Pathfinder read-through – Chapter 5: Feats

A retroactive (and oft-repeated) introduction: After an actual-play hiatus where I was mostly writing and playtesting for GURPS. I was invited to play in a Pathfinder game, and after a few sessions, it was time to buy the book and learn the rules! I decided to try and read the Pathfinder rules cover-to-cover and see what inspiration strikes, for good or ill!

This is a compilation of the links to read-throughs of Pathfinder-related material

Pathfinder Core Rulebook

0.  Prelude
1.  Introduction
2.  Races

3a. Classes (Barbarian – Monk)
3b. Classes (Paladin – Wizard)

Please make any comments you have at the individual entries!

So: we continue!


A “Feat” is basically a little rules tweak that enables you to take advantage of skill and training to do something cool. They’re categorizied, and all classes get a new Feat every other level at minimum, and Fighters in particular get one every level. This is the fighter’s thing, and with 20 or so Feats by the time you get to the top of the food chain, there is room for serious butt-kicking.

Some of the feats are nested, tiered, sequential, have prerequisites – however you want to put it. So if you find a Feat that is particularly juicy, it might take some advanced planning.

I’m new to Pathfinder, still, but from reading around, there seem to be some Feat combinations that are seen to provide an “I Win” button in certain circumstances – or at least an overwhelming degree of smackdown. Some players familiar with the system clearly have their Feat progressions mapped out during character design – I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but it would appear that what Feats you choose is really important.

I’m not going to do a Feat-by-Feat breakdown here. That would be roughly insane, since the table for Feats goes on for four tightly laid-out pages, and the descriptions rather more.

Most Feats, as I said earlier, tweak a rule. Normally damage bonuses are based on STR . . . but the Weapon Finesse Feat lets you take advantage of your DEX instead.

So let’s look around at some types of feats, basically making up a structure as I go along. This isn’t meant to be all-inclusive.

Skill-Boosting Feats

The first Feat listed is Acrobatic, which gives a +2 bonus to Acrobatics and Fly checks. There are other feats like this one, that provide a bonus (often this scales with level in some way) to a small set of skills. Such Feats include Alertness (Perception and Sense Motive), Athletic (Climb and Swim), Deceitful (Bluff and Disguise), Deft Hands (Disable Device and Sleight of Hand), Magical Aptitude (Spellcraft and Use Magic Device), Persuasive (Diplomacy and Intimidate), Self-Sufficient (Heal and Survival), and Stealthy (Escape Artist and Stealth).That’s nine feats, covering a +10% boost to 18 skills. It’s like leveling up twice in something you’re already maxed out on, but it doesn’t count against the ranks you put in the skill.

Saving Throw Boosts

Some Feats help you when you make saving throws. These are a small family, with basically obvious names. Iron Will, Lightning Reflexes, and Great Fortitude. There are improved versions that allow a reroll of a failed saving throw.

Movement Feats

A lot of these have to do with mounted combat, and those are based off the obviously-named Mounted Combat Feat. This has a cascade three levels deep in places: Mounted Combat, Ride-By Attack, followed by Spirited Charge, which gives double damage on a mounted charge. Go grab your lance.

The Dodge cascade starts with bonuses to AC, but also includes concealment when moving, as well as moving before and after attacks, allowing you to start at a distance, get close and pound someone, and then move again. Paired with Nimble Moves cascade to ignore difficult terrain, Fleet to get a slight boost to your base move, you might be able to harass people and stay out of harm’s way.

Class Feature Feats

A bunch of Feats exist to get better at things your class is already good at. Channeling energy vs. outsiders (Alignment Channel), channel energy through an attack (Channel Smite), and a few other helping hands to channeling. There’s also boosts to Ki, Lay on Hands, Mercy, Rage, and Bardic Performance through the Extra X set of feats.

Armor and Shield Feats

These feats enable you to use certain types of armor and shield (surprised ya, eh?). The basic Armor Proficiency feats are pretty cool, and are a cascade for Light, Medium, and Heavy armor (no attack penalties while wearing them). One bit of coolness is Arcane Armor Training/Mastery, which reduce your chance of spell failure while wearing armor by 10 or 20%, which enables you to wear armor with an AC bonus of up to +4 and not start risking spell failure. It’s not AC +9 Full Plate, but if you had the right Feats, you would have the same chance to cast spells in full plate as you do in studded leather.

