Posted by : David Guyll April 15, 2013

I remember first reading about feats during the 3rd Edition previews that ran in Dragon magazine, where they were touted as another layer of character customization. Having come from 2nd Edition, where unless you were a spellcaster there was not much in the way of mechanical deviation, I found this to be a welcome addition.

When we actually sat down to play however, I noticed that most of my players tended to stick to feats that just boosted your numbers, like Improved Initiative, Skill Focus, Weapon Focus, Iron Will, etc. This really came as no surprise, as they were simple-yet-solid choices that you just add to your other numbers and forget about.

Which is why I considered many of them to be pretty boring.

This is just one reason why I consider 3rd Edition's treatment of feats largely to be a mess; you only got a handful over twenty levels, many were severely under-powered (Weapon Specialization) if not outright traps (Cooperative Casting), and by the time you wrapped up a feat tree the capstone benefit was likely not worth it. 4th Edition was not nearly as bad, providing plenty of interesting feats that shook up what your race and/or class could do, but it still had its share of static number-boosters even before Essentials introduced the auto-scaling revamps.

When it comes to 5th Edition I like what it has to offer, or rather I like what I think it is trying to offer, which are more interesting options. As an example Arcane Dabbler lets you pick two cantrips at 1st-level. Granted it is a small list, and I do not think it needs to be, but it is still meatier than a lot of the initial offerings that we saw from past editions. This complexity is understandably not something that everyone wants, and is something that the designers are aiming to address along with a few other changes.

While simplicity is not necessarily bad, I am not a fan of feats boosting ability scores. Already I find it incredibly easy for at least one character in the bunch to hit the cap, oftentimes before they get around to purchasing equipment. Given that some feats are also going to have level requirements--which is nothing new, as a minimum level was kind of passive-aggressively enforced even in 3rd Edition--depending on what the rest do I think that a lot of players are just going to ignore the low-level stuff until they either max out their key stats, or something down the road catches their eye.

I am also not a fan of classes gaining access to feats at different rates, especially when the rationale is that rogues and fighters "will gain more feats than other classes to reflect their versatility". Why are they more versatile than other classes? Why do their features need to be delivered via feats? Why not take a page from Star Wars: Saga Edition or Dungeon World by giving each class a batch of talents/moves to pick from at set levels, and then adding in feats that lets you pick up a feature/talent/move from another class?

This way every class--all of them, but particularly the barbarian, druid, monk, paladin, and ranger--gets some much need flexibility, but you can also expand on them later by simply adding new features, instead of having to introduce entirely new classes. Kind of like 4th Edition, but without having each and every new decision adding yet one more card to the deck. Well, unless a player wants to.

Ultimately the more I think about feats, the more I am starting to feel like this is just what they should be doing (and may be slowly driving towards): make a list of general feats that allow characters to bend or break the rules, or to just gain access to an entirely new option--which 5th Edition already has, with feats like Superior Footwork and Seize the Advantage--then make focused lists that you gain access to by virtue of taking enough class levels.

{ 6 comments... read them below or Comment }

  1. Well, I agree with you, and the (let's say, "not statistically significant") people I've talked to are pretty much on the same page as well. If feats are a way to max out ability scores, players are going to see that as "mandatory," and start treating the distance between their starting score and 20 as the number of feats they'll be taxed to be "good enough." I'm really very surprised at Mearls & co. for committing what I see as a glaring misunderstanding of player psychology on this point.

  2. I am hoping that his is one of those "lets just go crazy and see how people react" experiments that will putter out before it actually hits a packet (or, if it makes it into a packet, gets removed for the following one).

  3. I expect that it will at least make it into a packet, maybe 2-3 packets from now, and then they'll see problems and develop it another step or two further, and then they'll drop it and move on to another big idea. My evidence for this is the many incarnations of expertise/martial damage dice that brought us to what we see now, and the many phases of enthusiasm that they've come through along the way. Even more so with the many incarnations of Sneak Attack, sometimes as a core function and sometimes optional.

  4. Choosable talent trees instead of feats sounds like a great idea.

  5. On one end are people like my buddy Al, who really doesn't like a lot of options. He does best with things that get marked on his sheet and don't change. On the other hand, I'd be the one with a table full of book sopen to figure out what I wanted to do with my character. I've been known to program my character sheest in Excel so that the numbers auto-adjust as I activate different abilities that interact with each other. Most people are somewhere in between.

    Part of the problem is how feats affect the power curve. Simple feats that just simply adjust a number can be abused with other features when somebody is trying to brrak the game. They affect the power curve. If you assume people don't take them, then those that do have an advantage and they can potentially get a big advantage. If you set your power curve assuming that people do take them, then you start depowering the guy who went for other options.

  6. Yeah, I get that some people do not want to juggle feat benefits on top of everything else and that, even worse, it can be a tricky thing to balance static modifiers to more flexible exploits.

    Even so, I would still be much happier if every class had flexible options.



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