D&D's blind spot for expert characters

vitruvian

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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.
Honestly, I think that the existing Helpful feature in the UA writeup is a pretty good start. Maybe tie it to particular skills, even just ones you've taken Expertise for, instead of leaving it so general, and allow you to 'Help' yourself for tactical advantage as well. I mean, the other way to go would be to define a different mechanical, possibly tactical advantage for each possible skill you could pick or get Expertise for, but that as you said could take a while. The general 'better Help with stuff you're Expert in' concept would be open to lots of interpretation and rulings on specific cases, but considering how true that is for what ability/skill combo you use for particular checks already in 5e, maybe that's as much a feature as a bug.

So, turn the UA 1st level feature Helpful (Help action as a bonus action, not limited to particular skills or situations), into let's call it Expert Help - For any skill or task (including tools) with which you are proficient, you may take the Help action as a bonus action on your turn. For an ability check, it will be clear which skills or tools are applicable. For combat/tactical Help, you may take this bonus action Help provided the skill is relevant to the foe or the environment. Maybe something extra for Expertise in the proficiency, like a choice of a 30 ft range or a longer duration during which the one you help gets advantage on the next roll.

At 2nd level, replace Cunning Action with Multitasking - you may make an ability check based on a skill in which you have Expertise as a bonus action. So, this could be Hide as for Cunning Action if you have Expertise in Stealth, or Search if it's Perception, or being able to make a social roll even while you're fighting someone, and so on.

Then the Inspiring Help feature could again be dependent on Expertise with what you're helping them with, and maybe both the advantage and bonus dice could stick around until used.

That's just a rough sketch, but you get the idea. I think at least the bones of a good little system are there in the UA, and could be elaborated on to be even better. Maybe there also needs to be 'Help Yourself' feature in there somewhere where you can use a skill with Expertise to give yourself combat advantage, not just others, not sure which level it should come in at.
 

WistfulD

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Honestly, I think that the existing Helpful feature in the UA writeup is a pretty good start.
...
That's just a rough sketch, but you get the idea. I think at least the bones of a good little system are there in the UA, and could be elaborated on to be even better. Maybe there also needs to be 'Help Yourself' feature in there somewhere where you can use a skill with Expertise to give yourself combat advantage, not just others, not sure which level it should come in at.
The issue I am highlighting (or failing to, I guess), is that it is still constrained by what the Aid Another action, and Skill checks, currently already do in D&D, and just doing so as bonus actions and/or adding additional pluses. And the design space where skills exist in D&D is rather limited. I think/suspect that, for a skill-based character to be satisfying to the OP, the potential results for this skill-based theoretical class need to extend outside of that realm, and into the space currently held by 5e Battlemaster Maneuvers, 3e tactical feats, etc. --to be able to do something else, not just do what already exists inside skill and aid actions better/faster/etc.
 

vitruvian

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The issue I am highlighting (or failing to, I guess), is that it is still constrained by what the Aid Another action, and Skill checks, currently already do in D&D, and just doing so as bonus actions and/or adding additional pluses. And the design space where skills exist in D&D is rather limited. I think/suspect that, for a skill-based character to be satisfying to the OP, the potential results for this skill-based theoretical class need to extend outside of that realm, and into the space currently held by 5e Battlemaster Maneuvers, 3e tactical feats, etc. --to be able to do something else, not just do what already exists inside skill and aid actions better/faster/etc.
So, combat specifically, then? Because really, skills seem to cover pretty much all aspects of the exploration and social pillars... in that case, I'm still not sure I entirely agree.

Giving someone advantage on their next turn in combat (or for longer if we make that adjustment as already suggested) is pretty powerful, in most cases as or more powerful than most of the Battle Master maneuvers used to buff others, when applied to the attack roll. Then the version of the Expert provided in UA also gets some bonus dice on top of granting the advantage at a higher level, which can be applied to damage as well as an attack or success roll, so pretty close to mechanically equivalent to maneuvers or Bardic Inspiration dice or indeed the effects of certain spells like Guidance. Then consider that unlike the Bard or Battle Master, these features are at will (only costing the use of the bonus action out of your action economy) and unlike the Battle Master, very flexible in their application. Add in my other suggestions about distance, duration, and 'helping yourself', and it arguably becomes considerably more powerful than the PHB examples of such mechanics.
 

Shade the Lost

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Arguably, the Battlemaster's mechanics are pretty miserably weak because a Battlemaster isn't supposed to outshine a Champion. Comparing with a cleric's ability to enhance their companions seems like a distinctly more appropriate thing to do.

Expert as force multiplier.
 

