play D&D over the weekend and almost no one gives me the side-eyebrow-arch; but 4e was a great system in its way. I don't have a group to play with right now, and I really miss the 4e character builder Wizards made (it was so-so but critical for all the various powers and magic item build-ups); but if I had a group that said they wanted to play, I would be in like flynn.
 

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