The Elephant in the Room: Feat Taxes in Pathfinder

Pathfinder

Editor’s Note: These rules are now available as a Feat Tree and as a HeroLab Mod. Thanks for your continued support and interest!

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.

47 thoughts on “The Elephant in the Room: Feat Taxes in Pathfinder

  1. Paeyne

    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

    Reply
  2. Tigal

    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.

    Reply
    1. Radiostorm Post author

      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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      1. McSmack

        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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        1. Austin

          Seriously, what real life fight has you making a single attack every 6 seconds even for untrained martials? If it weren’t game breaking it would make sense to get all iteratives at first level (granted the -10 and -15 would probably never hit for the first couple levels). Granted you would have to modify a lot of feats’ wording or function (unless you wanted improved/greater vital strike to work with twf) so you don’t charge and get all attacks or cleave with all of your attacks. This is a great idea, the current model of combat is not at all like how actual martial combat happened and when a sorcerer can do 7280 damage with a level 6 spell (maximized empowered enlarged fire snake) a fighter getting to full attack every round even if he moves isn’t an issue.

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          1. Mark

            Making an attack, and landing an attack, are two different things Austin.

            The combat in PAthfinder is suppose to be simulating the constant back and forth blow and counter blow of combat. Getting that hit in, means you have slide past the opponents guard, defeated they’re armor, and they failed to dodge out of the way… The issue isn’t that the Fighter doesn’t get his full attack after moving, it is that he cannot manage to get past the guard, armor, and dodging of his opponent reliable those 4-6 times if he himself is trying to move in on the opponent.

        2. David

          The concept is that two people dukeing it out are attacking a lot but only connecting with 1 every 6 seconds a higher level fighter getting 3 attacks in 6 seconds is on par with whoing his higher skill at getting though the other person’s defense That is how real life sword play works. When two very good fighters come at each other then are a lot of deflected or blocked attacks until someone break though the others defense. The break through are rarely life threatening until someone gets tired and makes a big mistake. If you ever watched kendo sparing or any other sword sparing such as fencing you would see this.

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  3. atypicaloracle

    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.

    Reply
    1. Michael

      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.

      Reply
      1. atypicaloracle

        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.

        Reply
  4. Variatas

    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.

    Reply
    1. atypicaloracle

      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. Josh

    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.

    Reply
    1. Austin

      Because what fighter uses one weapon?

      Actually, every weapon can be used to grapple, but only grapple weapons grant a +2 when you use ten to grapple.

      Tripping (unless they are a grapple based class) only gives an increased 20% chance to hit, which isn’t crippling especially when they can just stand up next round; while I would agree disarming completely disables everyone but monks and brawlers, the simple solution is to have a backup weapon or a leather wrist chord for your weapon. While combat maneuvers are good, the amount of investment required to remain viable at high levels requires these stacking +2s where ever you get them and makes it so that a simple improved ____ feat is enough of a cost relative to the reward.

      Reply
  6. Zrog

    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. Jimmy

    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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    1. Radiostorm Post author

      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.

      Reply
    2. Variatas

      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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    3. Tomato Fettuccini

      It opens the fighter up to deeper and more varied forms of combat without spending feats on mediocre choices because they have to. It doesn’t give rogues all that much more power, because fighters still have 20 feats to play with, while rogues still have 10. It just goes to redress the wizrads vs. martial power imbalance (but not a lot, no offense Radiostorm; it’s the nature of the beast) while making some of the more flavorful and fun feats available to everyone.

      For example: ever seen anyone take the whole “Step Up” tree? I played a class that would have benefited greatly from taking the whole Combat Expertise/Dodge/Mobility/Spring Attack/Whirlwind attack tree. Except he wouldn’t be useful for anything else. Look at that disgusting progression. Hello? I’d like to have, oh, I dunno, weapon finesse? Oh wait, that’s a feat tax, too. How about improving a weak save? Nope. Improved initiative? Ha! Toughness? Nice try.

      A dextrous person shouldn’t have to learn how to use their dexterity in the same way a strong person shouldn’t have to learn how to use their strength. Power attack and Weapon Finesse are heinous. Hell, I think even Spring Attack is something you should be able to do with a sufficiently high acrobatics check instead of needing a whole feat. And I think the iterative attacks from the TWF tree should result in lessened damage, not accuracy.

      All in all, I like your ideas.

      Reply
  8. jon

    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.

    Reply
  9. DarkWombat

    What about Improved Grapple?

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  10. Zrog

    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.

