O is for Options
Over the history of Dungeons and Dragons I believe one of the most significant changes has been the steady increase in options available to players. From the beginning you could choose your race and class, though not every race could play every class. The main difference between to characters of the same race and class was their equipment.
Second Edition added kits to the mix. A variety of kits were available so now instead of a simple human thief, you could be a bandit or an acrobat. While this allowed a little more variety, you were still bound by the rules and powers included in the kits. Second Edition also saw the addition of Non-Weapon proficiencies to the game, these were generally abilities that didn’t directly affect combat, but were intended to allow some personalization of the characters.
With third edition came feats. Feats are special abilities that could have an affect in combat. Though not all feats were directly combat related, many of them allowed an improvement to combat rolls, or allowed the character to attempt something other than just a basic attack, such as Manyshot which allowed multiple ranged attacks against the same opponent, or Snatch Arrows which allows you to catch arrows or thrown weapons aimed at you.
Fourth edition expanded this idea further with the introduction of powers which could be used at-will, per encounter, or per day. While there was still the option of using a basic attack, there were many other options. Some would sacrifice accuracy for increased damage, another might minimize damage while forcing your opponent to move. Also, some of your attacks might be against something other than armor class allowing you to choose a power that attacks the opponent’s weakness.
While sometimes even all these options will leave a player using the same attack types repeatedly, with proper selection you’re less likely to wind up with a situation where you can’t do ANYTHING during a combat because your attacks are always going to be ineffective.
While over the years, or should I say decades, there have been rules changes that I’ve disagreed with, overall I like how the game has managed to give the players so many options to choose from.