What are the Best Feats? The Results Are In!

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on September 6, 2011

Two months ago we began this rollercoaster ride by asking the simple question “What are the best feats in 4e D&D?”. Today we end the speculation and share the results that you helped us collect. We are ready to announce the findings and provide our commentary on the results.

The poll is now closed. We had 353 people cast 1151 votes. Although this is clearly just a small sampling of gamers, I think we can safely say that the trending we saw was indicative of many, if not most gamers.

Let’s begin with the results. For the past month our active poll asked our readers to choose the top four feats from a list of 10 provided. Here are the results.

Feat Name % of Total Vote Votes cast
Weapon Expertise (and variations) 50% 177 Votes
Backstabber / Killing Curse / Lethal Hunter 43% 152 Votes
Improved Defenses 36% 127 Votes
Multi-class feat 34% 120 Votes
Toughness 34% 118 Votes
Dwarven Weapon Training 33% 117 Votes
Improved Initiative 30% 104 Votes
Superior Will 26% 92 Votes
Master At Arms 24% 85 Votes
Durable 17% 59 Votes
Total Voters: 353

The Gold Goes To…

I don’t think it was any real surprise that Weapon Expertise topped the poll. Exactly 50% of all votes went to the feat that provides +1 to attacks. What did surprise me is that more people voted for Weapon Expertise than Master at Arms (at a 2:1 ratio). Both feats proved the same +1 to attack but Master at Arms lets you stow and then draw a weapon as a single minor action rather than one minor to stow and another minor to draw.

I realize that the new Weapon Expertise feats from D&D Essentials also provide some other benefit on top of the +1 to attack, but it’s been my experience that those bonuses don’t come into play nearly as often as the need to stow and draw items during combat. Maybe it’s just the kind of characters I’m seeing at my game tables.

The Silver Goes To…

If you’re playing a striker your job is to inflict as much damage as possible as quickly and as often as possible. The feats that increase the extra damage dice from d6s to d8s came in second place with 43% of the vote. I suspect that people who didn’t vote for the increased damage dice feats rarely or never play strikers. Among those who do it’s usually a tough choice whether to pick Backstabber / Killing Curse / Lethal Hunter to increase their damage output before Weapon Expertise or after. In almost all cases these are the 1-2 feat selections for strikers, and with more strikers in the game than any of the other three roles it makes sense that these feats came in second.

The Bronze Goes To…

Step one is to improve your chances of hitting, step two is to improve your damage output and step three is to find a way to avoid getting hit. Rounding out the top three is Improved Defenses. In early heroic tier I agree that this is a fantastic feat, however as PCs earn a few levels I’ve found that this feat is not nearly as useful as the Superior variations. Most of the time one of your Fort, Ref and Will defenses is really good to begin with and the extra +1 makes little difference. Going with the Superior feat that improves just one defense (usually the one that desperately needs help) often makes more sense.

On top of the focused improvement is an additional extra ability. These extras have proven to be game changers at my table. Superior Fortitude’s resist ongoing damage often means the difference between consciousness and unconsciousness. Superior Will lets the PC save against daze or stun at the beginning of their turn even if a save is not normally allowed. Of all the conditions in D&D I find daze and stun the two most annoying because they either negate your turn entirely or limit your actions. That save (if successful) can keep you in the action.

Hounourable Mention Goes To…

Multi-class feats are incredibly popular. A vast number of characters I’ve played with during public play have a multi-class feat. Considering that these feats generally give you skill training and an additional power they are a lot more useful than just taking the Skill Training feat. Most players see this as a good way to get two things out of one feat. Regrettably may players take this feat to power game and rarely work the multi-class aspect of the feat into their character.

A common tactic when choosing a multi-class feat is for a striker to multi-class into a leader role in order to give themselves a way to heal. The other common option I’ve seen is for strikers to choose another striker class to increase damage output. A Rogue that multi-classes into Ranger (or vice versa) can really do a lot of damage in one round, especially if they roll a crit.

