House Rules: Bonus Feats

A few people have asked me about a couple of the rules under the “House Rules” tab here on my blog. They want to know what’s up with all the free feats. To clue you in: I let all the players take Weapon Expertise, Implement Expertise, and defense bonuses like Iron Will and Great Fortitude for free. You’d think that as an editor on Dungeons and Dragon, I would treat the rules as sacrosanct, but just like any other Dungeon Master, I like to make adjustments in my game—changes that I think improve the fun of all.

In other 4E games I’ve been in, most notably Rodney Thompson’s “The Savage North” Forgotten Realms campaign and Jeremy Crawford’s Oberon campaign, we played strictly by the rules. They both follow the rules of play in order to test the system for the purpose of our job. I can appreciate this effort, but when it comes to my own game, I toss aside work in order to have the best time possible, and that means ditching a few parts of the game that I, as a player, don’t enjoy.

I don’t like taking accuracy and defense feats. A lot of people take issue with game’s math. I’m not here to protest or defend the math. Instead, I’m just saying that feats should be fun. Picking feats is my favorite part of the game—I enjoy feat selection much more than picking powers. If the players in my game aren’t having fun picking feats because they feel like they have to pick certain feats, then I’m going to do something about it. A couple weeks ago, I gathered my players just before one of our sessions and we ran a attack/defense audit. On a large dry erase board, we listed all the PCs’ baseline attacks and defenses versus those of the monsters. I like doing this kind of exercise because it lets a DM see areas he or she needs to shore up. For example, I saw that a few PCs’ Fortitudes were being hit by monsters on 4s and 5s, so I made sure that during that session, those characters received some items that augmented Fortitude. This type of surgical fix can feel a little contrived, but it helps keep the game balanced as characters get higher level.

Keeping an eye on accuracy and defenses is especially important in a game with non-optimizers. Even if you don’t want to give out Weapon Expertise or Paragon Defenses for free, DMs and players are well-advised to help keep an eye toward the character sheets of newer players. I had completely forgotten to start giving out masterwork armor during paragon tier, and the defense audit reminded me to tell players to start automatically upgrading all their armor to masterwork. Newer players might take Expertise and defense-enhancing feats and be perfectly content with that choice. Optimizers might feel more pigeonholed into taking such feats. And still some players might not realize they should take the feats at all. My best recommendation is to promote transparency and communication between players.

In the future, I’ll talk about some of my other House Rules, including my blatant disregard for experience points. What each of these rules ultimately comes down to is as important to “rule zero.” Call it, “rule one” or perhaps, “rule fun.” If you’re going to add, remove, or change a rule of the game, do it to make the game more fun.

Oh, and if you’re wondering how to add bonus feats into the D&D Character Builder, all you have to do is instruct players to add feats at level 3, level 5, or any other level in which they would not normally receive a feat. The D&D Character Builder will mark the character sheet as being “House Ruled,” but then that’s kind of the point. 🙂

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9 thoughts on “House Rules: Bonus Feats

  1. Why do you give the inherent bonuses? Are they extra bonuses or is their inclusion necessary for the campaign (very low magic or something)?

  2. @Jason – I like inherent bonuses because it means I don’t have to give out magic items to try and keep up with the characters’ advancement. I can give out items when it’s appropriate, not when the characters need them to keep up with attack/defense numbers.

  3. I do the opposite. I banned the Expertise feats, and lowered the attacks and defenses of the monsters. I think it’s easier for the players, since then can use the CB and all the books without remembering odd free bonuses.

  4. I think this is a great idea, I’ve been playing around with some ideas like this and this write up was a big help, thanks Greg.

  5. Awesome to see I’m not the only one 🙂 I gave all my players dragonmarks for plot reasons as a bonus feat, with the caveat that if it upset the balance plot would find a way to take them away again (right now we treat them as artifacts with concordance, so if they ever need to go away just because, they will). It has definitely made the game a lot more fun, and I don’t think I’ve regretted it even once.

    Giving them minor extra feats was not something I’d thought of, though. I’ll have to suggest it to my DM to see if we can try it out in his game, first!

  6. I’d be interested in knowing how the net increase in power tends to affect the game? My group is a mix of optimizers and people who have optimizers help build their chars. 🙂 As a result, they wind up on the upper end of the power curve, steamrolling encounters that should be fairly hard.

    I’m loath to increase their net power even more by giving them free feats. I also don’t like that it’s level 6 before any weapon user actually selects a feat. (Proficiency, Expertise, and (usually) Focus) I also don’t like that having 2 different weapons is nearly inviable.

  7. In my campaign, I did a few things after taking a similarly close look at the numbers:

    I removed expertise, and replaced it with Masterwork (esp. special materials) Weapons – functionally, most magic weapons grant expertise as a free bonus feat, but you can’t take the feat otherwise. This is enhanced by the fact that the lowest-tier masterwork material is STEEL, in a Dark Sun, metal-poor, game. Players get excited just from seeing a steel weapon! For implements, it tends to be exotic and interesting mateirals, such as a staff made from the glass formed from lightning striking sand.

    Also, I increased ALL mobs attack bonuses but lowered all mobs defenses (generally around +3 / -3, but not always), so rather than things being in the standard 50-80% accuracy range, they’re more in the 65-95% accuracy range. Its effect is twofold – combat is quicker but more deadly, but also players feel better about using their encounter powers when they feel they can rely on them hitting. I’m fine with particularly accurate powers (such as piercing strike from a rogue with combat advantage) hitting on a 2, as long as it means that powers that aren’t known for accuracy, from less accurate characters (the warlord hitting something in the face with whatever) hit around 2/3 of the time.

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