The Thing I Hate About Pathfinder

pathfinder_core_coverSo, hopefully we are going to start a discussion here that I have been wanting to have for some time. I think this is an important discussion to have and I most certainly want to hear your point of view on it. I want to discuss the one thing that I dislike the most about Pathfinder and it is not even Pathfinders fault, it is a legacy of third edition D&D.

I dislike complex rules systems and Pathfinder is really not all that difficult except in one aspect. Feats. I hate feats. I hate them as a GM and don’t mind them as a player which is a bit of a paradox. I GM far more than act as a player. If people ask me what I do not like about Pathfinder I will unerringly mention feats. These things have been a core of the rules since Wizards of the Coast created their first version of D&D and interestingly enough Wizards of the Coast in their D&D Next material have begun to pull away from them as well. Is it possible that the company that created this curse is as annoyed at them as I am?

Why do I hate them? It is down to one thing and that is rules bloat. Every single feat is a little gem of rule changing evil, or new rules or rules twists. And there are thousands of them depending on how many books you have. They are little packets of moderately powered rules changes. Consider that from the GM’s perspective who works to be an arbiter of the rules. The d20 based rules of Pathfinder are pretty easy to come to terms with but then when you look at feats you have to rethink everything you know because for nearly every rule they mention there is at least one feat that modifies it. Apply several of these to a character or creature and you really have a complex series of interactions occurring that you need to juggle in game which can be quite a hard job.

I understand the rationale behind feats though, which means I am torn. Feats were introduced so a character could apply some individualization. Prior to this (2nd edition D&D), if you played a fighter, a fifth level fighter had all the same abilities as any other fifth level fighter. The differences between characters largely came through experiences and favored equipment. TSR realised that with newer style games coming out focussed on character customization that they were beginning to lose players. They worked on their books that introduced more combat options and also started working on certain builds that mixed up the character creation process. I actually think it was this explosion of customizable material that led to a lot of rules bloat and confusion to 2nd edition and it also caused a lot of players to leave the system.

Feats were born in third edition so the customization was built into the core rules from the very start. When I first played 3rd edition I liked the concept and enjoyed the differences they could create in a character. Of course I did not know then, when I held that Players Handbook 3.0 that feats would bloat horribly. To customize anything the company would add more feats, the third party contributors would add more feats and in the end feats became a swamp that I found myself being sucked into. Overwhelmed I could not get out. So between feats and attacks of opportunity I left my 3rd edition D&D behind.

So, there you have it. I do think feats overcomplicate Pathfinder, but what can you do? As a player I like feats because each one gives me that little bit extra for the character but as a GM they are too much. Especially when players take feats but take no responsibility in keeping them in mind either and a round after an action they try to retrospectively change it because they forgot X feat did Y. Then every NPC has reams of feats, monsters have them too as well as their normal abilities and I find the times I have to pause in game to check a rule always tends to be to look up the rules of a feat.

What do you think? Am I making a mountain out of a bullette burrow? Is there something that you hate more? Let us talk about the things we hate the most about Pathfinder and see if we can come up with some solutions to these problems! Until next time, keep rolling.

Mark Knights is  39 year old guy living in a small rural town called Elliott in Tasmania, Australia.  I have been role playing since I was 11 years old playing the original versions of Dungeons and Dragons, MERP, Elric, Dragon Warriors and the like amongst other genre games.  I played D&D 2nd Edition through the 90′s but I ran Earthdawn for my fantasy setting and loved it as a GM.  When 3rd Edition came out for D&D I tried it but found it too heavy on rules.  I ignored the 3.5 edition of DnD in favour of Earthdawn (big mistake) as I thought it was just a money spinner.  When 4th Edition DnD came on my players and I gave it a red hot go but hated what it had dumbed the game down to be.  On a trip to Melbourne to buy some 4E stuff from a hobby store an old mate of mine pointed me at Pathfinder and in a Fantasy setting I have never looked back.

34 thoughts on “The Thing I Hate About Pathfinder

  1. You could always play without feats? The thing that bugged me most about feats is how uneven they are. While some of them grant all sorts of crazy new abilities, others are as mundane as a minor modification to some obscure roll that you may not even make once per session.

    • I actually think this could work out. Sort of like applying the Castles & Crusades rules methodology to Pathfinder – essentially dropping the feats and possibly even skills in favor of ability checks.

      I guess of course there could be some goofiness as the levels progress as stripping feats will play with power level some. But I suspect this could be handled on the fly by a GM aware of the possible issues.

      • Ironically, if you strip out Feats & Skills, 3e lands you with a pretty good facsimile of the beloved older editions. Just with ascending AC. The problem I always had was I was never good at ‘eyeballing’ DC & preferred straight saves against a stat. Or, like you say, ability checks.

