t's hard to believe that we're closing in on nearly a full year of open playtesting for D&D Next. A lot has changed since we first started this process. This week, I'd like to talk about a new idea that we're implementing. It's something that came about largely because of playtest feedback and the discussion and ideas it has sparked among us.
So What Is a Feat, Anyway?
I'll admit my bias: I love feats. When I first laid hands on a playtest version of 3E (I had early access due to my involvement in the RPGA), I thought feats were a great innovation. Recently, I came across two of the first characters I made for these rules: a wandering human paladin who wielded a quarterstaff and an elf fighter with a case of amnesia. In both cases, the feats available in the game helped bring those characters to life. I liked that I could come up with ideas for a character concept and match that to mechanics outside of a class.
On the other hand, feats were by no means free of warts. I vividly remember helping a friend make her first 3E character after the game released. She created a sorcerer, and when it came time to pick a feat the entire process came to a halt.
She could take Toughness, but its measly +3 hit points were clearly not going to be useful in the long run. She considered a metamagic or item creation feat, but the metamagic feat was useless to her at 1st level, and she didn't want to spend XP to gain magic items.
Frankly, it would've been a lot easier for her if we could've just skipped that step. She was a D&D veteran who had an easy time picking spells, assigning skill ranks, choosing a race, and rolling her abilities, but the feat choice had little to do with her character concept (disowned daughter of a ruthless noble). I think she ended up taking something that gave a bonus to Diplomacy checks.
Here we had two people, both experienced D&D players, both of whom had the opposite reaction to feats. We've been acutely aware of the divide between people who want to build characters from mechanics, and people who just want to get on with playing the game. We think we have a solution that will make the game work for both of them.
Right now, we're working under a few new assumptions:
- Classes gain feats at a rate appropriate to that class. Fighters might get more feats than wizards, for example. We don't have a universal rate where all characters gain a feat at levels X, Y, and Z.
- A feat can be used to gain +1 to an ability score, to a maximum of 20, or to gain a special ability that is equivalent in power to that ability bonus.
- Feats have level requirements, and higher-level feats are more potent than lower-level ones.
We believe that these changes can smooth out the game for beginners while keeping options open for people who like picking and choosing class-independent abilities. It also means that feats have to become much, much more interesting.
For beginners and players who don't want to spend a lot of time making choices, the ability score bonuses are both powerful and easy to apply. Veteran players will likely take a few bonuses to raise their key abilities to 20, and then delve into more special abilities.
In addition, the fighter and rogue—along with their unique class features—will gain more feats than other classes. This approach helps emphasize their versatility by making them more customizable.
Finally, this approach has a fairly interesting implication for paragon paths and prestige classes. Feats are now more powerful than they have been in prior iterations of the playtest materials. At this stage, I feel comfortable that we can model many paths and prestige classes through sets of feats that duplicate their powers and class features. I always really liked that paragon paths were an additive layer to your character. This approach means that players who don't want to even think about such options can concentrate solely on their original class, while other players can mix and match benefits to their heart's content.
Mike Mearls is the senior manager for the D&D research and design team. He led the design for 5th Edition D&D. His other credits include the Castle Ravenloft board game, Monster Manual 3 for 4th Edition, and Player’s Handbook 2 for 3rd Edition.