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Not sure how better to phrase the title. Let me explain.

I recently migrated a 5e campaign across to PF2e. One player has been resistant to this move. As an example, he asked how a character might perform a Feint-like action, but making the target flat-footed to an ally, rather than themselves. I referred him to Distracting Performance, which he said wasn't what he meant, but we reached a point in the conversation where he made the following claim:

For every feat that says "you can do this thing", that inherently means "if you don't have this feat, you can't".

In other words, the breadth of character choices is actually restrictive.

So for instance, a character without Distracting Performance in principle has no way by which to get an enemy's attention. This appears to be his main gripe with PF2e as a system, as he sees 5e as flexible enough that a DM can 'just sorta make it up on the spot as necessary'.

I don't believe that a system is superior because it's easier to fill in gaps in the system ad-hoc. I know there's creating actions, as a route for DMs to create new actions on the fly, but this is different to a character attempting something that's already outlined, but behind a feat wall, so to speak. I understand his point - a character shouldn't be blocked entirely from trying to grab a creature's attention, just because they haven't taken the feat.

So I think the root of my question is how to handle a character attempting an action or set of actions that's facilitated by a particular feat (such as in the case of Distracting Performance), without having that feat, but also without drastically devaluing the feat.

RAW, is it a straight "no, the character cannot do that until they have the feat"? Or is there leeway in the system for "a character can attempt it, but the DC is then modified to hard / very hard (+2 / +5)?"

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm unsure of what the player wants. Does he want to get someones attention or does he want them to stop moving in the middle of combat? Seems like a big difference to me. \$\endgroup\$ – Ling Feb 12 at 8:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ You don't seem to be using that feat correctly. The feat allows for the use of a performance check to create a diversion. RAW, they can simply use the Aid action to give another character a bonus to hit. \$\endgroup\$ – Matthew Wells Feb 12 at 9:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ I see two questions here. First is "does the rules really are as the player pictures them?" and second "what to do about it?". First is perfectly answerable. Second is rather subjective. \$\endgroup\$ – Mołot Feb 12 at 9:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ Just to address your example, if your player only wants to confer the benefit of Feint to an ally, why not just flank the opponent? "When you and an ally are flanking a foe, it has a harder time defending against you. A creature is flat-footed to creatures that are flanking it." \$\endgroup\$ – Yopi Lapi Feb 12 at 11:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah... this is two different questions. One is "is this thing true for the rules of Pathfinder 2 and/or 5th ed?" The other is "What can I do to get my player on board with switching systems?" They both start the same, but they have very different clarifying questions, and potentially very different answers. \$\endgroup\$ – Ben Barden Feb 12 at 15:11
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It's always been this way

And it sort of needs to be; otherwise there is no point in character abilities!

In 5e, if my Paladin wanted to "hit someone in the legs to trip them" with his glaive, well, I'm not able to do that, unless I pick up some Battlemaster Fighter Maneuvers through a feat, multiclass, fighting style, etc. In 5e, if I wanted say that my Eldritch Knight, with her opportunity attack, casts Booming Blade, but I don't have the Warcaster feat... well, I can't do that.

For a lot of cases, we have Aid in PF2e (as Matthew Wells wisely pointed out). This would include the feinting for your friend case, but I would argue that flanking already covers that concept (and gives flat-footed).

But, in basically every RPG ever, there has always been limitations to a characters abilities. This allows for characters to gain these abilities, uniquely distinguishing them from other characters and giving them a since of progression and growth.

Taking the slippery slope all the way to its end, an argument that "things shouldn't be constricted by feats" is an argument that "nothing should be constricted", so everyone should have the abilities of every class at 20th level. But that's not fun, because that doesn't create unique characters.