      • Instead of stripping feats entirely, you could experiment with stripping everything but the name of the feat, but still let the players invoke the feat as part of their explanation/justification of what they’re attempting to do. Then you could use Feats the way other games use tags, aspects, free-form skills and the like as part of your adjudicating what happens. That leaves the GM free to make any ad-hoc tweak to the roll or interpretation that seems sensible given the circumstances without committing to memorizing and taking into account hundreds of rules exceptions.

          • I’ve never tried Pathfinder, but my impression is it’s way more complex than I prefer (as was 3.5). This is just an idea that hit me to try and reconcile the character-differentiation aspect of Feats with the GM’s being able to make rulings without struggling through a morass of exceptions. I’m sure it still wouldn’t satisfy the folks who like Feats because of the way they can construct hyper-optimized characters, but it’s less drastic than getting rid of all Feats.

          • That is actually a very cool idea… But it does not really reduce the need for the GM to understand the feats. Imagine if you gave this idea to a player and then they said I am doing x, I as the GM go that is OK, then they scream at me that it says on p.x of the x that this should grant a X bonus!

        • That is actually a very cool idea… But it does not really reduce the need for the GM to understand the feats. Imagine if you gave this idea to a player and then they said I am doing x, I as the GM go that is OK, then they scream at me that it says on p.x of the x that this should grant a X bonus!

          • Then you explain to them they misunderstood, in your game you’re using nothing about the feat except its name to suggest the kind of thing it can help you accomplish. Any particular mechanics the write-up of the feat requires are moot. And if they don’t like it, they’re free to scratch them off their characters. I don’t particularly recommend saying “it’s my way or the highway” but I certainly wouldn’t be bullied by the players about what rules I’m going to use or how, which is what “screaming” suggests. I don’t play with people who scream at me.

    • That is a good idea, but if I did that I think I would just go back to 2E AD&D with none of the books outside the core set. Pathfinder does have some nice material though that I really like and may not fit with second edition. All my players really like Pathfinder too which puts us in a squeeze

  2. You are absolutely correct that feats are the logical evolution of the character kit/complete class options introduced in 2e AD&D (which I loathed with a passion when I first laid eyes on them). I’ve come to hate all character customization options that rely on rules modifications and will not DM any system that has them — my preference is actually AD&D 1e without Unearthed Arcana (the Ur-source for this baloney).

  3. Feats are certainly problematic in the sense that they created the believe that if there is a feat related to an action, you HAVE to have that feat to even attempt that action. While in fact a feat should just give you an above average chance to succeed at that action over other characters.
    It’s not just feats alone, but also class features, which cause players to approach any ingame problem by consulting their character sheets, which is just poison to good roleplaying, and the reason I really don’t like d20 systems in general.
    However, the older editions of D&D and pretty much all retro-clones (except Myth & Magic, as far as I know) use absolutely horrible math, which annoys me even more. So I just stick with Pathfinder, even though I hate it. But I hate it less than any other games.

    But personally, something I despise much much more than feats are those stupid spell slots.

    • I think you hit upon an excellent point @Yora. The feats turn out to be more restrictive in the long run as people by default begin to treat them as being required to try something. Less emphasis is on descriptions or coming up with cool things in combat and more on planning your character out mechanically from level to level.

    • There are alternate spell systems you could give a try. The spells do bother me on occasion but this is more to do with players not learning their characters than the number of spells.

  4. I like a lot of things about Pathfinder, but feats is on my list of do not likes. Let me rephrase that, the *abundance* of feats is on my do not like list. I think you sum it up well by noting that each feat is an exception to the normal rules. With the number of feats and the application of feats to the character this results in a lot of “fiddly bits” that repeatedly come up in play.

    To be fair, I liked feats when I first saw them in D&D 3.x. I thought they were cool and a neat way to add a bit of mechanical flavor between characters. Then the splatbook glut (and 3rd party supplements) started and soon I felt like I was drowning in feats. When Pathfinder came onto the scene, I think the most refreshing thing about it was we were back down to just a core set of feats in the main rulebook. So in retrospect I think the feat reduction Pathfinder brought initially is what really turned me onto Pathfinder.

    Skip forward a few years though and I get that same overwhelmed feeling with Pathfinder as I did with 3.x. I think for the next Pathfinder game I run I will restrict the books down to just the Core Rulebook and Advanced Player’s Guide. That seems the sweet spot to me.

  5. When ever I make a character I tend to pick feats that are straight adds to something on the character sheet – like specific skill bonuses – even if they aren’t the ‘best’ feats for that class. The end result is no rules changes for me or the DM.

