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Unearthed Arcana: Feats for Races Breakdown

The final UA article of the Great Content Rush of ’17 is another collection of feats by Robert Schwalb and Jeremy Crawford, this time clustered around races – each race of the Player’s Handbook has one or more feat options, and some feats are available to more than one race. Since last week’s UA was also a collection of feats, the rigors of feat design are still on everyone’s mind, right? Anyway, twenty-three feats are on offer this time, so let’s do this.

Right off the bat, it’s interesting that the text calls out its non-assumption (not to the contrary, just a neutral position) that your table uses multiclassing or last week’s Feats for Skills. I’m guessing they’ve taken a lot of flak for how content plays in the far more complex environment of “multiclassing = yes,” even though they have repeatedly stated that making sure content meshes well with multiclassing is a later design pass than what they release in UA.

 

Barbed Hide

Tying tieflings to specific types of fiends through feats is a pretty brilliant move, to be honest. It is a reasonable way to get back to the radical variability that made tieflings so great. I think I’m fine with the rules for the retractable barbs. I’m not wild about giving Intimidation proficiency or expertise, as it only serves to remind us that D&D can’t make up its mind on whether Intimidation is about immediate physical force (Strength or Dex should matter) or longer-term, more subtle threats (Charisma all the way) – if the barbs have anything to do with your intimidating nature, then we’re talking immediate consequences for non-compliance. Meh. Okay with this feat overall, though.

 

Bountiful Luck

The only saving grace of this feat is that it costs the halfling’s reaction and has a modest range limit. Other than that, it will probably flip a whole lot of natural 1s to successes. Honestly, this kinda makes the halfling with this feat a pretty badass leader-type (to use the 4e parlance) even without any other leader-like features. I’m getting shades of halfling mascots in Mordheim here. As others have pointed out, preventing most natural 1s on death saves is huge all by itself.

This… is really super good, probably one of the best feats in the document, but if my campaign had halflings, I would at least consider allowing this, because it has no personal benefit for the halfling PC at all. The one thing that bugs me: if the halfling has to spend a reaction, does that imply that, in an in-character way, the halfling controls the forces of chance? What does it look like when a halfling uses this feat? Their Lucky racial feature is easy to explain away as the universe bending to favor them, because it happens automatically, without effort from the halfling. Bountiful Luck requires some other story explanation, just because of it takes a reaction to use – so the halfling can’t be stunned or shocking-grasped or whatever. I also wonder how this will alter gameplay for players of halflings – will they avoid all other reactions on the off chance that they need to use this feat?

 

Critter Friend

This is the obvious next step of the forest gnome’s defining feature, granting Animal Handling proficiency or expertise and the Int-based casting of speak with animals (at will) and animal friendship (1/long rest, plus any of your own spell slots). This is reasonably good – it doesn’t look like a whole lot on paper, but combining the two means that you can probably talk any beast into doing you a solid (yay, advantage on interaction checks from charmed!), and any campaign where a forest gnome isn’t a terrible idea should make good on the possibilities of that.

 

Dragon Fear

They went a little nuts on dragonborn feats, but the potential for making dragonborn more draconic kind of sells itself. With this feat, you get to convert breath weapon uses into point-blank AoE fearbombs, though that frightened condition is fragile – the target gets a new save each time it takes damage. That 30-foot AoE is really good for melee brutes getting a bit of a breather – but I’m playing a dragonborn Battle Master, so of course that’s my first thought! Hard to say how effective this would be for him, what with his modest Cha score. I’m hearing buzz about this one, but I’m not all that wowed by it without seeing it at the table.

 

Dragon Hide

Good luck hiding a dragon, those things are enormo… oh, this is like that “hide pants” thing, isn’t it? Anyway, this gives you d4 claws, and +1 AC when you aren’t wearing armor. There aren’t that many ways to turn a feat slot into an AC boost, so being unarmored is a normal state of affairs for you, this looks pretty good. Unless you’re a monk using your claws to deal slashing damage, there aren’t a lot of class options that get much mileage from the claws – they’re more of a weapon of last resort for when the narrative situation makes weapons unavailable or unwise. This feat seems fine to me.

