Feat Research in d20

A Very Complex Sandwich

Yes, you can have “expert sandwich maker” for free. Who cares?

Today, it’s another question…

Have you ever thought about rules for researching feats? There are feats that should not be researched, such as background and many racial, but then there are those that should, including metamagic, fighter bonus feats and (for kicks) spelltouched. The first two would go a long way in customizing characters in a regular (i.e. non Eclipse) game.


That’s potentially awkward. Spell Research at least has some guidelines and a pile of well-established spells – many of them tested across multiple editions – for comparison. Feats… not so much. Even the official d20 feats range from the useless to the ludicrous. There are feats that do virtually nothing on one end, like Toughness, on through feats like Spellfire – or the one that can let you base your per-die hit point bonus on Int instead of Con if you spend some time engaging in a little whoopy each day with someone. (Yes, sex IS good for your health, but can it really give you an extra couple of hundred hit points for the day? Even at level twenty?)

Other things have been turned into feats that really… make no sense. At it’s most basic, a Feat really should have something to do with your personal abilities. Feats like “Dragon Friend” or “Ennobled”… just don’t. If you’ve managed to befriend a dragon, or acquire a title, you shouldn’t need a feat slot for it – and if you haven’t and want to, it really ought to involve actually doing something more than having a few encounters, going up a level, and taking “Dragon Friend” as your new feat.

Still other Feats focus on developing innate racial abilities or other preexisting talents. Naturally enough, researching these only makes sense for characters who actually have the prerequisite talents already unless they’re also researching some major mystical ritual to change themselves to have those abilities.

On the other hand… while feats COULD all be gifts from the gods or some such they really don’t look like it. Presumably someone, somewhere, somehow developed whatever feats are already in the game.

All right then. To research a feat, the first thing you need to do is write it up. If you want some guidelines on that use Eclipse and just come up with something worth about 6 CP. Otherwise just go for it. After all, pretty much the worst that can happen is that your game master will say no.

Very Simple Feats – the ones that just give you minor bonuses – don’t require any research. If you want to learn to run better, or to be better at a particular skill, or learn to wear armor, or something similar… you just practice. Sure, you can get into the details of endurance training for running or some such – but this is d20, where you can learn to breathe fire from your nose with a little training. Mastering marathon running – even if there are a few tricks to it – just doesn’t compare.

Ergo, if you want to learn Rapid Shot, Power Attack, Skill Focus, Iron Will, Run, or some other simple “gives me a bonus due to intensive practice” feat, you just do so. If your game master doesn’t want to allow your twenty-year veteran of the seas a feat like “Expert Sailor”… well, ask them why not.

Expert Sailor” (as built in Eclipse): Augmented Bonus/Adds +3 Skill Specialities in Survival Checks (that have to do with the Sea), Knowledge: Nature (the sea and it’s creatures), Balance (aboard ship), Craft (ship and sail repair), Climb (in the rigging), Swim (remaining afloat), Use Rope (aboard ship), Knowledge/Local (bars and other recreational facilities in port cities), and Spot (upcoming islands, ships, or bad weather at sea). Corrupted/the character is readily recognizable as a master sailor, must have spent many years as a sailor, is well known in ports, and the GM is free to consider them drunk whenever they’re in port and it would be convenient… Nine specialities at one character point each, corrupted for two-thirds cost or a total of 6 CP – the standard cost of a Feat.

And yes, that DOES provide a lot of bonuses, and may well be quite worthwhile for a sailor – but “I am an expert seafarer” is not exactly going to break the game and it’s pretty obviously only a matter of practice.

That still leaves an wide range of feats that will require research though. I’ll call them Simple, Complex, and Very Complex feats. Sadly, this is going to be a judgement call – but there’s really no way around that.

Simple Feats include things like Cleave, Combat Expertise, Martial Weapon Proficiencies, Mobility, Scribe Scroll, Spell Penetration, and Improved Bull Rush. The stuff that makes you say “!@# but he’s good!” – but which (and this may be the best available guide!) wouldn’t make you bat an eye if it came up in an action movie.

Complex Feats include things like Blind Fight, Exotic Weapon Proficiencies, Snatch Arrows, Improved Precise Shot, and Finesse – the stuff that makes you say “and just how in the world is THAT supposed to work?”

Very Complex Feats include Item Creation, High Ritual Magic, Eclipse-style Metamagical Theorems, Leadership, instant skill use, and anything else that simply pushes beyond the bounds of the normally-possible to add entirely new capabilities to a character.

As for the actual research… Well, there’s really only one research system in the game now, so we might as well use it. Ergo, researching a feat is a lot like researching a spell.

  • Simple Feats are researched like third level spells, Complex Feats like sixth level spells, and Very Complex Feats like ninth level spells.
  • Apply a -1 “spell level” modifier if the researcher has seen the feat in action or had it at least briefly explained by someone who has it or by some other in-game source, if it’s derived from a widely-available feat, if the researcher is part of a team or has competent assistants available, and so on. If several of these factors apply, the modifier increases to “-2″.
  • In place of Spellcraft use whatever skill or ability fits the feat. BAB will work for most combat feats, Caster Level for metamagics, Listen for a feat that builds on blind-fighting to eliminate attackers flanking bonuses, and so on. If you’re using the more elaborate spell research rules from The Practical Enchanter, you’ll have to consider what equates to a library and a laboratory – a practical dojo? Hiring a bunch of people with similar skills as consultants? – but that’s not really much of an obstacle.

3 Responses

  1. Thank you for putting the time and effort into this!

    I request that it be put into Eclipse III. I would think it would be rather inspirational to many players and GMs.

    • Oh you’re quite welcome – and thank you for the question; it IS an important point for all those games which fall in between the two extremes of WOTC-stuff-only and Eclipse.

      Sorry about the delay though; things had to be put on hold for most of a month here.

  2. Thinking about this, something you might want to consider for feat, spell and other research is magic items that somehow enhance it. Right now I am working on rules for prisms and origami (for an OSR game), but they are obviously the tip of the iceberg.

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