First Draft: Feats

If you haven’t voted in my poll from last week, please do so.  It’s extremely important to the underlying math of the game.

Back to the current topic.  I have a love/hate relationship with feats.  With player customization a major goal of Lost Worlds, I want to have a source of differentiation outside of races and classes.   I’ve talked about making classes easy to create and add, but I don’t want to force players to create an entire new class to differentiate.

So, despite the risk of looking like a carbon-copy of D&D, I’m planning on a version of feats for Lost Worlds.  Some of the most fun I’ve ever had with players has been creating customized feats for their character that really helped mold the character they are playing into the vision they have.  The problem with the feat system is that there were so many, and classes began to lean so heavily on them, that they just turned into another optimization problem for the player to solve.

So here’s my current plan.  I’m going to have three types of feats in the game: Character Creation Feats, Distinction Feats, and Achievement Feats.

Character Creation Feats

Character Creation Feats will be available at level one only.  They’re going to represent something special about your character from the outset.  Some examples of character creation feats:

Arch Nemesis: Upon creating a character, create an arch-nemesis for the character.  Detail the arch-nemesis including at least a name, personality, background, and connection to the character.  You gain a +1 bonus to all die rolls when pursuing a cause directly related to your arch-nemesis (GM’s discretion).  When opposing your arch-nemesis directly, this bonus increases to +2.

Base of Operations: You have a base of operations in the immediate area.  Create a description and/or map of your base of operations.  The base of operations should be suitable to the background and level (if starting characters higher than level 1) of the character.  Examples might include an old tavern, a one or two story house, a hidden camp in the sewers of a city, an abandoned warehouse, etc.

Distinction Feats

Distinction Feats will be modeled after class powers.  A Distinction feat can really be any kind of power: Resource Limited Power (Energy/# of uses), Triggered Power, Static Bonus, Conditional Bonus, etc.  They are designed to let a player mold their character into something more individualized than a class can hope to be by itself.  A Distinction Feat can also provide non-combat advantages such as bonuses in interactions with certain types of people, an uncanny ability to sense danger, etc.  A lot of old 3e D&D feats could fall into this category as well (power attack, whirlwind attack, spring attack, etc) if a player is looking for inspiration or doesn’t have a specific idea in mind for their character.  In the end though, I think Distinction Feats are the space for really unique feats that make a character special.

Achievement Feats

The last kind of feat is an achievement feat.  An achievement feat is not something the player selects for their character, rather, it’s something that the GM awards to a character based on play.  These feats are meant to be little odes to the in-game achievements of a character over the life of that character.   For example, lets say your character was knocked prone, but made an epic attack while on the ground to save the day.  The GM might award you with an achievement feat: Prone Combat.  Prone Combat might be handled in a number of different ways, but one example might be that it allows the player to expend some resource in order to make attacks from prone at no penalty (after all, they’ve been there before and succeeded!).  Achievements could be unlocked for all kinds of things: Meeting new people, training with a legendary trainer, amazing (or terrible!) die rolls in meaningful situations, creative problem solving, memorable quotes, etc.

Achievement feats would be limited to one per 5 character levels, so that no individual character ends up with too many extra feats, and these powers should generally generally not be as significant in impact as the Distinction Feats.  They’re meant to allow a character to grow a little bit more organically, be little badges of honor, and to reward players for interesting play.  Also, since these are awarded ad-hoc by the GM, there’s not as much concern about them being completely balanced since they aren’t part of the player’s optimization problem anymore.  As the GM, I’d need to work to make sure that achievement feats are given out on a relatively equal basis, and I’d certainly be willing to hear player feedback on when something should turn into an achievement feat – but I also don’t have to worry about anyone taking advantage of the game structure using them, since they’re not available for players to choose from.  There’s also no need to have hundreds of them defined in advance since they’re really just spur of the moment creations.

I think between these different kind of feats, I hit the customization design goal pretty solidly while still maintaining player balance and avoiding (for the most part) the optimization problem.

