To round-up the final month of the long but definitely well needed series of Unearthed Arcana articles provided by Jeremy Crawford and Mike Mearls, we have feats for skills and races in two separate Unearthed Arcana materials. After April, the Unearthed Arcana column on Wizard’s of the Coast’s’ website will return to a bimonthly release. Overall, I have been pleased with the amount of effort displayed by the R&D department. It has reassured many fans, players, and content creators that Wizards are still neck-deep in development and did not slouch around for the better part of a year. Certainly we have seen published adventures and supplemental product but still nothing regarding new options and items for players and DMs to the scope of a new handbook or the like. Closing the long series of Unearthed Arcana, we have feats which are sometimes a touchy subject between DMs and players.
If you were a DM during the 3.5 Edition or 4th Edition of D&D, you’ll recall the rampancy of feats and the ever-growing issue of feat escalation and refinement. Meaning that over time, as the game continued to develop, feats became more streamlined and powerful which often times either broke the game or made many features inadequate. I have mixed reservations for the feats presented, the skill feats seem too identical to each other and their boons can be out of hand without DM oversight. As for the feats for the races, some of them grant utility and expand more beyond simply races and class choices.
Feats for Skill – the Devil’s Advocate in Game Design
If you’ve read any of my reviews, you’ll know I’m a big fan of class features granting skill proficiency. It makes sense if a class archetype grants spellcasting to a martial class should grant profiency in the Arcana skill. I have my own reservation about how player characters accrue skill proficiency but that’s for another day. All the Feats for Skills presented generally grant a relevant Ability score bump (to mitigate the loss of an Ability Score Improvement), proficiency in a skill, and a utility feature that coincides with the skill. I like the idea of granting proficiency and a utility power, even the Ability Score increase is being generous.
But there’s a minor flaw to the concept presented. For one, all the feats feel extremely cookie cutter, which is an aesthetic disappointment but overall feels lackluster upfront. The eye-catching feature from these feats happen on the expand bullet; the feat grants proficiency in the relevant skill but additionally doubles the profiency bonus for the character if they are already proficient in the skill. At first, it seems like a great idea, it rewards the character for taking the loss in a total Abilty Score increase but making them better at something they may already do. But this secondary bullet can lead to problems, especially for class features that may grant double proficiency bonus already; like the Expertise feature in Bards and Rogues. These features shouldn’t coincide with each other, and therefore shouldn’t affect the overa play. Though it needs to be stressed that any sense of doubling, regardless of its source, should only happen once. The Player’s Handbook does not really make this distinction clear and could lead to some debauchery if left unchecked.
We’re going to blitz through the feats for skills and cover the utility feature granted from each of them.
- Acrobat. Using a bonus action to make an Acrobatics check to negate difficult terrain is a useful feature depending on the campaign. Depending on what sort enemies or terrain you encounter, this is a good feat to possess for your more agile characters.
- Animal Handler. The feature is interesting, it doesn’t work with any familiars or animal companions from the Beastmaster conclave but it does work for creatures that the character has successfully made an Animal Handling check. Like a horse that the character is riding on, making them attack the enemy, or even a friendly falcon that the character had felt some food earlier. There are some wide potentials for this feature, but again it depends on what sort of situation and locale you are located. Even in urban settings, it can helpful to procure the aid of a friendly hound or even a cat to assist. It’s very fluid with this applications.
- Arcanist. Not as great as the Magic Initiate feat which grants two cantrips and a 1st-level spell of the respective spellcasting class, but this one does not rely on an ability scores. So you have a Rogue with this feat, who knows some magic and how to sense it but no additional training was employed. The only real advantage of this feat is granting proficiency for the Arcana skill for non-magic users or for characters who take spellcasting classes later in their careers.
- Brawny. There are some odd interactions with this particular feat, especially with Bear Totem Barbarians and Goliaths. Traditional logic would implicate that a Goliath with this feat would get both benefits of this feat since the Goliath already has an identical feature. As for Bear Totem Warrior Barbarians and this feat, these features may stack only in part to way the features are worded (which is a RAW or Rules as Written). Since the feat grants the character the classification of being a larger sized creature, which doubles the carrying capacity already and having the Bear Totem doubles the carrying capacity based on its value, with both features a Bear Totem Barbarin could have four times carrying capacity. This a decision best reserved to the DM whether they wish to veto it or not; it’s a similar interaction for a Goliath who happens to be a Bear Totem Warrior Barbarian as well. It’s a powerful combination/interaction and should treated with caution.
- Diplomat. This is great feat for social interaction encounters, granted the feature bestows the charmed condition which is both a positive and negative. The positive is that all the implications of being charmed work in favor of the character, the negative is all the implications of the charmed condition for those who have advantage or immunity against it. But overall, it can be a useful feat outside of combat and helps players (especially new ones) with how to use the Charisma (Persuasion) check in a meaningful manner.
