Posted by : David Guyll July 15, 2013

I have talked about feats a couple of times already, so to sum up my prior experience I will say that I felt 3rd Edition feats to be a pretty even mix of trap and boring choices, while 4th Edition did it one better with some very nice-yet-boring choices/feat taxes, very interesting and thematic ones, and a smaller-but-still-noticeable percentage of traps.

It was mentioned awhile back that as part of the design goal to make the game appealing to players with varying complexity needs, feats would be optional; if you waive them you instead would get to add +2 to an ability score. This approach would also have the added benefit of replacing the simple math boosters/feat taxes like Weapon Focus and Great Fortitude.

This caused a couple of concerns.

One was how they would balance classes that get more ability score boosts than the rest. Another was that thanks to racial and class bonuses it is very easy to hit the ability score cap early and often, meaning that you could feasibly waste half the bonus if you had a 19 in the stat. Finally, and this is a very big issue, if you can mix-and-match ability score boosts and feat-feats, would not most players just load up on some stat-boosts until they capped out and/or got high enough level to pick a really interesting feat, especially if the higher level feats provide better offerings?

This week's Legends & Lore at least addresses the second point (you can choose either +2 or a +1 split), as well as showcases a pair of feats that, while maybe not being actual feats, still give us an idea of what we might expect to see:

  • Great Weapon Master gives you proficiency in heavy weapons, lets you make an attack at -5 to deal double damage, and if you score a crit or drop an enemy you can make a free attack, while 
  • Heavy Armor Master gives you proficiency with heavy armor, as well as a bonus to AC and damage reduction in anything but name.

Both are certainly meatier when compared to past editions, though they have their share of issues:

  • Why are either suffixed with "Master"? Except for Heavy Armor Master it looks like anyone of any level can take them (including, say, a wizard), and that one just requires that you know how to put on any suit of Medium armor.
  • Is anyone going to take a -5 to hit except under extremely favorable conditions? I am talking a combination of a low target AC, attack advantage, and/or magical bonuses to offset this. If you can reliably get this stuff, then it is awesome because it is just a flat double-damage. Otherwise...meh?
  • Why is the damage resistance from Heavy Armor Master based on Constitution? It is insanely easy to top out at a +5 bonus (even at the start of the game), and at the rate monster damage scales I cannot see it being useful for very long. This is a very good combo for a dwarf, especially the mountain dwarf, which starts out proficient in medium armor regardless of class.

The last bullet is to me very problematic, as I do not think the designers intended to make a feat that at a glance seems appropriate for tanks, yet incredibly appealing to casters. This is another reason why I am starting to think that feats should mostly be scrapped in favor of just giving characters decision points based on a combination of class and level. If this was a fighter "talent" that required a couple levels to take, then your wizard would have to work at it to pick it up, making it a meaningful choice. As it stands it is a no brainer.

You could also restrict ability score boosts based on class, or even award automatic boosts if you get enough levels in a class. So every 4-5 fighter levels you get to increase your Strength or Constitution by 1. For wizards, pick from Intelligence or Wisdom, and so on. I think that by taking a 4th Edition approach and sticking all of your choices within your class that it would speed up leveling, as well as prevent decision paralysis as you try to pore through hundreds, eventually thousands of feats (which is still difficult with Character Builder).

I guess feats were an interesting idea back in 3rd Edition when they were fresh and new (for Dungeons & Dragons, anyway), and while 4th Edition made them better I think that there is plenty of room for better innovation, preferably one with better organization and balance, and less page-flipping.

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