Sunday, July 4, 2010

Philosophical Discussion Over Lunch With Satine

Satine: "Can we play with feats?"

Me: "'Feets?'"

"Yeah, feats."

An image that I do not think is the right image pops into my mind. I look up from my sweet potato fries.

"Oh, 'feats', like in D&D, like 'gain 3 bonus feats per level' and all that."


"Ok, let's talk," says I, and I chew thoughtfully upon my bacon-wrapped hot dog, "See, let's pretend this salt shaker is a monster."

"So, like 'Oh no! The salt shaker!'. In old D&D there's pretty much like one thing in the rulebook you can do to this salt shaker: roll dice to hit it with whatever weapon you have." I smack it with a fry.


"Seems dull, right? However there are also an infinite number of things that aren't in the rulebook that you can do to the salt shaker, and Old D&D expects the player to try to think those up."

(I could've, but forgot to, point out here that 'grappling'--for example--isn't covered in the player's handbook. the idea presumably being that players will figure out they can try to grab the salt shaker and at that point the DM will pull out the grappling rules from the DMG and say "Ok, here's how you do it".)

Satine: "I got it."

"As the game got more popular and was designed for younger and younger people and more general audiences, it started to include more and more suggestions about what you could do built into the character classes--because they figured you might not want to think all that stuff up yourself. Thus: a feat like 'improved sunder' which lets you chop things' heads off."

"Yeah, see, but what happens is when I flip through the players' handbook I see the stuff and I get ideas for stuff to do that I hadn't thought of. Like I look at the rogue stuff and go 'Oh, I could do that'."

"Right--like in the old game it's like there's no 'forgery' skill, it's just like it has to occur to you to forge something and then it's like 'Oh you want to forge something? You have to think it up and then we build a ruling on how it works."


"I get it, Satine--it's like you go to the candy store and then I go 'Ok, you can't have that candy, you can only have that candy'."

"Yeah--sometimes I just don't wanna make everything up myself."

"Ok, I'm with you. I'm just trying to lay out the cause of the philosophical gap here. However, point is, you should get to play the game in a way you enjoy, and we all like playing with you and vice versa, so we'll figure out some way to do both at once. There is a way to play that'll make everybody happy here. Let us not fret. I am not concerned with which way is better, I am concerned with playing with the people I want to play with."


"I just gotta think on it for a bit."



I thought on it a bit.

Here's my thought:

You can have a number of feats equal to the bonus feats for your class and level, OR you can have a number of Lucky Numbers equal to the number of bonus feats for your class and level.

So: you can have some "super powers" if they define your class, but you can also just have a freeform "creative combat moment" once in a while if you want that instead.

That way, I don't have to run around doing feats for monsters and other players to re-balance the game. I just give each monster a number of lucky numbers (I'm thinking lucky number 5 if it has one lucky number, 5 and 6 if it has two lucky numbers, 5, 6, and 7 if it has 3, etc.).

This rule will go into effect in two sessions, if Satine is still into it.


  1. As most of us know, there are essentially two kinds of feats.

    1: The kind that makes you better at something you allready know how to do, like Weapon Focus (+1 to attack with chosen weapon).

    2: The kind that lets you do something new, like Cleave (get extra attack whenever you kill something).

    It sounds like your problem is mainly with type 1. Could be worth thinking about if you plan to make a compromise.

  2. Egads Zak, your game is turning into an unholy melange of rules from a dozen sources...

    In other words, it's getting very Old School...

  3. This post is filled with awesome.

  4. Can you have lucky numbers AND feats? Because Lucky numbers sound awesome.. but i'd still like to be able to enchant weapons for the other PCs.

  5. Herb's right Dr Zakenstein, you're building an admirable and most grognardly monster here. Huzzah!

    I do think you shouldn't underplay the dangers posed by the saltshaker though. In my own game, saltshakers encountered in taverns have a 45% chance, plus 1% per patron frequenting the tavern in the last 48 hours, of having a loose top. Unwary PCs can easily suffer a socially humiliating seasoning disaster.

  6. Also, I love sweet potato Frys.

  7. See, I actually like Feats in a certain way (not the Improved Sunder way so much), and that was the origin of my article in the current Fight On! (First thing in the magazine.)

    My philosophy: Wrap the whole Gygaxian progression of fighter-boosts like Exceptional Strength, Weapon Specialization, Multiple Attacks, etc., into a single mechanic that lets the player mix-and-match and have some choice. On a limited basis, I think it's reasonable.