- Empathic. While the name of the feat could use some work, the feature itself is quite powerful. If the character succeeds a Wisdom (Insight) check against a humanoid enemy’s Charisma (Deception) check, than the character gains advantage on their next attack roll until the end of their next turn. This a nifty feat for Rogues to take, especially in either ranged or melee combat. The rogue uses their action for this feat, uses their Cunning Action to Dodge to avoid being pummeled to death, on their next turn they lay down the hurt with Sneak Attack granted from having advantage on their attack roll. It’s a nice two-hit combo especially for Rogues that cannot rely on the tank to set up Sneak Attacks all the time. For other classes, it’s still a useful feat but no where as impactful as for the Rogue.
- Historian. I really like this feature, after succeeding in the History check, the ally gains a bonus to their roll based equal to your proficiency bonus. Definitely helpful and useful. So besides the ally gaining advantage on their next ability check, they have an extra bonus attached to it. Very useful especially if the players feel the DC for the ability check is particularly high. While it doesn’t have any applications in combat, it’s very flavorful and can be useful in a variety of places.
- Investigator. Taking the Search actions as a bonus action is very useful since Search is limited to Wisdom (Perception) and Intelligence (Investigation). For example, to search for an enemy combatant that may be hidden as a bonus action, finding them and then having the ability to attack them is quite useful. Definitely a worthwhile feat for any class, yes it does take up a Feat slot but quite a nice feature to acquire especially if your DM tosses lots of hidden enemies at you.
- Medic. A great feat when the party makeup does not consist of a dedicated healer. After a successful Medicine check, the party can spend Hit Dice and gain their maximum value from their Hit Dice for the rest. It’s also very good if the dedicated healer has used a lot spell slots and needs to conserve them for later. This is also a great feat for characters who are secondary healers, like Paladins, Druids, Rangers, and Bards.
- Menacing. I like the mechanics for this feat, by replacing an attack roll when making the Attack action, the character can make an Intimidation check. On a success, the humanoid target is frightened. Not a bad way to go, especially for the more martial inclined characters who gain additional attacks through the Extra Attack feature. Doesn’t work well for non-humanoids but it’s more a show of force than anything else. Still useful if the party deals with a lot of humanoid encounters.
- Naturalist. Just like the Arcanist feat but for Druidic magic. Gaining druidcraft and detect poisons and disease is a decent boon, but again it falls short compared to the Magic Initiate feat’s offerings. The only boon, like the Arcanist feat is the added proficiency to a relevant skill which in this case is the Nature skill.
- Perceptive. A very useful feature especially when dealing with entities hidden in shadows or some measure of cover like fog or the ilk. When combined with Darkvision, the characters essentially mitigate darkness up to 60 feet essentially, since Darkvision treats darkness as lightly obscured (which means they normally have disadvantage on the checks). Very useful for encounters dealing with darkness or underground exploration.
- Performer. I like the idea of this feat being used as a distraction, when I read it, it reminded of this hilarious scene from Guardians of the Galaxy. See below:
- Quick-Fingered. A very tricky and fun feature that can lead to lots of fun and deaths. Imagine placing a bottle of alchemist fire in an evil noble’s pockets and having it ignite on them. Planting evidence to frame someone? The possibilities are endless and are only limited to the imagination and devilry of your players and DM. This can be loads of fun but I do ask for a word of caution to not let it get too far out of hand.
- Silver-Tongued. Just like the Menacing feat, this one works using the same Attack roll trade-off but granting advantage on the next attack roll and allowing the character to move without provoking opportunity attacks until the end of the next turn. Very useful for Rogues, great for any other martial class as well. A rogue’s Sneak Attack is triggered whenever they the target is adjacent to an ally or if the Rogue gains advantage on their attack rolls. Any feature that bestows advantage is always a welcomed sight for Rogues, and this is another powerful feat to add to their arsenal.
- Stealthy. Not the greatest feat, it’s one that tries to add mobility to stealthy characters like the Rogue. While the 10 feet of being out in the open is great for leaping cover to cover, that’s all it really serves and honestly shouldn’t be limited to a feature and more so a rules classification under the Stealth infrastructure. The only added boon from this feat is granting proficiency in the Stealth skill for those who did not have the opportunity to acquire it.
- Survivalist. I like that this feat grants the access to the alarm spell, it fits the idea of a character to knows how to avoid being caught flat-footed by the enemy. It also allows the party the chance to rest when either there are not enough of them to do watches, or when they are in dangerous terrain and want the added precaution. Very useful feat, great for even Rogues to take up.
