What is 4x LitRPG? Explore, Expand, Exploit, Exterminate

If you’ve heard the term 4x LitRPG and have been curious, you’re not alone. This is a question I hear often in several LitRPG communities I run online. Below, I’ll give a basic answer to the question “What is 4x LitRPG?” and also delve into why it’s becoming such a popular sub-genre of LitRPG books.

Basically, 4x LitRPG refers to LitRPG books where the main character is playing a virtual reality game. The term 4x is short for the popular strategy computer game Civilization, where your goal is to “eXpand, eXplore, eXploit and eXterminate.” There’s many other great games in this genre, of course, but Civilization is the one most people know about.

What is 4x LitRPG?

A 4x LitRPG book is basically a story about a person who is playing a 4x style video game. They might be trapped in the world. Or the world might be an actual place and not a video game but still have game mechanics. Yes, the LitRPG book genre can be confusing at times. Don’t worry, I will break down what make a book 4x LitRPG below.

LitRPG 4x Characteristics

So, what are the main characteristics of a 4x LitRPG book?

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  1. The main character is playing a video game or progression / stats are involved.

This is the main identifying characteristic of a LitRPG. They are playing a video game, whether it’s an MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online) or a single player game, for the duration of the book. The main character is interacting in a game world. As mentioned, it doesn’t necessarily have to be an actual video game. The character could be in a real world that has game mechanics. (Hey, it’s fiction!)

  1. The LitRPG 4x book deals with city or empire building as primary game mechanics.

What this means is that the character doesn’t just level up to the cap in an instant. Instead, they focus on building things, fortifying things, and maintaining a base of operations. The character doesn’t necessarily have to be on the path of being a hero or villain. They can be neutral or join a faction. The big thing is that there’s 4x game mechanics involved – i.e. similar to Civilization, Total War, or other strategy war games.

That’s about it. Simple, right? A 4x LitRPG is just a LitRPG book that deals with city or empire building games. For example, the main character in the book may start with a single plot of land and have to construct buildings, attract villagers, assign them tasks, and so on. Or, they may have control over an entire kingdom and have to deal with large scale problems like feeding citizens and warring against others.

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At the end of the day, a good 4x LitRPG book is more about the 4x game-mechanics. The characters and settings can change, but at their core, these books will be based around city or empire building. Though I don’t want to say that one style of LitRPG book is better than the other. Some people prefer fast-paced action and some enjoy building their world and characters.

Are there any good 4x LitRPG books?

Absolutely! I think these types of games are really fun and immersive. I like seeing what the main character does with their own little virtual world. 4x LitRPG books also tend to lend themselves towards the mid-to-high fantasy vibe, instead of the modern / sci-fi stuff.

Recent titles like Civ CEO really capture the feel of a 4x LitRPG. Others, like my own Snow Punk, take a slightly different approach to a LitRPG with 4x game mechanics.

But one thing is for sure. I think 4x LitRPG will only continue to become more popular as time goes on. I know that’s what I want to read!

Where can I find 4x LitRPG books?

If you’re interested in reading 4x LitRPG books, stay tuned as we finish our massive list of 4x LitRPG books – like we did with the best dungeon core books. Thanks for reading!

Paul Bellow

LitRPG Author Paul Bellow

Paul Bellow is a LitRPG author, gamer, RPG game developer, and publisher of several online communities. In other words, an old school webmaster. He also developed and runs LitRPG Adventures, a set of advanced RPG generators powered by GPT-3 AI. Here at LitRPG Reads, he publishes articles about LitRPG books, tabletop RPG books, and all sorts of DND content that's free to use in your personal tabletop campaign - i.e. non-commercial use. Enjoy your stay and reach out on Twitter or Discord if you want to make contact.

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