 

Dragon Wings

Uh. I am probably not the only one here who remembers how encounter builders everywhere freaked the fuck out when aarakocra debuted, right? How flight and any kind of ranged attack or at-will spell breaks a lot of encounters? I thought we agreed that low-level access to flight also breaks a lot of exploration skill challenges? So yeah, I am not a fan of this, even at the sedate pace of 20 feet per round. Horizontal speed is mostly not why you’re here when it comes to flight. Vertical, on the other hand… Anyway, I’m dubious of this being okay without some serious further limitations.

 

Drow High Magic

Of all the spell-teaching feats we’ve seen, this is one of the most potent – no cantrips, but it teaches three spells. Detect magic is at-will, which is… eh, fine, I can’t bring myself to care. Levitate and dispel magic are a much bigger deal. I haven’t really gone into any depth on the fact that 5e doesn’t have a “true” concept of 3.x-and-earlier spell-like abilities, spells-that-are-not-spells. There are a lot of weird wrinkles in 3.x that emerge from the rules around spell-like abilities, so I am glad to see them gone. 5e treats such abilities as “spells, and also you can cast it X times per day without spending a slot.” This means that non-casters can play along in the home game, while spellcasters can cast it once for free and keep fueling it thereafter with spell slots (because they do indeed learn the spell). Not having a lot of extra currency pools to track is another unmitigated good, as far as I’m concerned. Anyway, Drow High Magic is very strong, but the legacy spellcasting powers of the drow sort of back them into that corner. I wouldn’t raise a fuss over this one.

 

Dwarf Resilience

So dwarves have their own, comparatively inefficient* racial version of Second Wind? Uh, sure I guess? Basically, dwarves don’t spend short rests to expend hit dice and regain hit points (unless they want other short-rest-linked effects) – they just stand there and Dodge for a few rounds. I’m surprised there isn’t a further limitation on this, but okay I guess. It’s incredibly powerful.

*Then there are characters that can Dodge as a bonus action. This is where the exact meaning of the feat’s phrase “Whenever you take the Dodge action” becomes chancy, and we can all kind of regret elements of 5e’s use of language. I think it’s saying that a dwarf monk with this feat and Patient Defense spends 1 ki to Dodge as a bonus action, and then triggers this feat. This is massive survivability, probably too much for one feat.

 

Elven Accuracy

Oh hey, WotC finally wrote a step above advantage. To sell elves and half-elves as the most accurate attackers, when you have advantage, you also get to reroll one of those dice once. So basically you need to hit with one out of 3d20. Just always on, as long as you have advantage. Sure. This may or may not be overpowered (I’m not stopping to do the math right now), but I think it’s a bad idea regardless. Adding a reroll step is going to slow down play, and there exists some number of dice rolls such that missing is no longer really available as an outcome – let’s try not to get there, k? The accuracy of rolling three dice is also a massive boon to characters with the Great Weapon Master or Sharpshooter feats, since it softens that -5 to hit a whole lot.

 

Everybody’s Friend

+1 Cha and proficiency or expertise in Deception and Persuasion. Yowza. This is the proliferation-of-Expertise thing that we were talking about last week. In this case, they’re trying to get half-elves firmly into the role of the party face, but hanging that kind of role definition on a feat is always tricky. Usually a party has figured out who the face is before the first time a half-elf gets a feat, and 4th level may already be a bit late to overhaul a party dynamic. In any case, I’m against the dual expertise and an ability score point thing here. Too much.

 

Fade Away

Gnomes just don’t believe in burning out, I guess. This feat combines a point of Int with turning invisible as a reaction. I think this was the whisper gnomes’ deal in 3.x? It’s once per short or long rest here. I think this is a questionable place for +1 Int, since it has no thematic link to the rest of what’s going on, and the invisibility feature is a highly desirable effect triggered by a common situation. Usually ability score boosts signal narrow applicability of the rest of the feat’s features (eg. Athlete or Actor), or needing the feat to do one very specific, mechanical thing but still get rounded out (eg. Heavily Armored). This is neither.