Using The Results

Now that we have the results we have to decide what to do with this information. The reason for doing this exercise in the first place was because I noticed that most players were taking the same feats over and over again for every character. This made me wonder if some feats were so critical to the game that perhaps they should be awarded to every player for free at the beginning of play. The other option we kicked around was to remove these feats from the game entirely. I suppose these questions still stand. I don’t know if these results make implementing either of these choices any easier. But it does add fuel to the debate.

Should any of the feats that made out final 10 be awarded for free or removed because they are so common? I guess it’s really up to the DM to decide. I know that many DMs I play with already give everyone Weapon Expertise as a free feat during character creation (as a DM I do not).

What are you thoughts? Do you think that the feats that provide a +1 to attack should be given to all PCs for free since the majority of players will end up choosing these feats anyway? What about removing them from the game entirely? Do you have any other comments about the poll results? We want to hear from you.

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1 Lahrs September 6, 2011 at 10:31 am

First, I want to thank Dungeons Master for the beta key into the Neverwinter Facebook page. It is highly appreciated, and the game is rather enjoyable.

I disagree with your assessment that Master-of-Arms has a better secondary effect compared to the Essentials expertise. I do not have the books in front of me, so I can’t say for certain all of the expertise are better, but the two off the top of my head, axe and bludgeon, both have great effects. Axe expertise gives every axe a brutal 1. This becomes a moot point if someone takes the Executioner Axe feat (which is a top priority in my opinion for any two handed axe user), otherwise, free brutal is great. Bludgeon expertise is even better, adding an additional space to all pushes and slides. Knights or any other class that has a push and slide effect can become great at controlling as well as their normal role, all for a feat they would take anyway. Just my take.

2 QuackTape September 6, 2011 at 11:18 am

I might be in the minority, but I feel that these feats should not be given out for free (or any feat for that matter). If you want a character who was fantastically good at hitting consistently, then you’d get the feat. Is every PC under the sun the perfect shot? Well no. As a DM, I’d rather adjust the math of my encounter make up than turn every PC into Rambo.

For example: The PCs can’t hit that Solo I threw at them? Well then I’ll scale back the number of minions I added to the encounter to make sure its challenging but not overwhelming. After all, its only going to make the fight more epic if the PCs have trouble hitting and then the RP elements can shine more than the tactical nuke strike some PCs can dish out. If the Leader has to Aid Another to give the bonus to attack needed so that the Controller can hit, that just adds to the RP value of it.

Also, giving away feats could allow some power gamers to just power game even more. Working within the frame of the game currently many folks can build unstoppable characters without too much trouble, so why make it easier? At the end of the day if the PC is most concerned with Hit, Damage, and Defense then they’ll do that whether the DM makes it easy for them or not. Those who are more interested in well rounded characters will do that too and probably pass on these until a later level (if ever). My one PC doesn’t have Weapon Expertise in mind in the Heroic tier and will probably only get Improved Defense in Paragon so that he can stay on his feet as the Leader (then again he’s a melee combatant who only uses a dagger, but that’s a different story).

3 froth September 6, 2011 at 12:24 pm

the reason nobody picked man at arms is bc theres only a few builds that switch weapons. staff expertise gives great, great benefits, and light blade expertise is simply the only choice some builds (scouts, melee thieves and rogues, etc) will ever take. im kind of surprised toughness and durable made the list. those are sucker feats in my book, but i guess in theory they could have some worth depending on your dm and party makeup. id take resilient focus and cunning stalker 100 times over before those though (in keeping with the all heroic tier options)

4 Paik the Kenku Monk September 6, 2011 at 5:44 pm

Love your site and read it religiously. Keep up the great work. Also what store are you associated with. My gaming group is wondering as am I. I think its 401 Games on Yonge in TO but I am probably wrong.

5 Svafa September 6, 2011 at 5:56 pm

Weapon Expertise, Master At Arms, Superior Will, and Improved Defenses should all be removed in my opinion. I’m not sure it’s possible to remove them from 4E as they are key to balancing combat, but that’s the problem. The additional bonuses are alright, but the static +1/2 should be removed from the scheme entirely.

Durable, Improved Initiative, and Toughness are ok to keep, but should be tuned more to certain roles than they are currently, possibly by adding bonuses like those from Superior Will/Ref/Fort.

