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A Bit More on Feats
Mike Mearls

T his past week, we've been doing a fair amount of work on feats and their place in the system. We started with the idea of feats that looked fairly similar to one from previous editions, with the concept of a specialty tying them all together. As we did more work on the game, it became clear that not everyone wanted feats in their game. Thus, we ended up making feats an optional part of the game.

As your character levels, at certain points you gain a +2 bonus to one ability or a +1 bonus to two different abilities. Alternatively, your group can choose to use feats. In that case, you can forgo the ability bonus and gain a special ability.

There are a few nice things about this approach.

  • We know a feat has to be equal in power to an ability score boost, giving us a clear target to aim at for design.
  • We can design feats knowing that players don't need to select only feats. Even for groups that opt into feats, we can assume that characters will mix between ability increases and special abilities.

We fielded a lot of questions about what that meant for feat design. Here are two example feats based on this approach. Note that neither of these example feats has been developed or edited.

Great Weapon Master

You can let the momentum from a deadly attack carry your weapon into another foe.

Benefit: You gain proficiency in heavy martial weapons.

When you make a melee attack with a weapon, you can take a –5 penalty to the attack roll to double your damage with that attack.

When you score a critical hit with a melee weapon or reduce a creature to 0 hit points with a melee weapon, you can make one additional melee attack as a part of the same action. The attack granted by this feat cannot trigger another attack from this feat.

Heavy Armor Master

You can use your armor to deflect strikes that would kill others.

Prerequisite: Proficiency with medium armor

Benefit: You have proficiency with heavy armor.

When you are wearing heavy armor, you have a +1 bonus to AC, and you reduce all bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage you take by an amount equal to your Constitution modifier.

The first thing that might strike you is that these feats are more powerful than feats from earlier editions. For example, Great Weapon Master combines what would have been three feats (Weapon Proficiency, Power Attack, and Cleave) from 3rd Edition. This design direction plays into the points given above. Feats have to be meaty to stack up in power to an ability increase. In addition, we think that most players using the feat system will want to spread their choices between ability bonuses and feats. Thus, we want to avoid special abilities that become useful only after spending several feats on them.

In essence, we've taken the specialty concept from earlier playtest drafts and transferred it into individual feat design. A single feat says something interesting about your character and gives you a very noticeable benefit at the table. The feat can be a bit more complex, because this is an optional system. The feat has to be compelling at first glance, because it must compete with the lure of an increased ability score.

The best thing about making feats optional is that it allows us to really aim the design at gamers looking for customization and options. We don't need to worry about watering down feats so that everyone can use them. Instead, we need only keep an eye on character balance while catering to the specific types of gaming groups that would want feats in their campaigns.

So, there's a check-in on feats and where they stand in the design. If you have any questions or comments, I'm on Twitter as @mikemearls. Feel free to drop me a line or sound off on the game.

Mike Mearls
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.
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