    Reply
  11. Duarna

    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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    1. Austin

      Dex to damage will not lead to STR dumping, you still have to carry all your gear after all, because it would make those dex classes that have to be in light load to be effective carry a toothbrush and their weapon to stay in light load. What’s wrong with having a dump stat, btw? Every optimized fighter dumps CHA as is, why would you dump something else is it makes your design work better.

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      1. Kittyhawk

        Yeah it does. Muleback cords are cheap and easy to get by third level or so.

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    2. Dyreon7

      There is a feat. Dervish Dance though it only works with scimitars and you have to wield them one handed and nothing in your other hand.

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      1. RCN

        There’s also the Mythic Weapon Finesse, but the mythic feats break the game by design anyhow, that’s what they are supposed to do.

        I have a bard with Dervish Dance and I say that keeping one hand free is a very considerable penalty. I’m yet to find a good one-handed archetype or build, and Dervish Dance is the closest I got to it, even though there are various moments I’d rather have a shield (using UMD and scrolls of Shield is a good substitute, but it is risky and takes a whole turn from a char where EVERY TURN I want to do half a dozen different things).

        Besides, D&D Next pretty much made str or dex for damage and to-hit be the norm and yet I’ve seem lots of str build. It also help that DEX isn’t that powerful when it comes to AC, though.

        Reply
  12. Mike

    Regarding weapon finesse, are you including other weapons finessable by RAW, which are not light weapons, in that group of weapons that dex can be used for? Elven curve blade, rapier, whip and spiked chain come to mind.

    Reply
    1. Tomato Fettuccini

      I’m thinking that he’s probably leaning that way.

      Reply
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  14. Charlatn Fox

    Interesting changes, but it feels like you want to make a lot of Combat moves free for all. What use is that, then, to a Wizard? They won’t be using a lot of the naturally available feats, because they’ll typically be having their Spells and dex based ranged attacks.

    Also in REALLY kills the Fighter class, seeing the Barbarian now gets all their feats without having to Multi-class. You could change the rules as suggested, but you’d need to consider the new Uber Barbarian, and rename it “group face smasher” in general, seeing it does both roles.

    I did like how you wanted Weapon Specialisation to work for groups of weapons, not just one. This was the trouble with Weapon Finesse originally (I think it was DnD 3 or 3.5) where in you could get Finesse for ONE weapon. Now, it’s Finesses for any light weapon. It’s make sense, because it’s the users skills that creates the alternate bonus, not the weapon itself that creates a more deadly/useable weapon (I imagine that is best shown by the different crit ranges of various weapons. A rapier is 18-20, but it’s Dex that lets you point it right at their heart).

    I do also agree that some of the Feats on the way to Feats seem taxing, but there are many classes that get to skip some prereqs, such as Monk and Fighter feats. If you really have a PC that just wants to play a “I do this feat and nothing else” character then that’s just their problem. If you have them fall in love with it, and never ever take anything else, well that grows stale, and I would opt for using your alternate suggestions here.

    Reply
    1. Michael

      Thanks for your feedback! I’m not going to debate the absolute merits of the house-rules, as they are completely optional and are neither “right” nor “wrong.” I would like you to consider a few points though:

      Firstly, these rules can actually be quite beneficial to Wizards, Druids, and other feat-lite classes. Streamlining feat trees allows these classes to hit key feats faster, making exotic builds (Wizard with a longbow, for example) much more viable.

      Also, BAB and level prerequisites still exist, so this isn’t quite as large a free-for-all as it may appear. Under this system, Fighters are able to take more non-combat oriented feats (skill focus, fleet, run, etc…), but still have access to their list of “fighter only” feats such as Weapon Specialization and Greater Weapon Focus. I think it is a good balance.

      I will consider “Group Face Smasher” as a new Barbarian archetype, but I think it may be a touch long.

      Reply
  15. Hoplite308

    I read over your recommended changes, and I think my forehead will never look the same after all the facepalming I did. The comments were even worse.

    First, I need to correct a few misconceptions about fighters, rogues, monks, and other martial classes in general. They’re not weak. In terms of pure damage, the most damaging character I’ve ever made was a Human Fighter. It’s capable of one-shotting some CR 22+ monsters, without any min-maxing whatsoever. He even has a good amount of Charisma, 15 as I recall, and still deals between 339-389 damage per turn on a +38 to-hit. Two-Handed Fighter archetype is flat-out broken at Level 20, just saying.

    Rogue is actually a very, very powerful class for what it does. What it does is use situations to its advantage, and modify the situations it finds itself in. Trapfinding, one of their best abilities, effectively replacing Dispel Magic from the wizard in disarming magical traps, as no amount of Disable Device without that class feature will do it. Not to mention, unless you have Trapfinding, you can’t even see a trap that requires a perception DC over 20 by the Rules as Written. Now, they CAN fill the role of Striker and help with some damage, but at high levels their skills with Use Magic Device and Stealth actually make them a hard counter to the average mage, especially if they take the correct rogue talents.

