It’s fun to come up with an intriguing backstory for a PC. Give them some previous glory, a bit of an agenda, perhaps some skeletons in their closet that they wish to keep hidden from the rest of the party. Personally I’ve always felt that a character’s motivations are more important that their past, but it all comes together to make a complete character. Often though a lot of this is forgotten as a character gets involved in new quests and gets acclimated to the life as a member of a party. One way to keep a background as a vital part of a character’s present is through Heritage feats, a hint to perhaps some ancient ancestry that still shapes family lineage in the present. Scattered over a couple of D&D books, Heritage feats are a bit of a mixed bag. But are they any good? Are they worth a heavy investment for some pretty specialized abilities and resistances?
All of the Heritage feats require an initial feat to establish the lineage in a character, usually this has to be taken at 1st level and none of them are that good. The series of feats build on one another, making the previous one’s more powerful as the total number grows and the ancestry of the character begins to unlock. Honestly, I really like the flavor of it.
The Infernal and Celestial lines are open only to sorcerers and generally allow them to expend a spell slot for some other ability for a brief time. I like the flavor of an inborn spell caster having some extraplanar blood coursing through their veins, and since metamagic isn’t always the best option for a sorcerer these seem like they could be good. They are not. Let’s take a look at Celestial Sorcerer Heritage, the initial feat required for the Celestial line. It provides a bonus to saves versus electricity and pertification equal to the number of Celestial feats you have, and adds Protection from Evil to the list of known spells. Wow. That seems like garbage unless you plan on battling a horde of electrified medusa. The feats are all dependent on one another so once you take one you are sort of committed to taking others, otherwise they are entirely weak. The Celestial line does have one strong option, Celestial Sorcerer Lore. The problem is that is requires three Celestial feats to qualify for it. It does add three spells to the sorcerer’s spells known list (including Teleport). Knowing more spells is always a bonus for the spell starved caster, but a four feat investment does seem like a lot. The other problem with these feats is that they are generally fueled by expending spell slots for abilities that are usually equivalent to the spell they are sacrificing. Infernal Sorcerer Howl allows the sorcerer to create a sonic cone that does 2d6 damage for each level of the spell sacrificed. Sacrifice a third level spell? That’s 6d6 sonic damage. Not so good, especially when a Fireball or Lightning Bolt would have done more damage if the caster was higher than 6th level. The adventurer saddled with either of these awful lines of feats has no reason to thank their adulteress aunt for her liaison with a devil.
The winners of the bunch are Fiendish and Fey Heritage. Continuing the trend common in most D&D material, the later a book was published the more powerful the contents seem to be. Found in Complete Mage, the Fiendish and Fey lines offer some powerful abilities which can greatly expand the repertoire of a character. The initial feat required to advance the line are mediocre; those of Fey heritage receive a +3 bonus to Will saves versus enchantments, while their fiendish brethren get a similar bonus against poison. Again, not great but not altogether useless. Especially the enchantment bonus since some of those effects can be devastating. However, by taking these feats a character becomes eligible at 9th level for the Legacy feats, Fey Legacy and Fiendish Legacy. This is where the fun is. Fey Legacy allows a character to cast Confusion, Dimension Door, and Summon Nature’s Ally V as a caster level equal to their character level, each once a day. Fiendish Legacy provides Teleport (self only), Summon Monster V, and Unholy Blight. Those are both pretty solid packages. In the case of Fey that’s two 4th level and a 5th level spell for the cost of two feats. That is hard to beat. The best part is that it is open to non casters, so a rogue or a fighter can suddenly have a couple of really useful spells thanks to an amorous meeting of their great uncle and a pixie. Way to go. Adding additional feats can provide some damage reduction, some other lesser level spells, resistances, and some increased DC’s for spells.
The class that can most benefit from these is the fighter. With a ton of extra combat feats the fighter can afford to load up on these with the normal feats that all characters receive. Having some spell like abilities can make a huge difference to a martial type, especially mobility related ones like Teleport and Dimension Door. And the Summons are great to provide a flanking partner and some additional muscle on the front line.