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I've been playing and DMing in Epic tier for some time now, and have introduced quite a few house rules already (mostly common ones - free expertise feats, free improved defences), and I'm wondering about one more: removing the requirements on weapon mastery feats.

The weapon mastery feats seem to have fairly arbitrary and prohibitive requirements. If you use a bow, then you have it easy: bow mastery has no requirements. Otherwise, you have to be lucky enough to be playing both a class that has the feat, and have the right stat balance to be able to pick it.

For example, if you're a wizard, then this is your only choice:

Wizard Implement Expertise

Prerequisite: 21st level, Dex 15, Int 21, Wis 15, wizard

Benefit: When you wield a wizard implement while using an arcane power, you can score a critical hit on a roll of 19–20.

Requirements like this cause trouble in my games. A Wizard in my game has gone for an int/dex build, is now in the epic tier, and has found he doesn't have the required Wisdom for Wizard Implement Expertise (he only has 11). I've ruled that he can just take the feat anyway. For a Sorceror weapon mastery, I've had to invest in stats I'm otherwise not interested in.

This could be troublesome in other circumstances too. A rogue needs 17 strength for Light Blade Mastery, which means a skill monkey or a cunning sneak probably won't be able to get it.

Is there a good reason WotC has set up the weapon mastery requirements this way? Is there any reason I shouldn't houserule that weapon mastery feats are free?

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I'm of a general opinion that stats as presented in 4e only detract from the game. They punish classes with two important stats in a single defense (i.e. Strength and Constitution); offer little meaningful customization (your main stat will be maxed, no mater what); and are readily substituted for one another by the game itself when they become inconvenient (bladesinger uses Int for melee attacks, because). –  Magician Dec 16 '12 at 13:22
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I've edited your post because it was straddling the border of just being a rant. There's a good question in here, though. I've removed some tangential comments and tried to keep things focused on the matter at hand, rather than your personal feelings about what's going on, etc. –  Jonathan Hobbs Dec 16 '12 at 13:53
    
I ran into a situation where a PC didn't have the prereq for a feat she really wanted. I let her retrain her base attribute choices slightly. It didn't change anything important to her character. Of course, she was only one point short; a wizard with Wis 9 who wants Expertise wouldn't be able to use this method. –  Gregory Avery-Weir Dec 17 '12 at 14:35
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3 Answers

Yes, there is a good reason for feat prerequisites.

Two reasons, in fact:

  • To clarify by indicating what build a feat is intended for (a feat that boosts Lay on Hands usually requires that you have Lay on Hands)

  • To balance by forcing players to dedicate more resources in order to take a more powerful feat.

I suspect the reason you're surprised to encounter this is that by and large 4e feat prerequisites are for clarity: if there's a feat we want, we probably already qualify for it. (In previous editions of D&D prerequisites were much harsher and planning our characters around qualifying for certain feats was common.) It's surprising to find a feat we want that we can't take.

Mastery feats need to be balanced carefully:

Feats like the Mastery set can be very powerful: they double crit range from 1/20 to 1/10, and for a build that 'fishes' for critical hits that's pretty massive. Consider a burst/blast wizard who attacks an average of 4 targets each round; compared to a character with expanded crit who makes one attack in the same time, the wizard with expanded crit will deal maximum damage every 3 rounds instead of every 10. If he has specialized in making his criticals awesome, this is very powerful.

In order to allow such feats to exist without unbalancing the system 4e has imposed more stringent prerequisites to take them. But...

The requirements really aren't that harsh:

Prerequisite: 21st level, Dex 15, Int 21, Wis 15, wizard

At level 21 two of a character's abilities can have increased by +6, and the other four abilities have increased by +2. This means that for Wizard Implement Expertise I can start with (before racial modifiers, assuming I take a race with +Int) a 13 Int, Dex, and Wis to qualify at 21 without focusing on either of those secondary stats or having racial bonuses to them. Roughly two out of every three wizards will have focused on at least one of them, and it's important to remember that the 4e stat generating system makes it impossible for me to start with less than a 14 in at least one stat.

A player who wants the feat should have been considering it ahead of time and planned accordingly. Even a wizard who hadn't planned to get the feat is likely to qualify. (If I want it so bad anyway, I've got two +1 stat bumps at 24 and 28 to bring my 11 up to a 13 and still enjoy the feat for the last three levels of the game.)