    With Monk, if you have half an idea of what you’re doing, you can crank their AC up higher than any other class that I’m aware of. Dexterity plus Wisdom plus Monk bonuses plus items results in insanity, especially concerning Touch AC. Flurry of Blows is just a bonus, and I’d trade it in a heartbeat for the Master of Many Styles archetype.

    Barbarian… DR 12 at Level 10 sound fun? Without sacrificing your damage at all?

    The point is that with the correct application of brainpower, you can build any class with almost any archetype to be stupidly powerful. The only reason you think that spellcasters are so much better is that the spells do the thinking for you.

    Now that it’s established, I hope, that martial classes played by players who think about what they’re doing don’t need any buffs, or even Unchained, let’s take an in-depth look into what you believe to be necessary fixes to the game.

    First, Martial Mastery. Why shouldn’t Weapon Focus apply to a lot of weapons at once? Mostly because of the flavor reasons for the feat itself. You have focused your training on one weapon. You are not prohibited from using other weapons, but you have focused on one more than the others and mastered the intricacies of its use. A Falchion does not handle at all like a Greatsword, Longsword, Elven Curve Blade, Scimitar, or Scythe, but all of those are in the Heavy Blades fighter weapon group. Besides, that’s what the Weapon Training class feature is for. So, this change takes half of a Fighter class feature and allows everyone to take it as a feat. No, I’m sorry, but that’s ridiculous. Also, fun fact, just because you take Weapon Focus doesn’t mean you can’t use other weapons. It’s more efficient to do so, but your effectiveness with a Greataxe is not diminished just because you focused on a Shortsword.

    Second, Weapon Finesse is perfectly viable as a feat for one reason: it reflects training. You need to train in order to know how to use a weapon in such a way that is not just “Hit it as hard as you can”. That’s why it’s not the default. One change I MIGHT make to it is to add the Scimitar to the list of allowed non-light weapons, but applying this feat to every character is ridiculous, especially when they never trained to use skill instead of strength. Agile Maneuvers, Combat Expertise, Improved [insert name of combat maneuver here], and Deadly Aim fall into this category as well. The reason feats exist is to represent training of some kind, extra effort put forth to learn to do something unique above and beyond what the average Joe can do. When did a Wizard ever learn how to use skill to disarm his opponent instead of pure muscle? He might know that it’s a better idea if you don’t have much muscle, but that’s not the same as knowing how to do it.

    Power Attack is a feat with a Strength requirement for a reason. If I am best at fighting when using finesse instead of smashing someone’s face, then it doesn’t make sense for me to try to hit someone as hard as possible. Giving it to everyone just amped the Druid, Ranger, Rogue, Magus, Monk (holy cow did it amp the Monk!), Alchemist, Cavalier, and Inquisitor, not even including the Hybrid classes (if your GM allows those) or caring about Unchained (if your GM actually believes the BS about how “weak” a Monk or Rogue is). That’s not what Power Attack is about. It’s about smashing your opponent in the face as hard as possible with the biggest metal stick you can find. Instead… well, the Magus just got a damage boost, as if it needed one.

    Point-Blank is, in fact, necessary from a roleplay standpoint. The reason why Point-Blank comes before Precise Shot is something that you might not be aware of unless you happen to be an archer (I do not call myself an archer, but I do have some skill with the bow by way of summer camps). When you learn to shoot, you are learning to shoot a target. The target is stationary and there is no significant effect, from the target’s point of view, whether you hit the bulls-eye or the outer ring. Compare this to combat, where hitting someone in the chest is more beneficial than, excuse the cliche, the knee. When you’re focusing and you know in which direction you need to “fudge” your aim, you can almost always hit a stationary target somewhere close to the bullseye. Assuming proficiency means that you can do that, Point-Blank shot could be re-named “Combat Archery”. You know how to quickly adjust your aim to hit a moving target in a good spot, hence the +1 Attack and +1 Damage. Now let’s complicate that situation even more. That target is moving through your allies. You are assumed to not be wanting to hit your allies, so when that target is near an ally, it’s more beneficial to err on the side of missing both than hitting your ally. Hence the -4 to Attack when they’re in melee. Being able to pin-point a good spot on the enemy while they’re duking it out with the Fighter without hitting your ally is quite the feat that requires a lot of training and experience. When did the Ranger put that time in? Every round he’s in combat. When did the Wizard put that time in? Well, uh, you see…

    Deadly Aim for free isn’t as much of a problem as Power Attack, but it’s still a huge problem from a roleplay standpoint. See above for details on how much training it takes for a Ranger to hit someone while they’re in melee without damaging their allies. Now let’s force them to hit a particularly vulnerable spot as well. At Level 1. It’s not going to happen, I’ll just tell you that right now.

