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5E Starting Feat - new players vs. veteran players

Blue

Orcus on a bad hair day
Premise: Any large section of disparate options that need to be read and understood on a mechanical level in order to create a starting character is a barrier to entry for new players.

Spell lists are an ur-example of this, where both cantrips and 1st level spells need to be digested, contrasted, and picked. And for leveled spells every class has a mechanism to eventually swap out a bad pick. But even there, many first time players choose to avoid full casters. For a first time player, even a half caster as a big advantage in that you'll have some practical familiarity with how the game actually plays at the table, and halve the selection by not doing cantrips.

Feats fit all the negatives of spells, but apply to all characters, and have no formal retraining mechanism if you realize later that you had chosen poorly. AL has chances to redo your character in case it's not working, but the base game does not have such a thing.

On the flip side, many experienced players bemoan that they can't customize or add in defining character traits (like Actor) until well after the character is already established. It's the primary draw of the variant Human. I've seen plenty of people (though still a minority) house rule giving a feat at 1st.

Proposal: Let's take the lessons from the casters. First, put in a retraining method for ASIs and feats, so people do not feel like they are locked in. Second, learn from the half-casters - give the feat at 2nd (character level) instead of 1st so there is some practical experience with how their character plays at the table.

Yes, it's power creep, that is true. But it addresses what seems to be a common complaint among experienced players while minimizing the burden on new players by pushing it back so it's not all at once, and giving the players a chance to understand the choice better.

Thoughts?
 

dnd4vr

Adventurer
I completely get your point. Yesterday one of the newer players asked to add a second character and since we were a player short, the DM agreed. However, with a relatively inexperienced player and a class he was unfamiliar with, it took hours to make up the character! He had to read about spells, etc. Luckily, we had a lot of bookkeeping and backstory to fill in, so the time wasn't "wasted."

I am completely for retraining if a player feels they went the wrong direction initially. It would be a bit of bookkeeping, but here's first draft:

Feats:
After you have chosen a feat, you can choose to retrain to learn a new feat. To retrain a feat, you have to stop using the feat you wish to retrain for one level. You must then spend another level learning a new feat. When you reach the next level, you have learned the new feat.

Ex. A human variant character takes Dungeon Delver at first level. At 3rd level, the player decides he wants to take his character more towards ranged combat and wished he had taken Sharpshooter. So, he gives up the benefits of Dungeon Delver when he reaches 3rd level. At 4th level, he taken Toughness (as normal), and is retraining for Sharpshooter. When he reaches 5th level, he has finished retraining and learned Sharpshooter.

The same can be done with ASIs. Your ability score drops a point for one level, the next level you are "training" a different ability score, and the next level you gain the point to your new ability score. I would restrict this to one point at a time and only one ability score at a time.

If you don't like the training during levels idea, use the downtime training period default of 250 days (roughly one years of standard workdays). Give up the feat or ASI, and spend 250 days retraining it to something else.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Thoughts?
I think that AL has a system for this because in organized play, you need some guidelines for fairness.

I think at a home table, you don't need a "system" for this. It can be as simple as, "Hey, Fred, my character seems to kinda suck. I like a lot of the personality and story we have around them, but it seems way under-powered, and doesn't work quite as I thought it would. Can I change some stuff?" with a response of, "Sure, let's talk about it..."
 

Blue

Orcus on a bad hair day
I think that AL has a system for this because in organized play, you need some guidelines for fairness.

I think at a home table, you don't need a "system" for this. It can be as simple as, "Hey, Fred, my character seems to kinda suck. I like a lot of the personality and story we have around them, but it seems way under-powered, and doesn't work quite as I thought it would. Can I change some stuff?" with a response of, "Sure, let's talk about it..."
Absolutely. But would a new DM with a bunch of new players realize that's an option? Why not put it into the rules so it's there for all?
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Absolutely. But would a new DM with a bunch of new players realize that's an option?
If we were writing the book really targeting new players, it would be a whole lot different, a whole lot longer, and probably not nearly as useful as it could be for experienced players - all core rulebooks are a compromise between such concerns. I am not sure this one is so darned necessary that it needs a rule, is all.