    I do one "major" thing every 4 fighter levels (best for NPCs); or one "minor" 3E-style feat every 2 fighter levels (possibly better for PCs.)

  8. I'd expect fighters to benefit the most from LNs, because they get more bonus feats faster. Were I any other class, though, I think I'd stick with feats, especially if I were a class that benefited from the non-combat ones.

  9. I like feats (& fighting style merits, etc) largely because-- well, if you are the kind of player who likes tricking tripping dudes, or attacking weapons, or whatever? Then I sort of feel like you SHOULD have a built in, balanced, figured out, math-corrected add on. Something more than an ad hoc ruling-- while I am a big fan of ad hoc rulings, if you know you are going to be doing that all the time, then...well, then figure out some solid numbers & mechanics for it.

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  11. I'm going to have to admit to being a bit confused. This post is a bit too D&D specific for me I suppose.

    My players just sort of do what they want to do each time they get to take an action. The more complex and ridiculous the move, the higher the difficulty modifier I add or subtract from their roll.

    Is it that she (Satine) can't always think of what to do other than attack with her weapon or does she 'believe' that she only has a limited number of options?

  12. @barking

    Feats give you (effectively) super-powers. They make your character more effective in certain situations, giving it things like: extra attacks, a bonus to hit in certain situations, an ability to attack when the rules normally wouldn't allow it, etc.

    They make combat more varied without the PC having to think up ways to make it complex and vaied on the spot.

  13. An excellent discussion to have with your players, rather than just saying "No feats!" and returning to your fries.

    I really liked feats when 3rd first came out. I've always had a preference for fighters, and their treatment as the "crap class" in old AD&D always made me angry. Feats seemed like a great way to make the fighter shine.

    Over time, though, feats became part of the same symptoms like open multi-classing and prestige classes that infected 3rd edition; simulationist design in the game mechanics rather than the world.

    We usually would refer to 3rd edition books on the metrics of "crunchy" (Lots of stats and rules), or "fluffy". (Lots of flavor text and non-rules material) Needless to say, crunchy books sold better, so that's what you usually would find on the shelves.

    Let's take an example from 4th Edition: the ability of fighters to "mark" targets so they take penalties attacking anyone else. In an old school game, a player would need to think of a way to keep a monster's attention on them. Perhaps a juicy taunt at their back when they try and go around at the wizard? May be a charisma check, modified by the monster's intelligence. Lots of room for a good DM to improvise, and the player feels good about coming up with a great idea.

    Unfortunately, modern gamers tend to be rather lazy and expect everything defined in the rules alone, or everything handed to them. I think computer games are to blame for that...

    Here's another feat replacement idea, Zak. You could offer "action points", or "luck points" in place of feats. Instant success on an action, turn a hit into a crit, make a hit that would drop them into a "near miss" or leaves them with 1 hp, and so forth. They go back a ways; I think Force points from WEG Star Wars was the first place I encountered them.

  14. My little "feat simulator":

    Heroism is a bonus equal to 1 times the characters level (1 at 1st, 2 at 2nd, etc) and may be applied once per day to up to three of the following:
    1. Attack Bonus
    2. Damage
    3. Saving Throw
    4. Skill Check
    5. Spell DC
    So a 3rd level fighter might use his +3 bonus to an attack, a saving throw, and a damage roll one day, and so on.

  15. Female feets are indeed sexy.

    Feats, on the other hand, are a great part of Marvel, because they have a simple mechanic and come from the player's imagination. Playing a weekly game that rotates between 1e AD&D, 2e Gamma World, and MSH gives a great perspective - to the PLAYERS!

    'Well, in Marvel, I could pervert my powers to do this, so hey, DM, I want to use my Continual Light spell to illuminate the poison running through poor Black Dougal so I can cut it out before it hits his heart.'

    Not covered in the rules, but awesome.

    I would never presume to give DM advice to anyone. I would only say this: reading your blog and watching your show, you have the game completely under control; you play it loose and fast as the original authors did, and is the true heart of the old school mentality. You don't need formalized feats!

    Let the girls read the new school material, get ideas, write them down, whatever. You know that you don't need the book to tell you what Frankie's chance to forger a document is. D&D ain't MSH for a reason. PCs ain't superheros!

    Very nice pic, btw. I love your players.

  16. I know what feats are as I've played 3rd Edition D&D and other feat using D20 games.

    My question is more 'why feats'? Is it because Satine needs ideas on what to do at a given moment because she's tired of constantly trying to think of something new to do or does she feel that what her character can do is limited in some way as it stands?

