The Elephant in the Room: Feat Taxes in Pathfinder

Pathfinder

By all metrics, Pathfinder is the most satisfying pen-and-paper game I’ve ever played. The class balance feels good, the math isn’t overwhelming, and the community support is outstanding. However, it suffers from one syndrome that haunts the creation of every new character: feat taxes.

Many veteran players lament that you need three feats to go to the bathroom in Pathfinder. It’s a cheeky musing, but one rooted in truth. Pathfinder’s feats are arranged in sprawling tiers, often requiring an investment of three or more feats to unlock a single more advanced one. While it’s satisfying to work towards a goal, many rungs on the feat ladder are considered either undesirable or overtly mundane. These are feat taxes.

Below I’ve highlighted a number of revisions to Pathfinder’s feat tree to help ease the situation. I’ve focused mainly on combat feats, arguably the worst offenders. Feel free to incorporate these changes into your own house rules or make your own suggestions in the comments.

Martial Mastery

Gone. Combat feats like Weapon Focus now apply to weapon groups instead of a specific weapon by default.

Pathfinder frequently forces a player to invest heavily in a single weapon. For instance, two-weapon fighting rogues are stuck with mirrored weapons so their Weapon Finesse and Weapon Focus benefits apply to both their attacks. Expanding these feats to cover the weapon groups mentioned under the fighter’s Weapon Training would make things much more flexible. We might finally see a samurai wielding a daisho.

Weapon Finesse

Gone. The “light weapons” category has been renamed to “finesse weapons.” Characters can choose to use either their dexterity bonus or their strength bonus to hit with these weapons, no feat required. “Finesse” is also now a weapon attribute like “brace” or “trip,” allowing a weapon in another category to be finessed (like the rapier).

Weapon Finesse is the ultimate feat tax. It’s begrudgingly mandatory for most rogues, specifically two-weapon fighting builds. I understand Paizo worries that dexterity might become an uber stat, but weapon finesse still doesn’t grant a damage bonus. It’s really the only thing rogue’s have to compensate for their lackluster BAB.

Agile Maneuvers

Gone. A character adds their dexterity to the CMB if they’re wielding a finesse weapon and their strength otherwise.

This goes hand and hand with the previous change. Making combat maneuvers more accessible will be a recurring theme of this article.

Combat Expertise

Gone. Now simple a combat option for any class with at least +1 BAB.

The most heinous feat tax next to Weapon Finesse. Combat Expertise is taken to progress to better feats then promptly forgotten about. I like it as an option, but it’s not worth spending a feat on.

Improved Trip, Improved Disarm, Improved Dirty Trick, Improved Feint, Improved Reposition, Improved Steal

Gone. Replaced with Deft Maneuvers.

Deft Maneuvers

New. You do not provoke an attack of opportunity when performing a trip, disarm, dirty trick, feint, reposition, or steal combat maneuver. In addition, you receive a +2 bonus on checks with these combat maneuvers. Now a prerequisite for the relevant greater combat maneuver feats.

Why is it so hard to pull off combat maneuvers in this game? It seems like you need three feats before you can attempt to trip someone without impaling yourself on your own polearm. Eliminating Combat Expertise as a prerequisite and wrapping up all these improved combat maneuver feats into a single package simplifies things. It would prevent fighters from being stonewalled if a monster is immune to their combat maneuver of choice and make the feats much more attractive to feat-starved classes.

Pathfinder

Power Attack

Gone. Now simply a combat option for any class with at least +1 BAB.

Power Attack is too useful to be a feat. It’s the first feat taken by any character with the strength and BAB to abuse it and likely ranks as the single most popular feat in Pathfinder. Turning it into a combat option available to anyone with at least +1 BAB is a reasonable change and still stalls caster and hybrid classes from grabbing specialized combat feats too early.

Improved Bull Rush, Improved Drag, Improved Overrun, Improved Sunder

Gone. Replaced with Powerful Maneuvers.

Powerful Maneuvers

New. You do not provoke an attack of opportunity when performing a bull rush, drag, overrun, or sunder combat maneuver. In addition, you receive a +2 bonus on checks with these combat maneuvers. Now a prerequisite for the relevant greater combat maneuver feats.

The same deal as Deft Maneuvers. More combat maneuvers at a lower feat investment is just a good idea all around.

Point-Blank Shot

Gone. Precise Shot replaces it as a prerequisite for further archery feats.

I like Point-Blank Shot, but Precise Shot is the real breadwinner for any ranged build. It’s the one trick every archer wants out of the gate and the one combat feat many wizards and sorcerers would love to cherry pick to aid their ray spells. The loss of Point-Blank Shot can easily be compensated for by Weapon Focus or Weapon Specialization, but it’s not like archery builds are hurting anyhow.

Deadly Aim

Gone. Now simple a combat option for any class with at least +1 BAB.

