Feat Points

Its not a secret that not all feats are created equal. In a world where Prone Shooter and Rapid Shot are both options that cost one feat, how can there be balance? I’ve talked earlier about my philosophy of character resource and power, and this is just an extension of that reasoning.

In the past, I’ve tried to add scaling to feats to make them all comparable. However, I found that that solution was far too time consuming and lead to really weird power creep. For example, most people would agree that Skill Focus (Acrobatics) is not as strong as Power Attack. However, how could we balance them? We could have the skill focus give a bigger bonus, but at some point the bonus becomes absurd and would break the skill system wide open. Even beyond balance problems, I don’t have the patience or creative juice to re-write every pathfinder feat ever written, and my play group does not want to read 300 pages of basically custom feats I’ve tried to balance.

This is when I stumbled on a great idea in the Giant In The Playground Forum: Give each feat a point value. Then whenever your character would gain a feat, you instead gain some number of feat points to spend on feats.

The main drawback of the system is of course that since you are now trying to quantify the value of individual parts of a complex system no two people will be able to clearly agree on how much a given feat costs. You can see this in action in the link above since the writer of that point system references a previous iteration which in turn references another until we get back to Sean K. Reynolds blog-post (which he has taken down due to too much argument.)

So Why am I writing yet another feat point blog post? Well, the previous incarnations were for DnD 3.5, or were never completed, So without further ado, here are my feat point rules!

Feat Points

Whenever you would gain a feat, you instead gain 8 feat points. You may spend feat points on feats whenever you would normally gain a feat.

If you gain a bonus feat from a limited list, you instead gain a number of feat points equal to the most valuable feat in that list. Feat points gained this way may only be used to buy feats on that limited list, but may be combined freely with feat points from other sources.

You may choose not to spend all of your feat points when you gain them, instead saving them for later levels.

An example

A level 1 half-orc fighter starts with 8 feat points from his 1 hit die. He also gains 8 feat points from his fighter bonus feat class feature. Our half-orc could spend 4 generall feat points on skill focus (perception). He could spend 4 of his combat feat points on weapon focus (battleaxe) and he could spend 4 of his remaining general feat points along with the 4 combat feat points to learn power attack. However, he could not spend those points on learning eclectic as eclectic is not a combat feat.

You can find my point values for Paizo RPG rulebooks here. I’ve priced out feats up to Ultimate Magic so far. You can use this Greasemonkey script (get Greasemonkey here) to see my point values on the Archive of Nethys. To install the script click on ‘raw’ in the top right of the script code.

Pricing Philosophy

Why 8 points?

Eight is a good number. It can be divided in half, and then in half again. It gives you a decent range for prices without having too much wiggle room for arguments.

No feat costs more than 8 points

Once you start playing with values above the maximum there is no end to how much you can second guess your point values.

Power attack is worth 8 points

You have to pick anchor points somewhere. In my mind, power attack is an excellent feat from a design stand point. It scales with levels, so it never becomes irrelevant. It feels good to use, because in the usual case, you are getting +3 or more damage with it. And most importantly, you don’t need to jump through any hoops to use it. You pick up a chair and you can power attack with it.

So that will be my criteria for an 8 point feat.

  1. Feels good to use
  2. Always relevant
  3. Don’t need to work hard to turn it on

Weapon Focus is worth 4 points

Weapon focus is a really boring feat. It’s often used as a prerequisite for better feats. If you could help it, you would very rarely take weapon focus. None the less, if it is too cheap, then you could generate absurd bonuses to one statistic and break the random number system.

Thus, my criteria for a 4 point feat is anything that grants a small, flat, constant bonus to a combat-relevant statistic.

Blind-fight is worth 3 points

Blind fight is really strong if you are blinded or are fighting in darkness or mist. The rest of the time it is worthless. None the less, it is a pretty cool power. My thinking is that if turning on a feat requires a situation that you don’t control, but in that situation it would be an 8 point feat, that feat should be worth 3 points.

Dazzling display is worth 6 points

Dazzling display is a powerful effect, but has terrible action economy. It is excellent if you can grab an effect that lets you overcome its deficiencies. For example, if you have hurtful then you can use dazzling display and still attack. Then it become awesome. Thus, my criteria for a 6 point feat is if it requires some non-trivial amount of set up to work, but has a pay off that is worth more than an 8 point feat would be.

Skill focus is worth 4 points

Small skill bonuses like skill focus are not really exciting. They are often prerequisites, but are sometimes useful. That being said, the only time someone takes skill focus is if they get some extra use out of it. For example: +3 to sense motive is cool, but not the end of the world. +3 to sense motive when you can use it to parry attacks is much stronger.

If a feat gives a bonus that is much larger than skill focus, then add a point to the cost.

Discretionary adjustments

If a feat is especially weak or strong, you can adjust its value. Generally, I try to think of what other feat could combo with this feat to make me seriously consider taking the pair of them over a better feat.