Why not put it into the rules so it's there for all?
It is generally easier for a GM to allow a thing that isn't explicitly covered, than to disallow it when it is explicitly covered. So, I'd rather see such things discusses in general advice of how to run a game, than to try to build a single system for it that all players would expect to be able to follow that the GM would then have to contradict if they saw an issue.
 

TwoSix

Lover of things you hate
I like it. I agree with @Umbran's general point that you don't "need" formal rules to make character tweaks or rebuilds, but giving the players explicit permission can help make them feel empowered.
 
Premise: Any large section of disparate options that need to be read and understood on a mechanical level in order to create a starting character is a barrier to entry for new players.
Always has been and always will be. New players to D&D (or nearly any tabletop RPG) ALWAYS need to accept that they will be doing a LOT of reading and learning. The rules books are hundreds of pages. Even if they are not going to play a full caster themselves they are doing themselves a severe disservice by not reading up on and paying attention to how full casters work within the game.

Feats fit all the negatives of spells, but apply to all characters, and have no formal retraining mechanism if you realize later that you had chosen poorly.
If experienced players failed to advise new players about avoiding the worst of poor feat choices nobody at the table gets to act surprised when characters don't work well. If nobody at the table is experienced enough to recognize the poor choice traps then I don't feel like the game should do an excessive amount of hand holding. It's one thing to learn the mechanics needed to play, it's another to learn to play those mechanics really well and the latter lessons are best learned through actual play.

Proposal: Let's take the lessons from the casters. First, put in a retraining method for ASIs and feats, so people do not feel like they are locked in. Second, learn from the half-casters - give the feat at 2nd (character level) instead of 1st so there is some practical experience with how their character plays at the table.
I don't think it's anything that needs to be written into the game rules to TRAIN players to optimize more and better. They'll do that on their own eventually if they care about it enough. And any player can say at any time, "This PC isn't working out. I'm going to make a new one." The player can then effectively just make the SAME character, just with one or two different choices. Only thing that prevents that kind of thing from happening is an obnoxious DM, and better DM's will simply say, "It's still early in the progress of the campaign, just go ahead and change your feat."

No DM worth gaming with really wants to be the one who says, "Ha! You were stupid enough to pick a lame feat! Eat it! It doesn't matter if you spend the rest of the campaign feeling like your PC sucks. The rest of us get to wallow in your disappointment and ineffectiveness and laugh at you. Stupid newbs..." If there is a change to be made it is to simply add relevant advice along these lines prominently in the DMG.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I like it. I agree with @Umbran's general point that you don't "need" formal rules to make character tweaks or rebuilds, but giving the players explicit permission can help make them feel empowered.
Yep. So, when my group picked up a new system (Ashen Stars) a couple years back, I told them, "Folks, some things in how you built your character you might not like. Talk to me if you aren't satisfied, and we can work stuff out."

There you go - explicit permission without a game rule.
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
Premise: Any large section of disparate options that need to be read and understood on a mechanical level in order to create a starting character is a barrier to entry for new players.

Spell lists are an ur-example of this, where both cantrips and 1st level spells need to be digested, contrasted, and picked. And for leveled spells every class has a mechanism to eventually swap out a bad pick. But even there, many first time players choose to avoid full casters. For a first time player, even a half caster as a big advantage in that you'll have some practical familiarity with how the game actually plays at the table, and halve the selection by not doing cantrips.

Feats fit all the negatives of spells, but apply to all characters, and have no formal retraining mechanism if you realize later that you had chosen poorly. AL has chances to redo your character in case it's not working, but the base game does not have such a thing.

On the flip side, many experienced players bemoan that they can't customize or add in defining character traits (like Actor) until well after the character is already established. It's the primary draw of the variant Human. I've seen plenty of people (though still a minority) house rule giving a feat at 1st.