    Dodge is possibly the most under-appreciated feat in existence. You get +1 AC, making enemies 5% less likely to hit you at all times. That’s worth a feat if you’re getting anywhere close to an enemy. Mobility is a close second. It literally imitates a Level 1 spell, but is constantly active. Mobility gives you a +4 to AC, which equates to a +20% chance to not be hit when you’re moving through an enemy’s square. See the spell Blurred Movement for details. Now I get a flat +5% against everything AND a permanent Blurred Movement for the cost of one feat? Yeah, I’m sold, and if I’m sold that quickly there’s something wrong. By the way, you mis-wrote the feat. If you wanted to combine the two perfectly, than it should read “This bonus increases by 4” instead of “This bonus increases to +4”.

    I can’t help but notice a certain lack of faith in the Two-Weapon Warrior archetype. +5 Dodge AC after a full attack, +4 hit and damage for both weapons, standard action to hit with both weapons, AOO with both weapons, no penalties if at least one of his two weapons is a Light weapon, free Disarm, Sunder, or Trip, and an AOO on every hit. The build walks into a crowd of enemies, butchers them all, and walks out like a badass. Sure, you won’t always get a full attack action, but when you do, consider the enemy dead. I actually power-built a Two-Weapon Warrior to Level 20 and pitted it mano y mano against a Great Wyrm Red Dragon in melee. The Great Wyrm died in two rounds using nothing but perfectly averaged damage while the Two-Weapon Warrior survived with more than half health. So, the idea that dual-wielding builds are weak can suck it. Besides that, if you’re even half-decent at battlefield positioning and know the Pathfinder version of “taunt” (aka: “I take a free action to flip off the orc.”), you will get a full round.

    Long story short…

    If you want to roleplay a character’s life, struggles, friendships, and epic battles, and actually experience them in a mechanically accurate way as the character learns and grows, then Pathfinder is the game for you. If you want to play an RPG and be completely OP, buy a W.O.W. subscription and stop whining about how you can’t be the entire party by yourself. You’re not supposed to be the entire party by yourself for a reason, and that reason is that there are 3-5 other people playing with you who ALSO want to do what their characters do. Paizo knew that when they started making the game.

    Reply
    1. Michael

      Thanks for your feedback! I’m not going to debate the absolute merits of the house-rules, as they are completely optional and are neither “right” nor “wrong.” However, I would like you to consider a couple of points:

      1) I personally believe that role-playing originates from the player, not the rule-set. The rules definitely frame what a character can and cannot do in combat, but the tic-and-tac of a PC’s personality and backstory are established by the player through play.

      2) One of the reasons for this feat tax system is to avoid a situation like WoW, where so much character functionality is tied to investing in a deep feat tree. The system we designed allows characters – especially melee characters, who often end up with one-dimensional roles – to do more different things in and out of combat.

      3) Although not explicitly stated in this article, there are still level/BAB/feat requirements that prevent characters from getting too powerful too quickly.

      Reply
    2. Fortuna Veritas

      Trapfinding is less a boon for the Rogue and more of an example of the less desirable forms that niche protection can take in an RPG when you consider it in the context of the evolution from AD&D through D&D 3rd Edition and its 3.5 revision and then into Pathfinder.

      Reply
  16. Dirk Perfect

    I like the ideas discussed here some of which I would have liked to see in Unchained. I personally dislike “breaking” too many game rules, so I settled on something else instead.
    An alternative that I like to use in my own home games is an initial bonus “armament” Feat at 1st (to help deal with said Feat tax). It could be a Signature weapon, armor, or style feat that is unique to just that PC. Technically, one could open it up to some of the “taxing” feats listed here. If you like making PCs a little stronger, you could also do things like Way of the Wicked (25 pt buy, +2 skill points/level, bonus specialized skill, etc). I think these kinds of builds lend themselves better to smaller parties that need a boost.

    Reply
  17. mogmismo

    Greater Spell Penetration
    Gone. Merged with “Spell Penetration”.
    Spell Penetration
    Revised: You get a +2 bonus on caster level checks (1d20 + caster level) made to overcome a creature’s spell resistance. At 10th level, this bonus becomes a +4

    Spell Penetration is a feat tax chain too, and sucks up arcane caster’s very limited feats. To not upset balance too much, we should also look at redundancies on the caster side

    Reply
    1. Michael

      That is an interesting thought! I guess this mirrors Skill Focus in a lot of ways, but I’m unsure if SR and skill check DCs scale in similar ways.