 

Fey Teleportation

+1 Int, teaches misty step, and lets you cast it once per short rest for free. It is, as the French say, le wow. It’s fascinating to see the 4e eladrin show up again so explicitly. If you’re playing a high elf, there’s basically no excuse for not taking this, unless you’re spamming teleportation some other way, because teleportation is the best movement. That’s a real bad sign for the feat’s balance. I’m against this kind of proliferation of combat teleportation effects.

 

Flames of Phlegethos

Okay, for all the same reasons that I discussed in Fade Away, this feat has no business boosting Int or Cha. The ability to reroll 1s on fire damage is directly combat-applicable and you can build to make sure it comes up all the time. The d4 fire shield effect just makes damn sure you’ll do that. Oddly, this feat strongly favors sorcerer and wizard tieflings, and puts tiefling warlocks in the weird position of chasing fire bolt so they can deal fire damage with a cantrip. Tiefling warlocks particularly need a cantrip way to do this, of course, because Pact Magic slots run out fast. Anyway, this feat would be solid without modifying ability scores, and so shouldn’t do that. Racial feats shouldn’t be 25% better than non-racial feats, because you shouldn’t feel like you need to fill out your racial feats before moving on to whatever Player’s Handbook feats you cared about. That’s rank power creep and I say thee nay, sir.

Let’s touch on this feat’s primary competition real quick: Elemental Adept. Not just letting you ignore resistance is a huge mark against Phlegethos, so if you’re going to be as fire-themed as this feat wants you to be, you need Elemental Adept.

 

Grudge-Bearer

This is some straight-up Warhammer Fantasy creeping into my D&D, and other than Skaven, White Lions, and Marauders, nothing could be more welcome. This feat is a favored enemy mechanic, but it’s a damn sight easier to see dwarves as a walking hate crime than rangers. It’s up to the player, one presumes, to explain why their clan has a grudge against whatever creature type you choose. I’m awfully amused by the dwarf clan that just really fucking hates vegetables. (Really, it’s Durkon from Order of the Stick.)

As with most favored enemy mechanics that follow a single type, this could be a total trap feat, if your DM doesn’t make an extra effort to give you [that thing] to kill fairly often. Preferably at least once per adventure. On the other hand, I wouldn’t want to be the DM who forgot, and thus became the new target of the dwarf’s ire… In any case, I’m basically fine with this feat. It’s probably my favorite in the document.

 

Human Determination

You know what, I’m glad they at least remembered to give humans some feat options, even if those options are terribly bland. Increase one ability score by 1 point, and once per short rest, just decide to have advantage on a roll. Inspiration by another name, let’s say. How very tedious. The mechanics don’t work hard enough to carry the theme of the feat’s name. Also… probably underpowered.

 

Infernal Constitution

+1 Con, resistance to two common damage types, and advantage on saves against poison? Well, it doesn’t need that point of Con for balance, but I have to admit that it would be weird to go with that title and not grant a point of Con. It does mean the feat is a fair bit better than it needs to be to justify consideration.

 

Orcish Aggression

When is Dash-as-a-bonus-action not Dash-as-a-bonus-action? When they restate the rule, but also tell you where you’re allowed to end that move. The other ways of picking up Dash as a bonus action (Eagle totem, monk, rogue) are not particularly threatened by this feat. It’s fine, I guess? Oh, right, this is also a nod to the 4e half-orc’s Swift Charging feature. I knew it looked familiar.

 

Orcish Fury

Here comes the rest of the 4e half-orc, because the second feature of this feat is as direct a statement of Furious Assault as two of the 4e PHB II’s creators could have written. Except that it in this case, you obviously hang onto Orcish Fury and wait for a crit, unless you’re real sure that one extra damage die will drop that target. This is an especially top-flight purchase for Champion fighters, as a result, but doesn’t play ideally with the Great Weapon fighting style, for the same reason that the Savage Attacks feature doesn’t. The feat also grants a free weapon attack after you use Relentless Endurance, which is thus necessarily limited to once per long rest. With one per-short-rest feature, one per-long-rest feature that is tied to something you already have, and one point of Strength or Con, this feat should be high-performing as long as you have even a passing familiarity with weapon combat, but I can’t see that it’s overpowered unless you’re getting a ton of short rests in a day.

