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D&D's blind spot for expert characters

happyhermit

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Xanathar's Compelte Guide for 5E had both the Mastermind and Investigator as subclasses for Rogue. While they're just as able to sneak and stab as much as any other Rogue, they also have distinct purposes outside of combat.
Well, they can't sneak and stab quite as well as the Thief or Assassin, which is probably not a bad thing.
 

apearlma

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I don't think that Expertise and therefore high modifiers for specific skill checks is really something that needs to be looked on as duplicating magical effects, or as non-magical classes stepping on the magical classes' toes. Even dice add mechanics like Bardic Inspiration or the Battle Master's superiority dice needn't be regarded as magical, they're just ways to represent someone being remarkably good at what they do./QUOTE]

That right there is exactly the problem though. If skill options can't duplicate magic, they can't provide defined in-combat abilities outside of 'realistic' options. Which then limits things to multiple attacks or sneak attack or very limited options such as Battle Master. And both Battle Master/Bardic Inspiration are weirdly related to short rests, meaning the player isn't necessarily controlling how frequently they can do their things.
 

Gussick

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It's a pretty easy fix. The pen is mightier than either the sword or the wand. So you make a class for lawyers and administrators. Their main powers are the ability to write the proper words on the proper objects and send them to the proper people. It may take a bit, but the missives bring forth not fireballs, but bailiffs and armed squads. Of course, this works better in low fantasy where there's a sense of law and order restricting what players can do with their characters.

This touches on a different question, of course--if mages were as powerful as they are in the game, then the authorities would almost certainly put heavy restrictions on both access to magic and its use. The clerk/lawyer class would be there to keep the actions legal (or get away with illegal ones) and call down the thunder if needed against those breaking the rules. There's also the critical question of who's property you're walking on. People have always taken that seriously. If you find a gold horde in the dungeon, that's still not your horde.

Traditional alignment fits pretty well. There are Atticus Finch lawful good lawyers and Roy Cohn chaotic evil ones ;-)
 
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vitruvian

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The Inquisitive rogue can use the "Help" action as a bonus action already, and still gets sneak attack, am I missing something there? Never read that UA in detail.
The Expert (NPC, sidekick) class in that UA gets the Helpful feature from 1st level, although the Mastermind's (not Inquisitive's) Master of Tactics ability to provide Help from up to 30 ft away is even nicer - if adapting the Expert, maybe call it something like Expert Advice and allow it to apply to ability checks outside of combat too, making it better than the Guidance cantrip. However, with the Mastermind, it comes along with a bunch of specific proficiencies (disguise kit, forgery kit, etc.) which you may not want your librarian from Candlekeep, say, to have.

They (wotc) have talked about alternate class features. Replacing sneak attack with something else, for those niche cases it might not work with, is certainly an option but the fact that no obvious alternatives have come forward is telling IMHO. Thieves Cant is a "ribbon" so not really an issue. Thieves tools could simply be substituted for another tool proficiency.
I'm not sure that replacing something called 'Sneak Attack' for a non-rogue skill monkey whose concept doesn't necessarily call for any sneakiness is all that niche, but certainly, you're right, WotC have talked about alternate class features - and provided some pretty good worked examples of that concept in the UA, including the Expert as a non-denominational, non-rogue skill monkey class loosely based on a collection of Rogue and Bard class features. But they are real differences deserving of such an actual example or write up, as opposed to just winging it, if you're truly wanting to make non-rogue expert types a significant part of the game - starting with allowing skill selection from among pretty much all skills, allowing different tool proficiencies, and so on.
 

vitruvian

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That right there is exactly the problem though. If skill options can't duplicate magic, they can't provide defined in-combat abilities outside of 'realistic' options. Which then limits things to multiple attacks or sneak attack or very limited options such as Battle Master. And both Battle Master/Bardic Inspiration are weirdly related to short rests, meaning the player isn't necessarily controlling how frequently they can do their things.
Honestly, the Help as a bonus action thing, especially if beefed up a little bit to be usable at range like the Mastermind ability, is already pretty huge - and an at will thing. The UA write up also has a later enhancement that gives advantage from Help AND a bonus die or dice - still at will. Of course, buffing your comrades competes for your bonus action with the self-protection uses of Cunning Action - also at will, suck it Step of the Wind - but that makes sense, and they still both remain very useful, yet arguably somewhat realistic in-combat abilities.

If I were to add anything else, it might be something like a Multitasking feature, giving you a third option for your bonus action - allowing you to perform ability (skill) checks as a bonus action even while you're fighting with your regular action. This could apply whether the skill were knowledge-based (say, trying to remember the standard deactivation phrase for Telchine constructs while fighting the animated statues), social (keeping up a line of patter and rolling Intimidation or Persuasion checks even in the middle of a fight), or what have you.
 

happyhermit

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The Expert (NPC, sidekick) class in that UA gets the Helpful feature from 1st level, although the Mastermind's (not Inquisitive's) Master of Tactics ability to provide Help from up to 30 ft away is even nicer - if adapting the Expert, maybe call it something like Expert Advice and allow it to apply to ability checks outside of combat too, making it better than the Guidance cantrip. However, with the Mastermind, it comes along with a bunch of specific proficiencies (disguise kit, forgery kit, etc.) which you may not want your librarian from Candlekeep, say, to have. ...
Yeah, thanks, I get those two mixed up. Explicitly expanding it to cover "working together" perhaps with some restrictions like proficiency required could make sense. Moving it to 1st lvl is an issue with 5e's design. Fair about tool proficiencies, but just like thieves tools it's very easy to just allow substitutions.

