Decision, decisions, decisions – Levelling up and the quest for aesthetically-pleasing feats
C: Since we both just levelled up in a friend’s game this week, tonight we’re discussing levelling up as a concept.
A: Wohoo! My familiar’s hit points are finally in the double digits. Levelling characters up is the best.
C: No—it's fucking stressful! I’ve been run ragged this week by my obsessive fucking panic about picking the right feats and spells. It’s been a nightmare—I’ve been asking friends for their insight, I’ve asked the DM all these questions about his game—
A: What? You didn’t ask me for help.
C: I already had—months ago, when I first realised we might level up soon! At one point our party thought we might take a teamwork feat together, and Angela was very much part of that discussion—so denying that call-out post.
A: That’s true. Fine.
C: But I’ve mostly been chatting with our DM about specific mechanics and things to make sure that I’m doing everything right, and I’m just generally being a massive pedantic buffoon about it, to the degree where it’s almost stopped being fun.
A: That’s not good.
C: It feels like levelling up has all these ripple effects that totally determine how I’m going to play my character in the future. Fuck. I freak out and analyse it way too much to the extent where it goes from, ‘Hell yes, I get to level up,’ to like, ‘Blurgh, I’m levelling up; am I making the right decisions?’
A: If you want, I can take your feat for you and you can just stay at the level you are.
C: No, I’m okay.
A: Well, I offered.
C: You have a totally different approach to picking new abilities. Yesterday you click-clacked on your computer for a minute, chortled, and then you were like, ‘I’m getting this feat; it’s pretty funny. It’s not even that good, it’s just really funny.’
A: I’m really excited about this feat. As a slight spoiler, it’s a Gustav-specific feat. Gustav, for reference, is my crow familiar, who now has a whole eleven hp.
C: When you picked it, I was like, ‘What the hell?’ It was so short and sweet. You just had such an unequivocally good time compared to me.
A: It’s true. This is because—so another player in our game is very much like—I play a witch-gunslinger and she’s like, ‘These are the best feats for gunslinger; like, get Precise Shot and stuff.’
C: This is you you’re describing. You’re pretending this is not you—you were just like, ‘Another player in this game.’ That’s what you do, though. You play a witch-gunslinger. Whose familiar can now throw bombs at people.
A: No, I’m saying I play a witch-gunslinger and our fellow player is like, ‘Hey, have you considered these really good feats?’ And she is really good at finding great combat feats, things which help characters be the strongest they can be.
A: And I’m always like, ‘That is cool; it makes total sense; it’s a super good feat. But the aesthetic does not work for me.’ My character is there to look good in the background while you guys actually do stuff. She mainly just stands there glaring at people.
C: To be fair, when she glares at people, they become shaken to the core of their souls because of her powerful witchcraft abilities.
A: This is true. But basically, in this campaign, my only rule is: ‘Does it match my aesthetic?’ It makes levelling up way easier.
C: Yeah, do you get crazy and indecisive and over-calculating with Farrar in the first campaign?
C: Okay, fair enough.
A: I am so torn about Farrar and where I want to take her.
C: I have two immediate takes on this. One of them is, well, this is hypocritical of me because I’m being so indecisive about the best feat to take but I’m actually quite against the idea of optimising and min-maxing for the sake of being super-tactical. I’m very much like, ‘Be a good team player, but go with your gut and have fun. Choose the things you want to choose.’
A: That’s a pretty good philosophy. In life and in D&D.
C: Right. So I don’t know why I’m freaking out about this so much. I’ve literally printed out four different versions of my character’s ability list, each with a different new feat, because I can’t decide which specific feat I really want yet. I think it’s mostly that I don’t know what my gut is telling me because my gut wants fifteen feats at once and it can only have one.
A: Yeah, that’s tough.
C: But another part of me gets slightly annoyed when I’m levelling up and getting to pick new feats or spells or abilities or whatever, because you go through that list of like a million options, and some of them are really interesting, some of them don’t really work for you, some are quite situational but cool, some are quirky but fun... and then some are just straight-up better than others.