    Also, I don't see most feats as super powers. Super powers enable you to fly, move mountains and shoot beams from your eyes. Feats just give you a +1 in some odd circumstance, the same thing you'd get from describing an attack, dodge or other action in an entertaining and intelligent way in one of my games. No exposure to cosmic rays required.

  17. Magic numbers look very complicated, and they don't give the player control over their own super powers, so I prefer the feats.

    Jasper, don't you mean Zak's problem is with type 2 feats, the ones that give you super powers but therefore limit those superpowers from everyone else? Feats that give you +X to some number on your character sheet, I don't even think are worth discussing.

    Me, I like super powers, and that's why I'll only play spell casters or paladins. Without my own powers that no one else in the party can do, I don't feel like I can "do" anything notable.

  18. @Barking Alien: I think that conversation was likely a result of her character's death in ep16. She was given a some flavor of 3rd ed PHB toward the end of the show to roll a new character and likely went through the feats section. Since they hadn't been using feats, the candy store example.

    Feats are just a handy list of ideas for the most part. Things that they may not have thought of on their own.

  19. @ Barking

    I don;t know, ask Satine:

    @ Noumenon

    I can;t think of any possible way that the Lucky Number system could possibly be construed as complicated--you roll a number, you get to do an extra thing--How on earth is that complicated?

    Nope. Satine's character died 2 months ago, the conversation happened a few days ago, and Satine's known 3.5 since it came out.

  20. That (the original post) is a good summary of the issue IMO. I kind of see feats as actually limiting character actions. "No Sunder feat? You'll have a tough time breaking that sword." "Want to trip someone with your weapon? Better take that feat." I know you can still attempt many of those tins without the feat but the rules "balance" things so you'd better not try, you'll probably fail and draw attacks of opportunity to boot. I'd rather just have all options open. I can understand the desire to have all the rulings codified but I don't prefer my characters to be one trick ponies.

  21. OOOHhh. Both are very tempting!!

    So, I've played with feats before, and at first, I didn't like it. Since then i've been playing a lot of video games where as you progress you "specialize". I enjoy working towards something. Magic users get to choose from a variety of spells to specialize their character, Rogues get skills and skill points to make what they are good at even better. That's part of what I was hoping for. When I flipped through the book I saw feats and thought "That would make that character WAY COOLER!".

    Its not that I don't want to have to think. That kind of offends me. Right now I can use a-z in any situation. If I am only really good at a, c, mno, qtyz, then I know that I can acm, or mnoq, or atz (ect.) Very well, or abcde fairly well. Personally, I enjoy that. I'm not speaking for any of the other players, but I've played both with and without feats. I am not saying that If we don't play with Feats i'm quitting. I love playing with my friends way more. If the group would rather not play with feats, who am I to argue? I'll play by the rules. I just don't find feats or skill points hindering.

    for instance: I like to tie things up. If I play a rogue I can. And sure, I can tie up people as a cleric, but I wouldn't be as good as a rouge. So, as a cleric I would like to know what I WAS good at. I mean, If I can do anything and find out after i've thought of it, that I wasn't good at it, why would I want to do that in the first place?

    If Zak just says : No satine, no feats. Then I'll be ok with it. ... And I'll read the players hand book front to back.
    Am I making sense? or am I talking crazy talk again?


  22. In summary: I like my feats to be for fighters only (a clean separation, just as spells are only for wizards, skills only for thieves in OD&D). I like them to give bonuses, not brand-new action types (because by corollary the latter proscribes stuff from everyone else). Since many bonuses can become overwhelming, they have to be limited in number (like 5 at most for a high-level PC/NPC fighter; none at 1st level).

  23. @satine

    Ok--I feel like if the question is more about defining the character than spicing up encounters, then I have some sort of informal rules that we can formalize:

    -1st, I already kinda loosely go by a system whereby the more you tell me about your character, the more I'd change modifiers to reflect what that kind of person would be good at. Like if you're a city rat from Vornheim, you're not gonna necessarily be able to sail. But I trust the players to give me background stuff to the degree they want to. Some people love doing that, some hate it and feel put on the spot if I ask, so I don't make it a requirement.

    Basically, if you say your character is all about something BEFORE it comes up as a challenge in the game, I will almost always give it to you. You wanna say your rogue's a pirate? Fine. Just don't wait until you realize you have to go on a boat to tell me that.

    2nd--I also think the system in Chaosium's games is good--basically: the more you use a skill in-game, the more your character gets good at it. If a character always does something, then they'll get better at it.

