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I am thinking of giving the PCs of my new campaign a bonus feat at level 1, to allow some more customization and to reflect the fact that they are graduating from a very stellar college of... adventuring. Eh, lets not dwell too much on the details.

So, would giving all PCs a bonus feat at level 1 throw racial balance off? Would I have to compensate for humans?

I know and accept that challenges might become easier because players now have more options. I am fine with that.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Would this mean that variant humans start with 2 feats? Or do you use base human + free feat? \$\endgroup\$ – Szega Jun 26 '17 at 22:16
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No, it's fine.

I used this house rule in all my 5e campaigns since the D&D Next playtest in 2013 and we never ran into any problems.

Yes, the players are slightly more powerful, but I only run hard or deadly combat encounters anyway, so it works out fine.

The players really enjoy the added customization.

However, I usually don't hand out the feat at L1 for free. Instead, each player can pick it as soon as his or her character's backstory is on the campaign wiki. Added benefit: this motivates even the crunchy optimizers to invest some thought into their characters background.

I did disallow variant human though, since I feel it's not balanced versus other races and did not want all optimizers to always play human. With the feat at L1 but no variant human I feel I get the best of both worlds.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for citing actual experience! Just curious: did you see anyone using feats to get stat boosts? ie, start as half-orc with STR=17, then take Heavy Armor Master to get STR=18 at level one? \$\endgroup\$ – Dan B Jun 26 '17 at 22:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ This is an interesting thought, to disallow human variant. \$\endgroup\$ – Mindwin Jun 26 '17 at 22:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, of course some players took stat boost feats (I would too for some characters). It means they get the higher bonus a few levels earlier. It's a trade off - some took non stat boost feats, too, so ... Anyway, since I don't run easy or medium fights (I feel a fight where players don't fear for their characters lives is boring), I didn't notice any negative effects. \$\endgroup\$ – Mala Jun 26 '17 at 22:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ To offer some minor corroboration: I haven’t played much 5e, but every 5e game I have played has gone with bonus feat at 1st. Seemed to work fine. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jun 26 '17 at 22:50
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It will not hurt racial balance

I give everyone a free feat at level 1, and variant humans can get 2 feats instead of 1. Even then, my players did not go picking variant humans for their characters. I think it actually emphasizes the equivalence between v. humans and other races, because now a human can start with a +3 to one stat (two feats that grant +1 and a +1 from the racial bonus), whereas any other race with a +2 to any stat and a free feat can also achieve a +3.

This benefits you as the DM, too

Depending on how you build your NPCs (if they are allowed to have PC levels), and depending on how meticulous you are at encounter design/balance, allowing everyone an extra feat is actually very freeing for you, too. Now, you can create NPCs that are leveled like PCs, but with a lot more customization options that the players also have access to.

When I create encounters, I keep track of CR and other balance considerations, but I also try to establish a sense of "fairness." As the DM, I have infinitely many options available to me already. However, when I use only NPCs that have the same restrictions as the players, it establishes:

  • The player characters are normal people in the world, because there are others just like them, establishing a feeling of integration with the setting

  • The world is made of a predictable and knowable set of rules, rather than an ever-changing set of rules depending on my mood as the DM, which enhances player agency

  • A sense of fairness, because the DM is using opponents with abilities that the players can anticipate if they put effort into it

If you have this style as well, then a restriction on the players is a restriction on you. Freeing the players will also free you.

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There's ways to introduce feats to the whole party through training in downtime outside level, This would make the party about 1-2 levels more powerful than without it, particularly if you are talking about feats like Alertness, Great Weapon Master, and Sharpshooter. While my DM didn't do this at level 1, when we had some money and a lull, we did this about level 3-6. It significantly changed things.

A 5e feat is about the same as 3 feats from 3rd edition, or (on average) an epic level feat at 50-150% power. A few are weaker, a few are stronger, but one thing is certain: 5e feats are no joke (except the dump feats)

A 3e feat would have been like +1 AC vs. 1 opponent or attack per round. A 5e feat is like +2-6 AC in a bound system where monsters that used to have +30 to AC now have +10.

So the biggest change will be considering the characters closer to CR 1-2 each, instead of closer to CR 1/8 to 1/2 each. I imagine they could handle trolls and ogres 2-3 levels earlier, and running through the module books would feel very different - your players would certainly feel safer and more optimistic.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ What feat gives +6 AC? \$\endgroup\$ – Captain Man Dec 5 '18 at 22:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think the claim is that feats in 5E have the equivalent value of up to +6 AC in 3E. Right? \$\endgroup\$ – mattdm Dec 6 '18 at 12:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ Defensive Duelist. adds your proficiency bonus, which depending on level, is +2 to +6 to your AC vs. an attack each round using your reaction. \$\endgroup\$ – Tristian Dec 7 '18 at 4:29

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