Like Power Attack, Deadly Aim is another mandatory feat that should be available to everyone. It takes a high BAB to abuse Deadly Aim, so I’m not overly concerned about the change throwing a wrench into class balance.

Mobility

Gone. Merged with Dodge.

Dodge

Revised. You gain a +1 dodge bonus to your AC. This bonus increases to +4 against attacks of opportunity caused when you move out of or within a threatened tile. A condition that makes you lose your Dex bonus to AC also makes you lose the benefits of this feat.

Spring Attack isn’t a great feat, but it lends itself to interesting builds. Unfortunately, the prerequisites of Dodge and Mobility are often too much for a player to stomach. Merging these feats makes Spring Attack more accessible and subsequently transforms two mediocre feats into a single spectacular one.

Improved Two-Weapon Fighting

Gone. Merged with Greater Two-Weapon Fighting

Greater Two-Weapon Fighting

Revised. Prerequisites now Dex 17, Two-Weapon Fighting, BAB +6. In addition to the standard single extra attack you get with an off-hand weapon, you get a second attack with it, albeit at a –5 penalty. Once your BAB reaches +11, you also gain a third attack with your off-hand weapon, albeit at a –10 penalty.

Two-weapon fighting isn’t as good as Paizo seems to think it is. Pathfinder Society scenarios are seemingly designed to prevent full-attacks; I’ve rarely encountered one without difficult terrain, magical entanglement, or some other battlefield hindrance. The massive feat investment only adds insult to injury. Coupled with the Weapon Finesse change, this feat merger puts two-weapon fighting more in line with the generally much stronger two-handed weapon builds.

18 Comments

  1. There are several things I like about these house rules, but there are also several I am leery of.

    Martial Versatility, Mastery, etc.: Fighters are supposed to be the melee powerhouses of the game world. One of the reasons they get feats thrown at them like skittles is so they can accomplish that. Giving this kind of flexibility to all classes seems excessive.

    Weapon Finesse: I wouldn’t eliminate this, but I might give it to rogue classes for free.

    Deft/Powerful maneuvers: I like this, so long as the next level (greater trip, etc.) has to be taken individually as specializations. It also encourages greater use of these maneuvers by players. Always a good thing.

    Dodge: The version in my game is incremental. (+2 at 18 dex, +3 at 23 dex, to a maximum +5 at 33 dex). It was mobility I got rid of.

    Two-weapon fighting: These feats are sub par for a fighter and crappy for everyone else, but for a rogue they are golden. Be very careful when messing with these feats at high level. A rogue has the potential of doing an average of 40 hps a hit, 6 hits a round, not including strength, crits, bursts, banes, or weapon enhancement. At high levels a rogue with two weapons and greater invisibility could average over 300 hps damage a round. I think having to pay a few feats for that is a small price to pay.

    Just my two cents.
    Paeyne

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  2. I was thinking about modifying the twf tree by merging double slice with Two-Weapon Fighting and Two-Weapon Rend with Greater Two-Weapon Fighting, and even reducing the penalty to attack for twf by 2 with Improved Two-Weapon Fighting. It streamlines the main tree in terms of damage for non-rogues without giving twf rogues any more of an advantage. The reduced twf penalty helps all characters, also, by removing an unnecessary handicap.

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    • That’s not a bad idea. Two weapon fighting is probably the feat line most in need of a look. It’s a massive investment for a fighting style that falls flat on its face if you can’t remain perfectly still and attack.

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      • I’ve had some success by simply eliminating full attacks as a concept. All classes are entitled to all of their iterative attacks as part of a standard action. If a wizard can bend space and time and still move I don’t see why a highly trained soldier can’t get half a dozen hits in during the same amount of time.

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  3. Some of these are good ideas, and some are really, really not. Fighters are the ultimate weapon masters. They get more Feats than sense for a reason, and that reason is that they can devote them to mastering a fighting style or a signature weapon.

    Two-Weapon Fighting is devastating in the hands of Rogues, and there are a few exotic double weapons that can be problematic if Two Weapon Fighting becomes too easy – see the Dire Flail for an example.

    The one for Weapon Finesse is a good one, though, and one I was considering adopting myself.

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    • I have heard rumblings that RS’s suggested Weapon Finesse fix (reclassified weapons rather than a feat tax) is similar to what they’re doing in D&D 5th Edition. It makes me even more curious about this whole “Dungeons and Dragons Next” business.

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      • Honestly I’m willing to give D&D Next a miss. I’ve spent enough money on polishing a d20 game model at this point, and now I am content to patch up Pathfinder with house rules and fix what little is really wrong with a completely workable game.

