A while ago, I talked about feats and some of the pitfalls associated with them, namely feat taxes and feat bloat. This week, I’d like to delve a bit further into the concepts to show you our current thinking about how we plan to rein in feats and ensure they do the job we want them to do.
Feat Taxes: A feat tax refers to a certain category of feats whose function is purely to increase round-by-round damage output by increasing accuracy, damage, AC, saving throws, and defenses in order to maintain pace with the opposition that player characters are expected to face for their level. Monsters have historically been designed to test adventuring parties of particular levels. The higher level/challenge rating the monster, the more powerful the player characters need to be to stand a decent chance at surviving the encounter. Since monsters have generally followed a progression by gaining hit points, gaining greater accuracy, and acquiring more powerful attacks and abilities, PCs need to keep up. In both 3rd and 4th Edition, player characters kept up with monsters by gaining levels in their class, which in turn granted access to new features and powers, and through feat selection. Since some feats nakedly granted bonuses to accuracy, damage, AC, and so on, these feats, for many, became the only feats one could take to ensure character survival over time. Since players deemed these feats critical for character performance, there was no real choice. One could take Weapon Expertise and keep up or not and fall behind.
Due to being aware of this problem, 4th Edition introduced a selection of feats that granted the expected numbers and offered a little something extra to ease the sting of having to make that choice. Rather than shift away from making these feats necessary, however, the upgraded feats simply became even more important and the mechanics-light feats fell further and further into the background. And just to make my point even clearer: to cover accuracy, damage output, and defenses, a character has to spend at least three feats. Many characters didn’t make their first real feat choice until 6th level.
From the start, we knew we didn’t want to go down the same road again. And so rather than present a slew of must-have feats again, we have delivered nearly all the must-have mechanics through class design. By being a fighter, for example, you are automatically expected to become more accurate and hit harder over time, and so the class delivers these increases. In short, if you want to be more accurate with your weapons, choose a class focused on weaponry.
Having ripped all the feat taxes out of the game lets us explore different types of mechanical options with our feats. Rather than grant player characters a vertical increase in terms of power, it provides a horizontal expansion by offering different options, actions, or ways to make attacks.
Feat Bloat: The other historical problem we have had with feats are their numbers. Both 3rd Edition and 4th Edition have more feats than anyone could reasonably use or want. Most times, feats came into the game as particular exceptions to a rule. The rule in 3rd Edition said you could make one attack of opportunity per round. Combat Reflexes let you make multiple attacks of opportunity. Other times a feat might join the game because of some nifty mathematical trick or some tweak to another existing mechanic, either to improve it or expand its use. Most feats were designed in isolation rather than to support an overarching concept. And thus feats proliferated, spreading through the game at an alarming rate.
As I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions, our solution to this problem is to never construct feats in isolation but rather to build them to express a particular theme, such as necromancer, sharpshooter, or slayer. By creating feats that reinforce a central concept, we get away from all the microfeats and corner case feats that for many were nothing more than clutter. We come up with a strong concept first and then support that concept through clear mechanical expressions. You’ll still be able to pick and choose your feats if you’d like to create your own theme, but the idea is that you’ll have a better sense of where to find the feats you need by looking for themes that speak to your character concept.
I don’t have a poll for you this week. Instead, I’ll leave it to you to discuss the concepts I’ve explored in the comments below. Thanks for reading!