Monday, January 23, 2012

Feats - can they work better?

No clever title this time, just a question that has been bothering me since their introduction in 3E. Feats are a great concept, but they have been implemented badly, and the next 12 months might be the only chance we get to get a solid fix in place.

So what went wrong?

The first problem with Feats is the variation in power level. Some Feats were so much more powerful than others that they were always taken in priority, others were so weak that I never saw anyone even consider them. Even in a role playing heavy campaign some Feats just weren't worth the paper they were printed on. I don't think it's because they weren't powerful enough, but because others were too powerful.

The second problem was with the requirements. Often a Feat would have a requirement that just wasn't feasible for the classes that would want it. Having to increase one of your stats only to meet a Feat requirement was annoying, especially if you use point buy stats.

3(.5) had out of control stat increases through items, which 4E cleverly eliminated; but the Feats weren't adjusted for this so many of them were nearly impossible to get, even if they were low in power. Neither system got them right, both tried hard.

So how do we fix it?

I don't know. I have some ideas, but not having spent time designing and playtesting an alternative I am almost certainly missing important things, but not expressing ideas because you don't know how they will turn out never gets you anywhere.

Some Feats are always going to be more powerful than others, so maybe we need tiers or classifications of Feats. I don't suggest going back to the 3(.5) system of having to buy feats you don't want to unlock the one you do, but rating feats by their power and function and allowing them to take Feats of different types at different levels. Adding this level of complexity is normally something I try hard to avoid, but Feats are something you only worry about during level advancement, so it wouldn't slow gameplay too much. As I expect the core rules not to include feats, and them be a modular option, it also should work as it would be part of choosing Feats as an available module.

So how would you do this classification of Feats? Maybe have four types. Combat, tactics, utility and flavor. Combat feats would give bonuses to hit or damage, or allow for armor proficiencies, things of that sort. Tactics feats would allow for movement or positioning benefits, and allow players who don't use maps to ignore this type of feat completely. Utility feats would provide benefits that don't directly effect combat, improving skills or maybe maximizing out of combat healing. Then Flavor feats would add customization to role playing, though they might include diplomacy type skills.

At first level you might get one of each type of feat, then at each level you get one of a specified kind, so you can't just stack the combat improving feats. This will reduce the urge for people who want to take flavor type feats but feel they need to take the min-max feats to either keep up with the player who does, or just as often to avoid ridicule from those players, who feel any feat that isn't 'the best' is a waste of time.

As for prerequisites, perhaps they shouldn't be based on Stats, but the bonuses from that stat so you get the half-level bonus, assuming that remains in the game (and I hope it does). That way as you progress through the levels you get more customization options rather than running out of options. At low levels only a Fighter might have the strength to get a Feat, but later on other classes would get access to them without having to spend too much time trying to meet weird prerequisites.

This would also remove the need for Paragon and Epic Feats, you would just be able to set the requirements so that you need some half-level bonus in order to get them. This may seem to go against what I said above about impossible restrictions, but it doesn't make them impossible forever, just until you get to the level where they become available. This would also give the people who desperately want a feat to work towards getting it faster, while not forcing them to make these decisions if they are prepared to wait a few levels. If you want more powerful Feats available for higher levels, you make them need a higher Stat bonus, so people don't take them too early.

As I said, there are almost certainly problems with this system I haven't thought of, but as a starting point it seems to address some of the most significant problems with the current Feat system.

Maybe we will see something like this as we hear more about D&D Next, and hopefully we will see something even better.

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