Unka Josh

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Arguably, the Battlemaster's mechanics are pretty miserably weak because a Battlemaster isn't supposed to outshine a Champion.
Yeah, but... they aren't weak at all? A 3rd level Champion has a 10% chance of adding an extra die, or 2d6 if they've gone Greatsword, to any attack they make; in most fights, that's a fractional boost to damage, and only slightly more than any other fighter's 5% chance. A 3rd level battlemaster gets to add up to 4d8 to four attacks they make, every short rest-- by most standards, that's 2d8 per fight. In addition, they have a chance of adding something like Disarmed, Frightened or Prone to those attacks, and the die will be doubled 5% of the time-- but they also get to decide to add the damage after they roll with most of those abilities, so if they crit, they can go, "Welp, this is the time for a Mastery Die if I ever saw one!" But if the fighter whiffs? No Mastery Die, so they aren't lost at all.

Mastery Dice are so good they really overwhelm anything a Champion ca do, and make other Fighters have to work hard to keep their position at all.
 

WistfulD

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A 3rd level battlemaster gets to add up to 4d8 to four attacks they make, every short rest-- by most standards, that's 2d8 per fight. In addition, they have a chance of adding something like Disarmed, Frightened or Prone to those attacks, and the die will be doubled 5% of the time-- but they also get to decide to add the damage after they roll with most of those abilities, so if they crit, they can go, "Welp, this is the time for a Mastery Die if I ever saw one!" But if the fighter whiffs? No Mastery Die, so they aren't lost at all.
Much more than damage, mastery dice can add attacks (by turning unused reactions into attacks, via Riposte), turn missed hits into successful hits (via Precise), and open up new strategies (such as making the -5 to-hit/+10damage of Great Weapon Master a reasonable strategy, by increasing one's to-hit (via the aforementioned Precise) or giving one advantage on attacks (via Trip). There is a perennial complaint about the rest-frequency balance in the game, and I guess a lot of groups don't take the suggested-as-normal number of short rests per long rest. However, if they do, a battlemaster is an incredibly well-designed sub-class.

The Champion is predicated on dungeon-delving, and having massively multiple attack rolls per Long Rest, such that the small consistent bonus to attacks will be on-par with, or superior to, expendable resource bonuses. Despite its lackluster reception (and my sense is it is overall considered a disappointment), when that happens, it does its job. My real complaint with it isn't that it is weak, but that it isn't the 'generic TSR-style fighter' it was sorta billed as. Instead, it is the fighter for a crit-fishing build.
 

Shade the Lost

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I certainly think that "two-three fights, long lunch, two-three fights, dinner, two fights, then long rest" is a really damn hard sequence to stick to, and that short rest classes get shafted by not giving them that many short rests. On top of this, all of those encounters need to be combat encounters for there to be enough attack rolls for the small but consistent bonus to average out. (In theory. Will Wheatons of the world may not see it even then.) A party with, say, a Champion and a Paladin where they average 5 encounters per day, with half being non-combat, is going to make something like the Champion look really, really bad, but I also feel like a whole lot of 5e fans (and D&D fans in general) tend to look down their noses at combat-heavy games, preferring most encounters be non-combat so that roleplay is more obviously in the fore. This is relevant because it means I cannot foresee them deciding to add more combat and short rests just to ensure the short rest and combat-dependent classes balance out..

I don't know what sort of resting paradigm I think that a hypothetical expert class should be designed around, given that 5e's already released for play, but I do think it would be beneficial to look at what happens if it only gets one or zero short rests between long rests.
 

Marc17

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I'm not sure why that's the case. Do players and designers just default to rogues and don't think past it?
There are two ways I have typically handled this since AD&D. One, yes in 3x anyway, they just go and be Rogues and choose their skills. The name and the skill set defined by the class comes from defined classical education from ancient elven texts saying what Rogue are supposed to do for a full education. In many cases, they are treated as just college graduates. The other are the NPC classes also found in the book. I figure they are generally equal to other player character classes as they either lack training costs PC classes require, or have non-adventuring bonuses that aren't listed. Commoners get skill bonuses as a class feature. Aristocrats get domain management bonuses and skills. Funny enough, even in my 80's AD&D games, we had a homebrew Commoner class (even called that, as with most additions in D&D, I suspect it was a rather wide spread house rules before it got printed) that were basically skill monkeys.
 

Mejiro_Night

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The general structure of D&D levels means that there generally has to be an NPC expert class of some description, otherwise you end up with the problem where every master blacksmith is also a mighty warrior, every sage is a powerful wizard and so on - for NPCs, it's useful to have a mechanically stated way to have 'good at stuff' that doesn't automatically include 'good at combat stuff'.
 

ThurstonShadwick

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Take Rogue, Retitle as Expert. Remove given proficiencies in rogue stuff and thieves cant, swap for 2 Knowledge skills of Choice.

Change “sneak attack” to “Expert strike”, refluff as “your strikes are greater when you can capitalize on a foe’s distraction or an ally’s aid.”

Leave everything else exactly the same. Take the Mastermind or Inquisitive or Scout subclass.
 
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