Common, Uncommon and Rare Feats

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!

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8 Responses

  1. Elton says:

    Well, since I only use the Core and one Addon, but don’t have a DDI subscription, I don’t have to worry about this.

  2. cooperflood says:

    I’ve found a simple way of limiting the explosion of options is allowing players access to a limited number of sources. For example in 4e I might allow players to use any two books of their choice, but all of their character option must come from those books (race, class, feats, and powers). However if you want to make the PHB feel like the “standard”, you could allow access to PHB and one other source (each Dragon mag counts as source).

  3. Jonathan says:

    I think, actually, the essentials feats are supposed to be for everyone now – at least, around here we treat them as soft replacements for a lot of other overlapping feats that aren’t really… Well… Useful anymore.

    Then again, I abandoned the CB awhile ago and started treating Essentials as “Nouveau Core,” with the feats list mainly limited to Essentials feats plus the few others that are legitimately needed in their own right (like multi classing feats and so on) and if a player needs something else, either invent it or let them ask for it.

    The reason is that my understanding of Essentials is that, while it is very obviously NOT a new edition of the game… it DOES represent a shift in design philosophy. And I would argue an improvement.

    This is even easier to do as WotC releases (free to all!) updated versions of the PHB builds in the Essentials style – which is admittedly mostly about presentation, but it makes me less interested in cracking open my PHB looking for feats or what have you.

    Just my 2¢. :)

  4. EverKang says:

    I like your ideas! It makes some of the cooler feats *mean* something. You didn’t get that uber-feat by just picking it out of the book, you went on some crazy journey to find that old blademaster who then sent you on even crazier wax-on, wax-off mission. Feats thus become a source of pride, for both the character and the player. Good stuff.

    Alas, so many feats are just re-packagings of other feats. They are just adapted to other classes, races, weapon groups, or circumstances. I wish they were presented that way explicitly. Not the most effective business model, perhaps, but it would rid us of much of the glut. When I think of how, in M&M, any 1PP/rank power can potentially be a new feat, I’m wowed by the beauty of it.

  5. Hanzo78 says:

    This is actually what turned me off from 3rd edition. So when I did run 4E I just limited what sources I would allow options to come from.

  6. greywulf says:

    Must admit, as DM I prefer to limit sourcebooks too. If I had my way, I’d restrict the whole darned lot of my players to just the PHB and they’ve got to master ever race/class combination to 30th level before they are allowed to even peek at another book :()

    Unfortunately, players tend to tie me naked to a lampost somewhere in the middle of nowhere if I suggest just things. They like their spiffy DDI account, access to squillions of feats and all those shiny new races, classes and powers. Bless ‘em.

    Hence, this compromise. They can use whatever sourcebooks they like, but their characters have to work within the restrictions and role-playing framework I’ve laid down. And I stil have the power of veto, so it’s all good.

    No lamposts for me.

    Thanks for the comments, all!

  7. Les Fortunas Veritas says:

    So why not just be honest and say that you’re really just banning the feats you’re labeling as “rare,” since you put the effort of implying that’s what you’re doing anyway?

    Nothing’s stopping you from limiting the feats your group has access to beyond going to the point of player revolt.

    • greywulf says:

      Your logic is flawed. That’s like saying “why not just be honest and say you’re really just banning rare magic items?”. I’m using an existing mechanic (common, uncommon and rare) and applying it to Feats, nothing more.

      I’m not averse to banning or disallowing Feats as well – some Feats might just be broken, or not fit the campaign setting. This system adds another layer of detail to the game as well. Rarity implies value. Banning outright makes then unobtainable and therefore worthless. Having a rare Feat means you’ve put effort into getting it, and justly deserve the reward.

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