  24. hmm.. Ok.. So I should go ahead and come up with more of a story for my character... i'm on it :)

    ... It would be fun to play one episode with the Luck numbers. :D. Just sayn

  25. @ZakS: Thanks for the clarification. I sometimes forget that there's such a lag time on the when the show games were played.

  26. you roll a number, you get to do an extra thing--How on earth is that complicated?

    It's not at all complicated to explain, I saw it as being complicated in play. ("Complicated" may be the wrong word.) It involves an extra check on every single die roll. I just played a game of Catan: Cities and Knights today, so I know it's tough to remember to check the die for the numbers you own as well as the number it reads.

    If the monsters have lucky numbers, it'll make your life complicated because they make so many rolls. I personally have trouble remembering to watch for 18s or 19s on high crit weapons, and this number is random and could be different for different monsters.

    Then there's the fact that once you do roll the number, the effect is undefined and has to be invented to fit the situation... I guess instead of "complicated," I really meant "game-slowing-down" and "memory-taxing." Just my gut reaction, I've never actually tried anything like it.

  27. Fading Suns, which is the best sci-fi game I have ever played (by a long shot) has a built in "lucky number" system. Which worked very well in all the games I ever played. You took your stat + skill for all rolls. your stat + skill was your crit, or lucky number, or whatever the game called it. Stats and skills were on a 1 - 10 scale. I liked it, It was organic to the game. Also, as that number increased, you were comparatively "more lucky."

    So, a 5 level (they didn't use that kind of progression, but you get the idea) fighter and a 15th level fighter "get lucky" just as often, but it is far more impressive when the more talented person does it. Unlike D&D where a 5 level fighter with a broad sword and 16 str does the same amount of damage as a 15th level fighter with the same sword and strength. I liked the way it worked, because it didn't require a bunch of feats for the rules to reflect the greater skill of the more experienced person. The base line rules did that on their own, by design, and in an non-obtrusive way.

    I dislike feats, mostly. I cherry pick them. "I'm going to swing my great axe at the Ogre savagely..."
    "your blow clips his neck cleanly, blood sprays everywhere, and he drops in a dying heap before you."
    "In my blood lust I immediately make a follow through attack on his guard hound."

    Cleave is a perfect feat. Very flavorful, and balances the narrative of the savage warrior with rules. Power attack. Meh. Diplomatic? Yeah, static numbers added to other numbers - no thanks.

  28. I really like the way you handled this; there are a lot of "feats BAD!" people out there but you engaged with the issues well.

    In my mind feats are good as long as you don't let them stifle the unlimited innovation aspect of the game. But I remember back in like 2e adjudicating stuff... One guy needed to throw his bastard sword in an emergency. I said "OK, attack at -4, and don't make it a habit..." Because as a DM, you tend to rule on those weird cases "for everyone." But with a feat, you decide you want that to be "your thing," so maybe you're better at tossing your sword around, and it's not at -4, and the DM won't get on you for doing it all the time. I don't have a problem with that.

    There are a lot of feats that give bonuses to something unusual - and that's good. Then there's feats that let you do something that's truly a superpower - that's good. But then there's feats that let you do something it says you can't do normally, even though you reckon you should be able to... Although really there aren't too many like that. I think a lot of the problems people think are due to feats are really due to the creep of rules around everything in general. "Anyone can try to disarm, but taking a feat called Improved Disarm makes you better at it" - who can argue with that? But once you add in "attack of opportunity on people without the feat that try to disarm" you are effectively saying the non-feated can't do it and it turns into an effective restriction instead. And then there's the "fiddly little" feats.

    As people noted, there's the "action point" angle where you spend some kind of point to do special things - in this case, if you wanted to disarm someone you'd spend one of your limited use dealios... I am ambivalent about that.

    I like the lucky numbers too, though... The only issue with it is you can't deliberately do those things. Although I guess it's really like the feats, it's an attitude thing. Can I not try to throw someone intentionally, I can only do it if my lucky number comes up? Or can I do it intentionally but also get freebies when I get a lucky number? I think the unconstrained vs constrained approach is what makes any of these rules bits turn out one way or the other...

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  31. I don't know, feats (like everything else in 3E) are meshed together with all the other rules of the game. For example, feats go along with being able to create magic items, brew potions... I suppose you could tack on something external to replace it though. I think feats are a nice way to customize your PC but I also dislike how they tie into combat and alter the already complex rules with numerous situational modifiers... it makes it ever harder to keep it all straight in my head. Without feats the game is so much simpler (more like AD&D with a workable skill system).