    • I have been known to decide between two feats for that very reason. Some sound cool, but I know I will forget I have it or that it is very situational and I will forget to use it. So I opt for the one that is a straight up plus for my character.

    • This is not a bad idea, allowing only those feats that give a bonus to a stat or attribute. But this makes fighters a lot less nasty as they use a lot of situational feats that allow for them to become specialised in a certain area statistically and in a flavoured way.

  6. I do not mind feats, though when I play Pathfinder, I stick to the Core book as much as possible. When I GM, I want my players to have characters that they are happy with, so they can customize them within the rules as long as I get to review and veto any thing I consider silly.

  7. Sounds like you don’t like Pathfinder, but behold their are better options out there, Fate Core is calling your name

  8. As a fellow DM, who DM’s more than he plays, and also someone who started in 4th edition, then went to 2nd, and ended up in Pathfinder. I would have to say I have enjoyed Pathfinder more than any of the other systems I’ve played. At this point, I’ve played a lot, not as much as I played 4th and 2nd beforehand, but I have dabbled in the different systems out there.
    I agree that feats overcomplicate things for DM’s and players. Especially when you’re in the middle of something huge, such as combat, and someone misses or does something wrong and later on remembers this one feat that would have let them hit or do something.
    I have gotten my characters to make action sheets, which have all of the bonuses they get for certain actions or actions they can take because of certain feats and when they can take them.
    I have found that the Combat Manager for Pathfinder, which is pretty awesome, has a compiled list of rules, feats, and spells which allow for easy finding and quick reading.

    • That is what I do with my Pathfinder characters. Make up a separate sheet that lists changed modifiers depending on common conditions or spells cast by the party. It helps out a great deal during play.

  9. Really its rules bloat in general that’s what is annoying here. If you just stick to the core rules PF is pretty good. But like every system they keep pumping out more stuff….it becomes unmanageable. Just say no. Silly things like teamwork feats, introduced alongside a class who gets to use them ‘solo’–who the hell needs or wants gimmicky crap like that. The core version of feats provides a decent middle ground. A grok-able level of customization.

    • I agree. I found Pathfinder quite refreshing when I first got into it with just the core rulebook. I think that it allowed me to easily set aside all the 3.x bloat is what attracted me to it.

  10. As a former D&D 3.5 GM, I don’t like feats either. And my players didn’t care enough about them to even select them when they raised a level. So I just made my own simplified D20 system that is based loosely on MicroliteD20, but a tad more complex. The rules are short enough at just 10 pages that my players actually read them. And they like it, so we’ll keep using it.

  11. I’ve been running a Pathfinder game for about 3 months now and have worked my group through about a dozen sessions. I started the group because I couldn’t find anyone interested in playing the older editions of the game (1st and 2nd edition AD&D or B/X D&D) that I prefer.

    My feelings about feats are similar to yours- I dislike them even more than you, however. In fact, I intensely dislike the 3.5 and later systems altogether- apart from saving throws, which I think were much improved by being simplified into FORT, REF, WILL.

    In older editions, we could try anything you can try with feats in the newer rule systems (breaking weapons and shields, disarming, tripping, doing acrobatic maneuvers to get behind your foe, etc), and could also attempt things that weren’t covered by the feats, and we didn’t need an extensive and complex list of rules; the DM simply made a ruling- roll d20 against an attribute or make a saving throw with an ad-hoc modifier, and the DM described the outcome if you succeeded.

    Feats inhibit player imagination and creativity and also the power and flexibility of characters, because players simply scan their feat lists to see what they can or can’t do, and don’t attempt to think outside the box and try things they don’t have a feat for. Similarly, the game inhibits the player that DOES attempt to do this, with the assumption that you CAN’T attempt an action that you don’t have the feat for.

    Feats also seem grossly overpowered to me. I’ve noted that fighter types as low as 5th level of experience can regularly execute feat boosted attacks that inflict 40 to 50 points of damage in a single hit. This is grotesquely overpowered and makes building challenging encounters a real chore for the Dungeon Master.

    I’ve been hunting for Pathfinder blogs to help me get a handle on some of these problems, which is how I came across your excellent blog here. I just thought I’d pipe in and let you know you aren’t the only one who struggles with dealing with feats when running the game.

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment. Have you started to think of ways around the problem. If we could figure out that it would be worth its weight in gold!

  12. No solutions to the problem, as such. However, one of my players (who is actually a vastly more experienced Pathfinder GM than myself) has offered to alternate running a game of his own. Through observing how he does things, I hope to pick up some tips on how to make my own game run smoother.

    Eventually, I’m going to try to convince my players to let run a game with a rule set I’m a bit more comfortable with. In the meantime, getting a break from GM’ing Pathfinder every two weeks will be a nice change of pace.

Comments are closed.