Sure, change it if you like.

The phrase "feat tax" gets thrown around a lot. It seems to mean that there are specific feats I need to take in order to not be a burden on my party. I don't agree with this idea; it presupposes a specific kind of character optimization which is just one style of play rather than a philosophy of the game design.

Feat slots are limited for a reason: to force choice. There are better and worse choices, though 4e has done a surprisingly good job of limiting downright awful choices. By lifting feat prereqs and granting free feats a party is saying these choices aren't the kind of game they want to play.

And if that's your party's play style, go for it: there's no wrong way to play the game provided everyone's safe and happy. But it's not the way the game was designed, and the game wasn't designed by accident (however much I joke about the adventure writers), so we're less surprised by mechanics like these if we understand the original philosophy behind them.

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Too much of a "Get off my lawn, you hippies" vibe to make it in the actual answer, but: D&D 3.5 has 1/3 the feat slots of 4e and requires us to fill them with useless junk to qualify for the cool stuff. The AD&D bard needs levels in three different classes and four abilities at 15+. 4e's kinder, more gentle philosophy is a massive shift that I appreciate, so when it imposes seemingly stringent qualifications I sit up and wonder why. –  BESW Dec 16 '12 at 22:41
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Totally Agree with BESW. Additionally 4e has really sought to balance magic and divine classes with martial classes in a way that previous editions have never really sought to. –  Joshua Aslan Smith Dec 18 '12 at 16:14
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I have no play experience with the issue (yet), and have not run the theroretical numbers, so this is supposition.

By settings broad range of attribute requirements on what could be characterized as very mechanically desirable feats, the designers are attempting to promote broader characters who are not tightly focused on doing only one thing.

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+1 I agree. It stops one or two stats being the only sensible ones to take for each class. –  Dakeyras Dec 16 '12 at 17:39
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The requirements on these feats are there to provide nominal stat differentiation: more dexterous fighters tend towards the heavy blade, mountains of meat tend towards hammers. This is a relic of the simulationist design of earlier editions.

This relic of the first PHB was from a time when stats were viewed as significant, before the huge panoply of builds arrived. Now, the expertise feats are built towards from the start... or ignored. By locking weapons to stats, Wizards (I believe) thought that they could provide mechanistic reinforcement of flavour. It's a way for them to guide what weapons a person uses by their relative proportion of strength to dex to con. Unfortunately, as new books came out that, in the most extreme cases, allowed you to hit enemies because you were going to be stubborn at them (my favourite class, the Battlemind, really is odd when you think that all of their weapon attacks are goverened by constitution). This stat-differentation, while making all the races relevant, did kind of subvert the original PHB's intention of having a few simulationist relics in the game.

To answer your operational question, From my perspective, instead of making the feats easier to get...

Your houserule should be to disallow expanded crit range via trivial feat entirely.

Speaking as someone who's just endured a game to level 30, expanded crit range is one of the things that not only has the potential to break the game trivially (players build towards crits and then start chaining things off them. Insure, however, that if you do this, your players have a chance to rebuild their characters: they are likely building towards expanded crit range.

Fights in epic would have been a lot faster, with less artificially increased hitpoints of monsters, if the strikers of the party didn't have expanded crit range.

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Is there some way to houserule a simplified crit mechanic so I can let my players explore that experience without making it painful? –  BESW Dec 17 '12 at 3:11
    
One suggestion I've seen is to have non-nat20 crits only get extra damage, without triggering any other on-crit effects. –  Magician Dec 17 '12 at 3:41
    
@BESW -- I'd imagine that there are two key reasons why crit optimizing causes trouble. 1st, it makes combats way more swingy, and so some "hard" combats become easy, and if the DM tries to make 'em harder with more monsters or HP, when the crits aren't flowing, the combats will take forever; and 2nd, players will take longer turns figuring out all the permutations of their crits. If (2) is going to be fun for your players, you could mitigate (1) by expanding the crit range further (15+? 16+?), and thus you can assume that players are doing huge damage and bump monster HP with less bad impact. –  Simon Withers Dec 17 '12 at 4:09
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