The various shield feats increase AC bonuses, allow you to strike with the shield without suffering two-weapon penalties, use the big tower shields, or do various forms of shield bash with improved effects.

Magical Enhancements and Item Creation

Gotta start with the cool one: there’s a whole list of feats to make magical items yourself. There are also metamagic feats that allow you to enhance spells – no components, higher level, longer range, that sort of thing.

One cool one is Arcane Strike, which allows you to treat your mundane weapons as magical – and get a bonus – if you can use arcane spells. Nifty.

There are various other feats for spells to enhance defensive casting, beat your foe’s resistance roll vs. your own spells, cast better counterspells, or increase your own saving throws.

Smackdown Feats

“Combat Feat” is a term of art in Pathfinder, so I’ll avoid using it for this broad category of cool stuff. There are lots of these. Everything with an asterisk is considered a Combat Feat.

Unarmed Combat

There are a host of options that enhance the ability to fight with your hands. I have to think these are aimed at the Monk, but that’s not the only class that can use these. You can treat your limbs as armed weapons, catch arrows, make extra attacks (that one requires a BAB of +11, restricting it to high-level warrior-types), or improve your grapple.
Ranged Combat

There are a bunch of things that are really tailor-made for the arrow-loving legions among us. Deadly Aim allows you to trade a ranged attack bonus for damage – this is probably as close to “Aim for the Vitals” as you’re going to get in this game. Mounted Archery is part of the mounted movement cascade. Point-Blank Shot begins the cascade for a group of eight feats that allow halving range penalties, shooting into melee with impunity, shooting around armor (that one requires a BAB of +16, which means Fighters, Paladins, and Rangers of high level only, I think). 
Melee Combat

The regime of front-line combatants, there are a bunch of these, and they can be pretty cool. You can fight defensively with Combat Expertise, lowering your hit roll but boosting your AC. That cascade unlocks disarms, feints, and trips, as well as Whirlwind Attack, which allows you to make a single melee attack at every foe within reach. Go go gadget polearm!
The other cascades that are meaty here are Weapon Focus (bonuses to attacks, intimidation of foes, more damage, make flat-footed, ignore damage reduction), Two-Weapon Fighting feats that make you a pretty good imitation of a Cuisinart. And the Power Attack cascade, which includes words like “sunder” (destroying an object) and “rend” (extra damage). Also includes the ability to rush a foe and knock him prone.
Injury Modifiers

There are also a few cascades of feats that allow you to really up the ante on how badly you hit someone. The Critical Focus tree can add secondary effects to critical hits, such as bleeding, blinding, deafness, sickness, and stunning. The Vital Strike cascade can increase the basic weapon damage rolled by as much as 4x.
Final Word
My final word here is that I’m not nearly experienced with this stuff to make recommendations. I’ll let other grognards do that. But very clearly it pays to be aware of what’s out there, and what the prerequisites are so you’re not boxed out of a desired Feat. DEX and BAB minima, as well as level and class constraints are all possible. Figure out what you think you want to be good at, and if you just can’t live without Greater Penetrating Strike and Greater Vital Strike, just know you will need to be a 16th level fighter to get them both.

11 thoughts on “Pathfinder read-through – Chapter 5: Feats

  1. (The following is a critique of feats, so if you don't want to have that discussion, feel free to delete or ignore! I played a lot of d20 games during my non-GURPS phase, but now that I'm back into GURPS, I have some thoughts on feats, in particular.)

    Feats are actually one of the major things that will probably ever keep me from playing another d20 game. Why? Because they are exactly what you say they are–ever feat is a special case rule that allows you to do something special. The problem is that "special" gets stretched pretty far in most d20 games. For example, one of the feats that most annoyed me was the d20 Modern "Burst Fire" feat. If you didn't have Burst Fire, you simply couldn't use a modern ranged weapon in burst mode!

    Most of the standard combat feats in d20 games are like this–actions that a normal person could figure out and should be able to at least attempt are disallowed without using up a "feat slot" (which are indeed quite precious). I can't sacrifice accuracy for damage unless I have Power Attack. I can't try to hit something more damaging with a bow unless I have Deadly Aim. Etc.

