D&D's blind spot for expert characters

mrlost

Hi I'm Lost
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#52
Oh man, the mastermind. I’ve been thinking of playing one ever since I watched the Netflix version of A Series of Unfortunate Events. Count Olaf themed Mastermind would be sweet. Every time we go back to town, I could disguise myself as a totally different quirky character. Bonus points for playing Adventurer’s League or a Westmarches formatted game
 

El Jefe

Cult of Personality
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#53
Just play a Dex/Int Fighter with a Background that gives you the skills you want (or create a new background) and then take feats like Skilled or Prodigy or whatever nudges it toward what you're trying to do. Heck, if something is almost perfect except for one class feature, then just use that class and never use that one problematic feature.

There's only so many ways you can tweak the game while staying within RAW. If you're going to dismiss many of the great suggestions above that others have made because you have some perfect idea in your head of what you want, then just build a new class from the ground up that does what you want. Unless you're playing RPGA or whatever it's called these days, you can do what you like in a home game.
 

vitruvian

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#54
Just play a Dex/Int Fighter with a Background that gives you the skills you want (or create a new background) and then take feats like Skilled or Prodigy or whatever nudges it toward what you're trying to do. Heck, if something is almost perfect except for one class feature, then just use that class and never use that one problematic feature.
Going based on Fighter rather than Rogue means you can never get Expertise.... so no on that approach. Rogue is close, but the UA Expert is even closer.

There's only so many ways you can tweak the game while staying within RAW. If you're going to dismiss many of the great suggestions above that others have made because you have some perfect idea in your head of what you want, then just build a new class from the ground up that does what you want. Unless you're playing RPGA or whatever it's called these days, you can do what you like in a home game.
Agreed, you can either go Rogue and stay PHB+1 RAW while deemphasizing parts that don't fit with your concept, or build a new class from the ground up, or, you know, use something that Wizards has provided for playtesting, albeit conceptually for NPC Sidekicks.

There's the generic classes variant of 3e, with Warrior, Spellcaster, and Expert. No sneak-attack lock-in there.
http://www.d20srd.org/srd/variant/classes/genericClasses.htm#expert

Or Blue Rose's similar Warrior/Adept/Expert, I think.
Interestingly enough, that's exactly what the UA Sidekicks covers - Warrior, Expert, Spellcaster. It's almost like they had it in the back of their minds that this might cover generic classes for PCs as well...
 

ezekiel

Follower of the Way
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#55
Well, let's go through the logic of it. We want to make a new class. It shouldn't suck at combat, though that isn't really its main focus, because the main focus is skill stuff. And, as stated, we want the class to be not a rogue (so no assassin-y features, and thievery-focus should be strictly optional), but we also want it to be not a magic-user (so no Bardic Inspiration shenanigans, etc.) Okay, fair.

So...what is this class's identity? It has good skills, but not as much fighting capability as a Fighter. That's...not a thematic package. It has no heft, no purpose, besides filling this desired role of "being good at skills, but not a rogue, not magical, and not a Fighter." You've identified a very loose mechanical function you want, but unless you can create more than just that, you'll never see a class made for that purpose. (Well, excluding the Expert NPC class, but that's not meant for PCs anyway, so it doesn't need thematics.) People accused 4e of creating classes merely to fill boxes, but this seems an order of magnitude worse--at least stuff like the Avenger and Warden had theme and flavor beyond "we should have a Divine Striker and a Primal Defender." This proposal literally is box-filling, focused purely on asking for a specific form of mechanical implementation (skill-heavy non-magic-user without sneak attack).

The closest you can get, as far as I can tell, is Pathfinder's Investigator...but it uses alchemy, and is therefore magical in some sense.

All of this just highlights D&D's deep, abiding problem with magic. If you can't use magic, you're cutting off a huge swathe of the design space. Cutting off further parts of that heavily-restricted space leaves you with almost nothing left. Because accessing the supernatural without it being magic of some kind (psionics, spells, alchemy, etc., with all the extremely specific implementations and procedures that come with each flavor) is infuriatingly No Never How Dare You Suggest That, but people still demand and call for classes that hold their own against it.