6 Erik September 6, 2011 at 10:13 pm

My simple fix is to remove all Expertise feats and Improved Defenses and simply give all characters +1 to attacks and defenses at 11th level and again at 21st level. I also have a much more detailed and complicated fix that involves reworking the magic item system, but it’s too long to discuss here.

7 Joshman1987 September 6, 2011 at 10:34 pm

I remember when 4e first came out and there was the distinct lack of “+1 attack bonus” feats. After coming out of 3.x where those bonuses just appeared everywhere, it was a nice change. Then PHB2 came out, and suddenly the expertise feats were everyone’s first choice again. You’d think that as they progressed with the development of the game and fine-tuned the numbers, they could adjust accordingly without the need of “mandatory” feats, even with additional kickers.

8 Ameron (Derek Myers) September 7, 2011 at 11:38 am

I guess it really comes down to the kind of character you end up playing. If you’re using a hammer and don’t have any push powers than the extra +1 square to push is wasted. I find that regardless of what kind of character I’m playing I’m always swapping my weapon in and out for another item, usually a potion, especially at higher levels. This is why I feel that Master at Arms is going to be a better feat for a wider variety of characters. Just my 2 cents.

I think you’ve described the issue really well. I find that at my table few players take feats for role-playing reasons, it’s all about number crunching. My thought was that if I give them the number crunch feats for free they will be more likely to take the feats that make them more well-rounded characters. But I completely agree that as soon as you give any player a free feat there’s a real risk they’ll abuse the system even more. In the end I think it’s up to the DM to do what he feels is best for his group. Just because something is good for your group doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be good for mine (and vice versa). It’s the ongoing discussion like this that helps me make these calls at my table.

As mentioned above I find that it’s not so much that I’m going from weapon A to weapon B as much as it’s weapon A to potion and then back to weapon A. I got sick of having to drop my sword to draw a potion and then be unarmed when I get an opportunity attack. This is why Master at Arms is so popular with my group.

@Paik the Kenku Monk
We play D&D Encounters Wednesday night at Dueling Grounds and Monday night at Harry Tarantula North. Feel free to join us at either location.

I’m with you. I think the game would be a lot more interesting by removing all the feats that give those +1s.

I like your suggestion but agree it would mean a reworking of the way 4e works.

Amen to that!

9 Matt Gallinger September 7, 2011 at 12:19 pm

Interesting but I think the feat set up is fine as is. The fact that you can only choose one feat at first level (unless you’re human) is one of the limiting factors of the game at first level and by itself it makes the game more interesting. if I take toughness for my fighter I can’t take the expertise and get the plus one to hit until next level.

If you’re going to give everyone at first level an advantage they wouldn’t normally have you’ll need to make the monsters and encounters a bit more challenging…

Rather than allowing the power creep, why not start your campaign at seceond level and give everyone two feats (or three for the aforementioned human) to start with.

10 Thoth September 8, 2011 at 7:29 am

@Ameron The wording on the feat is: “Also, you can use a minor action to sheathe a weapon and then draw a weapon.” Using MaA to draw potions or other non-weapon items is not a legal use of the ability. If you and your group allow MaA to function as you indicate, it’s no wonder it rates higher in your perception – you’ve made it more powerful.

11 monty September 13, 2011 at 12:28 am

Feats that just give a blanket +1 to all attacsk, damage rolls, or defenses should just be baked into the game’s math.

Given that monster defenses and attack bonuses unfairly scale faster than the PCs attack bonuses and defenses, it’s a simpler fix to award the feats for free than to remove them: it’s less work for the PCs to add a feat to the character sheet once than for the DM to have to adjust defenses and hit points on every encounter.

I would generally recommend adding the Expertise feats at 1st level, and the Improved Defenses feat at 5th.

I’ve toyed with the idea of giving all Defenders free toughness and all strikers their damage die booster for free too. The problem is that there isn’t a clear low-level no brainer feat archetype for controllers and leaders (which is actually good design in my opinion). Also, not all modern strikers have a damage die boosting feat.

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