Thursday, July 18, 2013

Feats of Balance

DnD Next has a new blog post out about feats.  In all previous editions where feats appeared they were a collection of mostly garbage abilities mixed up with a few mandatory picks.  There was also the issue of having large feat trees where the baseline feat sucked and if you got to the end of the tree it was worth it... but if you stopped playing before then you never got the good and/or interesting final feat.  Next is now swapping to a new system where you can either take +2 to a stat (or +1 to two stats) or take a feat and the feats are drastically more power than in previous incarnations.

First off this should allow the feat designers to balance the feats reasonably because they have a hard baseline to work with - feats have to be as good as +1 to hit and +1 to damage.  While I don't know that they will get the feats properly balanced it is clear that they are trying to do so, much more so than they did in previous editions where many feats were obvious 'skill testers'.  If the balance works out it has the excellent side benefit of making characters who do use feats and those who use the basic system without feats be comparable in combat.  It is a relatively smooth system of introducing complexity without mucking with balance; in theory I approve.

There are two examples of feats given:

Great Weapon Master

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

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.

As usual the devil is in the details.  These feats, while very cool, don't seem to fit into the scheme given above of being equivalent to +2 to a stat since they are far too powerful.  The second feat gives +1 AC, which is half of a feat, and up to 5 damage reduction.  At low levels 5 damage reduction is absolutely absurd and will handily reduce damage taken by 50%.  Even at fifteenth level where characters have 150 HP this is still going to be at least 15% damage reduction while +2 Constitution would be 10% more HP.  The weapon feat is much more challenging to evaluate because it very much depends on the availability of random dorks to cleave through.  If there are a lot of dorks to smash and/or the characters are hitting on numbers like 6 then the weapon feat will be hilariously overpowered.  This is particularly true because taking -5 to hit does not penalize the chance to critical so characters are definitely incentivized to take the -5 to get utterly absurd criticals.  (Double damage!  Doubled again!  Also get a free attack!  Kaboom!)  So these feats are neat in theory but it remains to be seen if they can make their balance goals work with the final, polished versions.

So in theory, good ideas.  In practice, balance is a big problem.  I guess that describes pretty much the entire DnD Next process so far...

1 comment:

  1. I'd put a hefty bet on totally unbalanced. I'll say it right now: the best character is going to be one who takes all stat ups except for two or three feats that effectively work multiplicatively together.