Over at Nerdarchy the YouTube channel Nerdarchists Dave and Ted take a closer look at some new ways for fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons characters to gain mastery in one of their capabilities or discover the ability to do something completely new. In other words they’re talking about 5E D&D feats and in particular the recently released Unearthed Arcana 2020 — Feats playtest document. This Unearthed Arcana presents 16 new feats to add new twists to characters whether through magic, martial prowess or mastery of new techniques. You can check out these playtest feats here and hear what Dave and Ted had to say below while I take a look at some other practical applications and do a bit of speculation. So let’s get into it.
Unearthed Arcana feats for the future!
Let’s start off with some speculation about the future of 5E D&D with Unearthed Arcana 2020 — Feats for a possible indicator. Later this year we can expect to see a new product from Wizards of the Coast containing new 5E D&D character options. While there hasn’t been an official announcement about this future product yet, there has been unofficial announcements and principal rules designer Jeremy Crawford expressed excitement as regards this mysterious product.
— Jeremy Crawford (@JeremyECrawford) June 23, 2020
Over the last few years the D&D brand’s growth has been tremendous, drawing in new players and fans from around the world. Along with new players and fans come new ways to play and interact with 5E D&D, and new voices joining the conversation surrounding the hobby. Players engage with the game itself through the characters we create while Dungeon Masters guide them through expressing the story of these adventurers. Whenever new character options emerge they connect to the game in two distinct ways — mechanically and narratively — and the design team considers both when they develop new content. When it comes to feats, and specifically the sorts of feats found in the latest Unearthed Arcana, I see some extremely beneficial results.
Mechanical benefits of feats
Considerations of balance against existing character options aside, the mechanical benefits of feats are clear. Characters gain bonuses to ability scores or new features, or both. The feats in this Unearthed Arcana go a step further though because many of them simulate the flavor of a particular class, which paves the way for alternative methods to achieve character goals often relegated to multiclassing. Here’s a few examples:
- Artificer Initiate. Like Magic Initiate and Martial Adept this feat gives characters the flavor of the artificer class. Imagine a fighter with resistance and absorb elements added to their arsenal. Or message and disguise self. Or any combination of an artificer cantrip and 1st level spell.
- Eldritch Adept. An Eldritch Invocation you can swap out whenever you gain a level lends a lot of versatility to a spellcaster who takes this feat. A Nature cleric with Beast Speech stays on brand and an Arcane Trickster with Devil’s Sight comfortably lives in the deepest shadows.
- Tracker. Adding hunter’s mark to a character along with advantage to track creatures gives that ranger vibe. A Scout with this feat increases their value at scouting by a lot.
Narrative benefits of feats
Opening new doors to a wider array of character concepts for storytelling many of the feats in this Unearthed Arcana document allow characters to simulate multiclass outcomes without switching classes. This is a wonderful development, even considering characters generally don’t make reference to their class in the context of the game itself. A wizard who takes two levels of fighter for that juicy Action Surge doesn’t refer to themselves as a wizard/fighter. At least, they don’t in my experience. What many of these feats accomplish is a way for a character to incorporate different features and arrive at a player’s concept for their character without taking away from their chosen class. The narrative quality of this arrangement comes into play through the pathway to specific concepts through a shortcut that reaches the destination quicker. Here’s a few examples:
- Fey Touched. Perhaps This Is Your Life options from Xanathar’s Guide to Everything reveal your character grew up in the Feywild, or one of your adventures brought you to this very cool plane of existence and you want to represent how they were changed by the experience. A bump in Intelligence, Wisdom or Charisma, misty step and let’s say Tashsa’ hideous laughter suddenly adds a whole new dimension to a barbarian.
- Piercer. Bards already boast tremendous versatility and maybe your College of Lore bard fancies themselves a swashbuckling magician and now they’ve got extra oomph behind their rapier strikes. Or maybe you want to lean hard into being a lizardfolk and put your bite to frequent use and now you’ve got some additional power in those Hungry Jaws.
- Tandem Tactician. I’m already imagining a cowardly character who nevertheless contributes to the group’s success by using both their action and bonus action to Help, doing so from an additional 10 feet away and providing the Help to up to four allies in one turn.
A lot of people use D&D Beyond for character management. A LOT. Sure there’s probably a majority of 5E D&D players who do not use the digital tools there but for those who do having access to these versatile feats can get more mileage in other ways too. Ever want to give a character a special power or additional feature but couldn’t figure out how? With feats like the ones in this Unearthed Arcana built into DDB now it’s super easy to incorporate additional powers outside the scope of class and subclass. Creating special features as feats is the recommended way to go about granted characters special abilities at least at this time. Furthermore, since some of these are noodly when it comes to creating them with DDB’s homebrew tools, you can use them as a template for making your own and make sure they integrate with the character sheet properly.
Another practical use for these or any feats makes a Dungeon Master’s job easier — creating new magic items. Class features as magic items is nothing new. Take a look at the ring of evasion for evidence. Want to create a vicious weapon that leaves lingering wounds? Slap the Slasher feat’s features onto a scimitar and now you’ve got a wicked serrated edge. Take the Chef feat’s features and create enchanted cook’s utensils capable of producing magical meals. How about a Metamagic amulet with extra Sorcery Points and a Metamagic option? Easy peasy.
Speculation of what’s to come for 5E D&D
The very earliest marketing for 5E D&D focused on the modular nature of this edition. Everything could be taken apart, rearranged and put back together however designers and players saw fit. Feats themselves are one of these modular chunks, being an optional part of the game to begin with. This was a smart design choice for two reasons. First it means players can mold the experience to their tastes and second it goes a long way towards mitigating a call or desire for a new edition.
Imagine later in 2020 a new 5E D&D book releases with the alternative character creation method mentioned in the tweet above. This is a big change from the rules we’ve been playing with for the last several years. In fact it’s a big enough change that a number of players out there express frustration. (Which is weird because they can go ahead and continue playing however they like!) It would not surprise me to see many other big changes in a potential book like this.
What if this fresh take on characters introduces a classless system for players to cobble together their own unique set of features through feats alone? Matt Corley and M.T. Black explored this concept in Whispers in the Dark and we’ve discussed this internally at Nerdarchy for a few years now too. I think it would be really fun and interesting to explore this in great detail in an official capacity. Providing players with all the tools they need to create and express their imaginations in a new way sounds really cool. I’ll admit when I consider this possibility there’s a small part of me wondering if the D&D-ness of the game would get muddled or lost along the way but at this point what even is D&D anyway? It’s becoming something of a generic trademark as far as tabletop RPGs go and this would be another step in that evolution.
As for my favorites from the bunch in Unearthed Arcana 2020 — Feats I’m quite fond of Chef, Eldritch Adept and Fey Touched. For starters I love incorporating cuisine into 5E D&D whether it was Spelljammer: Ingest Quest, Dragon Stew or simply making food a part of the storytelling to some extent. Also, while I have never played a warlock and if I’m honest it gets under my skin whenever I encounter the notion they’ve got more roleplaying opportunities baked into the class, the feat version of warlock flavor really does present some very intriguing roleplaying circumstances (especially the ability to swap out the Eldritch Invocation when you level up). And lastly I really love fey stuff so I have a deep fondness for anything related to it.
But what about you? What are your favorite feats from this Unearthed Arcana? What would you love to see in a future product with new character options, or what do you dread seeing introduced to 5E D&D? Let me know in the comments and as always, stay nerdy!