Proposal: Let's take the lessons from the casters. First, put in a retraining method for ASIs and feats, so people do not feel like they are locked in. Second, learn from the half-casters - give the feat at 2nd (character level) instead of 1st so there is some practical experience with how their character plays at the table.

Yes, it's power creep, that is true. But it addresses what seems to be a common complaint among experienced players while minimizing the burden on new players by pushing it back so it's not all at once, and giving the players a chance to understand the choice better.

Thoughts?
I allow character rework through the first few levels. The official final character is the one at 5th. That allows everyone some time to work stuff out before a pick becomes permanent.

Retraining feats as their own special take? Why should feats get special retraining and other choices not? You cannot rethink your subclass and it's a much bigger early decision that feats. Whst about subclass choices like totem abilities?

Again, yo slee for learning curve, in my games, the character gets locked in at 5th. But I dont add any late gsme optimizer redo for feats alone.

However, I think its certainly a good thing for GMs to be flexible for major overhauls of character as game progresses, through setting and story - pretty much the opposite of feat swap.
 

dnd4vr

Adventurer
If that were put into a book as a rule, I'd ban it at my table instantly. So what if your character takes a less than optimal path? Decisions have consequences.
This is a good point actually. We generally allow major changes only in session 1 or 2, and minor changes up to level 3. Once you select your subclass, your character is defined and if you really don't like it that much, make a new character you will like. Your "penalty" is you come in with a slight setback in XP, but that isn't really a big deal and good role-playing can make up that XP quickly.
 

Blue

Orcus on a bad hair day
If that were put into a book as a rule, I'd ban it at my table instantly. So what if your character takes a less than optimal path? Decisions have consequences.
This thread is explicitly about finding a balance between new players and old. So I have to assume you mean this for a brand new player as well as an experienced one.

What I am reading from your comment is you would actively penalize a new player for the entire life of their character for not having the a high level of system mastery and for their lack of practical experience.

That seems rather unwelcoming to grow our hobby.
 

Blue

Orcus on a bad hair day
I like it. I agree with @Umbran's general point that you don't "need" formal rules to make character tweaks or rebuilds, but giving the players explicit permission can help make them feel empowered.
AL seems to disagree with you. They have formal rules for changing the character around.

At the very least, would you put it in as advice?
 

Blue

Orcus on a bad hair day
Always has been and always will be. New players to D&D (or nearly any tabletop RPG) ALWAYS need to accept that they will be doing a LOT of reading and learning. The rules books are hundreds of pages. Even if they are not going to play a full caster themselves they are doing themselves a severe disservice by not reading up on and paying attention to how full casters work within the game.
Pish tosh.

Expecting all new players to have read hundreds of pages before ever playing is not only a huge barrier to entry, it's not at all founded in real life.

I can give anecdotal examples left and right, including four that I run for and one I play with, but I urge you to talk to people who can come to D&D via friends, if they read the whole book before making their first character.

I'm sorry, I have to dismiss this out of hand. "Some" definitely will. "All" or "most" is a different story.

If experienced players failed to advise new players about avoiding the worst of poor feat choices nobody at the table gets to act surprised when characters don't work well.
In some circumstances, sure. Someone getting invited into a home group. But a big place lowering the barrier to entry to new players is AL. If a new player shows up at a FLGS wanting to try this new game, you're saying in every case the expereience players will take time fromt he slot to instead critique the character, change it mechanially without alienating a new player who just made a character and may resent "oh don't play a beastmaster and you should have picked a race that gives you a bonus to dex and while you may want a high CHR it leaves you with odd numbers so you should redo you scores like this".

And any player can say at any time, "This PC isn't working out. I'm going to make a new one." The player can then effectively just make the SAME character, just with one or two different choices. Only thing that prevents that kind of thing from happening is an obnoxious DM, and better DM's will simply say, "It's still early in the progress of the campaign, just go ahead and change your feat."
So it's better to only have the option to trash a character, rather than the options to trash it OR fix it.

And "Sir Brandar the II, exactly the same as Sir Brandar but I changed a few mechanical things" is now a best practice.