      I wonder if Spell Resistance needs a general overhaul? I find Spell Resistance and Dispel Magic to be mostly “coin flips” in battle, and can really slow down fights.

      Reply
  18. Pingback: 5 House Rules that can make combat more interesting. | Tactics 101: A Roleplaying Game Blog

  19. Bashamo

    How about merging Piranha Strike into Power Attack? Although it’s a prerequisite for any other feat, it still feels like it should be an option for everyone, for the same reason as PAtk.

    Reply
  20. Pingback: Straight for the Knife (Feat Taxes in Pathfinder) | Lost Spheres Publishing

  21. Mels

    Hi… You say that “we might finally see a samurai wielding a daisho”, but since the katana and wakizashi aren’t in the same weapons group, your rules actually don’t help at all with that… or am I missing something ?

    Also, how do you deal with proficiencies, especially when it comes to exotic weapons ?

    Reply
    1. Michael

      Interesting question! In our homebrew, we actually don’t really have exotic weapons, so this point never came up.

      If you wanted a quick fix, you could meld some of the exotic weapons into existing weapon groups (axes, bows, close, cudgels, firearms, flails, hammers, heavy blades, light blades, spears, thrown). Katanas could fall into heavy blades while daisho would be light blades.

      Using your GM’s discretion, you could also create entirely new weapon groups. In this case, it may make sense to group traditional samurai melee weapons together (katana, wazikashi, daisho). That way your samurai could still specialize in a distinct flavour of weaponry.

      Reply
  22. Seaan

    Our group tends to play lower level characters (maxing out around 10-12th level), in part because the game system start falling apart at higher levels. Also I think Pathfinder has gone a bit overboard with feats, so some streamlining would be good. With that in mind, here are some comments:

    I definitely like the Deft Maneuvers and Powerful Maneuvers grouping; but think getting rid of provoking opportunity attacks is enough. The +2 part is probably overkill, and they can always take the corresponding “Greater” feat to improve their chances to hit. This should make games more colorful if characters feel less restrained about performing these types of maneuvers.

    Agree that Combat Expertise, Power Attack and Deadly Aim should be part of the game system, and not require feats. By default, there should be a 1 for 1 trade-off (increase AC by lowering chance to hit, or trade-off between chance to hit vs. damage). The Power Attack and Deadly Aim feats can stick around (to get the 2-1 trade off), but should not be prerequisites. Combat Expertise should go altogether. Weapon Finesse should also be baked into the game system (this what DnD5 did).

    Agree that Point Blank Shot should not be a prerequisite (still nice to have around for Rogues to get sneak attack damage, and for others who want the close range bonus).

    @Hoplite308
    You have written some nice descriptions of why some feats could exist, and I like your roleplaying examples (such as: “It’s about smashing your opponent in the face as hard as possible with the biggest metal stick you can find.”). But ultimately I don’t find much of your arguments about the need for special training to be convincing. A martial artist of almost any skill level knows how to trade off between attack and defense, why does the game system require extra training (in the form of a Combat Expertise feat)?

    By your own argument, Point Blank Shot/PBS (or at least the aspects you describe early on) is necessary for all archers. I would argue this is already included in the game system, being proficient with a bow means more then static target shooting. The rest of the argument is convincing as to why special training is needed for shooting into combat without a penalty; but no one here is advocating doing away with Precise Shot/PS. The question is why do you need two types of special training (PBS and PS), and does that make sense from a “feel” and “mechanics” perspective. The two feel pretty similar, but there are enough practical differences that I am OK with them being separate. But from a mechanic point of view, having PBS a requirement for PB really does seem like “feat tax”, e.g. a mechanism to slow down and dilute the power of feats.

    Aside – although I am still coming to an opinion on DnD5 overall, for low level characters I really like what they have done with feats. The feats are powerful, but much harder to get.

    Reply
    1. Michael

      Thanks for the feedback!

      As a side-note, we actually wrote this post before 5th edition was released, and we were glad to see feats become more streamlined in D&D Next (although we are still Pathfinder die-hards).

      Reply
    2. staplefordchase

      if you remove the +2, you should also considering limiting CMDs to Str or Dex but not both.

      Reply
  23. staplefordchase

    it occurred to me that merging dual strike (standard action attack once with each weapon with normal TWF penalties) with the first TWF feat would also help make the style more viable at early levels.

    Reply

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