Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Pathfinder RPG: Chapter 5: Feats

I have little to say about the feats chapter, except I have no complaints about it. I guess for me the feats system and thus the chapter are just sort of "there" and if any problems exist with it I expect they'll come out in play. I do have quite a bit to say about the feat system in general though and can only guess that my position will be at least player-unpopular. Still, just for the fun of it, here goes.

Why is there even a feats system anyway? When it comes right down to it, the feats system is essentially a second skills mechanic. Foremost, I believe the invention of feats goes all the way back to a little-known, venerable Dragon Magazine article containing a number of combat maneuvers for 1E fighters, special moves designed to make them more interesting, to make them more than participants in hit point slug-fests.

Unfortunately, since then, the feats system has exploded into a garden of weedy confusion. If there's any one mechanic that's been overwritten, brother this one has to be it. The feats system mirrors no learning system in the real world, so doesn't really simulate anything. Furthermore, the wilder feats in D&D decidedly turn characters into weird freaks. This leads me to believe that the feats system belongs more to superhero roleplaying games where freaks abound. So, I also think superhero games had some influence on the development of feats.

The feats system has caused me so much woe and consternation too that I almost wish it had somehow been folded into the skill system, so we have one "look at what I can do" mechanic instead of two. I've tried to catalog all the feats I own in various D&D 3.5 books as well as enter them into Hero Lab, a project I've at long last abandoned for sanity sake. One man vs. a staff of crazed designers on caffeine meeting corporate deadlines? Clearly, I'm gonna lose.

By the time Wizards of the Coast killed D&D 3.5 there were well over 600 feats in the books I own alone (I have the table to prove it). I hope the trend toward game designers creating new feats at the drop of a hat will stop, but I don't expect it to simply because they're relatively brief, easy to write and fill empty space and sidebars nicely. If we have to have a feat system, then I would much rather stick with and explore the core system and so that's the plan in my future Pathfinder RPG games. I don't know about anyone else, but it seems like we never really fully explored the D&D 3.5 core system, because the newer feats seemed to have more appeal than the basic feats. Whether they really were better or not is entirely debatable.

Anyway with our conversion over to the Pathfinder RPG, I'm quite glad to "reboot" the feats system. I'll be very careful in the future to be selective about which feats I'll convert over and allow for use. My plan is to pretty much stick to the core feats unless there is kicking, screaming and much whining involved. Players continue to be fond of this second skill system and, for better or worse, there's really no going back.

Savage Tide Feats: I did convert the Savage Tide feats in the free players guide from Paizo over to Pathfinder as they were easy to add, seem to add flavor to Savage Tide characters and, best of all, pretty much augment existing skills rather than try to do a lot of weirdness or nose picking (i.e. add superfluous talents).

Skill Tricks: I have a fondness for the skill trick system in D&D 3.5, even though it's yet a third way of looking at skills. One of the reasons I like it is because it's now a closed system: there are only 43 skill tricks and that list isn't likely to grow. In fact quite the opposite.

I also like the system because it interfaces with the skill system, rather than adding more weirdness and nose picking. Skill tricks are mostly practical maneuvers. Many of the tricks no longer function due to changes in the Pathfinder RPG skill system though.

Still, I'm trying to decide where they fit in. Hero Lab has retained the ability to use skill tricks in the Pathfinder RPG so I'm toying with: a) converting them as skill tricks; b) converting them as feats. My wife is also fond of the skill tricks system so I have to admit to some "love my honey" bias in retaining them.


John Reyst said...

I agree on the sometimes painful inconsistency of the feats system. I always like to think of things in real world terms and try to categorize things. If it is something you learn, that you can improve over time, I think it should be a skill. If it is a trick you can perform because you are especially good at something, it should be a side-effect of having a lot of skill in a certain area. For example, if you have 6 ranks in "bab" you get the trick "extra attack". If you have 5 ranks in "stealth" you get the trick "hide in plain sight" etc. Just seems cleaner, you have one "system" ie, skills, and then you get tricks based on your level in those skills. In my opinion the 3.x (including PF) systems are hopelessly confused, though I also don't know of anything out there that is better. I have this dream of cleaning it all up and doing it how I'd do it but I couldn't do it alone.... :)

AWizardInDallas said...

The only other system I've seen that comes close to cataloging real world skills is Rolemaster (or HARP), but I'm pretty sure I wouldn't find players interested in playing that system.

Also, I'm not an ultra realist or anything, so everything doesn't have to have a real world equivalent, but when you can buy once per day spell uses or other weirdness with feat slots, then I think the system has been stretched well beyond it's intent. That perhaps is the real problem: not that there are two systems, but that the second system has been stretched outside its original intent.

katallos said...

Games I run are almost always restricted to the core books/SRD for classes/feats/equipment/spells/etc. Doing that makes for a much simpler time looking up any disputes or figuring out just what does what.

Skill tricks to me are unnecessary, many of them are things that I would let players do anyway if they were creative enough and could explain how such a trick would work. The rest are of minimal benefit or just things I don't want happening in my game because they seem kind of silly.

I do like the ways that feats like dodge and cleave changed in Pathfinder, it saves on bookkeeping in combat and makes the feats a bit more useful in all situations.

AWizardInDallas said...

I have to admit that I'm tempted to run my upcoming Pathfinder games that way too, but I enjoy creating new material too much. So, I plan to take a middle of the road approach and just add what I feel like adding and disregard the rest.

Youy way is also admirable and does follow the KISS principle nicely.

Also, I've decided that I'm still just not going to buy published game world materials because I end up getting lost in the canonical minutia.

Kameron said...

I'm not familiar with the Dragon article you referenced, but I believe Feats can also be traced back to Perks in GURPS, and likely the FEATS mechanic from Marvel Super Heroes.

I like the idea of having a Feats-like system that is tied into the Skills mechanic. I've done something similar with my homebrew RPG, where you gain Feats every few Skill levels/ranks, rather than class/character levels, and you're restricted to picking Feats that are related to the skill.

AWizardInDallas said...

Dragon #165 by Cory S. Kammer, which I'll now credit as the inventor of the feat (well, D&D-style anyway). Take a look and you'll be amazed that the terms are basically the same after all these years. Interestingly enough the article was bent toward fighters. :)

I'll take your word on GURPS and Marvel as I've no experience with them, though I'm a Steve Jackson fan. And were you to walk into the game room with GURPS under your arm I'd play. :)

Aside: I've played Champions and like the Advantage/Disadvantage system.

I actually waffle back and forth on the feats system. I actually like the system but think it's also the biggest source of game developer abuse. There's a lot of junk in D&D 3.5. I think I could fall in love with the feats system again, if we're just careful about what new feats to allow. I also like feats as a way to make your character unique.