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I'm drafting some new house rules for a coming campaign. First on the chopping block: eschew materials. I want rid of the constraints of virtually costless material components so I'm going to just give the feat away for free.

Even though I don't feel it's a big deal, others might. How can I balance party dynamics? Not the power level. If the fighters and barbarians feel I'm not compensating their characters equally then I'll run into a bunch of out-of-game problems.

If I give out eschew materials as a free starting feat, which feats should I also give out so casters won't be perceived as getting special treatment in the campaign? My goal is primarily to placate the career fighters, faithful rogues -- either those who haven't used enough 3.5e magic to understand my reasoning, or those who don't agree with it.

Allowed material thus far is the SRD, content published openly on the Wizards website and Libris Mortis.

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8 Answers 8

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Since you are doing away with a feat because you feel like the benefit of the feat should be the default, you can look at "mundane" feats that you feel should be the default behavior.

Some feats that that in my opinion fit the criteria:

  • Improved Unarmed Strike. You really need a feat to effectively punch someone in the face? What kind of a Barbarian can't throw a punch? Improved Bull Rush, Improved Overrun and Improved Sunder fit a similar bill - provoking AoOs when you finally get a chance to perform these maneuvers sucks.
  • Weapon Finesse. Realizing that a rapier and a battleaxe are best used in different ways shouldn't require a feat.
  • Point Blank Shot. Yes, it's easier to hit something up close. Even if you haven't specifically trained for it.
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I don't really agree with any of these, but would draw attention to the Point Blank Shot issue. Note that it helps distinguish Rogue style sniper archery from Ranger style distance archery. The former is only effective at Point Blank range, and depends on single high-damage shots (shooting from hiding gets you one Sneak Attack in RAW, and rogues are not proficient in fast-loading long and short bows). Ranger style archery is more effective from a distance, peppering targets with many lower-damage shots before the target can close (use run and withdraw –  Epiphanis Dec 23 '13 at 20:53
    
Sorry, ran out of characters. –  Epiphanis Dec 23 '13 at 21:00
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@Epiphanis There are a number of issues with your analysis, but first and foremost: Point-blank Shot is required no matter what style you use. –  KRyan Dec 23 '13 at 21:09
    
Check the Ranger bonus feats on that one, KRyan. –  Epiphanis Dec 23 '13 at 21:14
    
To clarify, Rangers with the archery combat style eventually gain the benefits of both Rapid Shot and Manyshot feats without requiring prerequisites such as Point-Blank Shot. These allow them to be effective archers at long range without expending personal feats. They can expend these instead on melee-useful feats to switch modes and combat enemies with melee at short range, or on Point Blank Shot and other feats to go "all in" on archery to make it useful at short range as well. –  Epiphanis Dec 24 '13 at 3:30

I want rid of the constraints of virtually costless material components

So basically, you want to get rid of the metagamey excel calculations of how many chicken feathers and sulfur is still left. That's great and a very common houserule. Most of the rounds I know don't even give a feat for this. It's simply ruled that non-costly materials do not have to be tracked to favor gameplay over bookkeeping.

Even though I don't feel it's a big deal, others might.

Grant them the same favor. You wanted to get rid of the bookkeeping. Other classes have it, too. You could rule that everybody with a distance weapon does not need to keep track of ammunition as long as it's the non-magical default variant. Everybody always has enough rations. All inns and small tips get paid without keeping track.

If you want to eliminate bookkeeping, tell your players. Tell them that you already identified tracking spell components and ammunition as something that's only work and not adding fun and let them come up with any other ideas. If you leave that open to suggestions, I don't think anyone can feels it's unfair.

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+1 from me. Ask yourself the question why you want to eliminate that feat. If it's to avoid bookkeeping, focus on the bookkeeping. Just giving a bonus feat in exchange for a bonus feat doesn't make sense if the first feat is just there to prevent tedium. –  lisardggY Dec 24 '13 at 13:00
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It’s not a houserule, actually. The rules actually very strongly tell you not to worry about every individual (cheap) material component. Eschew Materials just means you don’t have to worry about the bag. –  KRyan Dec 24 '13 at 16:08

Don't give the feat away. Just note that it's assumed that spell component pouches are refilled when passing through interesting places and will only run dry if explicitly called for in the story.

