If Swapping Feats Does Not Make Sense, You Must Acquit

2008 February 4
by Vanir

Saturday night while leveling up, we all were pleased to discover we were level 21 and thusly able to take our first real live Epic Feat. I decided to go for Epic Inspiration from the DMG, which would make many of the effects of my music last 10x longer. However, way back at first level, I had taken Lingering Song from Song & Silence, which just doubled it.

Given that I now had redundant feats, I decided to use the retraining rules from the PHB2 that let you swap feats. I was all ready to take this cool feat that let my music affect the undead and swap out Lingering Song when I read a little passage that basically derailed my plans. Apparently, if you’re going to swap a feat out, you can only take another feat that you would have met the prerequisites for at the time you took the first feat. And since I took Lingering Song at first level…. I couldn’t so much do it.

Well, needless to say, this got my bardic panties in an uproar and I immediately brought this offense to the attention of our DM’s. It simply did not make sense that I wouldn’t be able to swap these, not knowing that I would need to keep track of my prerequisites when I take every feat. Hell, the PHB2 and this silly rule wasn’t even out when I made Bat Loaf. Plus it was redundant and it was sort of an upgrade anyway. And I didn’t meet the prerequisites then but I certainly do NOW. And I should be able to swap my feats without these silly arbitrary rules getting in the way dammit!

Our DM’s carefully thought about the situation and determined that no, there’s a reason for this. Taking a feat with prerequisites means it’s more powerful. And if I can just swap out all my first level feats for stuff that I couldn’t take until 15th level, I’m going to be a lot more powerful. Some might even say unbalanced.

Unfortunately, that made sense to me, so I was forced to stop my campaign to get my feat swapped out. Fortunately, the Stupid Ranger was at the table and quickly determined two things. First, I had taken Skill Focus (Perform) as my last feat, which I could take whenever the hell I wanted (including first level). Secondly, I had somehow forgotten to take a feat somewhere along the way. Which she figured out two seconds after seeing my list of feats somehow. (“Are you a human? Did you forget your bonus feat at first level?”) She scares me sometimes, but I am really glad she is on our side.

Anyway, now I’ve got all the feats I wanted plus one I didn’t know I was going to get. The moral of the story? There are two, in my mind:

  • As a DM, you are going to have players (like me) who are going to argue that rules should be changed because they “don’t make sense”.
  • As a player, you must realize that some rules really don’t make sense, but are necessary for game balance.

Honestly, I sort of suspected there was a reason behind the feat-swapping rule, but I just wanted to see if I could push my luck. But one of the hardest things for me to deal with when roleplaying is a rule that exists just to support part of the system. A good example of this is the rumored 4th edition rule where a magic ring will work for an 11th level character but not for a 10th.

I ran across a fantastic post on the ENworld forums that helped explain it a little to me — there are Simulationists (people like me, who think the rules should reflect how things would work in the “real” world) and Gamists (people who think gaming systems should be balanced and the world constructed to meet those rules). I think 4E is going more toward the Gamists, which I can’t honestly say I’m happy about, but I did realize something important that is going to help me deal when 4E drops:

The real world isn’t fair. People have unfair advantages all the time. People get screwed all the time. That’s just the way it works. Gaming (well, good gaming) doesn’t work like that. Steps are taken to ensure that play is balanced so everybody has a good time. And if you attempt to make sense and install order in a simulation of the real world (or a fantasy version thereof), it starts to get arbitrary and unnatural. The trick, I think, is going to be putting in just enough rules so it’s balanced enough but not so much that you might as well play World of Warcraft.

The thought occurs to me that maybe I don’t like this shift in gaming because it’s going to be a lot harder to rules lawyer and get Dante to agree to silly things. I am crafty, though. We shall ponder this, yes.

3 Responses leave one →
  1. SirGeekelot permalink
    February 5, 2008

    Vanir, as a friend and fellow D&D player, I have to call into question one thing I have heard you say several times now. Which is, “might as well be playing World of Warcraft” and to this I say, I wish.

    Honestly, World of Warcraft is the single best selling MMORPG ever (crazy Korean MMORPGs not included). Selling to people that normally wouldn’t play these kind of games, or even games in general.

    So the question is, why? Well, the answer is because it’s accessible. World of Warcraft streamlines things and makes it easy for even a novice to pickup and start playing. Sure things get more advanced later on, and it becomes a second job to do ANYTHING, but the handled it just right at the beginning.

    So if Wizards can implement a system that is accessible to all, then awesome. The bottom line is, that there is nothing wrong with looking to Video Gaming systems for inspiration on core rule sets. We are playing Pen & Paper, and Pen & Paper will always have the advantage of being completely open for the players to do what they want (storyline wise) so it avoids the “second job” – “grinding” aspects of MMORPGs.

  2. Vanir permalink
    February 5, 2008

    Maybe my point wasn’t clear. Please allow me to reroll.

    You’re quite right, there isn’t anything wrong with getting inspiration from video gaming for core rules. Hell, most of the time it’s the same thing, it’s just that our primitive polyhedral random number generators go slower.

    My point was not that WoW or videogames are bad somehow. (Come on man, who do you think you’re talking to here??!!!) It’s just that WoW doesn’t allow me to do the things I like to do in D&D (out-of-the-box roleplaying). Perhaps WoW is a bad example since there’s RP servers, but you won’t see those guys able to have sex on the Tarrasque. Or making stilts for your gnome that fire husky pencils from the kneecaps. Ever. If you do anything different in a videogame, you have to figure out how to trick the engine into doing it. Which I’ve done, and it’s fun but man it takes a lot of work.

    That’s what I meant by “might as well play World of Warcraft”. If I just want to go around and kill monsters all day wearing fancy armor, a videogame will do nicely. If I want to RP, I gotta sit at the table with you guys.

    WoW’s rules are very streamlined and accessible, but my fear is that if they streamline D&D TOO much trying to be like it then we stop being able to do the things that makes D&D flexible (and fun for me!).

    Having some weird arbitrary rules doesn’t mean that we’ll never be able to RP ever again, of course, but I can’t say it’s a direction I like the game going in.

  3. ChattyDM permalink
    February 6, 2008

    Ahhh finally an article on GNS I can actually dig….


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