A solution

I've had a few similar occasions with my rogue player in my campaign. My rogue wanted to basically muffle an enemy and kill them (the enemy was not unconscious or anything, just not suspecting the rogue to be hostile). I made a quick ruling in session (it was awhile ago, I think I called for a Grapple check, but said if she managed to succeed at that and take him out by the end of the round I'd say she did so silently - She didn't succeed). However, I then followed up with the player this way:

  • I apologized to her: "You know, I wasn't a big fan of that ruling in the end, and I want to come up with a solution that works better for both of us." (I did it in front of all the players; I think it is important that the players see that the GM really does care about player opinion, and really does care about a fun game for everyone)
  • I proposed a solution: "I think this would be best represented by the addition of some skill feats; I think it is too specialized an ability that just anyone should be able to do it, but I think its niche enough that it doesn't need to be a class feat or feature." (in your case, you could propose Aid, or your could homebrew something along those lines)
  • I got the player's thoughts: In this case, she liked the skill feats I had made, and Rogues have oodles of skill feats, so she said "yep, that works for me."

This worked out very well for my group! Note that the "solution" doesn't have to be homebrewing new mechanics every time - reflavoring existing mechanics is often easier (Using Aid for a distracting feint is exactly this)!

The Problem isn't the Problem

Now, you say in your answer:

I recently migrated a 5e campaign across to PF2e. One player has been resistant to this move. As an example,

If I'm reading this correctly, it doesn't sound like your player wants to like Pathfinder 2e. So they won't. You can answer this objection, and they probably still won't like the game. I can't speak for what kind of player they were when playing 5e, but I'd recommend approaching them (personally/privately) and asking something along the lines of: "Hello friend! Correct me if I'm wrong, but I get the impression that you might not be the biggest fan of Pathfinder 2e. It seems to me that the rest of the players (and myself) enjoy this system, perhaps even more so than 5e, but I want you to be able to have fun too! Is this a correct assessment? Can it be fixed short of switching systems back to 5e?"

There's a very real chance that your player says that it cannot be fixed short of switching back to 5e. At that point, you really only have 'tough love' responses, such as: "Hmm. Well, for the sake of the group and myself, switching back to 5e isn't an option. Perhaps we can both try really hard to approach next session with an open mind, seeing the virtues of different systems with different philosophies?"

If the player simply ruins the fun for everyone else and shows no signs of repentance, you may have to ask them to leave the group. This question and answer may be helpful then.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for cutting the heart of the matter, repeatedly! As systems go, Pathfinder is very focused on the complex mechanical resolution of actions. If that experience is not what a player wants out of a game, they will not have a good time playing Pathfinder unless you houserule it to be very different. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Feb 12 at 20:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ Over the course of (A)D&D's various editions, this has become less true. For example, in 1E characters simply couldn't use weapons with which they weren't proficient, i.e. wizards were incapable of wielding longswords or wearing armor. In 5E there's are game mechanics that encourage them not to, but they're technically able to do it (without adding prof. bonus to attacks, with disadvantage on certain rolls, with movement penalties, etc.). So, for your example of a paladin doing a battlemaster-like maneuver, a DM might simply rule he has disadvantage on the attack. \$\endgroup\$ – ktt4d Feb 12 at 22:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ktt4d I'm not as familiar with D&D pre-3.5, so thanks for the insight! One of the tricky things that I really didn't touch on is that from my perspective 5e seems to culture or philosophy that leans more towards things like the DM ruling in your example than it has in any other D&D edition (note I've mostly only played 5e and the Pathfinders). \$\endgroup\$ – ESCE Feb 12 at 23:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ESCE in that respect, 5E is a return to the style that was encouraged in OD&D and 1E. The difference is that 1E DMs were encouraged to make up new complicated and inconsistent rules. (Articles from Dragon magazine in that era usually consisted of some text that explained new tables of, say, the chances and effects of spell misfires.) Whereas 5E DMs are encouraged to apply simple and consistent mechanics to new situations in an ad-hoc manner. \$\endgroup\$ – ktt4d Feb 16 at 19:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ As an aside, I would like to note that a Paladin "[hitting] someone in the legs to trip them" is in fact perfectly valid according to 5e's rules, even without access to Battlemaster maneuvers... provided that it is a flavour description for using the Shove special melee action to knock the target prone. \$\endgroup\$ – Justin Time - Reinstate Monica Apr 12 at 23:02
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Feats allow abstraction of particular tasks away from the player, and ensure that certain checks will always pass. Unless a feat explicitly grants a new magical or otherwise supernatural ability, a player can still attempt the exact same task. They will face higher DCs, and may need to use more actions, but there is nothing making certain activities exclusive to feats.

