This page explains what “feat taxes” are.
The 55% percent rule and BABs
By design, 4e has the “55% percent” rule. You have roughly a 55% chance to hit a monster of your level, and it has roughly the same chance to hit you. This number was chosen to make the game fun.
If the hit chance was higher, defensive tactics wouldn’t matter as much. Also, it would be too easy for monsters to gang up on one PC and take it down in one round. If the hit chance was lower, far too many Encounter and Daily powers would miss, which is frustrating. Also, battles would be too long.
To achieve a 55% rate, an attacker’s Base Attack Bonus (BAB) should be roughly 11 less than the associated defensive stat. A D20 roll of 10 or greater equals a 55% rate.
The 4e system has these numbers baked in. A typical 1st level melee player has a BAB of +6 or +7. A typical 1st level monster has an AC of 16-17.
The scaling bug
The 55% rule is supposed to hold as monsters and PCs level. The formula is simple. For every level, BAB and defenses increase by one. So BAB remains defense – 11.
In 4e, monsters roughly follow this rule. Some examples:
- A level 1 Goblin has a BAB of +6, and an AC of 16.
- A level 11 Gorgon has a BAB of +17, and an AC of 25.
- A level 30 Red Dragon has a BAB of +37, and an AC of 48.
However, WOTC messed up the PC scaling. Using the original PHB rules, the PCs gradually lose ground relative to monsters. By level 30, the typical gap is:
- BAB is 3 low.
- AC is 2 low.
- Best two non-AC defenses (NADs) are 4 low.
- Worst NAD is 7 low.
The NAD weakness is especially critical, as those defenses protect against the nastier status effects: poisoned, diseased, petrified, paralyzed, dominated, etc.
Putting numbers to those penalties:
- BAB penalty means you will hit monsters only 40% of the time
- AC penalty means monsters will hit against your AC 65% of the time
- NAD penalties mean monsters will hit against your NADs between 70% and 90% of the time.
Monsters will be hitting PCs almost twice as often as PCs hit back. Even a well-played party will start to struggle in late Paragon, and may be completely destroyed in Epic.
The invention of the feat tax
WoTC has admitted the mistake, and created fixes. The problem is that they “fixed” it by creating a bunch of new feats with bigger bonuses to close the gap. The community calls this a feat tax. This is a tax because it mandatory, PCs have to take these feats just to keep up, or they risk being crushed in the late game.
The offending feat are:
- Most Expertise feats (all grant +1 to BAB in heroic, +2 in paragon, +3 in epic):
- Weapon Expertise
- Implement Expertise
- Focus Expertise
- Versatile Expertise
- Paragon Defenses (paragon, +1 to all NADs)
- Robust Defenses(epic, +2 to all NADs)
- Improved Defenses (+1 to all NADs in heroic, +2 in paragon, +3 in epic)
- Epic Fortitude (epic, +4 to fortitude)
- Epic Reflex (epic, +4 to reflex)
- Epic Will (epic, +4 to will)
Not all feats stack, so a PC typically takes 3 feats:
- One Expertise feat to boost BAB for their primary weapon/implement/focus.
- Improved Defenses for overall NAD.
- The Epic NAD feats that boosts their weakest NAD.
Mathematically, these feats fix the problem. The numbers are now close enough that PCs can survive at high levels of play. But it’s caused a new problem.
The problem with the feat tax
Tax feats are boring.
Feats are supposed to enable customization, uniqueness, and flexibility. But if all PCs take the same 3 feats, they more similar. Worse, these feats are strictly numeric boosts lacking flavor or style. So boring.
The most fun feats are the quirky ones, but they are the first to get dropped when survival is on the line. You can’t roleplay after you die in battle. That spirit familiar you wanted to have? Dropped. That extra skill you wanted purely for roleplaying purposes? Dropped. Three tax feats is three opportunities lost to make a more interesting character.
The Kryx fix
For these reasons, I like the basic idea of Kryx’s fix, as described here: The Modern Feat Tax
One nice thing is that it’s mostly Character Builder friendly.
I’d recommend that these houserules are implemented:
- Every PC gets Versatile Expertise for free at level 5.
- Every PC gets Improved Defenses for free at level 7.
- Every PC gets a free 1 point boost to their lowest NAD at levels 17, 22, and 27.
This eliminates the feat tax and solves the problem.
Kryx also discusses some more problems with the leveling system, but they are much more situational. For now, they can be ignored.