 

 

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Path of War Monsters: The Accursed Disciple

Whether from ambient necromatic energies or the action of a dark priest, when a dead warrior rises as an undead creature, they retain none of the skills they knew in life. Yet sometimes, when a skilled warrior dies in the service of an evil cause his body remembers his techniques and wields them with the dark cunning of the undead. Such creatures are known as Accursed Disciples.

Half-elf Accursed Disciple CR 1/2

The zombie before you is clad in a battle-scarred suit of scalemail and carries a flail. A palpable cloud of dread follows the creature and dark fires burn in it’s eyes.

NE Medium undead
Init +0; Senses darkvision 60 ft.; Perception +0
Defense
AC 17, touch 10, flat-footed 17 (+2 natural, +5 armor)
hp 14 (2d8+5)
Fort +0, Ref +0, Will +3
DR 5/slashing; Immune undead traits
Offense
Speed 20 ft.
Melee Heavy Flail +4 (1d10+4) 19-20/x2
Statistics
Str 17, Dex 10, Con —, Int —, Wis 10, Cha 12
Base Atk +1; CMB +4; CMD 14
Feats ToughnessB, Martial ChargeB ,
skills intimidate +2 (+7 with Black Seraph’s Glare)
Maneuvers known (1 readied)
Strength of Hell, Gutstrike (DC 14)
Stance
Black Seraph’s Glare

Continue reading “Path of War Monsters: The Accursed Disciple”

Feat taxation without representation

Feats are the currency of combat in Pathfinder (and DnD.) If you spend 2 feats mastering archery, and I spend 3, then I am a better archer than you – probobly. However, this is not true across different combat styles. Say you spend 3 feats on using the longbow (point-blank shot, precise shot, rapid shot) and I spend 4 feats on the light crossbow (point-blank shot, precise shot, rapid shot, rapid-reload); In this case, we are equally good. We both make 2 attacks per turn for 1d8+1 damage apiece. At first glace, this seems fair. The crossbow is after all a simple weapon and the bow is martial. But imagine that we are both playing fighters. I want to be Van Helsing and you want to be Legolas. We both have martial weapon proficiency, we are both the same class, yet you are better at shooting things than me.

Why does this happen? I call it “feat buy-in.” To be able to use a particular combat style without sucking, you usually have to spend a feat to buy into it. For example, it is pointless to use a bow in combat without precise shot. Just like it is pointless to try to use two weapons without two-weapon fighting. Worse, some fighting styles are actually mixing two styles. Being a crossbowman means you need to buy into both ranged combat and the crossbow.

I think it should be obvious that this is unfair from a game-play point of view. Van Helsing is not a sidekick, he should be able to fight just as well as Legolas. So what is fair? I define a fair character creation systems as such: If you meet two equal level adventurers in a tavern, you should be able to recruit either one of them and have about the same chance to complete your quest. This is not to say that everyone needs to be the same. If you have a crossbowman, an archer and the lord of water-balloons; they can contribute to the party in distinct ways. Maybe the crossbowman can make fewer more powerful attacks, whereas the water-balloons deal no damage but can knock enemies around the battlefield with their concussive force.

A related, but different problem with buy-in feats is that they are boring. When I am building a character, I don’t want to spend feats on just not sucking with my chosen weapon. I want to actually do new things.

Continue reading “Feat taxation without representation”

Dealing With Perfect Defenses

Sometimes your players will bring a character that is almost immune to the attacks of average NPCs and monsters. For example, in one game I played in, one player had a crane style using Magus that could hit truly ridiculous levels of AC. Even worse, this was before the crane style Errata/Nerf and he could negate an attack every round if an enemy got lucky and hit him. Likewise, I am currently playing a Stalker that forces attackers to roll their attacks twice and take the lower result for several rounds per day. Combined with a moderate AC this basically makes mooks pretty useless against me.

When my DM complained that my AC was obnoxious I set out to help him build a little toolbox for dealing with me. Fortunately, Pathfinder has many options for changing which defenses you attack. The goal here will be to provide options that are not so specific and contrived so that they feel like you are singling out one player, breaking the verisimilitude of the world, or adding too much work to running adventures.

Also, most of my advice will focus on low-level adventures since that is generally where I play.

Low-hanging fruit

Targeting Touch AC or CMD and using aid another it really straight forward so  I am not really going to harp on that.

Area of effect attacks

If someone has a really high AC, you can stop trying to hit them and just attack in their general direction. Breath Weapons are really good for this, as creatures that have them generally bring a few uses and they still deal damage on a successful save. Of particular interest is the half-dragon template. Drop it on a useful animal, like a wolf, and you have a boss for young parties and a minion for higher level NPCs. Also check out the kobold feat draconic breath. With it you can add a CR 1 kobold warrior that brings a toughish body and a 2d6 breath weapon.

Another useful source of damage is death-throes style of abilities. Basically, some monsters explode when they die. The poster child for this ability is the exploding skeleton they are the same CR as regular skeletons but when they die they deal 1d6 damage in a 10 ft radius. Sure the save DC is laughable, but they still deal half damage even on a successful save. It does not give a damage type, but I assume that the explosion is not bludgeoning, so all your skeletons should not chain-react when one dies. When you mix these skeletons in with stronger threats, they can provide flanking bonuses and aid-another attacks for their master until they die and deliver their final 1 to 3 damage.