13 thoughts on “First Draft: Feats

  1. wylliamjudd

    This is one of the weirdest parts of this blog. You use extremely D&D specific jargon, like “feats”. The definition of the word feat is similar to the word “deed”. I get that you’re trying to tackle a broader question of whether to use universal options that aren’t class specific. But your jargon is so D&D 3rd Edition specific, for me it really detracts from a discussion about how to build a new RPG.

    “Should a new RPG use attributes?” This is the kind of universal RPG trope that I think is worth questioning. “Should a new RPG use feats?” just sounds like, “how much do I want to straight clone D&D?” Attributes are something that most roleplaying games since D&D have used, but they really aren’t necessary and there are pros and cons to using them.

    I’m sorry, I feel like I’m picking on you a little bit, but using the word “feat” for a new roleplaying game bugs the crap out of me. I’ll try to put together a more thoughtful reply regarding what you’ve actually written.

    1. JackOfHearts Post author

      You know, sometimes you come across a game manual where they tell you “we’re just going to use this term – because that’s what it is.” Whether that’s “Aspects” from FATE (which I’m using), “Backgrounds” from 13th Age (which I’m also using), or even “Skills” from 3e D&D which graduated out of the mouthful that is Non-weapon Proficiencies (I’m not using these).

      I could come up with new terms for all of these things, and maybe I should just to help distance the game. “Distinction Feats” could be just “Distinctive Powers” while “Achievement Feats” could simply be called “Achievements,” etc.

      And really, they are different from how 3e or 4e were using Feats, but they grew organically out of that game structure for me in how I want to use them, so that was the language I fell back on.

      1. wylliamjudd

        Skill is a word that makes a lot of sense when talking about a character. So are ability, trait, advantage, background, action etc. For example, you would use these words when talking about a script, totally unrelated to gaming. It would be bizarre to claim that using the word “skill” is somehow lifting from D&D. The word feat is hardly universal – it’s a terrible word for describing what someone is capable of since the definition of the word is closer to the word deed. For this reason (that it’s not really a good word to describe an ability) it’s not used in any games other than D&D.

        I guess that it’s indicative of how you go about building a game. You seem to be doing though is creating a Frankenstein’s monster of RPGs. It’s good that you recognize what other games do well, but that doesn’t have to mean stitching those elements together. It could mean drawing inspiration from your favorite things about different games to craft something new. Maybe I’m making too much out of your choice of words…maybe not.

  2. Brian

    A rose by any other name….

    Feat to me is something that I’ve picked for my character that lets them do certain things under certain circumstances, or gives them certain bonuses or whatnot.

    No matter what you call it – we are talking about customization and i like these ideas a lot. I feel much more attached to a character that has some unique properties than one that I see as a walking-talking sword and shield or caster blaster or whatever other type of class you pick.

    1. JackOfHearts Post author

      wylliamjudd: I think creativity is often finding new ways to put together existing elements. For example, I don’t play any games that use character creation powers mechanically quite like I am for Lost Worlds (although I admit there could certainly be some). While they originally stem from the idea of non-class, non-race customization powers (for me, feats) – they are certainly something different than what you’d find in 3.5 or 4e. Achievements are the same way – I haven’t played a game that gives you ad-hoc achievements like this (at least, not codified by the rules) – but they are a character power that’s outside of your normal set of class powers, so from a terminology perspective, “feat” seemed an appropriate thing to call it for those that are going to be comfortable with what that term represents. I’m using backgrounds in nearly exactly the same way as 13th age, but I created a more story-oriented RPG game years ago that used almost the same idea. I’m not using aspects in the same way as FATE does, but I’m codifying “character traits” in Lost Worlds, and that idea reminds me of Aspects. In the end, I’m sure most any innovation could be called out for being unoriginal if you take a look at all the source material that came before it. And, to be honest, Innovation wasn’t one of my design goals anyway – although I hope by the time I’m done I’ll be satisfied that I’ve created something sufficiently new for myself.

      Brian: Glad you approve!

