Friday, March 22, 2013

D&D Next March Playtest - Feats

My Biggest Point of Contention
I want to start with this to get it out in the open.  I'm putting it first because I REALLY HATE IT, and I want it to be REALLY NOTICEABLE.  Maneuvers as feats.  No.  Just, no.  With a side of no.

What is the biggest strength of a tabletop roleplaying game?  This is something that was actually talked about BY THE DESIGNERS at the beginning of the playtest (I think in a podcast), and they were spot on.  That your character can do anything.  Instead of having computer code determine the outcome, there's a living, thinking person (the DM) who can adjudicate the rules.  Wasn't this the whole point of emphasizing ability checks?

So now when a PC says "I want to push a guy," a rules-lawyer type will have the rules to back up his answer of "no, you don't have that feat?!?!"

But here's the worst part.  Take Trip Attack, for example.  There's no drawback to using this, and no tactical choice that needs to be made in-play.  Once a PC has the feat it makes sense to use it EVERY SINGLE TURN.  How boring is that?  And how many fights do you see in movies or in novels where all a guy does is constantly try to trip his opponent over and over again?

Maneuvers should be universal options.  There should be enough of a drawback to not try to spam them every turn, but they should be useful enough to actually use when the situation calls for it.  Here's how I handle them in 13th Age, and I think such a system would benefit Next as well.  Make an appropriate skill check vs PD or MD (in Next I guess you'd use opposed checks which is more dice rolling).  If you fail, the target can make an opportunity attack against you.  If you succeed, you can attack and if you hit you do that cool thing you were trying to do (applied AFTER the attack).  Alternatively, if you want to play it safe just roll the skill check INSTEAD of attacking.  Success lets you do that cool thing (without having to hit with a follow-up attack), and you won't take an OA if you fail.

If the designers read this, I encourage them to steal the idea.  It'll make the game better.

What I Like
  • Combat Reflexes.  Makes melee characters more sticky.
  • Defensive Ward.  Simple countermagic is very cool.
  • Find Familiar.  Good to make it a feat, as some spellcasters want one and others don't.
  • Healing Initiate.  Cure Minor wounds is a little game-y since it can't heal past 3 total HP, but that keeps in check what is otherwise an at-will heal.  Think of it as just enough healing to keep you conscious and you're good conceptually. 
  • Heighten Spell.  Insurance for your big gun.  Might I add that these "metamagic feats" are SO much better than the convoluted mess in 3.x where you changed the spell's level.
  • Hold the Line.  If I'm interpreting this right, you can stop movement if an enemy in melee with you tries to move away (basically trading an opportunity attack for a movement stopper).  If that's the intent, then great!  We have sticky tanks!
  • Interposing Shield.  Great defender option, sort of like a mark.  Giving up your only reaction is a little pricey, though.
  • Martial Arts.  Monk-lite!
  • Polearm Training.  Reach weapons for everyone!  And enhanced opportunity attacks with them, to boot.
  • Purge Magic.  If this gives you Dispel Magic even if you're not a Wizard.  Which I think is the case here.  Heck, even if you ARE a Wizard you can have fun not needing to prepare it, plus this feat gives you multiple uses of it.
  • Restore Life.  Suck it Cleric!  I don't need you in my party!
  • Relentless.  Because it's fun when good things happen despite a miss.
  • Spring Attack.  Way to cater to the skirmisher fighting style.  Encouraging movement is good.
  • Taunt.  Ok, this "skill as feat" is actually kind of cool.  
  • Tumbling Movement.  Again, great skirmisher feat.
  • Weapon Mastery.  Hey-oh, it's a buff to weapons in general and not "choose this specific weapon to specialize in."  Good, because if my normally-melee Fighter needs to pull out the bow I don't want him to suck.
A lot of these are supporting certain fighting styles (defender, skirmisher) in a simple way even outside of the tactical rules module.  Which is good.  Combat should be more than "walk up to enemy and trade blows until one of you drops." 

What I Don't Like
  • Magic-like wording of Charming Presence.  Heck, its very existence.  In what ways can't this be handled by a simple CHA check?  If you want a feat to boost your ability to charm people then it should be "ignore situational penalties when you use the Charm skill," or better yet "gain Advantage when you use the Charm skill" (which would cancel any disadvantage anyways).
  • Open Locks, Disarm Traps, Pick Pockets, etc.  Wait a second, so what used to be skills are now feats?  Based on the wording they basically ARE skills, it's just that they use up your "feats" resources.  Sloppy, and unintuitive.  Plus this very much falls within the realm of My Biggest Point of Contention above.  What, so I can't attempt to pick your pocket with an ability check if I don't have this feat?
  •  Read Lips.  Huh?  Why can't this just be a Wisdom check?  A bit situational to be a skill, but even that would be preferable to a FEAT.