Given that the spell component pouch explicitly says this thing:

A spellcaster with a spell component pouch is assumed to have all the material components and focuses needed for spellcasting, except for those components that have a specific cost, divine focuses, and focuses that wouldn't fit in a pouch.

Therefore, this solution presents few "constraints" to the player, and just like familiars, fade into the background when uninteresting. Similarly, this keeps options open and doesn't inroduce house rules where they aren't needed.

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Best "house rule" advice ever... Know RAW before confusing matters with house rules... –  Wyrmwood Dec 25 '13 at 1:32

I agree with all of Ernir’s suggestions, but some more to consider:

  • Weapon Focus of choice for full-BAB classes, or at least the Fighter. Fighters can also safely get Weapon Specialization and the greater versions thereof if they make the mistake of taking that many Fighter levels. Weapon Focus is a common feat tax, but it’s a really poor feat.

  • Combat Expertise, or “you don’t need Combat Expertise as a requirement for most feats that normally do,” for Barbarians at least, but probably also for all martial classes. Barbarians literally cannot use Combat Expertise, but want it for Improved Trip et al. Other classes can use Combat Expertise, but it’s usually a bad idea and the Int 13 requirement is very rough.

  • For that matter, consider waiving requirements left and right for Fighter Bonus Feats, to make them actually useful and unique as class features. Maybe “Any ability score requirements for feats are reduced by 2 when taken as a Fighter Bonus Feat,” “Fighter Bonus Feats from 2nd level and up may be taken as if you had both Combat Expertise and Power Attack, even if you do not have those feats,” and so on.

  • Combine the Two-Weapon Fighting feats (i.e. if you take Two-Weapon Fighting, you get Improved Two-Weapon Fighting as soon as you have BAB +6, and Greater Two-Weapon Fighting as soon as you have BAB +11). Consider tossing in Two-Weapon Defense, not that anyone really cares.

  • Dodge is a really weak feat often used as a prerequisite for others. Monks and rogues, in particular, will appreciate it.

  • Rapid Reload and Quick Draw for characters that use crossbows or thrown weapons, respectively, would be greatly appreciated.

  • Leadership. In fact, do not allow it to be taken as an ordinary feat, but rather give it out solely when someone actually attracts followers and a cohort through their actions in game.

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I would add precise shot to that list. Needing two feats just to allow low level bow users to be useful beyond the second round of combat seems a bit excessive. –  MACN Dec 23 '13 at 20:04
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I would also add that a list of these feats, with "You can choose one of these feats to ignore/act as though you have", rather than granting all of them, is a much safer approach. The choice should be clear to any player with a character concept in mind. –  Ryno Dec 23 '13 at 22:03

By giving your spellcasters eschew materials for free you're basically protecting them from losing more than half of their spells to somebody who can sunder their spell component pouch or the components, disarm the components or steal them with Sleight of Hand.
While being a situational advantage, when such situations do happen it's a strong advantage. Destroying the pouch is one of the very few things a non-spellcaster can do to hamper a wizard.

I feel like the counterpart for fighter types would be making their attack sequence immune to sundering, which is almost equally situational.
On that line, Improved Unarmed Strike (as suggested by Ernir) feels like a good choice.
For ranged characters it's harder, Quick Draw, maybe?

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Re: your first paragraph, disarming as well as sundering. Also, Sleight of Hand to lift it. All would be neutralized by universal Eschew Materials. –  Epiphanis Dec 23 '13 at 19:50
    
Also, the difficulty in readying spell components is one of the major features of grappling, which is one of the few effective counterbalances to spellcasters' advantages. I find it hard to approve of anything that nerfs grappling. –  Epiphanis Dec 24 '13 at 0:52

The list I've given my players has the following:

Weapon finesse

Eschew Materials

Craft __ feats when they qualify for them (because seriously...in a world where you are constantly facing evils left and right...it sure is nice to know that the wizard took a crafting feat he can seldom use while out and about versus something to save the party now from death. It already costs gold, spells and a skill check, it doesn't need a feat cost too)

Trapfinding when its a small group (they can search and find a trap above a 20 DC like a rogue but they still need to have the skills to back it up to do anything about it)