The point still remains though, you seemed to suggest that this ability could help to replace sneak attack, but the mastermind gets the vast majority of it already +stuff, +sneak attack, so I don't think it goes all that far.

I'm not sure that replacing something called 'Sneak Attack' for a non-rogue skill monkey whose concept doesn't necessarily call for any sneakiness is all that niche, but certainly, you're right, WotC have talked about alternate class features - and provided some pretty good worked examples of that concept in the UA, including the Expert as a non-denominational, non-rogue skill monkey class loosely based on a collection of Rogue and Bard class features. But they are real differences deserving of such an actual example or write up, as opposed to just winging it, if you're truly wanting to make non-rogue expert types a significant part of the game - starting with allowing skill selection from among pretty much all skills, allowing different tool proficiencies, and so on.
Yeah, I am putting almost no value on the name "sneak attack", I am just referring to what it's mechanics can easily represent with absolutely minimal if any rules tweaking. Similar abilities in previous editions had a lot more caveats that made them much more specific than 5e "sneak attack", which covers a lot of ground.
 

Morty

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But what kind of combat abilities are you going to give him in place of sneak attack? Because whatever you give him will probably shift the class away from the ‘expert’ archetype and into something else.
And that's fine. I'm not arguing for one generic "expert" class, I'm arguing for more classes in this general mould that aren't rogues. "Expert" is about as useful as a concept as "fighter", which is not very. Rogues are already perilously close to being such a class, because it's been diluted to account for all sorts of skillful characters... AKA precisely the problem I'm talking about here.

Well, in 5e you don't actually get stealth or "thievery" as part of being a rogue. The sneak attack part is what I was getting at earlier, it can easily represent a skilled and/or well planned out strike (it sort of already does), can be used at range, etc. so it's pretty versatile. There are not a huge amount of obvious things for an "expert" to do in D&D combat that can't be modeled with sneak attack, there are a fair number of more niche things, like consumables and attack granting.
Sneak attack is not a good feature to begin with. It's boring, turns a rogue's combat performance into a flowchart and makes weapon choice even less relevant than normal. That it completely eclipses other forms of indirect attacks is a cherry on top.

I don't see these as "saddled with". MacGyver's iconic Swiss army knife is a thieves tool in D&D mechanics. Theives Cant is a language and knowledge of particular slang. Sneak Attack? Well what do you call Indy shooting the swordsman who was expecting a whip vs sword duel?
I call that shooting someone. And it was supposed to be an actual fight, but Harrison Ford had bowel problems. Indy otherwise punches Nazis in the face in a very straightforward manner. You can shoehorn him into the rogue class, but at that point we run into the issue of its being as meaningless as the fighter.

The issue really is that D&D is the wrong instrument. The game isn't really designed for that sort of character to work in that way and be a good fit with the way other characters work.

You can probably hammer and kludge something together that will sort of work, but you will be fighting the game to make it happen. D&D does have blindspots, all games do.
I really don't see anything I've suggested that is somehow inherently inimical to the nature of D&D. It's also been done already. Even in old-school D&D, of all things.
 

WistfulD

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And that's fine. I'm not arguing for one generic "expert" class, I'm arguing for more classes in this general mould that aren't rogues. "Expert" is about as useful as a concept as "fighter", which is not very. Rogues are already perilously close to being such a class, because it's been diluted to account for all sorts of skillful characters... AKA precisely the problem I'm talking about here.
If "expert" and "fighter" are too nebulous, than it is very hard for the rest of us to clearly understand what we are looking for.

Sneak attack is not a good feature to begin with. It's boring, turns a rogue's combat performance into a flowchart and makes weapon choice even less relevant than normal. That it completely eclipses other forms of indirect attacks is a cherry on top.
Okay, so let's clarify--If one were to take a 3e or 5e rogue, and take the skills one wants to take, instead of the traditional rogue skills, would it be the presence of sneak attack that would make this class unsatisfying? Because if that's the case, they have done it -- in 3e's Unearthed Arcana there was an option where you got fighter feats instead of sneak attack. So you had a something of a lightweight fighters with roguelike skill support. If fighter had been a better option in 3e, this alternate class would probably be a very playable option.

To do the same thing in 5e, I might start with the 5e fighter framework, and then give it skill support abilities from the rogue/bard classes instead of archetype abilities.

Would that be a good place to start, or does there need to be a way to make the player expertise combat-relevant?

I really don't see anything I've suggested that is somehow inherently inimical to the nature of D&D. It's also been done already. Even in old-school D&D, of all things.
Why don't you explain this one, and we can work off of that?
 

FrivYeti

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My thought is that if I was building an Expertise-based class in 5e, I would probably call them the Specialist, and they get options to do weird things with their skills in combat. Maybe you have nine special options, and each one requires knowing two Skills to purchase, and then there's a second tier of special skill options later on.

The Specialist's subclasses might be Scholar (focus on intelligence and knowledge), Sage (focuses on wisdom and insight), and Courtier (focuses on charisma and grace.)
 
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