  1. I couldn't agree more with your judgement on this manuvers/skills/feats mess.

    In general basic manuvers are things that should follow two considerations:
    - being avaible to all characters
    - having some form of drawback to counterbalance them

    That being said, I can see that some advanced manuvers might require a feat to execute properly (like attacking multiple enemies), but these are advanced technique. If I have no problem to have my fighter spending his feats to execute a multi-goblin kill, I don't want him to do the same just to be able to trip an opponent.

    1. Yes, with this latest packet feats are once again turning into the "catch-all" category without a firm identity. The more game elements you try to shove under the umbrella of "feats," the tougher it will be to balance them against each other.

      That's when you end up with a handful of "must haves," a big list of "trap feats," and the rest are kind of cool/useful, but you'll have to REALLY want them to pass on the must-haves.

    2. Brian - YES. This. Exactly. The problem with feats is that they always seem to end up mixing "flavorful but limited utility" with "boring but effective." You should never have mechanics that encourage people to choose the boring option.

      I'm reluctant to come out as categorically anti-feat, because the mechanic holds so much potential. But after seeing 3E and 4E fall into the boring-but-effective trap, and 5E starting down the same road, I'm starting to think feats are inherently unfixable. I just hope they make them optional in 5E, so I can ban them in my games.

    3. They're not INHERENTLY unfixable. I love the way that feats work in 13th Age. Each class gets 3 talents, and those that don't get spells, maneuvers, or powers gain more talents as they level. Some have additional class features. Each talent (and many spells, maneuvers, and powers) has a list of feats immediately following their description (usually one for each tier). There are a handful (like, 10) general feats, and each race gets a couple that they can choose to modify their racial power.

      So how it ends up working is you decide what your character can do by building it from the different talents, etc. Then by picking that ability's feat you're specializing a bit, saying "I can do X, Y, and Z but I want to be REALLY good at X."

      This system works because aside from the general ones, feats don't exist in a vacuum. The "feats resource pool" isn't some big bucket that contains an absurd amount of options, but rather a small sub-set determined by how you've built your character.

      Granted it's not perfect. The classes that have less fiddly bits (namely Paladins and Barbarians) have an especially small number of choices. Unless you pull heavily from general feats it's less a matter of if you pick any given feat but when. Of course future supplements can rectify this by providing a few extra options (there's precedent, too; the Ranger animal companion by itself has a nice handful of choices).

      But I digress. The point is that the feat mechanic is a lot more elegant if make it something more than just a big catch-all list. Next could potentially give each class feature a list of feats allowing characters to further specialize like in 13th Age. Or they can narrow what gets put into the "feat bucket." Or they can split "feats" into several different resource pools so that certain options don't compete with others.

      I think that narrowing their focus is the most sensible way forward for Next. Make feats be options for playing a certain archetype that isn't necessarily tied to any one class. Dual-wielding is a good example of this now that Rangers don't "own" that anymore. Things like Spring Attack can make you play like a skirmisher. The healing options are great for filling holes in the party. Shield options with defender mechanics.

      I suppose the thing you really need to ask yourself when designing a feat is "is this going to be extremely attractive to pretty much everyone?" If so, do NOT make that feat. These are your defense, attack, and damage boosting feats. Boring but effective, as you put it.

  2. Open Locks, Disarm Traps, Pick Pockets, etc. Wait a second, so what used to be skills are now feats?

    I think you read that wrong.
    My understanding is anyone can Disarm a Trap, or open a lock, etc, as long as they are proficient with Thieves Tools. So as a Rogue, you Roll a Dex check, and disarm the trap.
    If you are really really good, you take Disarm Trap Feat, Roll a Dex check, add your skill die, and disarm the trap.
    This allows a Fighter to take the feat and be able to Disarm Traps, ala Tomb Raider or National Treasure.

    1. It's unclear with the current wording. Take Pick Pockets:

      "Benefit: As an action, you can attempt to covertly take a stowed item off of another creature. You make a Dexterity check..."

      This implies that without the feat, you normally cannot take an action to make a Dexterity check to take an object. Which is ridiculous; it's not a stretch to think that anyone should be able to at least attempt this.

      Otherwise for the other examples I agree and that's certainly how I'd run it, but it's still not good design.

      With Open Locks (for example), if the main advantage of the feat is getting to add your skill die to your ability checks, why not just make Open Locks a skill and let Superior Skill Training handle the "spend a feat to get the skill" mechanic. It's just redundant.

  3. I love your suggestion for maneuvers. In 13th Age, I've been allowing players to use their action on a maneuver _instead of_ an attack, with no penalty if the check fails, leaving the attack-plus-maneuver stuff to class abilities that allow it. But I like giving the players the option to get that attack in on the same turn, too -- but there's a risk.... I'll be borrowing this, and would love to see this made an official rule!

  4. You might want to consider labeling this with "13th Age" for easy reference back to your maneuver house rule. :-)

  5. i like your suggestion for maneuvers too.

    Rather than an opposed check , i'll call for check vs opposed stat + 10 (passive defense , less dice roll).

    As martial feat , i'll allow to spend one expertise dice to boost the AC while subject to the AoO . the drawback is still present but mitigated.