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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
+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.
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.
+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.
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.
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.
+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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.