Friday, October 10, 2008

3E Feats Have One Flaw

A brief observation, I think: After OD&D, Gary Gygax seemed to go through a lot of iterations of trying to balance or strengthen Fighters, in comparison to the other spellcasting classes. (I guess some people still pursue that today.) In Supplement I he introduced exceptional strength (the 18/% score) that could significantly boost Fighters, and only Fighters, in melee. In the 1E PHB he gave Fighters (and subclasses) a special multiple attacks capability in a table. He also allowed them to make as many attacks on "normal" creatures -- under 1 full Hit Die (minion-types, if you insist) -- as they have levels. And a weapon-proficiency system was established, with Fighters getting the most slots. In Unearthed Arcana he gave them a weapon specialization capability (extra attacks, to-hit, and damage with specially selected weapons).

Now, in 3E one of the several truly wonderful systemizations (IMO) was the "Feats" system which provided a single overarching framework for all kinds of stuff like this. Most of these Fighter-advancements were folded into Feats, and as a Fighter you could pick and choose which ones you wanted. You could weigh these boosts against each other. And they provided an elegant mechanic to support future supplements or expansions in the set of choices (unlike, say, how expanding cleric spell lists were always a net power-inflation to clerics through the years).

But, can you spot which AD&D Fighter boost was left out?

Okay, actually 3 of the above got turned into feats. They're (1) the special Weapon Proficiency feats, (2) the Weapon Focus/ Specialization feats, and (3) the potential for many attacks on very weak creatures via the Cleave/ Great Cleave feat chain. So that leaves 2 of the above out of the picture.

The first one is very minor: Exceptional strength (18/%). Not a big problem --- darned if I don't like the ability modifiers than I can just remember off the top of my head. I suppose you could throw in a special Feat just to boost Fighter strength by a point or so. (Stay away, you other abilities. You're not invited.)

The second one is, in retrospect, an enormous gaffe: Multiple iterative attacks. The 3E designers should have seen the pattern in their own work and also turned this capacity into a Feat for Fighters (or anyone else) to select from. But they didn't. Instead they baked this capacity into the raw attack advancement for every class and monster type. What a bunch of overhead! Every attack progression got turned into a series of slashed numbers that you had to track. I saw lots of people confused, when adding BAB from different sources, about what point the extra attacks kicked in. At high levels you might have a single person with 4, 5, 6 or more attacks to resolve in a round, bogging down combat. Wizards and everyone else had extra attacks by default. Big powerful monsters like giants got extra attacks (multiple swings per round) when logically you'd picture them as lumbering, slow brutes.

Whoops.

Okay, I'll actually forgive the 3E guys because they gave me the Feats system in the first place (even the name makes me happy, I'm immediately in an Irish myth when I hear it -- 3.5/4E designers, you are entirely disinherited on this score). But wow, that was a pain to deal with for 8 years.

In my Diminutive d20 system, everyone has one base attack, and iterative attacks are wiped out of the picture. There's a feat called Rapid Attack (prerequisite: Combat Reflexes) which just does the same thing for melee attacks that Rapid Shot does for missiles (two attacks, each at -2 to hit). Less to remember, less to record, doesn't junk up every class/monster/PC listing, and doesn't explode into crazy bloated numbers at higher levels. So much nicer, and so obvious in retrospect.

Anyway 3E designers, I forgive you, at least you gave a crap about what you were doing.