Quick draw (I presume you can manage minor tasks without slowing gameplay)

Rapid reload (I dont want to hear about you reloading the whole turn, dance my puppets dance. Dance and amuse me)

Precise Shot (This works both ways, enemies have this too. It saves on managing modifiers and allows for more action/RP oriented gameplay)

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Don't Grant Free Feats

Instead of granting the feat for free, simply note in your house rules that spells that require inexpensive material components no longer require them. Then also note one or more of the following:

  • All creatures are proficient with unarmed strikes and don't provoke attacks of opportunity for making unarmed strikes.
  • A creatues can take a penalty up to its base attack bonus to all attacks in a round to gain the penalty's absolute value as a dodge bonus to Armor Class; no creature can take more than a -5 penalty via this ability.
  • A creatures can take a penalty up to its base attack bonus to all attacks in a round to gain the penalty's absolute value as a bonus to melee weapon damage with one-handed weapons or double this absolute value as bonus to melee weapon damage with one-handed weapons used two-handed or two-handed weapons; no creature can take more than a -5 penalty via this ability.
  • A creature can take a -5 penalty to its Str ability check when initiating a bull rush, a -5 penalty to the opposed attack roll when making a disarm or sunder attempt, or a -5 penalty to the touch attack roll to start a grapple or make a trip attempt to negate the foe's attack of opportunity normally granted by these actions.

The reason to do this instead is that by granting the feat Eschew Materials (PH 94) you grant the actual, for-reals feat, and anything that checks for that feat finds it. The same and more goes for giving creatures the aforementioned feats Improved Unarmed Strike (PH 96) or whatever.

The power that comes from granting the spare feat isn't the issue (because, seriously, who cares?). What is an issue is, as the DM, you've just made all published materials incompatible with your game. Any time a fighter shows up, you've to remember he has an extra feat... that he might've used to get into a class other than fighter. Further, giving out the actual feat means every creature has an additional resource they can attempt to exploit, purge, or swap.

In other words, instead of replacing a flavor ability with a mechanical one that makes characters harder to build, makes your world incompatible with all published materials, and forces you as the DM to remember to give even the disposable ogre Ftr1 an extra feat, you've said, "Hey, if you need to take the feat Eschew Materials for a prestige class or whatever, you still have to take it, but you don't need it unless you want that class."

That way, players and monsters get more options at the table rather than more options when building characters.

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I'm sorry, but I have to disagree with this. If you give people all the effects of the feat, without the feat itself, and still require that feat as a pre-req for things that list it as such, you force players to waste a feat on a pre-req that does absolutely nothing for them at the time. That could cause all the same out-of-game problems that the OP is trying to avoid. –  Ryno Dec 23 '13 at 22:01
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@Ryno It's not wasted if it permits qualification for something else. Further, to give things that build on other things for free changes the campaign's direction. If everyone gets the feat Improved Unarmed Strike for free, for example, archers now have to deal with way more folks with the feat Deflect Arrows. What I suggest avoids sweeping changes in the published environment. –  Hey I Can Chan Dec 24 '13 at 0:19
    
I don't think the rule needs changing at all, but if I did I would prefer Hey I Can Chan's method to the wholesale feat giveaway approach. I wholeheartedly agree with the closing sentiment; too many people think the game is "won" or "lost" by how a character is built rather than how it is played. –  Epiphanis Dec 24 '13 at 0:35
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@HeyICanChan It is wasted because those feats are meant to give you something in addition to qualification. The game does not offer any feats with an effect of "Does nothing, but you still need this as a prereq", and for good reason. -1 for effects without feats. –  Jonathan Hobbs Dec 24 '13 at 4:31

I don't see the desirability of giving away Eschew Materials, but if you did I don't think throwing away other free feats is necessarily the way to promote balance. Each such giveaway upsets the game structure incrementally, and free feats easily become multiple wrongs not making a right. This was a major factor in my not migrating to Pathfinder -- the feat every other level as opposed to every third seriously messed with the balance of the existing 3.5 materials in a way I saw as unnecessary. Perhaps it would be better to balance the free Eschew Materials, if you feel one is necessary, with a different handicap on the spellcaster benefitting from it. Perhaps an increased DC to Concentration checks?

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