It does not really talk about how to make other skeletons exploding on the SRD, but I think it is reasonable to have the damage and DC scale with hit dice.

The MVP for low-CR area of affect attacks has to be the Robot Arachnid. Weighing in at 1/2 CR, the little guys has a cone attack for harassing foes, a climb speed to stay out of range, and it explodes when the PCs catch it. If your campaign does not have robots, you can reflavor the arachnid to be an aetheric construct.

Finally, for those that have no access to dragons, exploding minions or the like, there is always alchemists fire or acid flask. Even if you miss touch ac, the splash damage is always something. Never underestimate 8 kobolds (that’s CR 4) that are all dealing 1 damage every turn to two or more players.

But my players have evasion

Evasion limits the utility of many simpler area of effect attacks. You would need to focus on more unavoidable sources of damage. In this, like in all things, the undead have your back. Burning skeletons deal 1d6 fire damage to everyone near them, no questions asked. They explode too!

You can also diversify what save you target. Inhaled poisons can be pretty useful, consider Confabulation Powder. Staggering someone for a minute for 80gp is pretty good. Also take a look at the fungle creature template. Its spore cloud creates a deadly constitution damaging cloud for a minute.

Attacking Flat-Footed AC

Flatfooted AC is pretty hard to boost while also raising touch ac. Usually somethings gotta give. And the best way to attack flat-footed AC is to be invisible. For this we will turn to the fey. Consider the humble tooth fairy (it explodes too.) It can approach a hapless traveler undetected under invisibility, or just under its frankly absurd +19 stealth modifier. In the surprise round it can tear out a tooth. With a +7 modifier against flat-footed CMD it will likely succeed. Next round, with its prize in-hand, it can fly away at 60ft per round cackling madly. Bonus points if this happens while the PCs are fighting something else. Extra bonus points if the same little critter does this multiple times.

And if they do catch the little fairy, it will probably be pretty cathartic. Just, for the love of Sarenrae, don’t force the PCs to buy a regeneration effect to grow new teeth in. A lesser restoration should be sufficient to restore the teeth. No one wants to play a toothless hero.

If you are willing to go a little farther afield, you can dip into Dreamscarred Press’ path of war for maneuvers that target flat-footed AC. You can give a level 3 warrior Martial Training and Dimensional Strike.

But my players have uncanny dodge!

Uncanny dodge is pretty cool. If you can’t flat-foot them, try a different approach.

When all else fails, use spellcasters

Adding NPC spellcasters is a good way to spice up combat. Just remember that a spellcaster can be good minion material. Take a level 1 Cleric for example. He costs 1/2 CR and brings a nice area damaging ability that targets will saves. Throw in the shatter resolve feat for a useful debuff.

A level 1 sorcerer or wizard brings the humble magic missile to the table. And magic missile says “you take 1d4+1 damage.” No fuss no muss. Grease is pretty deadly if you cast it on a character’s weapon. And most bad-guys would be happy to have a minion that could cast protection from good or bless on them.

A level of alchemist on an npc not only adds bombs but makes it so that the alchemist’s fire he throws has a minimum damage of 3 or more.

Putting it all together

Dragon-mooks

Say you are running Crown of the Kobold King and you decide that the kobolds are wimpy and that the PCs will have too easy a time of it. With reasonably little effort, you can change some of the warriors to have the draconic breath feat and give the kobolds a stockpile of acid or alchemist’s fire in the main chamber. The warriors will give low-level PCs pause with their breath weapon and once the alarm is raised the rank and file can rush to pick-up their grenades. Maybe have little stockpiles of splash weapons throughout the warren to foreshadow this.

The undead just want a hug

I want to run an epic confrontation with a necromancer cleric. The cleric is level 5 and has a level 1 apprentice and a couple of zombies. Except, the necromancer has set up in a large room when he is performing a profane rite, and the ground is littered with bodies and skeletal remains. Perceptive characters may notice that many of the bodies have onyx in their eye sockets and mouths, and that the whole area has had desecrate cast on it. When the characters rush to engage the necromancer, he will cast Animate Dead to raise up 10 exploding or flaming skeletons. The apprentice will give his master buffs, channel energy to harm and then join the the zombies in being a speed-bump to buy the necromancer time.

In combat the skeletons will focus on low AC characters or they will use aid-another to build up the attack of one of their number.

Since the animated skeletons and zombies are created by the necromancer’s spells, they are included in his CR and don’t raise the CR of the encounter. However, this degree of preparation is probably worth a bump of a CR or two.

Parting thoughts

The main thing to keep in mind is that you are not trying to “win” at Pathfinder. You don’t want to turn the game into who can build the correct resistance. You should mix these techniques in with more mundane threats to keep your players on their toes and to keep things fresh.

Also be careful of pulling out all the stops if your campaign has been mostly straightforward melee attacks and stock monsters. Changing up expectations too quickly is a good way of having all your PCs dead and your players feeling like you pulled a “Rocks fall. Everyone dies.”