      1. wylliamjudd

        Like I said, maybe I’m making too much of your choice of words. I have a problem with D&D using the word “feat” too. It’s just improper use of the English language. It’s poor word choice for what it’s trying to describe. I think the fact that it’s such a poor choice of words is the reason that you don’t see it in any other RPGs, and it just struck me as odd that you would use it. My intention wasn’t to call out your innovation for being unoriginal. The “achievement feats” are original, and in fact all of the feats you design could be original (it depends on what you come up with).

        It’s not cloning D&D at all to have character creation/development choices that aren’t class/race based! The advantage of using the word feat is that people who have played D&D will know how they work – unless they don’t work the same way! If you’re designing a system that works differently, you’ve lost the advantage of recycling terminology. The word feats will make your game appear derivative. My suggestion would be to replace the word feat with the word ability. It’s a better word for describing what a character is capable of. Of course you’ll make your own decision about what word to use – I’m just trying to give you some feedback about how your word choice affects this reader. Honestly, it’s hard to tell if you want my feedback.

  3. JackOfHearts Post author

    Just the opposite. I’ve already decided that you’re right, and I’m going to call those three types of “feats” something specific to each of them. Right now I have “Distinction Powers,” “Achievements,” and I’m not sure what to call the Character Creation Feat yet…

  4. Andy

    I like the way this is setup Brett. This leaves us with having to balance the “distinction” feats (or abilities, whatever) and I think the previous discussions on choice will be helpful here. Instead of having 5 feats that all increase your damage in different ways but one is the optimal way to increase damage, we should strive to create only a couple of feats that increase damage and work to balance that increase in damage against a separate feat that gives a bonus to hit. Or a separate feat that gives bonus to AC.

    I actually think D&D could use some work on this. Everyone chooses power attack over weapon focus and dodge because mechanically it provides a bigger impact than those feats no matter what type of character you want to have. Even Lyonis (shield and armor heavy “defense” paladin chooses power attack because its just so mechanically superior). If the game were balanced, he’d likely be taking some kind of defensive feats (like dodge) to better represent his character.

    1. JackOfHearts Post author

      I’m going to create some ideas for Distinction Powers, but these are things to me that are similar to your newest feat, or Grando’s spirit casting, or Aradel’s ancient magic knowledge. I’m thinking I leave this as a blank canvas, and have it be more of a collaboration between players. Balancing is always tricky, but with some guidelines and then some forgiveness at the table (if something needs a boost or to be nerfed) everything should work out okay.

    2. wylliamjudd

      Have you taken a look at D&D next? I’m not sure that they’ve made feats interesting yet, but there’s no power attack, and what they’re doing with Backgrounds is excellent. There’s also a system in there for exploration that looks promising. One of my favorite things is the expertise dice for the Fighter. Making the most straightforward fighter fun to play is to me the test of a good RPG.

      There are lots of cool things going on in D&D next, and one of them is that the game feels very distinctively like D&D again. It really does draw from 2nd and 3rd edition, with sleeker design than either. In a way it’s that distinctive D&D feel that makes this project – Lost Worlds – exciting, for the promise of a different distinctive feel. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend checking out D&D next to see how they handle many of the issues you’re talking about. I think you’ll get lots of ideas from what D&D next does well, and what it doesn’t accomplish that you want in your game.

  5. JackOfHearts Post author

    I’m definitely going to give D&D Next a try, at GenCon if I don’t end up going through it before that. I haven’t signed up for any play tests and have only been following the little blog they put out twice a week. I’ll see if I can find a copy of their recent playtest rules and give them a read through.

    1. wylliamjudd

      It’s really easy to sign up and get the playtest packet, you just give them your email address, and agree to letting them send you emails (so they can get playtest feedback). I’m finding the feats incredibly satisfying to put together. We’ve talked a lot about choice here in our gaming wordpress community, and I think they’ve hit the nail on the head when it comes to choice (There are a couple of problems with Spiked Shield and Urgrosh being imbalanced, but those are easily resolvable problems, and for now if you find them interfering with meaningful choices, the best solution is to remove them.) I definitely recommend looking through the packet, even if you don’t plan on playing the game at all.


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