C: Like, regardless of setting, regardless of environment, even if you’re not trying to optimise, it’s hard not to end up with, like, 50% the same spells as anybody else because some spells are so obviously good. Spells like Hold Person—it’s hard to will yourself out of this partial-optimisation. because some mainstays…well, they’re just so good.
A: It’s true. Though I think there are also some spells I personally wouldn’t pick because I just associate them so much with a particular player, like Emer and Shocking Grasp.
A: Like, Saoirse has it in my campaign, and whenever she uses it, I always think, ‘Ah, a classic Emer move.’
C: Yeah. But to be fair, Emer’s sunk feats and stuff into using it at range and stuff, so it makes sense for it to be one of her signature moves.
A: That’s true.
C: Merle and Zone of Truth, or Fjord and Eldritch Blast—that’s Emer and Shocking Grasp. If we had merch from our campaign, there would definitely be a tee-shirt of her electrocuting people.
A: Tee-shirts would be cool. But back to feats and levelling up—did you give us both your takes? Do you still have a second take?
C: Yeah, one of my takes was like—oh, maybe I didn’t. Sorry. I have wine here with me on this Tuesday night. But mainly I just wanted to say that I preach, ‘Go with your gut. Don’t min-max, find what’s fun and cool for you and do it’. But I also have real difficulty practising that. So do as I say, not as I do.
A: I feel like this goes some of the way into the reasons why I enjoy DMing. It lets me create characters who I can finally make take a feat tree to the end, or can take really kooky abilities.
C: Yeah, you can take crazy archetypes and random traits.
A: I don’t want to create a real player character who has wacky spells they’re stuck with for whole campaigns. But as a DM I’m like, ‘Yes. My villain. They shall take Miserable Pity and their masterplan is to make people really concerned about them.’ So that’s partly how I get round my feat anxiety.
C: I think with levelling up, if you’re freaking out about what spell or ability or feat to take, think to yourself—in the words of Marie Kondo—‘Does this spark joy?’ And if it doesn't, either come back to it later, or just make a judgement call.
A: Yeah; it’s not worth agonising about.
C: Also, when it comes to picking the ‘best’ feats for your class or whatever, I think—and this is a bit of a crazy analogy, but I used to play a lot of Pokémon. And in the world of competitive multiplayer Pokémon battling—which is a thing, for those who are uninitiated—
C: —well, let’s just say there are optimisers—people who are determined to play the game in a hyper-competitive way—who divide up all the Pokémon into, like, tiers of which ones have the best stats and moves and etc. And listen, if you want to get a team of fucking Dragonite and Metagross and Mewtwo, then okay, cool. But, for example, Metagross is a psychic/steel Pokémon, and it’s a super good combatant statistically speaking. A lot of people use it. But I always found it more fun to take a lesser known and maybe not technically as, like, statistically-lauded psychic/steel Pokémon, like Bronzong, and to try and use them competitively. If you’re not doing a carbon copy of everyone else, it adds this fun, challenging dynamic to the game and makes your experience more special and meaningful. At least, that’s what I think.
A: Hmmm? Sorry, I zoned out. I was thinking about my favourite feats I have.
C: Angela got bored of Pokémon. What are your favourite feats, Ange?
A: My catfolk has the Black Cat feat, which I like because it’s a good feat anyway, and it’s aesthetically pleasing. In your game his fur changes colour when he use it. I mean, the vanilla rules say that your fur becomes black as soon as you take this feat, but in your game, his fur changes when he uses the feat, and then gradually returns to its normal grey over the next few rounds. Which is a really cool image.
C: It’s pretty dope, and good in combat. That’s another great reason not to waste too much time freaking out and panicking about your levelling up—your dude might just die.
A: That’s true. If you have picked the wrong feat, you could just get yourself killed.
C: No! I mean: don’t worry, be happy. This is like YOLO and how YOLO actually means, ‘You only live once, so do crazy things,’ but it also kind of sounds like it means, ‘You only live once, so don’t do anything stupid, you fucking fool.’
A: Or it can sound threatening—‘You only live once, Mr Bond, and now your time is up.’
C: You only level once; you only roll once: YORO. You only—
A: This is worse than the Pokémon bit. I’m just going to end our conversation here.
C: But—don’t you want to know what my favourite Pokémon are?