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A Focus on Feats

2004 - Randal Snyder

The d20 Feats have been touted as a way to differentiate one cookie-cutter character from the next. This is the point a lot of people have said to me, that it sets a character apart from the others. In my opinion, its not the character sheet that sets the characters apart, but the player and how the character is played. I've seen fighters played the exact same way as wizards, by the same player. I've seen d20 characters act and strut the exact same way despite having completely different feats. And I've seen 20+ characters all with the same feat (who doesn't have Improved Initiative these days?).

The problem with Feats in my opinion, is that they add in additional layers of rules, often rules that are not easy to remember. Additionally, there are so many feats that it is virtually impossible for the GM to keep track of them all. Take a group of fighters. In just one group of four players there could be 20-30 feats. That is a ton of page-turning and all of which slows down combat and game play.

You can do the same type of mold-breaking without adding more rules. One example: two 3rd level fighters of roughly the same attributes, using chain mail and long sword. They're basically cookie cutter images of each other right? On paper, yes. But say you add a personality factor on to that character sheet; nothing that will affect die rolls or anything, just something interesting about the character. The one takes a personality trait of "hot temper", the other "smooth talker". So now you have two fighters, one more like Mr. T and the other like the Face (old 80's show "the A-Team" for you young'ns). Add a couple more for each character and they are diversely different "personalities".

On to the purpose of feats: A feat, in my definition, is something unusual, powerful, and possibly unique. Thus feats that modify skills are redundant since both attributes and skill points do the same thing. There goes 50% of the garbage feats... So now you have things that may not be skill based, like Blind Fighting (lol, I wrote BLOND fighting :D), or Ambidexterity, and some others, but those situations impose some sort of penalty and the feat counters that penalty. So those make more sense, but could also be represented by skill. Perhaps an extension of the skill rules, like spend a skill point in Blind Fighting to negate a point of the penalty...

So that leaves the greater feats, like Greater Cleave. Couldn't that be a feature of the base rules? Like some sort of combat rule that says "you can cleave into more than one defender but must roll for attacks against all targets as normal. Thus if you only have one attack, you cannot cleave more than one target." Its cinematic and leaves the interpretation of the attack to the player and/or GM. I would much rather have my players give me more detail on how their character performs an attack then simply saying "I use my cleave ability".

So now you have feats like one person mentioned, the casting of spells using playing cards (very cool idea). So the game system could require verbal and hand motions to cast spells, but no requirements on "how" to do that. So some sect of wizards learned to tap into the power of cards, just as others use wands and staffs, and clerics use their religious symbol to focus their energy into a point of concentration (or in D&D, focus on the material components).

So basically, there are no feats that could not be dealt with using existing rules. Now, some of the feat ideas are very cool and it would be valuable as a list of traits you could assign to a character, but the rules stuff can all be washed away. Now I admit that I haven't read enough of the feats to see if something breaks the guide above so their may be exceptions, but much more rare and unique then what d20 does at present (hence why I won't run a game of d20 these days; I'd tick off too many players :)

So while I find feats valuable for their character building, that is offset by the added rules and complexity they add (not to mention the books cluttering the playing area...) I for one do not want to have more than two or three books for reference in the game area. The thought of having ten or more just seems overkill.

Sorry for being long winded. Please don't take this as a rant or anything negative, its just an opinion. Some times I think players read something in the books and start viewing that like religious doctrine that cannot be questioned or altered, ya know...

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