One of the changes made in recent years to Fourth Edition D&D was introducing the concept of Magic Items being Common, Uncommon and Rare. This solved a non-existent problem in our games – all Magic Items are pretty rare, thanks very much – and I would much rather the same concept be applied to something we do have a problem with. Feats.
The number of Feats available in 4e has increased to a ridiculous degree. Countless Dragon articles have spawned an unwieldy number of Feats, many of which are more powerful than their core PHB counterparts. This is one area of D&D which downright leaves me cold. When I reach the Feats tab in Character Builder, the temptation to immediately give in and quit is strong. It’s strange really – give me 10,000 monsters and I’ll still want more, but show me a list of a few hundred Feats, and I’ll tell you it’s a few hundred too many.
The difference, I guess, is that you can’t punch a Feat until it stops moving.
The other problem is that some Feats are just plain better than others, to the point of being overpowered in comparison. Right now there’s nothing (beyond easily met prerequisites) to stop players from cherry picking the "best" Feats and discounting the rest, turning the game into yet another arms race with the humble GM throwing yet more powerful monsters at overpowered PCs. It’s unsatisfying at both ends of the table.
A particular problem comes with mixing Essentials and Core Feats together. Essentials Feats tend to be more powerful than their Core counterparts as they’re intended to be used by the simpler, less flexible Essentials classes. This means they’re wide open to abuse by Core characters – just hit the Character Optimisation Forums, if you require proof.
One solution is to break the Feats down just like Magic Items into Common, Uncommon, and Rare.
Common Feats are available to all, and can be taken by any character provided the prerequisites are met.
Uncommon Feats are harder to obtain; as well as the prerequisites, the PC can only take the Feat if they find a suitable trainer or weave something of their gaining the Feat into the campaign. In game terms this means giving the GM advance notice (say, a half-level) that you plan to take the Feat so that can introduce NPCs and opportunities into the game sessions.
Rare Feats require the same advance notice but are significantly more difficult to obtain, and gaining them counts as a Minor Quest. A whole gaming session could involve finding the Desert Moon Lizardfolk who can teach your Fighter the Desert Moon Student Feat, for example. Gaining a Rare Feat involves talking your entire party into heading off on a Side Quest. Good luck!
No character can have more Rare Feats than they have Uncommon Feats, and no more Uncommon Feats than they have Common Feats. Use Retraining to gain new Uncommon or Rare Feats (provided advance notice is given and training is found, as above) as your character increases in level.
At this point I could provide a full and comprehensive list of all Feats denoting which are Common, Uncommon and Rare, but such a list would be out-dated within a month. Instead, here’s my rule of thumb:
- PHB1 Feats are Common for Core characters, and Uncommon for Essentials characters
- Essential Feats are Common for Essentials characters, and Uncommon for Core characters
- If it’s in PHB2, PHB3, one of the various Powers books or Heroes of Shadow, it’s Uncommon
- Any Feat from Dragon or other sources is Rare
- The GM reserves the right to make exceptions on a whim, as ever
This does mean that classes from sources other than PHB1 or Essentials are going to have their class Feats classified as Uncommon by default. That’s in keeping with the relative scarcity of these classes – a Druid will need to find other Druids to learn their deeper secrets, after all – but that’s hardly fair at 1st level. If the player suggests an NPC or two at the start, allow them to ignore the rule about having no more Uncommon Feats than Common ones and take an Uncommon Feat at 1st level provided the Feat has their class (or class feature) as a prerequisite.
Hopefully this should bring just a little sanity to what is currently an unmanageable and coma inducing list of Feats.
That’s the theory, anyhow.
Till next time!