 

Prodigy

Half-elves and humans have this alternative to the Skilled feat, gaining one point in any one ability score, and proficiency in one skill, one tool, and one language. Considering that you can get a tool proficiency and a language fluency without the high cost of a feat slot, what we’re really talking about is one skill and one ability score point against three skills. I would call that an okay trade, some of the time.

 

Second Chance

Another halfling luck feat. It’s possible to beat a drum too much. This lets you add 1 to your Dex, Con, or Charisma, and once per short rest, you can force an opponent to reroll a hit against you. So obviously you save that for a crit, unless you’re definitely going down if the attack lands – because in any other case, you’re giving the opponent a fresh chance to crit on you, and that would be a bad mistake. As with Bountiful Luck, it costs your reaction, so… what is the halfling doing exactly? Because it isn’t dodging, per se, according to the feat’s flavor text. This feat is mechanically fine, but they’re pushing “halfling = luck magnet” hard enough that it’s overwriting the race’s broader themes.

 

Squat Nimbleness

Okay, this is a weird feat from first principles. All of the other feats describe things that typify the associated races – they play into gameable stereotypes, or reveal a perspective on the race we might not have seen before, but is within its established parameters. Squat Nimbleness (“how not to get poop on your shoes”) explicitly marks you as a member of that race who breaks with what is typical – otherwise “uncommonly” wouldn’t be there. Naturally, it wipes out that racial Speed penalty, and also grants proficiency or expertise in Athletics or Acrobatics. Oh, and a point of Strength or Dex. My main objection is its thematic issues – once there’s a feat for it, “uncommonly” becomes “normally” with a quickness. Beyond that, more expertise and wiping out one of the major gameplay markers for one of the shorter races? Pass. (Buy Mobile instead.)

 

Wonder Maker

Rock gnome tinkering, and an unconcealed nod to Gond Wonderbringer… sure, I’m on board for this theme. A point of Dex or Int, makes sense so far – and I expect little enough throughput from this feat that those are probably appropriate. Doubled proficiency with tinker’s tools… okay, I would love to play the adventure where this is useful. Aaand five new devices for gnomes to make (and let’s go ahead and backfill these to the most recent Plane Shift release). Great so far; let’s check the devices.

  • Alarm is… basically the alarm Considering all the ways the game tries to hand this feat out, sure, I’m okay with this. Getting ambushed in the night with a little more forewarning is fine. But we do need to talk about how high-tech a voice-activated security device is!
  • Calculator is… an abacus. Next.
  • Lifter is a block and tackle. Sure. I’m not clear on whether you have to mount your lifter to a strong overhead surface, but I have to assume so.
  • Timekeeper is a pocketwatch. Gnomes with pocketwatches: sounds legit.
  • Weather Sensor predicts weather out to 4 hours in a 1-mile radius. If it’s accurate, that’s some high-tech meteorology! Sure, no problem.

All together… this feat isn’t flashy, but it’s a good theme piece if you’re serious about playing a tinkerer. I wonder how long it’ll be before WotC releases weaponized tinkering, in the vein of Shawn’s excellent Steampunk Adventurers supplement?

 

Wood Elf Magic

Wood elves get to pick up some druidic toys – you learn one cantrip, plus longstrider and pass without trace. Pass without trace is one of those spells I’ve often been guilty of ignoring completely, just assuming I know what it does, but +10 is a staggering bonus to Stealth checks. Even so, I’m pretty sure this feat is not out of bounds.

 

Conclusion

It’s late and I may have missed things. There are some great feats in the mix here – Grudge-Bearer and Flames of Phlegethos are good times in particular. There are some overpowered things – Dragon Wings is just an encounter-breaking option at 4th level, and I’m pretty sure Elven Accuracy and Fey Teleportation are too much. If and when these proceed toward becoming official content, I hope that each race has at least two feats, touching on different elements of their racial theme. I’d also like to make sure that racial feats are describing archetypal or likely members of the race, rather than outliers – if you want outlier mechanics, pick a feat available to everyone that contrasts with your race’s concept.

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  • MTi

    Thanks for the brakedown Brandes.