- Theologian. Just like the Arcanist and Naturalist feat, not much more I could say other than repeat the fact that if you want spells then you’re better off picking the Magic Initiate feat over this one. The only real advantage is again gaining proficiency in a skill relevant to the feat, which is Religion here.
So my impressions on the Feats for Skills overall leaves the impression that while the design seems rudimentary and cookie cutter, it serves to promote the idea of granting skill proficiency to characters which is a solid boon. Most of the features granted by the feats by and large serve to promote using the relevant skills. Some of these feats work phenomenally with certain classes and surprisingly some work well for classes that may need that extra edge.
Feats for Races – Empowering the Races
Before starting this blitz review, it should be noted that this particular playtest material assumes that multiclassing is not happening or that the previous Feats for Skills does not exist. Therefore we’ll review the feats under those conditions to better assess them but ultimately these impression will vary greatly from individual campaigns. I will compare them to the feats presented in the Player’s Handbook (unlike what the playtest material wished) for the simply reason of comparing power levels and assessing their viability. While I understand Wizards of the Coast and their intent to simply judge the feats as they are, it’s difficult to understand their relevancy without context and therefore I chose to ignore their suggestion there.
- Barbed Hide. A tiefling feat, an interesting feat choice that works well especially for a tiefling monk that utilizes the Grappler feat and excels in grappling enemies. The added bonus of proficiency with Intimidation is great, and doubling the proficiency bonus if already proficient keeps pace and doesn’t lose value for the PC.
- Bountiful Luck. A halfling feat that I feel needs to be played down more, yes it does require a reaction but the fact that a halfling can do it practically for free for any ally within 30 feet seems very powerful. I would definitely consider having this feat be usable between short or long rests.
- Critter Friend. A forest gnome feat, it grants Animal Handling proficiency and again rewards for previous proficiency. Gaining extra spells like speak with animals at will and animal friendship once between long rests is quite fun and useful. This not only enriches the gnome character but works great with a forest gnome Ranger or Druid.
- Dragon Fear. A dragonborn feat that works fantastically for any form of playstyle. For martial Dragonborn characters, this grants advantage against frightened foes while for spellcasters it grants protection from foes since they cannot advance further toward the Dragonborn and they make attack rolls with disadvantage. Very useful all around, highly recommended.
- Dragon Hide. Another dragonborn feat, this one grants a claw attack when making unarmed strikes. The real boon is the +1 to Armor Class which stacks very well for Dragonborn barbarians, monks, and even Draconic Origin Sorcerers.
- Dragon Wings. Wowzers, I didn’t expect Wizards to grant Dragonborn flight but here it is. As early as 4th-level, a Dragonborn gains a flying speed of 20 feet so long as they are not wearing heavy armor or at full carrying capacity. Makes sense and while still balanced in execution, I’m pleasantly surprised with this inclusion. Really expands the combat geometry for martial and spellcasting Dragonborn characters.
- Drow High Magic. A drow elf feat that grants even more spells for the drow. In the lore for the Drow in the Forgotten Realms, there a rare breed of dark elves that have additional magical prowess than normal drow, often referred to as Highborn Drow. Besides detect magic, the inclusion of levitate and dispel magic (just like older editions) is a pleasing sight and quite powerful for any style of gameplay.
- Dwarf Resilience. A dwarf feat that grants some measure of self-healing via Hit Dice expenditure whenever using the Dodge action. This is a great little feature for Dwarf fighters or even Dwarf barbarians when they just need that little extra help. Not as powerful as any generic healing spell, but sometimes those extra hit points are the difference between life and death. Not the greatest feature but still useful.
- Elven Accuracy. A great feat for elves and half-elves. Especially good for elf and half-elf rogues that rely on advantage attack rolls to trigger their sneak attack feature. But also equally useful for elves that like to hide and then strike their foes with bow & arrow. The usefulness of this feat draws on the fact that even with advantage, the chance of rolling a desirable number is still the same for each roll. Having the ability to reroll improves the chance of better results.
- Everybody’s Friend. A half-elf feat that’s great in giving the race even more skill proficiencies. Very handy and I like that this works for any class build, even go so far as to grant double proficiency bonuses if already proficient in either Deception or Persuasion.
- Fade Away. A great gnome feat that improves survivability, works great even for gnomes that are martially oriented. Having the chance to use a reaction to become invisible and helps combat against melee opponents or spells that require line of sight against you.
- Fey Teleportation. A high-elf feat that essentially makes the high-elf an eladrin. Eladrins are special elves that belong and originate from the Feywild, at least according the 4th Edition cosmology. Eladrin more or less were high elves in 4th Edition since Wood Elves became the regular Elves that same setting. In any event, the misty step spell is an artifact and homage to the Eladrin of 4th Edition. This feat grants the high-elf the same traits and feel.
