Thursday, December 22, 2011

Feats and Faces

I've always found the idea of feats more compelling than the reality. As I conceive them, I expect them to have a strong signature. That is, I expect them to really be strong differentiators, something that really calls out a clear distinction between characters who might otherwise be fairly similar. In 4e, this is one of the key things in determining a character's style, something I've touched upon before.

Now, a few feats actually are this interesting, or at least point that way (something like a two-weapon fighting feat is usually a gateway) but the vast majority of them are small nudges, things that might be interesting in aggregate, but which are rarely worth getting excited about it. That would not be too bad a thing, except that a flat feat can mean advancement feels flat. That's no fun.

The catch is, there are exceptions. There are a handful of feats floating around out there which are both interesting and mechanically potent. Some of the classics (like racial weapon feats) have just been seen as gimmies, feats you should always take if you can use them. I've always been drawn to those, and have always wanted more feats like them. Yes, this technically makes for more powerful characters, but usually in a way that makes them more thematic and interesting as well.

But the twist is this - I want to guarantee that. I want a player to be able to pick a feat and have it carry a lot of weight, but at the same time, I don't want to just be making more powerful feats, so here's the extra element I want.

At the end of every feat, I want to include a question.

The default question is simple: "Who did you learn this from?" or some variant on that. Maybe that's the only question. The purpose of asking is simple: to introduce a new character into the world, one with a baked in connection to the characters. The lack of that is the death of many a game, something I will probably get into tomorrow.


  1. When I started my RPG I knew I was answering specific issues I had with 4e. It came from me running those weekly Dungeon Delves and not liking the new player experience, as well as many of the mechanics being abstracted to the point that it broke suspension of belief for me. Those were the two big things.

    So, I simplified the grid squad combat for battle scenes, and made the mechanics (hopefully) more consistent.

    I've always wanted to make a game without character class, but as I was developing different ways characters advance, I keep feeling the need to make certain things feel special. How does one learn spellcasting? How about ninjutsu? Can anyone master that sword style?

    Many iterations later, and now a large part of the game, an actual focus of the setting, is training. People adventure to gain lost knowledge that allows them to train themselves, and then others. Anyone can learn anything, but they need to find out where/who to learn it from.

    I both enjoy and dread reading this blog, Rob. Every time I think I created calculus, Leibniz pops up. ^_^

  2. 4E Feats are pretty sad affairs compared to 3E feats where feats could have really wide ranging application.

    4E mostly relegated them to discrete and specific numerical bonuses. If you are willing to break the rules a bit and have more feats that grant powers then the door opens up again and you can do more fun stuff.

    I love feats, and I was stoked for 4E but it just wasn't fun writing them. Powers are fun and I love making 4E monsters, but feats and items really took a beating in those rules.

    I was just yesterday working on an alternate classless version of D&D trying to sort out how to buy up class traits with XP (using much smaller XP values where 1 XP buys the smallest class trait). Its got a lot of wrinkles but I think I can work it out.

    Then feats and class powers really become kind of the same and if you wanted an organic campaign you would find teachers for these abilities as you go along.

  3. "Who did you learn this from?"

    It might be fun to do something similar with skills.
    If I make my own character sheets I might include a space next to each skill for players to describe (in no more than three words) where their character learned that skill.

  4. I similarly feel that you can lay a lot of the issues in 3.x at the feet of the anemic selection of feats in the core books. It's one of the reasons why fighters "suck." Their big schtick is that they get a lot of feats, but there aren't all that many great feats for them to take.

    I feel that Spycraft really did an awesome job with feats. First, they upped the baseline power of feats a bit. They made a number of five or six feat chains, with the top levels giving really awesome power for the investment. They also segregated feats into a number of groups, such as gear, skill, and style. This not only allowed them to give other classes access to many bonus feats without treading on the fighters' toes, but strongly encouraged the development team to always look for awesome non-combat feats.


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