Feats of Inspiration – D&D character building from a single feat
It may come as a surprise to you, but I’m not a huge fan of feats in fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons. I think these variant D&D rules work, albeit better with specific D&D character building guidelines, but ultimately I greatly disliked feats in D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder and these aren’t enough of a step up for me to enjoy them. However, in an effort to enjoy every aspect of the game and maybe even give some character inspiration to others, I’m going to go through some of the feats in D&D and develop some characterization around them.
D&D character building with feats
Let’s take a look at the Alert feat. It gives you a significant initiative boost, you can’t be surprised while conscious, and attacks coming at you from a hidden creature don’t receive advantage. When I see this feat, I think of a paranoid individual, someone always ready. After all, just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.
This would be a character who on a few nights in camp, might set up their backpack inside their bedroll, while hiding in the bushes keeping watch. A character who has nailed a mirror into the back of their shield to always be able to glance behind them when skulking down a dark dungeon hallway. This character might use sardonic dark humor as a vent for their paranoia, stating things like, “I’m sure the lord had no idea about this troll in his cellar,” or “No, I think the dragon simply meant she wanted to take us to the tavern for a nip and a bite.”
I think the joy of a character like this is finding ways to make the flaw interesting, rather than obnoxious. It’s easy to have the character question everything and suspect every NPC of inevitable betrayal, but this can get old very quickly. Save those instances for when you as a player actually suspect subterfuge and it’ll create an interesting scene where the other characters might wave you off as paranoid, but your paranoia might be proven correct. Finding small things to sprinkle in a scene or two every session that take less than thirty seconds to describe can go a long way to fleshing out this flaw and making this feat something boiled into the very being of the character.
AthleteI like the Athlete feat. I think it works for a lot of character types and it gives you an ability score bump as well. I always hate having odd ability scores and “half-feats” can help offset this. You get a Strength or Dexterity bump, climbing no longer slows you, and your running jumps are triggered with 5 feet of running, rather than ten. These small changes to mechanisms can make your character really shine in physical scenes.
I like to think of a character who takes this feat as one that, in a world a magic, decides the most powerful force in the multiverse can still be the well-honed body. A perfect mortal form, worked and chiseled over their lifetime. This character is a marvel to behold, especially when tackling normally difficult tasks. The party must scale a cliff face, and this character scales the rocks like an expert climber, almost leaping up the wall. Upon reaching the top, the character paces back and forth, ridiculing or maybe lightly prodding the other characters for their weak forms. The spellcaster who floats up might be given a scowl, the character knowing these tricks are powerful, but limited.
The body can be relied on long after the magic has been spent. This might be a character who always takes to the front and might even underestimate beings smaller than them. The Athlete feat is an excellent example of boosting your presence in the exploration pillar but also using it as a flaw in the social pillar. It does bear mentioning to keep the flaw light, however. A boisterous character, especially one who looks down on others can wear thin, especially if these jokes are aimed at the party constantly. A helping hand and a smirk can help soften the barbs… No pun intended.
Another half-feat. Love it. This gives you a Charisma bump, advantage on checks to pass yourself off as someone else, and you can mimic the speech of a person you’ve heard speak or creatures whose call you’ve heard. My immediate tendency is to simply use this character as an excuse to use movie quotes and do impersonations of comedians and actors, but I fear that would break immersion, derailing the session terribly.
Something a little more useful might be a character who has made a living taking things or learning information from individuals or organizations through non-violent means. They slip in under the guise of someone who works for the group and gets whatever the client is requesting. This character has done this so many times that maybe they sometimes can’t grasp who they are as a person. They might accidentally and subtly adopt mannerisms and traits of whoever they’re talking to without even noticing it. If they meet an NPC who speaks with an accent, after a few minutes this character might slip into the same accent. This character might have a difficult time understanding the gravity of certain situations, as they never feel truly in their own skin. The character might have a habit that every time their draw their weapon, they make a soft growl of a basilisk, flicking their tongue out. When they laugh, they might cackle like a gnoll, stuck with this laugh after mocking it too often.
What do you think? Do you ever take mechanisms like feats or class abilities and try to weave D&D character building and personality around and through them? Let me know some of your best ways to incorporate variant D&D rules like feats into your character’s personality.
Speaking of inspiration, in the video below, Nerdarchists Dave and Ted offer some tips and suggestions for using the Inpsiration mechanic in D&D including different uses beyond making a roll with advantage. For example, letting players use their Inspiration to give the Dungeon Master disadvantage on a roll.
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