I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man's. I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.

- William Blake

Friday, August 26, 2022

Can "Old School" work with feats?

As you know, my new OSR book, Old School Feats, is out. Most people that read the book had positive feedback so far. For the ones who haven't read it, some liked the idea, while some objected that "old school" and "feats" cannot work together

And, to be honest, I see their point. I have taken many measures to avoid any of the perils and hassles that a feat-based system can cause to your game. With this post, I hope to address some of the most common objections to the concept of using feats in old school games.

Notice that some points I address here can be observed by looking at the previews (as half the book is in the preview), but if you want a brief overview, this post will be quicker.

Let's go!

Analysis paralysis: it takes longer to create new characters. I agree with this sentiment, which is why the book suggests a feat progression that starts on level 2. Here it is:

I also suggest a method for random feats and feat packages to make the choice even faster and simpler. And feats are divided in five categories (general, fighter, cleric, thief, magic-user), so you know where to look. Clerics and magic-users have fewer feats to choose from - since they already got lots of spells to analyze (come to think of it, maybe I should have used the same progression  both - well, I think clerics are OP and I didn't want to enforce this opinion on readers that, I assume, like B/X as written).

This is somewhat similar to Shadow of the Demon Lord (review) and something it is worth exploring further in the OSR, which I plan to do.

Notice that having four classes that only get distinctions on level 2 makes character creation faster than having a dozen classes (rangers, paladins, illusionists, etc.) and having to go through each one of them (and analyze what they get at higher levels, since you cannot change class later, etc.) before starting the game.

Old School Feats + B/X (or BFRPG, OSE, etc.) is, in short, faster and simpler than AD&D or the Rules Cyclopedia, or even than OSE advanced.

Complexity. On a similar topic, having feats could add complexity to the game - more resources to keep track of, new mechanics, etc. Again, I agree with the sentiment, so I was careful to avoid new mechanics, preferring to play with existing pieces. 

There are feats that give you more languages, more hirelings, raise your ability scores or lowers saving throws, give you more HP, lower your chances of getting lost, or even allow you to start the game with a random potion - using the random potions table that is already included in B/X. No new skills, no "X times per day" powers, no "if you have this feat you have permission to disarm your foes".

To mention the Rules Cyclopedia again, since it is my favorite "all in one" D&D book, it has complex weapon proficiency rules that enhance martial prowess greatly. I think these are useful, but you could replace many powers with simple feats.

The whole book is about 20 pages. Even by B/X standards, it is not a huge amount of complexity.

Power creep. Could feats make PCs too powerful? Certainly. But this is not a trait of feats in general; only specific feats (most would agree that adding weapon focus from 3e to OSR would not change balance). I tried to makes feats balanced - and also to keep or increase balance between classes (as you can see, fighters get more feats, etc.). There could certainly be some overpowered feats that I have missed, although I have been careful... If you noticed one, let me know!

But, overall, fighters with OS Feats are still less powerful than AD&D or RC fighters, and I think even a 14th-level fighter with 5 feats is not as powerful as a 14th-level wizard with NO feats.

Other objections. If there are other objections, I'd like to hear them too!

In short, I do not think having feats is incompatible with old school games - it is the implementation that matters. Bad feats may be a hassle to your games... good feats will improve it significantly. I hope I did a good job with this one, but let me know in the comments if there is something else to fix!

UPDATE (2024): I addressed another common objection here - do feats stop OTHER PCs from trying certain actions?


  1. I've been using "microfeats" in my Labyrinth Lord game for the last three years and it han't had any negative effects. Perhaps the choice of calling them "feats" is the issue? I think that the word conjures up the late-era 3e mess and is now a trigger for folks who suffered through that dark time. I just called mine "perks" instead.

    1. Makes sense! Maybe a different name would avoid this trigger...

  2. Frankly, I loved the book. I think it's pretty balanced and gives players the mechanical customization they crave without add.significant complexity.

  3. Hey I created a similar thingy although my goals were a little different. In addition to add customization to classes, I wanted to suppress all but the 4 human classes and thus my "feats" include racial feats and generally feats to emulate a wide range of characters with these 4.

    1. I like this idea too. This book focuses on the 4 human classes, and I didn't add feats such as "darkvision" etc. (although I did something similar in Dark Fantasy Basic). Overall I think having "build your own race" feats is a great idea, I might tackle something like this next...

    2. Mine are not so grainy as to allow to build races from scratch: they just regroup advantages so that a race is made by the combination of two feats (so that you can build a half elf for instance by having just one). If you are interested I can send you a pdf - it contains one or two images that are not mine so I do not post it publicly.

    3. Sure, feel free to send me (ericdiazdotd@gmail.com or reddit, etc.). As long as I can use any cool stuff as inspiration! ;)

      My own take on races so far has been kinda minimalist too:

      1. Humans.
      • +1 to four ability scores of your choice.
      • One additional skill (see “customization”).
      2. Dwarves.
      • +1 to two ability scores of your choice (usually Strength and Constitution).
      • Darkvision with a 60' range.
      • +4 to detect abnormalities (such as hidden passages, recent changes, moving walls, built-in traps, etc.) in buildings, dungeons, etc.
      • +2 bonus to all saving throws.
      • Limitation: cannot use great weapons (greataxe, etc.).
      3. Elves.
      • +1 to three ability scores of your choice (usually Strength, Intelligence and Dexterity).
      • Darkvision with a 60' range.
      • +4 to hear noises.
      4. Halflings
      • +1 to two ability scores of your choice (usually Dexterity and Constitution).
      • +1 to ranged attack rolls.
      • +2 to stealth (hiding, moving silently, etc.), +4 in the wilderness.
      • +2 AC when attacked by large creatures (larger than human size).
      • +2 bonus to all saving throws.
      • Limitation: cannot use great weapons (greataxe, etc.).

      At least for now...