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Design & Development
by Andy Collins

The Design & Development article series premiered on the D&D website back in September 2005, and has been a staple ever since. With the approach of 4th Edition, and our designers and developers focused on the new edition, this column will be the primary vehicle for 4th Edition coverage. We’ll not only give you peeks at what’s forthcoming, but also the “how” and “why.”

Keep in mind that the game is still in a state of flux, as refinements are made by our design and development staff. You’re getting a look behind the curtain at game design in progress, so enjoy, and feel free to send your comments to

One of the most useful and popular additions to Dungeons & Dragons that appeared in 3rd Edition was the concept of feats: special bonuses, benefits, or actions that characters could acquire outside their normal class features.

Throughout the lifespan of the edition (and even between the covers of the Player’s Handbook), the potency, utility, effect, and coolness of feats have varied widely.

Some feats offer utilitarian but unexciting benefits, while others grant characters entire new options in combat. It’s hard to argue with the utility of Alertness, Improved Initiative, Weapon Focus, or even (for 1st-level wizards and sorcerers) Toughness, but that same feat slot could purchase Power Attack, Rapid Shot, Spring Attack, or Empower Spell.

When we started talking about feats for 4th Edition, we already knew that we wanted the bulk of a character’s powers—the exciting actions he performs in combat—to come from his class. Even character classes that hadn’t traditionally offered class-based power options (that is, non-spellcasters) would now acquire these special attacks, defenses, maneuvers, and so on directly from their class’s list of such abilities.

Once that decision was made, a lot of the most exciting feats suddenly looked more like class-based powers. Spring Attack, for example, now looked an awful lot like a power for the rogue or melee-based ranger, rather than a feat that just anybody could pick up. Manyshot, Whirlwind Attack, Two-Weapon Fighting, Shot on the Run—these were specialized powers appropriate for particular character archetypes.

So what design space did that leave for feats? After some discussion, we came to see feats as the “fine-tuning” that your character performed after defining his role (via your choice of class) and his build (via your power selections). Feats would let characters further specialize in their roles and builds, as well as to differentiate themselves from other characters with similar power selections.

They would accomplish these goals with simple, basic functionality, rather than complicated conditional benefits or entirely new powers that you’d have to track alongside those of your class.

Here are four examples of feats taken from the latest draft of the 4th Edition Player’s Handbook. The first two demonstrate the minor evolution of familiar favorites from 3rd Edition, while the other two show off some new tricks. As always, nothing’s final until you read it in the printed book, so take these with a grain of salt.

Tier: Heroic
Benefit: When you take this feat, you gain additional hit points equal to your level + 3. You also gain 1 additional hit point every time you gain a level.

Tier: Heroic
Benefit: You don’t grant enemies combat advantage in surprise rounds.
You also gain a +2 feat bonus to Perception checks.

First Reaction
Tier: Paragon
Benefit: If you are surprised, you may spend an action point to act during the surprise round.

Golden Wyvern Adept
Tier: Paragon
Benefit: You can omit a number of squares from the effects of any of your area or close wizard powers. This number can’t exceed your Wisdom modifier.

About the Author

Andy Collins works as the system design and development manager for D&D at Wizards of the Coast. His development credits include the Player's Handbook v.3.5, Races of Eberron, and Dungeon Master's Guide II. He is also one of the lead designers for 4th Edition D&D, along with Rob Heinsoo and James Wyatt.