So...what exactly do we want from this hypothetical "PC version of the Expert class"? What's its identity? What makes it more than just "being good at skills," which is a bolt-on to a class chassis and not an identity in itself? Perhaps the reason no one makes gestures in that direction is that answering these questions is sufficiently difficult that development time is better spent elsewhere.
 

vitruvian

Registered User
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#56
Well, let's go through the logic of it. We want to make a new class. It shouldn't suck at combat, though that isn't really its main focus, because the main focus is skill stuff. And, as stated, we want the class to be not a rogue (so no assassin-y features, and thievery-focus should be strictly optional), but we also want it to be not a magic-user (so no Bardic Inspiration shenanigans, etc.) Okay, fair.

So...what is this class's identity? It has good skills, but not as much fighting capability as a Fighter. That's...not a thematic package. It has no heft, no purpose, besides filling this desired role of "being good at skills, but not a rogue, not magical, and not a Fighter." You've identified a very loose mechanical function you want, but unless you can create more than just that, you'll never see a class made for that purpose. (Well, excluding the Expert NPC class, but that's not meant for PCs anyway, so it doesn't need thematics.)
The class's identity would depend entirely on the specific skills selected, especially those to which Expertise is applied to make the character world class at those things. So, yeah, overall it's not really one thematically unified class, but a toolset for creating a plethora of different types of Experts or specialists, from sages to healers to non-capitalized artificers or craftsment to ambassadors to wilderness guides. And for this purpose, the Expert NPC class could easily enough be adapted for PC use with a few minor tweaks like recognizing PCs will get Backgrounds as well.

People accused 4e of creating classes merely to fill boxes, but this seems an order of magnitude worse--at least stuff like the Avenger and Warden had theme and flavor beyond "we should have a Divine Striker and a Primal Defender." This proposal literally is box-filling, focused purely on asking for a specific form of mechanical implementation (skill-heavy non-magic-user without sneak attack).

The closest you can get, as far as I can tell, is Pathfinder's Investigator...but it uses alchemy, and is therefore magical in some sense.
I would say that the specific implementations that the yes, generic framework allows would justify it. Say you want any of the specific specialists mentioned already, without the trappings of either a roguish thief or a musically magical bard. Right now, you've got nothing that allows you to do that with a PC, not without tweaking and reskinning and swapping out features and 'ribbons' each individual time you're dealing with it. Allow the Expert NPC class to be usable for PCs, and sure, there's not much flavor to the general idea, but you can add plenty of flavor to the specific character by virtue of the particular skill and Expertise choices you make. Maybe let the Helpful feature apply at range (up to 30 ft like the Mastermind) if it's for a skill check in which the Expert has proficiency (or even Expertise, so only the things they're particularly good at) or for a combat situation if one of their skills applies (Nature to call out weak spots on a beast, Arcana for a construct or outsider, things like that).

All of this just highlights D&D's deep, abiding problem with magic. If you can't use magic, you're cutting off a huge swathe of the design space. Cutting off further parts of that heavily-restricted space leaves you with almost nothing left. Because accessing the supernatural without it being magic of some kind (psionics, spells, alchemy, etc., with all the extremely specific implementations and procedures that come with each flavor) is infuriatingly No Never How Dare You Suggest That, but people still demand and call for classes that hold their own against it.

So...what exactly do we want from this hypothetical "PC version of the Expert class"? What's its identity? What makes it more than just "being good at skills," which is a bolt-on to a class chassis and not an identity in itself? Perhaps the reason no one makes gestures in that direction is that answering these questions is sufficiently difficult that development time is better spent elsewhere.
First off, no, it's not all about magic, unless you're also saying that all the non-Arcane Trickster variations of Rogue and non-Eldritch Knight variations of Fighter are rubbish. The point of comparison is with non-magical rogues and fighters, and to a degree with the non-magical aspects (Jack of All Trades, extra College of Lore proficiencies, etc.) of the bard. A bonus action or even ranged Help action, or the later Bardic Inspiration-like bonus dice towards such things, don't need to be magical to be usable, and can in fact be pretty darn effective. Maybe some additional such features could be created, especially for subclasses, like social skill Experts being able to provide morale bonuses like advantage on certain saves or some temporary HP - still without it being magic.