The GM decides whether a task requires a particular proficiency rank.

-Skill Actions, Core Rulebook, pg. 233

General feats also include a subcategory of skill feats, which expand upon what you can accomplish using skills.

-Feats, Core Rulebook, pg. 255

If you're not sure what action a task uses, look for the most similar basic action. If you don't find one, make up an undefined action adding any necessary traits

-Adjudicating the Rules, Core Rulebook, pg. 491

In the scenario your player asks about, they would be making an Aid attempt to give another creature a bonus. This is perfectly allowable under the rules.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Note that some activities should be impossible without a feat, but this is because they are so difficult as to have impossible DCs, such as Crafting alchemical items with no training. \$\endgroup\$ – Matthew Wells Feb 12 at 9:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ I hadn't noticed the use of Aid to give a bonus to an attack roll. This is a really nice, simple solution, in part because it would stack with the flat-footed condition anyway. Thanks Matthew \$\endgroup\$ – Ben R. Feb 12 at 9:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ RE: "Unless a feat explicitly grants a new magical or otherwise supernatural ability, a player can still attempt the exact same task." A quotation from the rulebook saying as much would be valuable. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Feb 12 at 10:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ Source for your claims would be very helpful. \$\endgroup\$ – Mołot Feb 12 at 11:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ "Skill feats are a type of general feat that often grant you a new way to use a skill" this would seem to indicate that player's can't even attempt to use a skill in this manner before taking a feat. Not to mention "Anyone can use a skill’s untrained actions, but you can use trained actions only if you have a proficiency rank of trained or better in that skill." \$\endgroup\$ – willuwontu Feb 12 at 16:29
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Frame Challenge - Have a Session 0

First of all, I don't have much experience with PF2e, but this issue seems more table interaction to me more than anything. You've written your question in a manner to suggest you're looking for a RAW answer, but that's irrelevant since the player's uncomfortable with the rules and you're the GM who can change the rules if that's what the game needs.

Session 0 is something that's appropriate before starting any new game for the purposes of determining what general tone and rules everyone wants to play by. Given that your group is making a major shift from 5e to PF2e, I think it's probably appropriate to have a Session 0 so that issues like the feats described above can be laid out in a manner wherein everyone can discuss and agree to what is going to be played.

From the way you've phrased your question, it does not sound like this occurred prior to the shift to PF2e, but that doesn't mean you can't still do it. Better late than never. In fact, there's some benefit because now players can raise concerns after having played with the system.

Regarding your player's concern, I would recommend considering the notion that he is correct. Jeremy Crawford spoke on this a bit a few years ago as part of the UA for weapon feats that was out for consideration.

To build on Crawford's point, I can personally attest to a LARP I play in where they were making major updates to the rules and were so overly specific that they ended up making it so that only Artisan characters could learn the skills Craft Beverage and Craft Food. This was a problem, though, because by RAW it meant that only Artisans could make food and drinks. Obviously, this issue in the rules strained believability for a functioning world; but for whatever reason the game's creator insisted it was perfectly fine. As a community we pretty much all ignored it until it was errata'd out about 2 months later.

That said, your player seems concerned that you may argue that somebody can't cook a grilled cheese without the feat Cook Grilled Cheese (given the plethora of feats in Pathfinder systems, I'm not prepared to say this feat doesn't exist). I don't know if you'd rule that way or insist on there being a rule written down that indicates that someone can make grilled cheese without the feat but they take a -2 penalty or something.

Either way, the best way to address the concerns your player is to have a Session 0 where as a group you can work out areas of concern held by all participants. This one player stepped up and push back on the system change, but they may not be the only one who has concerns which haven't been address proactively. Thus, a group Session 0 is a good way for everyone to express concerns without putting anyone under the spotlight.

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