I’m going to go ahead and say that I’ve never really liked feats.People talk about how they’re good because they give players a way of setting their character apart from other characters with the same race and class, but I’ve never felt that sat right.
Papers and Pencils has an article up about the problem with feats, and it gives words to the issues I have with feats that I wasn’t able to express: namely, many feats ‘let’ characters do things that they should be able to do anyways. Now, I’m not sure I buy his complaint about Willful Deformity – he’s right that anyone can take a knife to their face, but is that really enough to warrant a mechanical benefit for it? And that’s kind of been my line for a while: sure you can do that in the fiction, but if you want a mechanical benefit you need the feat/trait/background/whatever.
I can’t find the article (or remember who’s blog it was on), but I read something recently that changed my mind on that a little bit. The article talked about how heroes in action movies — the guys we want our players to emulate — take crazy chances to get the job done; but players almost invariably take a more-cautious approach, choosing the tried-and-true tactics rather than trying anything fancy or risky. And the point they made was that this happens because there’s no benefit for players to offset their risk. If we want to encourage certain actions we need to have some mechanical benefit to offer players.
So when we have a feat that ‘lets’ a character do something they should be able to do anyways, it HAS to steal the mechanical benefits of that action in order to be meaningful. Take Power Attack. It ‘lets’ a character swing wildly, with the full force of their strength behind the blow. They sacrifice accuracy for damage. But why does this need to be a feat? Can’t anyone sacrifice accuracy for damage? That’s a bad feat.
Contrast it to a good feat, like Point-Blank Shot: you get a bonus to hit targets within a certain range. It makes doing something anyone can do easier if you have the feat. P&P propose the existence of Feats that let a character do something that isn’t available to everyone, but I can’t think of anything like that off the top of my head.
I think there’s also a problem with a lot of the prerequisites, the way feats fall into tiers, but that has more to do with what level those feats effectively become available and what that means (which is another topic).
Properly understood, feats should be special talents and knacks that a character has that makes them more capable that untalented peers. Feats that don’t accurately represent that, or worse steal ability that should be generally available, should be removed.