- Flames of Phlegethos. A tiefling feat that rewards tieflings for using or specializing in fire-based spells, it still rewards the tiefling since they gain hellish rebuke as a spell once between long rest. The feat still aids that feature but ultimately helps any tiefling spellcasting with fire-based spells. The addition of being surrounded in flames is a small deterrent for melee combatants but unfortunately it does not scale and therefore becomes less impactful in higher tiers.
- Grudge-Bearer. A very unique Dwarf feat that essentially grants them a favored enemy. The first round of combat, the dwarf is granted advantage on attack rolls against their chosen foe. Additionally, any opportunity attacks made by the chosen foe are made with disadvantage. Finally, the dwarf can add double their proficiency bonus to any Intelligence check regarding any information about their chosen foe. It’s a lot of boons for such a small exchange. You’re essentially gaining a class feature for a feat, which is very useful and powerful.
- Human Determination. One of the two human feats presented, it is very simply designed. The human character can make an attack roll, ability check, or saving throw with advantage and cannot do so again until after a long rest. It’s a fair trade to improve the human character’s chances of success and honestly it’s not a bad tradeoff at any stage of play.
- Infernal Consultation. Wow. A tiefling feat that grants resistance to cold and poison, along with advantage on saving throws against being poisoned. Lots of upside with absolutely no downside. Absolutely a worthwhile feat to take.
- Orcish Aggression. A half-orc feat that closes the gap in an encounter map. Sometimes the enemy is too far away. This feat works amazingly with a half-orc barbarian since they gain additional movement speed. I don’t see how this is never not useful, unless you’re fighting in a lot of tight corridors or close combat scenarios then this feat might take a backseat.
- Prodigy. A half-elf or human feat that mirrors the Skilled feat from the Player’s Handbook. I never honestly liked that feat due to the fact that while gaining three skill proficiencies was great, the impact was not as powerful as an Ability Score Improvement. Granted, it does not separate gaining a language and maybe one skill like the Skilled and Linguist feats. So for a smaller gain, you still can retain the ability to choose a different feat later down the road or take the Ability Score Improvement when it shows up again for the character at higher levels.
- Second Chance. This is a useful halfling feat in a pinch. If you’re playing a halfling rogue with Uncanny Dodge and among other features, this feat doesn’t seem as impressive. This feat is especially less impressive when compared to the Lucky feat.
- Squat Nimbleness. A feat meant for races of shorter stature, namely dwarves, halflings, and gnomes. The feat increases their racial movement speed by 5 and they gain either proficiency in Athletics or Acrobatics. They gain double their proficiency bonus if they already proficient in either skill. This one is a toss-up since the Mobile feat grants 10 feet of movement, the ability to negate difficult terrain when using the Dash action and opportunity attacks are made with disadvantage. On the other hand, if you needed proficiency in a skill or improvement on it, this is not a bad feat to consider.
- Wonder Maker. I love this feat for rock gnomes! Rock gnomes flavorfully are enjoyable and their Tinker trait is always fun for a couple of levels and uses additional creativity later on. I’m very pleased to see an expansion on what the Rock gnome can build through their Tinker ability. Additionally, whenever the rock gnome uses a tinker’s tools, they add double proficiency which works wonderfully for other Unearthed Arcana classes but when just simply looking at the original Player’s Handbook — it is situationally useful.
- Wood Elf Magic. Well if the drow elf and the high-elf have extra spells, why not the Wood elves? They do have the privilege to choose a Druid cantrip of their choice and gaining the ability to cast longstrider and pass without a trace as spells without expending spell slots. Great spells that improve the Wood elf’s mobility and stealthiness. A highly useful feat for a Wood Elf Ranger that wants to still do Ranger things without expending spell slots. Still good for Wood elves of other class builds, especially when choosing their cantrip of choice.
Overall, the Feats for Skills provide some additional context on using the skills in mostly meaningful manners. Most of the features feel like houserules suggested or used by players and were decidedly implemented as a feat. I do enjoy feats granting skill proficiencies, that is a big boon, and doubling the bonus if already proficient is a good solid reward for choosing a feat instead of the normal Ability Score Improvement. The Feats for Races was a breath of fresh air in the variety of racial abilities and features, some of them optimized or promoted certain race and class combinations very strongly which is not a bad thing. Some of the Feats for Races were even useful for any class selection and expanded the races’ capabilities within the game. Between both playtests, there other feats and class features that better mimicked them. Besides new class features, it’s reassuring to know that feats were still considered during the design portion for these Unearthed Arcana materials. I only hope that in the foreseeable future that we get the elusive “Player’s Handbook 2” for D&D 5th Edition, maybe not right away but given the history of having playtest material appearing in future product, I can safely say it’ll happen sooner than later.
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