Oh, to take a +1 or +2?

Reading a recent post on the Level 30 Yinzer blog about using social media (thanks for the shout-out) solidified some thoughts I’ve been unable to crystallize regarding feats. In the post, Yinzer describes an encounter where the PCs have an exciting encounter on a waterfall. I don’t know the specifics, but a waterfall sounds like an awesome setting. I’m imaging a scenario where the PCs have to make their way down to the bottom, having to deal with sharp cliffs, slippery rocks, and monsters that jump out that them from time to time. A waterfall is a great tool for concealing oneself or enemies. If there is a navigable path, maybe it’s not safe for the PCs to all clump together, so they are forced to spread out with monsters that attack them from time to time. This encounter can be combined with some in-battle or ongoing skill challenges that rely on climbing and balancing (athletics, acrobatics, endurance, nature, perception, etc) and maybe successes allow them to find hidden tunnels that let them skip parts of the cliff…

Anyway, getting to my point. As I started building the waterfall scenario in my head I was simultaneously figuring out how I would play my character in it. Wouldn’t it be cool if there was a feat that made it easier to fight while hanging on to a cliff (or rope) or to ride your shield down the waterfall like a crazy elf? But even there were such feats, I still wouldn’t take them.

Why not? To answer that, I am reminded that this week my character leveled up and it was time to choose a new feat. As I was scanning the list I saw a cool feat (I forget the name) that added the cold keyword to a certain classes’ attacks. At first I thought this was pretty nifty, but I passed over it the same way I would if there was a feat that let you attack with a reduced penalty while hanging on to a cliff… it’s too special purpose to come up often enough.

Here’s the deal. In the right situation a specific feat like the cold one is pretty awesome. However in my experience a party can expect to come across a linear distribution of monster type. A good variety of enemies keeps things new and interesting for the party. But that means that most of the time, the encountered monsters will have no vulnerabilities, and when they do, they’re just as likely to be vulnerable to fire as to cold. Am I right in thinking that it’s better to take a feat that gives me +1 all the time (like Implement Expertise) instead of one that gives +2 less than half the time (like Distant Advantage) ?

If I had some guarantee from the GM that we’d be in a situation where the feat would be useful for a level’s worth adventures I suppose I could choose it for now and retrain later, but that seems like cheating. These specialty feats are great for fleshing out a character and building him into a unique persona, but at the same time it’s war between the PCs and their adversaries and why not take every advantage they can get? I know that it’s very rare that 1 point makes the difference between a hit and miss, but it feels like penalization for choosing a feat or power that isn’t versatile, unless a particular campaign is built to make use of it.

I guess what I mean is that it feels that all feats aren’t created equally. Is thinking wrong? And if not, have people found situations where they’ve been glad they’ve taken a narrower-purpose feat (that doesn’t combine in a “broken” way with other powers/feats) even if it meant using it less often than an alternative?

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3 thoughts on “Oh, to take a +1 or +2?

  1. This is, to my mind, what stunts are all about. I think nothing defines a 4e game more than how a GM interprets page 42, but I;m personally in favor of the school of though that says “Describing something in a really cool way removes the need for a feat or the like”

    I’m aware it’s not a universally held position, but I’m certainly very fond of it.

    -Rob D.

  2. Ugh… this was one of my biggest beefs in 3.5… with every splat book came dozens of new feats… but no more feat slots to put them in…

    I think (in spite of the numerous additional character options available in DDI) they’ve fixed this somewhat in 4e. Mounted combat, for example, is a feat tree exactly one feat long. No more taking your Paladin to level 9 to get the super charging feat with your Special Mount only to never, ever, ever play a combat with mounted warriors in the whole campaign.

    But still, the dilemma of cool feat vs. “another +1” is tough. I can’t remember where (maybe a post our DM shared?), but someone’s blog suggested just giving certain feats (like weapon expertise) to players for free, so they didn’t have to deliberate over whether to take them or not. Or, alternatively, banning those feats altogether, with the same end goal.

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