And the exact thing you are having an experienced DM saying is what I was saying all DMs could be saying. So the player-turned-DM who's nervous and not confident in making rulings and doing everything by the book has guidance that's okay.

No DM worth gaming with really wants to be the one who says, "Ha! You were stupid enough to pick a lame feat! Eat it! It doesn't matter if you spend the rest of the campaign feeling like your PC sucks. The rest of us get to wallow in your disappointment and ineffectiveness and laugh at you. Stupid newbs..." If there is a change to be made it is to simply add relevant advice along these lines prominently in the DMG.
This is a quote from this thread, today, where a DM is saying exactly what you said no DM would ever say:
If that were put into a book as a rule, I'd ban it at my table instantly. So what if your character takes a less than optimal path? Decisions have consequences.
 

Blue

Orcus on a bad hair day
Yep. So, when my group picked up a new system (Ashen Stars) a couple years back, I told them, "Folks, some things in how you built your character you might not like. Talk to me if you aren't satisfied, and we can work stuff out."

There you go - explicit permission without a game rule.
But that explicit permission is only for your game. Not every DM will do this. An example I used earlier was the new player-turned-DM who is not confident in making rulings and sticking as close as they can to the books.

I don't understand why something that you point out several times as something reasonable DMs do is suddenly not a reasonable rule if put out there so that newbies, both on the player and DM side, have it in front of them as an option.
 

Blue

Orcus on a bad hair day
Retraining feats as their own special take? Why should feats get special retraining and other choices not? You cannot rethink your subclass and it's a much bigger early decision that feats. Whst about subclass choices like totem abilities?
Respectfully, the post was about getting feats at/near character creation. When you talk about getting subclasses before feats that's not the case in what is being discussed.

I in no way was advocating or not advocating retraining subclass. But that's a choice that a brand new player will make (again, baring exceptions) after they have some practical experience with their character under their belt. They will uniformly be in a better place to understand the mechanics of what are being offered (which don't always match with the vision the fluff promises) specifically as it applies to a character they have been playing for the last two levels.
 

Blue

Orcus on a bad hair day
This is a good point actually. We generally allow major changes only in session 1 or 2, and minor changes up to level 3. Once you select your subclass, your character is defined and if you really don't like it that much, make a new character you will like. Your "penalty" is you come in with a slight setback in XP, but that isn't really a big deal and good role-playing can make up that XP quickly.
So it sounds like you already do what I was suggesting - allow new players to tweak their characters after they hit play and they have a better understanding of what how it actually all fits together.
 

dnd4vr

Adventurer
So it sounds like you already do what I was suggesting - allow new players to tweak their characters after they hit play and they have a better understanding of what how it actually all fits together.
Yep. When we began our table about a year ago, the DM and myself were the only two experienced gamers. The five others we've had come at one time or another were all newbies, not only fresh to 5E but D&D and RPGs in general. Even he and I were new to 5E! We've lost two (one moved away, another had romantic differences with a player who is still with us),

Now, even if someone brings in a new character like I mentioned in my other post, he has a session or two to make major changes, minor tweaks for slightly longer as long as the DM approves. However, once the character seems "set", you are stuck with what you have.

But, as I said, you can always have a character leave and bring in a new one if you aren't happy with what you have. Our DM might make you wait a session or two until he can write one character out and bring in a new one, but otherwise you are free to change characters at a whim.

I am currently playing my second character in the campaign. The first went off with another group when our party split. I might play him again someday, the DM might use him as an NPC, or he might fade away into obscurity...
 

TwoSix

Lover of things you hate
AL seems to disagree with you. They have formal rules for changing the character around.

At the very least, would you put it in as advice?
Oh, absolutely. I don't have a problem with formal rules; informal rules are really only good for groups with already high levels of trust. And even then, a formal rule will help players who are less comfortable speaking up and "asking for favors", as it were. This is especially true if the change in question might not be viewed as "power neutral". There are already rules in the PHB for changing your known spells, for example; I can certainly see why a player might be leery of asking for additional changes beyond those already within the scope of the rules because of a concern of looking like they're powergaming.
 

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