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I'm new to Dungeons and Dragons 3.5, and I'm having trouble figuring out what makes a feat either weak or strong.

This answer, for example, says that Combat Expertise, Dodge, Mobility, Spring Attack, Whirlwind Attack, and Weapon Focus are weak; that Improved Trip and Weapon Finesse are good for the right character build; and that Divine Metamagic, Leadership, Natural Spell, Quicken Spell are strong.

But I'd like to know how I can judge whether a feat is weak or strong.

For example, some handbooks rate feats as good or bad, but how do those handbooks' authors reach their conclusions? Is there an objective measure? Or is a feat's value completely dependent upon the character or the campaign?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This is a good answerable question - just because one of the possible answers is "it's completely dependent," as the OP surmised, doesn't mean that the answer to "is this objective or subjective" is subjective. Reopened. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Jul 29 '16 at 12:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ As Pork points out, getting a really comprehensive feel for this requires fairly complete understanding of the character builds that are using the feats. However, a much simpler rule of thumb that I find helpful is: Feats that provide small numeric bonuses to things you can already do are bad. Feats that let you do new things are good. This isn't a foolproof heuristic, but it lets you avoid a lot of the worst feat traps that commonly trip up new players. \$\endgroup\$ – A_S00 Jul 29 '16 at 18:12
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Honestly, the best way to figure this out is to read through a lot of the optimized builds. Generally, the things you see there will be the 'strong' feats.

If you want to get a general idea without hours of reading, you can look at things like-

  • What options does this add that don't require me to do anything? Am I likely to use these?
  • Can this be replaced by a class (either base or prestige) feature, or a skill check?
  • Does this fill a gap in my build?
  • If this feat requires an action, how often would I use this? How is using this better than the alternative?

Of course, those questions are moot if the feat is required for a prestige class you want to take. A couple things about the specific feats you mentioned (from what I remember, I haven't looked at 3.5 in like 2 years)-

Your weak feats here tend to buff things that aren't used a lot, that there are better options for or that don't really help much (I think dodge gives +1 AC vs 1 opponent. After level 2 that's not a huge amount). A lot of the low level feats fall into this category and are taken mostly to get to better feats or as a prereq for a prestige class. The exception to this is the feats exclusive to level 1 that are 'background' type feats. Those are usually awesome and can be a cornerstone to tricking your way into a prestige class.

Your 'good for the right character' or 'situational' feats are pretty strong, but only if they're the focus of the character. Improved trip lets you trip things more easily and gives you a free attack when you succeed, if you have a build centered around tripping things, that makes this awesome. If you're a wizard, this is probably terrible (I don't know of a trip wizard build but the internet is weird). Weapon Finesse lets you swap out your STR modifier for your DEX modifier on some things, if you're a high DEX low STR character that's beneficial.

The 'strong' feats are basically awesome no matter what. You'll see one or more of these in almost every optimized build. Leadership gives you an extra character as long as your CHA isn't terrible. Natural Spell lets a druid cast spells while shapeshifted. As a caster class not being able to cast generally sucks. Quicken spell lets you cast more spells in a round. More stuff in less time is always good. Divine Metamagic lets you trade turning attempts (read: things you almost never use) to power Metamagic feats (read: things you always want to use).

I guess, getting here, I'm now thinking the core of what makes something awesome is doing more stuff in less time. That's actually a pretty good mantra for designing an optimized build. Some of the 'weak' feats listed (spring attack, whirlwind) look like they fit this, but have minuses, for those primarily that as a melee fighter you generally want to take a full attack action on a single target and neither of those lets you.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ CO and TO boards are your best goto for learning just how a feat can be used and for what. (Character Optimization and Theoretical Optimization, respectively). Minmaxboards are a good place to start reading or asking questions. \$\endgroup\$ – nijineko Jul 30 '16 at 1:55
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I find that one of the most important things to consider when choosing a feat is its constancy of effect. The mounted combat feats are a good example here; they are very strong when the character is on a mount, but do nothing anywhere else. The percentage of combat where your character is actually on a mount is likely to be pretty low, hence I would avoid those feats.

Counter example would be Improved Grapple. For most characters it's garbage because fighting unarmed is very sub-optimal for the vast majority of classes and unlikely to come up much. However for a Monk, particularly a high-strength build, it can be amazing to the point of grappling becoming the majority of the character's damage, because the Monk does lethal damage unarmed.

I also agree that option-opening feats are usually a good choice. You mention Quicken Spell, which is a good example here (and IMO on the short list of candidates for strongest feat in the game). Without it, you can cast one spell per round, with it you can cast two, and there's no other non-equipment way to do that.

Simple numerical bonuses can be strong, but only if they apply to crucial statistics. The +2 to Skill feats are thus weak, as most skills are not crucial.

Finally, you may want to consider feat choices based on more than mechanical optimization. Option-opening feats could be worthwhile in the sense of making your character more fun to play as well.

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This is a challenge as for each character what are good or even vital feats can become worthless for another.

There are some things to consider.

  • What synergies does the feat have with what you already posses from your class, feats, allies, and equipment?
  • If you have done a general plan for your character, you should have an idea of where you want to go. Does this feat help you get there, perhaps by allowing you to qualify for another feat.
  • Does the feat some how help keep you alive? If in the game you keep facing charm type spells than the feat which increases your will save is worth its weight in gold. If you already have a strong will save, then its far less useful.
  • Test the feat out. How often are you able to use it in general combat? What conditions are needed for the feat to come into play?

Ask your DM/GM if retraining is allowed in case you take a feat and find its just not working out.

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