    Call me crazy, but having to memorize every special case rule out there to make a decent PC while being unable to attempt many common combat maneuvers without having said special case ability just *drives me batty.*

    1. I think these are good observations, honestly. I've been hankering for trading accuracy for damage in my Pathfinder game for a while. Fighting defensively is another thing that exists as a Feat, but not in regular rules.

      Maybe an alternate rule would be that you can trade any attack bonus from Base Attack Bonus for extra damage (I have a BAB of +2, so I can trade that +2 to damage) – which would be like attacking the vitals or something, or to AC, which would be taking All-Out Defense.

      The Feat would then increase the multiple. Or, perhaps anyone can do this, but at 1/2: +4 BAB could be traded for +2 AC or +2 damage without the feat, but at 1:1 with it.

      This is why I like the 4e Technique rules – lots of stuff that anyone can do, but you can spend points to get better at them.

    2. This is the same reasoning used to argue that the thief class ruined the game. Once are at the point where "Move Silently %" is marked on someone's character sheet, people's fighters stop taking off their plate mail and attempting a little reconnaissance. Q.E.D.

    3. Huh. I'd go the other way, saying that the various stealthy Feats would boost the ability of any who took them. This might be based on (say)

      * half of the level of someone who's not got Stealth as a class skill, or
      * full levels of those who does have Stealth as a class skill, or
      * scaled to the total number of levels of Stealth (so it's a multiplier for all stealth)

      I don't really see the parallel between your assertion and that there are things I'd like to be able to do (aim for the vitals, fight defensively, or in the stealth case directly trade speed for stealth, perhaps) that I think anyone should be able to try. A Feat should make you better at them, and to the point that you only get 10-20 of them through your entire level progression, they should be pretty badass.

      Of course, I'm still new at the Pathfinder thing, and so some of the rules conventions chafe a bit when compared to my usual system.

    4. I don't know that this applies to PF/3.5 as much as it did to D&D4E, but in that situation, the real optimizers were quick to tell you that a +1 to hit was *always* better than a +1 to damage.

      That may be simply because of the encounter-building mechanics used in that system, that all but ensured that as you raised in levels, the AC of your opponents would scale with you so as to keep your odds in the 35-60% chance to hit range. The linearity of the d20 didn't help, either, as there were even less opportunities for diminishing returns.

  2. I see feats as a way to specialize your character and make your fighter/mage/druid different from the next guys fighter/mage/druid. I really like the feats as the bring some variety.

  3. I didn't like the idea of feats when I first started playing Pathfinder, for some of the same reasons Jake mentioned. But they have grown on me. Like Don said, it's nice to be able to customize your character with special abilities. If you feel a feat should be generally available, it would be fairly easy to house rule certain feats into generic rules. Not ideal, but fixable.

    I also think it's an exaggeration to say you have to memorize every special case rule to make a decent PC. For any given class, there are a fairly limited number of feats you'll want to keep in mind as you gain levels. It might take a while to scan through the list of feats during character creation to get an idea of what you want, but after that the list of possibilities is more limited. And you certainly don't have to memorize them all. You'll want to remember the ones you HAVE. As you're leveling up, you have a handy (albeit a bit cumbersome) table to remind you of what else you might want to get.

    1. I think if the special abilities actually felt like special abilities, I'd totally agree with you. The problem is that many of them just aren't very exciting. I have absolutely no issue with the concept of using feats to customize your character to your liking, but there's too many feats that just aren't enough bang for your buck.

    1. I followed the link, and I think I agree. The problem could be addressed with stronger scaling in some cases. Maybe +1 per 2 levels or even +1 per level for some things, so a 15th level archer can pick out a +7 bonus or even +15 for certain things.

    2. Better scaling helps some, though it can do weird things to the RNG generator ("I have a +30 bonus on this skill, do I need to roll?").

      Better scaling doesn't address the way that a 15th level fighter should really get all the benefits of the entire archery feat chain when he starts it at 15th level (but that's unfair to the guy who worked his way up the feat chain). Which is why I'm a fan of the scaling feat bonuses in the above link.

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