    I liked the initial idea; to give race-specific feats. This is carried from previous editions and it is a fine idea to continue in 5e as well. Most of them need some heavy polishing/revamp or outright ditching though.

    The focus in Dragonborn is logical; there is the general consensus that Dragonborn are probably the weakest race in mechanics and lore in 5e. So, they are trying to find ways to make them cooler.

    Bountiful Luck is maybe the most broken thing out there. And it is awful because I can think of groups insisting to have at least one Halfling in order to have this thing. A Halfling Bard maybe in order to hand out Inspiration and Buffs as well. I hate it.

    • I would love to see dragonborn content more focused on their culture than their biology. The problem, of course, is that dragonborn don’t really have a culture, outside of the Nentir Vale setting. And yeah, that’s a problem all right!

    • Colin McLaughlin

      Why didn’t we get Draconians as the canonical race? Too much ready-made story?

      Thanks, Brandes. You made me sad.

    • I figured you’d be accustomed to me being the source of all disappointment by now. It’s sort of my thing.

    • Colin McLaughlin

      Ok, but for real though – the entire conceit being that the race began through theft/genetic alteration is a great thing to explore – particularly as then compared to Tieflings/Aasimar.

      Bleh!

    • Not only in Dragonlance, but also – in a totally different way – the dracha that are just more different dragonborn in Monte Cook’s Arcana Evolved.

      In seriousness, I think part of the answer is that they’re worried draconians have as much hate from the fans as kender; there’s at least a meaningful subset of the base that hates DL beyond all reason. (Obviously not the core Tribality audience, though!)

    • Colin McLaughlin

      Wait, really? Huh…I mean it IS the internet, but still…

    • In OSR circles, DL is The Debil, because it paved the way for adventure paths and narrative, character-focused stories, rather than what D&D was in The Golden Before Times, when there was I guess no connective tissue between adventures. I don’t need to explain, though, that any new thing is inevitably the ruin of it for those who preferred what they had before.

      The fact that DL wildly expanded the D&D fanbase with the first decent tie-in novels is of no consequence, of course!

    • Unexpected Dave

      I always thought that Dragonlance’s biggest problem as a setting (aside from the fact that the novels defined it so well that it was hard for a DM to really make it their own) was that they went too far by turning entire races into comic relief. Kender were by far the worst offenders, because their very nature DEMANDS that they be the centre of attention. Their kleptomania can provide the catalyst for adventures, but it’s more likely to derail an adventure, at the expense of everyone’s enjoyment.

      I thought that Draconians were one of the best parts of the Dragonlance setting. With dragons as nigh-invincible demigods, it made sense to have some draconic mooks for lower-level players to spar with (years before Kobolds would be pushed into that role).

      (I admit that I haven’t read any of the DL novels after Summer Flame, so I don’t know how that changed things.)

    • MTi

      Exactly. If I’m not mistaken, Dragonborn and Tieflings were transferred to 5e in order for 4e people to feel more akin to the new edition. The problem is that neither of these races was canon in FR (the default 5e setting), so they had to induce them to FR somehow.

      It kind of worked for Tielfings, not so much for Dragonborn.

    • Tieflings had been part of FR in 3.x, and a potential part of FR in 2e (since anything could meander from a Planescape campaign to an FR campaign). Tieflings don’t have an established “place” in the FR lore, but being drifters and loners is part of their theme anyway. Dragonborn don’t go back that far, and thus FR didn’t get as much time to absorb them into its canon. I’ll never understand why they didn’t reskin dragonborn to be saurials, though.

    • Manotaur

      Oh, OK, thanks for the heads up!!!

    • Unexpected Dave

      Won’t someone please think of the saurials.

    • No lie, Dragonbait (and Alias for that matter) might be my favorite characters in all of the FR novel line, though to be fair I have not read a new FR novel in uhhh closing in on twenty years.

  • Colin McLaughlin

    The theme of the dwarven and tiefling feats are the strongest for the established fiction. It’s not really a shocker I like those the most. Dwarf Resilience is kind of hilarious to imagine, because it’s basically just how you play Dark Souls :p

  • Unexpected Dave

    I always liked the idea that Gnome contraptions break down without regular maintenance. If Wizards does release a full-blown Tinker class (either stand-alone or as an Artificer subclass), that idea would be a great story justification for why Tinkers can’t just overload the universe with clockwork weapons.

