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So everyone knows that the feats that give bonuses to skills are... lackluster at best. I was wondering if anyone has tried implementing any changes to these feats to make them more attractive choices to select. I'm trying to implement regional feats a la the Players Guide to Faerun, which seem better than the PHB skill feats but only marginally so. I'd like to encourage my players to select feats that better express their character concepts without feeling like they're making some huge sacrifice.

Many of my players fall pretty heavily in the Expression spectrum of the Eight Aesthetics of Play described here: (Angry DM: Eight Kinds of Fun) and I include myself, but we all recognize how pitiful the PHB skill feats are. I like to encourage choices that better define characters but I also don't want to discourage optimization. My aim is to turn skill feats (or background feats that emphasize skills) into something that a skill-focused optimizer would consider.

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Is the problem here the one that your players don't take skill-related feats, or the one that they aren't expressing themselves via character building? –  Ernir May 16 at 23:28

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I don't think rewriting the dozen or so skill feats to be generally better will solve your problem. If the goal is "to encourage my players to select feats that better express their character concepts without feeling like they're making some huge sacrifice" and "encourage choices that better define characters but... [encourage] optimization" then

Write Feats for Specific Characters

I know I'm at least tilting the question's frame here, and I apologize, but if the problem is that printed feats do not satisfy your group's desires for Expression, you are totally allowed to write feats for those player-characters that do satisfy your group's desires for Expression. These needn't be skill feats; these could be any feats that meet your players' characters' needs.

Start the process by asking questions. Determine what needs aren't being met by the current feats. Then write feats that do meet the needs of the player' characters. Heck, have players write feats that meet the needs of their characters then turn dials and flip switches on those feats until those feats fit with your shared visions of the character and the campaign.

There are better avenues for flexing your homebrew muscles than this site, however. Many role-playing game forums have a place where you can post your homebrew stuff and have it critiqued.

And when you're ready to go further, scrap the current classes completely, and just write the classes your players want to play instead of making them traverse 5-ft. squares made difficult terrain by scattered books, read KRyan's excellent answer about how to homebrew classes.

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The simplest way to optimize skill-based feats is to introduce a "+1 per X levels". This in addition to the number of skill points you would normally benefit from.

For example:

Skill focus[Swim] = a skill bonus of 2 +1 per 6 character levels. Subsequently gains +1 skill point per 4 character levels.

The above mechanic helps to balance the feat for those who take it at advanced levels.

This could be applied to save boosters like Lightening Reflexes - but at a slightly more gradual gradient (8 character levels and 5 character levels respectively).

I would also see little problem toning down Improved initiative to be identical to the skill focus.


A less simple way would be to add utility to certain skills - such as allowing for a combat bonus in certain situations.

Examples:

Skill Focus [Move Silently] - When attacking a creature, any detection tests by creatures in the vicinity are taken at a -4 penalty.

Skill Focus [Climb] - Gain a +2 to combat checks against creatures that are also climbing. Also suffer -2 less penalties for fighting creatures who are not climbing (standing/ hovering/ flying).

Skill Focus [Alchemy] - When using alchemical devices in combat, their DCs are increased by 2.

Skill Focus [Escape Artist] - Gain a +2 bonus to attacks and checks when being grappled - and a 2 point reduction to penalties when fighting bound or pinned.

Skill Focus [Craft Armour] - Ignore 1 point of AC, 2 points of armour toughness when fighting.

And so on...

You can talk things out and try to keep things balanced. And this can prove more fun than the simpler method. Remember - D&D is imagination running rampant ;)

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So basically the problem is that combat related feats (including magic feats) and non-combat feats are mixed together - any time you take a feat, you have to choose whether it's going to be a combat feat, or a non-combat feat...

And the problem with non-combat feats is that they might get used, or used a few times a session, while a combat feat is something you know you WILL use and WILL have a defined set effect, while skill might have minimal result depending on the GM you're playing with.

As a player, it nearly always favors combative feats over non-combat feats as a the core issue of play.

So what's the solution?

Silo the non-combat feats

Don't make it a choice between the two options. Make a list of non-combat feats, give the players one at 1st level and every X number of levels thereafter. If a player wants to use their normal feats for the non-combat ones as well, they can do that too.

Use skills regularly and to significant effect

Skills should be used regularly, and the beneficial effect should be notable. If I pour a lot of points into a Knowledge skill and roll and all you give me is some info I pretty much already could have guessed as a player? ("Manticores are carnivores") - I'm going to feel completely cheated out of having put points into it. Likewise if I only get to use a skill rarely.

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Great advice, but still isn't going to make +2 to two skills a great use of a feat, unless those are the only things you can get for non-combat feats. –  KRyan May 18 at 5:36
    
There's not too many non-combat skills that don't involve either combat (damage, attack, movement, hitpoints, ac, saves, etc.) or magic. The rest pretty much deal with skills. It's been some years, are there some other major non-combat/non-magic ones that have come up that are much better options? –  Bankuei May 18 at 6:37
    
"There's not too many non-combat FEATS" is what I meant to say. –  Bankuei May 18 at 16:13
    
In core? Some, but you'd run out. Out of core? Never any reason to take those. –  KRyan May 18 at 17:05
    
So what do non-combat Feats out of core do that's so much better? –  Bankuei May 18 at 23:21

Take inspiration the mythic feat versions of the skill feats. For ecample, the Acrobatic mythic feat reads:

Your grace and fluidity are beyond compare.

Prerequisite(s): Acrobatic.

Benefit(s): The bonus on Acrobatics and Fly skill checks from Acrobatic increases by 2. In addition, you can expend one use of mythic power to treat an Acrobatics or Fly check as if you had rolled a natural 20. You must decide to use this ability before making the roll.

Depending on how much you want to boost the skill feats, you could:

  1. Just let people have the mythic feat atop the normal skill feat, straight up
  2. Let them advance skill feats to the mythic feat for free when they hit level 10
  3. Just take the reroll mechanic from the mythic feat and let them have X rerolls/day. This also neatly helps rein in the min-maxing because it's not just "making the big +X bigger."
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Note that most characters won't have any "mythic power" to fuel this with, making it a still-rather-lackluster 2 points higher bonus than before. –  Matthew Najmon May 17 at 15:11
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Good lord dude, show some imagination - if you're hacking this, you'd give them some uses. "1 use/level day!" done. –  mxyzplk May 17 at 17:51
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I figured that. I was simply trying to point out such a need. Leaving it implied isn't sufficient, because a lot of people won't notice that detail until they're already in-game, and are trying to patch the problem on the fly. –  Matthew Najmon May 18 at 19:46

A simple option is, while minding game balance and adjusting opponents as necessary, of course, to allow your players to spend their Intelligence bonus points on Skill Focus feats instead of extra languages during character creation, going above the normal limit of Feats, and perhaps even letting them gain one more point if they give up their character's basic literacy (ability to read and write their native tongue.)

You may also consider allowing them to pick a new Skill Focus feat (still above their standard feat limit) if/when they increase their Intelligence upon attaining 4th, 8th, etc. level.

If this still isn't enough, yet another twist is to allow a single re-roll, per gaming session, of any skill test made with a skill they have Skill Focus for. (Again, mind your game's power level, though.)

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