I’m wondering if feats are worthwhile anymore. Feats came around in 3e and persist into pathfinder and 4e. They too had their origins in Non-Weapon Proficencies (NWPs) though, so they’ve been around in some form for longer than 3e. The NWPs that weren’t related to skills were often more like powers or talents. In 3e, NWPs were formally split into a skill list and feats, which I think made a lot of sense given that construction and the evolution of the game at that time.
At a basic level, feats exist for customizing a character. They mainly do so in one of three ways:
- Math Adjustment Feats
- Skill Feats
- Power Feats
Math Adjustment Feats
These feats were added into the game at various times when it was realized that characters were not scaling well with monsters at higher levels. The feats were there to select for characters in order to correct these math-balancing issues. They are feats that add +1 to hit, +2 to damage, +2 to defenses, etc. I’ve talked about the problem with these feats in my post about the optimization problem, but to summarize again: they essentially remove the variety feats were intended to add into the game. These corrective/mandatory type feats are a net-negative for the game from a design perspective.
Skill feats attempt to provide what I’d call an “aspect” from FATE to a character. While I really like the idea of Aspects, I have a hard time deciding what the mechanical benefit of aspects should be. As feats, they end up providing a small bonus to a skill or two. They’re like spices, but they’re served up as choices for meals amid the proteins like Weapon Focus and Power Attack. This kind of customization, I think, can be completely replaced by backgrounds.
I think power feats were the real innovation of 3e. These feats gave fighter type characters something more interesting to do than stand and swing in a fight. If only you didn’t have to take those math feats to scale up, you could have a fighter-type character differentiated in combat based on whether you took archery feats, mobility feats, or power-attack feats in different “feat trees” that closely resemble power trees in computer-game RPGs.
I’d miss these feats a bit if I cut the concept of Lost Worlds, but I think they can be pretty easily replaced by prestige classes. I fully intend to give fighter-type characters some variety in their combat power choices, and I don’t think it makes sense to make a character select from a massive list of feats to become an archer – why not just build those feats into a class designed for that purpose.
In the end, I’ll especially miss some of the custom feats I’ve provided to characters over the years that, in many ways, became the basis of their characters – feats that had their own little sub-system behind them. Still, I think this could get handled with either prestige classes, or perhaps some other system, such as a character aspect. I’m leaning towards dropping them as an unnecessarily complicated sub-system. I think the game is cleaner without them. There’s a little more pressure on designing appropriate class/power options and working backgrounds and aspects into the game appropriately without feats though, since they could be used, as in 3e and 4e, to balance the math of the game.