Character-Defining Feats

I’ve literally been playing and writing for d20 system games since before D&D 3.0 came out. That long experience has led me to not really fear overpowered characters. If characters are overpowered it’s actually very easy to upgrade encounters in a consistent manner until they’re challenge, and the vast majority of things that cause groups to decide a specific build or ability is overpowered are tied as much to play style as objective balancing of rules.

What I AM afraid of is characters that are boring or frustrating. Players will put up with a lot if they find their character interesting, including a GM modifying pre-written encounters in a possible slightly haphazard way, if they enjoy and are engaged with their characters. All too often, however, feats become a source of both frustration \(as long lists of prerequisites, carefully worded language that excludes numerous combinations, and situational bonuses that may never come up in play cause a player to interact with feats negative far more often than positively. While having a predictable power curve is good for designing adventures and trying to get all players to have equal spotlight time, if brakes built into a game to provide that predictability slaps down players more often than it enables them to do something exciting it reduces fun instead of facilitating it.

Ideally, I’d like to see a d20 game where characters are defined by their feats as much as by their class and race, but only because a few feats are enough to give a character a wide range of new capabilities or augment them enough that their performance itself provides a new play experience. Such a system might well have to affect other subsystems such as bonus acquisition, action economy, and featlike powers from other sources (such as traits, favored class bonuses, alternate race traits, and even archetypes), but it also has to redefine feats to a player envisions a character being notable different in play with even a single feat.

While I clearly can’t tackle ever feat in the core rules in the space of a single blog post, I though a selection of revised feats, all based on d20 feats that are regularly derided for being useless or boring, might provide a good example of the kind of design space I am envisioning. These are just a starting point, and a game build around them would have to make some other hard choices to keep frustration levels down and ease of character design and advancement up.

Alertness (Revised)
Your ability to notice things is almost preternatural.
Benefit: You gain a +2 bonus to Perception had Sense Motive, and both of these are treated as class skills for you. (You gain an additional +1 bonus to each skill if it is a class skill for you as a result of some other option.)  You automatically gain one rank per level in each of these skills, though this cannot give you more total ranks than your character level (if you had already point skill ranks into these skill prior to gaining this feat, you can spend those skill points on other skills). You gain each skill’s unlocks (Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Pathfinder Unchained) appropriate for the number of ranks you have +4 (so you gain the 5 rank skill unlock at 1st level, and the 10 rank skill unlock at 6th level).

Combat Expertise (Combat, Revised)
You are a master of increasing your defense at the expense of your accuracy.
Benefit: When you fight defensively (see Chapter 8, Combat) you take only a -1 penalty to your attack rolls. When your base attack bonus reaches +4, and every +4 thereafter, the dodge bonus you gain from fighting defensively increases by +1. Your dodge bonus from this feat is limited to +2 or your armor’s Max Dex Bonus, whichever is greater.

Skill Focus
When push comes to shove, you can depend on your ability to succeed at a given skill.
Benefit: Select one skill. You gain a +3 bonus to that skill. Once per day when you fail a skill check with this skill, as a free action you may immediately instead change your die result to a 20. This feat must be selected for each Knowledge skill separately, but if taken for Craft, Perform, or Profession it applies to all of those skills.

Weapon Focus (Combat, Revised)
You are highly skills with a class of weapons.
Prerequisites: Proficiency with one weapon in the category, base attack bonus +1.
Benefit: Select one fighter weapon group. You gain a +1 bonus to attack rolls with every weapon in this group with which you are proficient. At 3rd level, you also gain a +2 bonus to damage with such weapons. When you base attack bonus reaches +8, your bonus to attacks increases to +2. When you base attack bonus reaches +12, your bonus to damage increases to +4.
Special: You can take this feat more than once. Its effects do not stack. Each time you take it, you must select a different fighter weapon group.
Special: If you have at least two levels of fighter (not just a class that acts as a fighter for feats), and you have more levels of fighter than any other class, you gain an additional +1 bonus to attack rolls with the selected weapons. If you have at least three levels of fighter (not just a class that acts as a fighter for feats), and you have more levels of fighter than any other class, you gain an additional +2 bonus to damage rolls with the selected weapons.

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About okcstephens

Owen K.C. Stephens Owen Kirker Clifford Stephens is the Starfinder Design Lead for Paizo Publishing, the Freeport and Pathfinder RPG developer for Green Ronin, a developer for Rite Publishing, and the publisher and lead genius of Rogue Genius Games. Owen has written game material for numerous other companies, including Wizards of the Coast, Kobold Press, White Wolf, Steve Jackson Games and Upper Deck. He also consults, freelances, and in the off season, sleeps.

Posted on December 7, 2017, in Business of Games, Game Design, Musings, Pathfinder Development, Starfinder Development and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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