And again, it's not one identity, it's many - enabled by allowing a PC version of the Expert. I don't know anyone that has time to come up with a whole new class for every possible type of skill expert, but enabling them as implicit subclasses of one 'skill monkey' class is not only a whole lot less effort - but WotC has already done most of the development work for us.
 

Matt Sheridan

Minus 10 horse points.
Validated User
#57
The class's identity would depend entirely on the specific skills selected, especially those to which Expertise is applied to make the character world class at those things. So, yeah, overall it's not really one thematically unified class, but a toolset for creating a plethora of different types of Experts or specialists, from sages to healers to non-capitalized artificers or craftsment to ambassadors to wilderness guides.
I'd definitely love a class like that. Toolkit classes are the best, and D&D needs more support for non-magical PCs. It might be worth taking a look at both Fantasy Craft (which has a huge number of non-magical, non-fighty classes) and 4e's skill powers.
 

jamieth

Registered User
Validated User
#58
For reference, here's the list of Pathfinder Rogue archetypes that don't get sneak attack (thieving is optional for every Rogue by default):
- Carnivalist (gets an animal sidekick instead of SA and trap sense)
- Dreamthief (probably too obviously magical)
- Eldritch Scoundrel (ditto)
- Phantom Thief (gets pretty close to what we're seeking, I think: loses sneak attack, gains Handle Animal, Heal, Ride, Spellcraft, Survival, and all Knowledges as class skills, and a number of "add +1/2 level to this skill" over the levels; can grab an assortment of combat feats and minor magic if desired,)

There are couple others, but they do get SA, just modified.
 

vitruvian

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Validated User
#59
For reference, here's the list of Pathfinder Rogue archetypes that don't get sneak attack (thieving is optional for every Rogue by default):
- Carnivalist (gets an animal sidekick instead of SA and trap sense)
- Dreamthief (probably too obviously magical)
- Eldritch Scoundrel (ditto)
- Phantom Thief (gets pretty close to what we're seeking, I think: loses sneak attack, gains Handle Animal, Heal, Ride, Spellcraft, Survival, and all Knowledges as class skills, and a number of "add +1/2 level to this skill" over the levels; can grab an assortment of combat feats and minor magic if desired,)

There are couple others, but they do get SA, just modified.
Yeah, Sneak Attack is not that big a sticking point for me one way or the other. I could see doing as WotC did in the UA and replacing it with Helpful and a few other features, or I could see leaving it in and maybe modifying it a little point. The main things are to allow access to all skills and Expertise in some of them, and to have some other feature that makes it not useless to take as part of an adventuring party; the special mechanical feature could even be more closely tied to the skills selected, like an aura combat bonus depending on whether your skill set provides useful tips for the foes or traps you're facing.
 

WistfulD

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Validated User
#60
Yeah, Sneak Attack is not that big a sticking point for me one way or the other. I could see doing as WotC did in the UA and replacing it with Helpful and a few other features, or I could see leaving it in and maybe modifying it a little point. The main things are to allow access to all skills and Expertise in some of them, and to have some other feature that makes it not useless to take as part of an adventuring party; the special mechanical feature could even be more closely tied to the skills selected, like an aura combat bonus depending on whether your skill set provides useful tips for the foes or traps you're facing.
I think that's what OP wants, possibly with a little more of making the skills useful outside of base skill checks. Maybe something pinging off the same design space as the late-3e Knowledge Devotion feature or skill tricks.

I think Ezekiel is right that one of the issues D&D has is that much of the potential design space that could be explored with additional exception-based functionality outside of spells has traditionally been done via spells (classic example being Aragorn's herb lore becoming oD&D/1e's ranger spells). There have been occasional subversions of that trend, from tactical feats to battlemaster maneuvers to Knowledge Devotion to the less magical-interpretations of bardic inspiration. There's no specific reason why it couldn't be added to, but creating a open-ended (you can be any kind of skill expert) system like this that is balanced with the rest of the game is going to be a significant task.
 
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