Over the weekend Keith Davies posted on G+ that between the Pathfinder Core Rulebook, Advanced Player’s Guide, Ultimate Magic, and Ultimate Combat there were 704 feats. Think about that for a moment. 704 feats.
How Many Feats?
I did a quick check over at d20pfsrd.com and a quick check showed 650+ feats. I did not bother to see where our discrepancy was, even if the number had only been 500+ feats the number is a stunning amount of choices.
As Keith notes in his post, a character can only take so many feats over the course of the character’s career. Let’s take a 20th level human cleric. They can only make use of 1.7% of the available feats over the life of their character. You lose access to a feat if you do not play a human. If you play a 20th human fighter you can only make use of 3.4% of the available feats. Nevermind the fact that a lot of campaigns do not even reach 20th level.
I suspect those numbers go down quite a bit depending on the character. There are many feats that are assumed “basic” feats for a lot of character classes. If you want to play an archer type there are several assumed feats that come from the core rulebook an archer needs to have. This reduces the number of new feats the character can choose from other sources. The same applies for caster’s when you factor in metamagic feats and such they will want to pick up.
While we may have a plethora of feats to choose from, a list that seems to grow with every new product release, it does not change the fact the character cannot choose more feats. A typical character cannot gain access to 98.3% of the currently available feats. It does not matter whether a character is trying to add some roleplaying creativity or trying to make a stronger character – the majority of feats are going to be unavailable to a character due to limited slots.
More Options is Better, Right?
Many people will see this number of feats and say more options is always better. I do agree with the premise that more options for a character to choose from during the course of combat, roleplaying encounters or anything else can be a good thing.
However, I think as we see so many feats and mechanical options added to the game we actually limit a person’s options. By defining such specific areas of the game with feats dictating what you can or can’t do without it we have actually narrowed the scope of what a character can do. The GM loses his flexibility to let a player try creative things with his character as there is a greater chance a feat is required to accomplish that task.
Beyond this narrowing definition of what can and can’t be done by adding feats, there is the matter of option paralyzation. A person building a character today has 650+ feats to choose from. This is an overwhelming amount of options to choose from. Where do you see your character in 5 levels, 10 levels, or 15 levels? Making sure you follow the right feat chains early on is important to not hindering yourself later.
Creative Options, Not Mechanical Options
I want to see the option for creativity from players. I do not want to see a multitude of mechanical options that actually define specific areas of the game so much that it in turn limits player creativity.
We need to move the rules up a level and away from this near microscopic zoom on player’s actions. Abilities should be broader to cover more general areas of expertise. Mechanics should be broader and less defined to give more space to play in creatively. Let the player’s say they want to try some dazzling action and let the judge adjudicate how that will happen.
A good example of this blending of broad mechanic with creative play with open spaces in the rules is the Mighty Deed of Arms mechanic from Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG. A warrior-type gets a “deed die” to roll along with their normal attack. The die scales upwards as the character levels. A character can declare a “special” action and if a result of 3 or higher comes up on the deed die the character can pull the action off to some degree.
This is a simple mechanic, gives a player some idea of how success will be determined, but does not restrict the player with needing narrowly focused feats to pull things off. Instead the judge and player use the dice roll to help determine the success. This mechanic probably replaces 100+ fighter type feats with one simple to use mechanic. Creativity is restored to the player to solve problems or do cool things during combat.
Find the System For You
I was a big 3.x D&D fan. The system really worked well for me and I feel it provided the framework I needed to run a fun game. Then the option books started coming, and coming, and coming. The system began to bog down for me. There were too many feats, too many builds, too many prestige classes. I started to feel constrained.
Then Pathfinder came along. I loved just having the core rulebook. My energy was back, it was like 3.x was before the ever churning supply of option books. But then Pathfinder started following the same path. More option books, more feats, more spells, more, more, more… It seems the time has come that Pathfinder has started to make me feel constrained again. It has become more about knowing the expanding ruleset than creating fun adventures and characters.
I am not here to change Pathfinder. There are a multitude of systems out there that do fit my changing style of play. I do not need to wage a campaign to change Pathfinder or any other system. I simply need to identify what type of mechanics frustrate me and look at any number of systems that seem a better fit for me. There are many such systems.