    • crimfan

      Yeah that’s a very good idea.

      In the past I’ve simulated tinker types as reskinned spellcasters, with the spell memorization being a necessary part of the maintenance. There were some mechanical advantages to tinkering rather than spellcasting per se as well as disadvantages, but it worked to represent the fact that a tinker’s flying device is definitely an only occasionally flying hangar queen and prevented a massive proliferation of reliable clockwork tech. The devices really only work because Gnimbly Gnob and his intrepid assistant Gnorm maintain them.

      In 5E to do this I’d probably make a wizard variant. The big difference is that they’d be pure Vancian spellcasters who had to commit their spell slots in advance by preparing their devices during rest and couldn’t memorize and then cast freely thereafter. One potential benefit would be to allow devices to avoid concentration. It would take some thought and care to make sure this wasn’t too crazy but it might work.

    • Unexpected Dave

      I like that idea. It allows the tinkers to do much more astounding things than the Artificer can, but the tradeoff is that they’re much less reliable.

    • crimfan

      Well they’re certainly less flexible in a number of respects. Concentration can cut both ways, too. If you make a Wall of Fire that lasts for some fixed duration you can’t drop it when you want it to go away, which can definitely be a problem in many circumstances.

      I’m guessing that a caster like that would rely a lot on cantrips.

  • Good analysis as always!
    Thanks for the call-out on Steampunk Adventurers.

  • Benz74

    By the time the Dragonborn gets its first feat, it will be level 4. So a 20 ft. flying speed (Dragon Wings) isn’t that bad at 4th level. Fly spell is already available by then.

    • 1. Fly is a 3rd-level spell, so first appears at 5th level.
      2. It requires a precious 3rd-level spell slot; it’s a long while later before a 3rd-level spell slot feels trivial.
      3. It requires Concentration, which is a meaty cost for any spellcaster.
      4. Its duration is 10 minutes, not all day.

      On that basis, I can’t agree that dragonborn wings are kind of okay compared to fly.

    • Benz74

      All good points! Thanks for the feats analysis!

  • Benz74

    Elven Accuracy is crazy. Sharpshooter is already a go-to Elven / Ranger feat. Individual DMs can allow elves to forego the ability score increases to get the Sharpshooter feat at first level if they feel an elf needs a Sharpshooter racial option.

  • Adam Masters

    Mathematically triple advantage equates to about a 12.5% increase to hit over advantage 87.5% as opposed to 75% assuming a base difficulty of 50%. Which is a solid bonus to accuracy when you have advantage. But it is less impressive than the accuracy boost sharpshooter can give you with a disadvantage and that’s not even the most scary part of that feat.

    • crimfan

      I worked the numbers for this kind of thing out a while ago. There’s an analytic formula for the effect of “take the best of K dice” that’s pretty easy. I’ll have to post it.

  • Good analysis as always.

    As the occasional player of a Dragonborn character, I found their new options underwhelming. Dragon Hide I found particularly odd, as it is much more about the claws than the hide in the text and why is not Constitution on of the Stats you can raise when you take that feat? Very strange. I would have preferred to have that feat focus all on defense. The wings are nice, but the limits of the slow speed and cost of a feat are actually fairly high to my mind.

    Elven accuracy is quite scary, I really want to try it with my Elven barbarian though.

  • Arthur Augustus

    regarding the Flames of Phlegethos portion of the article. Warlocks gain Green-Flame Blade as a cantrip which is a fire damage dealing cantrip best used by bladelocks who benefit from the being close to an opponent and the spell itself makes extra attack useless.
    You are right however when you say that the intelligence boost is useless for a warlock which is the class a tiefling is most likely going to be played as. But as a DM to be, i’d allow fiend pact warlock to gain an invocation to that turns dex save fire spells into charisma saves for psychic as in exchange for a number of hit dice divided by the dice rolled for damage to allow for the conversion. It seems flavorful in my eyes

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