15
\$\begingroup\$

For a new campaign, I'm considering removing the Weapon Finesse (WF) prerequisite of BAB +1. I'd like clerics, monks and especially rogues to have access to it at first level. I'm trying to suss out if there's a balance issue that I'm not seeing somewhere.

WF itself is not a particularly strong feat. If a character attacks with a melee weapon, they can add their Strength modifier to attack and damage without spending a feat. That's much better than WF and makes it seems like just a 'feat tax' for Dexterity based characters. There's also the issue that, while non-martial classes can quality for WF at second level, they often don't have another feat to actually take it until third level.

Is there a game-balance reason to restrict access to Weapon Finesse to BAB +1 characters?

\$\endgroup\$
26
\$\begingroup\$

No, there is no good balance reason

The designers may have imagined there was; it’s conceivable they considered the option of Weapon Finesse as your 1st-level feat (or Weapon Focus, Exotic Weapon Proficiency, Quick Draw, and so on) to be important advantages of full-BAB classes. I tend to believe it was more of an “imagery” thing, though – full-BAB classes were the “weapon masters” and so weapon-related feats tended to get this requirement. Not because balance demanded this, but rather because their image of what each class was “supposed” to be like. But either option is pure speculation on my part, nothing more.

The theory:

Regardless of what they were or were not thinking when they wrote the feat, the BAB +1 requirement on Weapon Finesse is not only unnecessary (just as it is not for Weapon Focus, Exotic Weapon Proficiency, or Quick Draw), but is also exceptionally problematic. That’s because, unlike the other feats I mention (with the possible exception of Quick Draw), Weapon Finesse is a build-defining feat – someone with Weapon Finesse is going to have low Strength and high Dexterity, and is going to be interested in melee combat. Thus, they need Weapon Finesse to function correctly.

Worse, this description, of a high-Dexterity, low-Strength melee combatant, does not describe most full-BAB classes – you can make a Dex-based fighter, certainly, and even a Dex-based barbarian with the right supplemental material, but these are not the norms for those classes. Fighters get proficiency with heavy armor and shields as a major class feature; you cannot use those on a Dex-based build. Paladins are worse – same proficiencies, but far fewer feats. And rangers are worst of all – their ability to ignore the Dexterity requirements of their Combat Style feats is a major class feature, one of the only ones that is both relatively unique and relatively useful for that class.

And then you have medium-BAB classes that, unlike the full-BAB classes, are often perfectly described as high-Dex, low-Str melee combatants. Monks and rogues wear light armor if they wear armor at all, have ¾ BAB, and find themselves in melee. Rogues in particular see a lot of advantage from high Dexterity: requirements for Two-Weapon Fighting feats, associated score for critical skills. These are characters who want to build around Weapon Finesse.

Which sucks if you are level 1, and have BAB +0. You are forced to sit through two whole levels of hideously poor accuracy, just so you can make the math work by taking Weapon Finesse at level 3. This doesn’t add anything to the game, it just makes those classes suffer needlessly.

The practice:

The BAB +1 requirement on Weapon Finesse (and most other feats, honestly) is waived in the overwhelming majority of games I play in (the only games where it isn’t, that I can recall, are those in which no one wanted it and therefore didn’t bother asking the DM), and every single game I DM. In fact, most of the people I play with forget that it has that requirement. And our games are better for it. It allows us to play at low levels without being forced to suffer through unnecessary glitches like those caused by Weapon Finesse’s requirement.

I strongly recommend every DM to waive that requirement. I’d also recommend doing so on other, similar feats (certainly each of the ones I listed earlier). To not do so, I think, is a mistake. A mistake that the authors of Player’s Handbook made, true, so an understandable mistake, but a mistake nonetheless.

In fact, I would echo Thales Sarczuk’s suggestion, and strongly consider just making Weapon Finesse a free option.

\$\endgroup\$
12
\$\begingroup\$

Well, that's not only a good house rule, it's a wise one!

Most classes that do benefit greatly from Weapon Finesse (Rogues, Monks, some Ranger and Fighter builds and Bards) are actually way over underpowered when compared to full casters like Clerics, Druids and Wizards. Giving those classes a bit of more freedom when picking up feats can help to reduce that difference of power, but definitely will not be enough to make them overpowered.

I would suggest to you something even more radical: just give the feat for free to anyone interested in making a Dex-Based, non-full-caster character. You certainly will not break anything by doing that!

\$\endgroup\$
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ I do agree that making the feat free is not at all unreasonable. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jan 28 '15 at 18:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ It doesn't really help full casters; for the sake of parsimony I suggest you just make it free for everyone. \$\endgroup\$ – the dark wanderer Jan 28 '15 at 18:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ Oh, it sure helps. If you do a touch-attack based cleric or wizard (okay, not the optimal build) and gives that feat for free, you would be giving a huge boost! \$\endgroup\$ – T. Sar Jan 28 '15 at 18:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ At low levels, it helps a little, but really touch attacks become trivial even with poor BAB and a +0 bonus from the relevant ability score. It’s a rare spellcaster that would need to worry about it enough to bother taking Weapon Finesse as a feat. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jan 28 '15 at 18:45
0
\$\begingroup\$

There are reasons. Whether good or not is debatable.

It might help to think of it this way:

Strength and Dexterity have an inverse relationship that is affected by size. The bigger you are, the stronger you are and the lower your maximum possible dexterity. The smaller you are, the more dexterous you are, but the lower your maximum strength.

There are six basic combat statistics divided between Strength and Dexterity. In the default character, three go to Strength: Melee To Hit, Melee Damage, and Ranged Damage. Three go to Dexterity: Ranged To Hit, Armor Class, and Initiative.

Add Weapon Finesse, and the 3/3 split becomes a 4/2 split, as Melee To Hit becomes a function of Dexterity.

Add Power Attack on top of Weapon Finesse, and that 4/2 split becomes roughly a 4.5/1.5 split, because any boost to Dexterity now potentially adds to melee damage as well. For the price of two feats any boost to Dexterity makes you strike faster, get hit less often, hit more often with both ranged and melee attacks, and even adds to your damage.

A number of factors mathematically skew this bias back in favor of Strength, like damage scaling by size, the double Strength bonus in a two-handed grip, and the inability to power attack with most but not all finessable weapons. One minor factor like this is the +1 BAB prereq on Weapon Finesse. In essence, the designers tried to provide reduce the incentives to making every combat character a Spiked Chain wielding Halfling who never boosted anything but Dexterity.

They did the job too well, because now nearly everybody overvalues Strength and undervalues defense, and because not-lethal-enough combat is viewed as a race between the PCs to see who deals the most damage and/or gets in that final Save or Die in the shortest period of time.

\$\endgroup\$

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.