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  4. I think most of these changes are pretty good; they allow non-fighters to get a seat at the table of versatility, and let fighters experiment more. While tweaking TWF in regards to Rogues needs caution, the attack from Greater TWF is hard enough to hit with that I’ve seen a lot of advice to not bother with it. Even then, these changes probably won’t let you do much more than you could already, you just have another few feats, allowing you to make more interesting decisions about your character.

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    • A lot of optimization guides are like “YES ROGUE SPEND ALL YOUR FEATS ON TWF!” and I never go beyond Improved. The Greater TWF iterative attack is too hard to hit with when you’ve got a Rogue’s BAB, it’s a waste of a feat trying desperately to eke out one last sneak attack in a round.

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  5. I like the idea of having Weapon Focus/Specialisation applying to weapon groups, but ultimately I don’t think it’s needed unless you’re wanting to dual wield different weapons(say a longsword and a shortsword).

    Having your CMB gain your dex bonus when wielding a finesse weapon is a little too weird – what if you’re attempting to initiate a grapple? I think there’s only a few weapons that can be used to grapple as it is.

    Feat taxes can be annoying, but they’re there for a reason. A big one is Improved Trip. It requires Combat Expertise, which admittedly sucks, but that’s because tripping is such an excellent move.

    Combat maneuvers are excellent, but I think a lot of people underestimate how effective they can be. Disarm or trip a fighter, and they’re severely compromised. Sundering is an amazing tactic as well against anyone. I think in particular, being able to trip willy nilly should require a certain amount of investment.

    While I don’t think that the Pathfinder feats are perfect, I do think that they do well enough as they are.

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  6. What I don’t think people realize is that the reason these fixes AREN’T “too much” is that Fighters and Rogues NEED to be able to annihilate enemies in a few rounds, because any magic-using opponents are going to be difficult to even REACH to get an attack off. By the time you get enough feats to be dangerous, casters are going to be nigh-untouchable. The problem really starts to become evident at the Level-10-plus range, where casters have SO many options for avoiding, breaking off, and coming back even better prepared. If a rogue doesn’t have a chance to kill a caster in 1 round, the combat is over and the caster will come back, and out for blood.

    The main problem with “feat taxes” is that they force martial classes to become 1-trick-ponies, which are not only boring to play, but make them obsolete in many fights, whereas casters can still take a fairly flexible box of toys with them wherever they go (this doesn’t even include magic items like wands, scrolls, etc). Sure, martial classes ARE more powerful when the feats are streamlined, but they aren’t necessarily more powerful in ONE kind of combat – they are more useful in different kinds of combat.

    I actually ran a playtest of D&D Next recently, and some of the changes were good, but martial classes were still boring, though there were a few promising mechanics that might get developed better in future.

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  7. Wow, that’s like a dozen free combat feats for low level characters. I’m not sure why anyone would play a fighter with these rules. Just be a rogue that gets free combat feats, is automatically good at combat maneuvers, puts out more damage, and still has tons of skills. If the goal here was to make fighters more appealing, I think these rules did the exact opposite.

    Anyway, just make sure to use the same rules for monsters that you use for players. If that low level gnoll or ogre isn’t routinely tripping, disarming, and sundering your player’s equipment, then all you have done is skew the CR system several notches.

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    • One of my main goals was to allow non-fighter classes to become combat ready without forfeiting every single one of their feats. An analysis of the shortcomings of the fighter class probably warrants a post of its own. I could retool feats all day long, but it’s not going to fix the “fighters are linear, wizards are quadratic” conundrum.

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    • Fighters still have tons going for them with these changes, especially compared to Rogues. Weapon and Armor training, good BAB (those Sneak Attacks do 0 damage if they miss / better Power Attack progression). And under these changes, Fighters STILL get their extra feats, and now they can use them on things that are more interesting than Combat Expertise.

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  8. Really like some. I am adding that weapon finesse is still a feat, but weapon finesse grants 1/2 of your streets mod for damage and 1/2 your del mod for damage giving the style more of a diverse feel.

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  9. I would venture to guess that Improved Grapple remains unchanged. I personally think Improved Unarmed is a great feat by itself (especially when DMs like to capture PCs), so I can understand leaving that tree unchanged.

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  10. Some of these 9especially getting rid of the Combat Expertise feat tax) are very much necessary.

    I’d say Point Blank Shot should still exist, just not be required as a feat tax for other archery/crossbow feats. You should be able to take Precise Shot as your first feat.

    Others overpower certain things. Combat Finesse has to be required for Dex to be the to-hit stat, or Dex will be the king of physical stats.

    The same is true with Agile Maneuvers having to require a feat, and there should be no way, period, even with feats. to get Dex-to-Damage with any weapon, or there will be melee builds with Str as a dump stat, which should be impossible.

    The Improved feats for combat maneuvers (whether improved Feint, Improved Trip, Improved Sunder, or Improved Grapple) should have no prerequisites, but should have to be taken separately. One feat that gives most of them is overpowered.

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