Expertise Skill Hack

5th Edition D&D has a skill problem. It lies in a feature called expertise.

Expertise allows you to add your proficiency bonus twice when using a skill:

The expertise mechanic is fine. The problem is that only Rogues and Bards get expertise. On the surface, this makes sense because these are the “skill monkey” classes. In application, this allows them to be the “jack of all trades” while still being master of several.

As a result, some weird things happen. For example:

  • A Rogue can have a higher arcana skill than a Wizard.
  • A Bard can have a higher athletics skill than a Barbarian.

This can be true even if the Rogue/Bard does not invest in the underlying ability score!

The gap only grows larger as the characters level up, and the Rogue/Bard adds twice its proficiency bonus to the Wizard’s one.

We can probably all agree that these examples don’t make sense. If a class identifies more closely with a skill than any other class, they should be able to be the best at it. Just as Rogues can be the best with sleight of hand, Wizards should be able to be the best with arcana.

Democratize Expertise

The solution is to democratize expertise.

If every class gets expertise in the skill that their class most closely identifies with, their character’s narrative won’t get trampled by the mechanics. From a narrative standpoint, this speaks to a particular talent that may have inspired the character to adventure.

Although skills don’t directly associate with classes, we can draw ties between the identity of certain skills and certain classes. This is tough because classes identify with different skills, and skills identify with multiple classes. But, we can make it work:

Expert Characters

Alternate Skill Associations

You might decide that some other skill is more suited to a specific character. Or, you might decide to let a player take expertise in any skill on their character’s class list!

A Warlock may procure a pact through employing a variety of social skills. D&D Designer Chris S. Sims suggests that a Warlock whose patron is a Great Old One or a Fiend may be better suited to deception. Alternatively, a Warlock whose patron is an Archfey or Celestial might have a more amicable relationship, suggesting persuasion. Since persuasion can be used more generally, that’s what I chose.

You might decide to use stealth for Rogues because you find that’s their most identifying trait. Personally, I find sleight of hand to be more exclusive to the Rogue than other classes, where plenty of classes can identify as sneaky (Ranger, Monk, Sorcerer). Stealth is pretty much useful for everyone, since you’re only as sneaky as your clankiest tank.

You may not like intimidation on Barbarians for a number of reasons, in which case I suggest survival. The reason I left it with Rangers is tracking. It’s one of the few Ranger exploration skills that doesn’t work by fast-tracking the part of the game they get to have fun with, so it feels bad when a player fails that roll.

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5 thoughts on “Expertise Skill Hack

  1. I like this idea. It’s one of my frustrations with the skills system. Another one is languages, but I think I have the hack for that down to an INT skill that replaces history, and is instead Culture (Waterdeep, or Underdark, etc).

    I also have two frustrations with tools. Get rid of Forgery as it is a high-skilled application of other tools, usually calligraphy. And I hate Water Vehicles, because sailing in the open sea is nothing like paddling a canoe on a river.

    Like

  2. I agree with the diagnosis but not the solution, because it makes Rogues and Bards less special and powerful than other classes.

    A solution could be to cap the bonus granted by Expertise for skills that are closely associated with a specific class.

    For example, if you’re not a Wizard, the total bonus granted by your INT score and Expertise can’t be greater than 3.

    Thus, Expertise in those skills only compensate for a lower Ability score bonus and won’t overshadow other Classes, and Rogues and Bards keep this class advantage.

    Like

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