What Is Expertise?
Expertise in DnD 5E is a feature that allows you to double your proficiency bonus for any check requiring the skill or tool you have expertise in. But before we get into expertise any deeper, let’s quickly grab some cliff-notes on what a proficiency bonus is, and why you want a high one.
A proficiency bonus is a fixed number you add to when making ability checks, saving throws, or attack rolls in which you are proficient. This lovely bonus increases every 4 levels, and starts at a +2, up to +6. Now, whether your game is roleplay heavy, combat driven, or a happy balance of both, you’re going to end up rolling dice. Here is where your proficiency bonus comes in. But imagine if you had double proficiency with the help of expertise! See where I’m going? Good, I’m glad you didn’t use Wisdom as your dump stat.
I bet you really wanna know how to get your hands on expertise. Unfortunately, this feature isn’t straightforward, and is easily misunderstood, like that pop/emo/country mesh phase we all went through… Ahem… Anyway, with the dice gods on our side, we’ll surely make an expert on expertise out of you. To start, understand there’s actually quite a few places you can get expertise from; what you can apply the bonus to depends on the source: for example, a Bard can only gain expertise in skills, but a Rogue can gain it in skills or Thieves’ Tools.
So, if you’re a 3rd level Rogue with expertise in acrobatics and a +3 Dexterity, you would add +7 to acrobatics skill checks. Not too shabby for a low level character, and it only gets better from there, with your modifier jumping up by two every time you get a proficiency bonus increase. Imagine the look on everyone’s face when you mention your bonus is +15 or more at higher levels. Remember, it’s essential you flex it from time to time to dish everyone out some humble pie.
Where can you get expertise?
At first expertise was a pretty limited ability, only really available to the Rogue and Bard, however almost 7 years into 5E there’s now quite a few places to grab it:
- Bard – Sometimes having high Charisma just isn’t enough. If you’re looking for some help with that performance check, don’t fret: Bards get expertise as a class feature at 3rd level letting them choose two of their skills to gain expertise in, getting another choice of two at 10th level.
- Rogue – DnD’s own masters of Stealth. These sneaky folk get expertise as a central class feature, able to choose two skills (or Thieves’ Tools) as their expertise options. At 6th level they get another two choices for a total of four.
- Artificer – Don’t worry if your faucet starts to leak again, or your mechanical dragon keeps catching fire in the bad way; you’ve got tools and know how to use ‘em! Artificers gain tool expertise at 6th level, which doubles their proficiency bonus for and check made with a tool that they’re proficient in.
When is Expertise not Expertise?
The only ways to get expertise is using the above classes, however, there’s plenty of ways to double your proficiency bonus on various checks. The key thing to understand is that expertise is doubling your proficiency bonus on a proficiency you already have, whereas other features typically give you some kind of proficiency in addition to doubling it. Here’s the other ways to make your DM wish they set the DC higher (check our DnD book list for acronym meanings):
- Prodigy (feat, XGtE) – If you’re a half-elf, half-orc, or human, this feat will give you a skill proficiency, tool proficiency, and fluency in a Language of your choice. In addition, you can choose any skill you are proficient in and double your proficiency bonus for checks regarding that skill.
- Skill Expert (feat, TCoE) – This feat gives you a +1 to an ability score of your choice, proficiency in a skill of your choice, and lets you choose one skill to double your proficiency bonus with. It’s a bonafide feat for the overachiever in all of us.
- Knowledge Domain (Cleric, PHB) – At 2nd level, the Blessings of Knowledge feature gives you two Languages of your choice, two skills of your choice from a list of Arcana, History, Nature, or Religion, and whichever to skills you pick, it doubles your proficiency bonus with them.
- Purple Dragon Knight/Banneret (Fighter, SCAG) – At 7th level, the Royal Envoy feature either gives you proficiency in Persuasion or, if you already have it, proficiency in another skill from a list of: Animal Handling, Insight, Intimidation or Performance. No matter what skill the feature gives you, you can double your proficiency bonus on Persuasion checks.
- Scout Archetype (Rogue, XGtE) – At 3rd level the Survivalist feature gives you proficiency in Nature and Survival, with your proficiency bonus being doubled for any ability check that uses those skills.
- Ranger (Optional Class Feature, TCoE) – If your DM allows you to replace Natural Explorer with Deft Explorer, then at 1st level you gain the Canny feature. This feature gives your two Languages of your choice and allows you to choose one of your skill proficiencies; your proficiency bonus is doubled for ability checks using that skill.
How to roleplay the Expertise class feature
Need some help roleplaying the Expertise class feature? Here are some examples to help you out:
- As you carefully examine the ancient tome, your proficiency in Arcana allows you to decipher the complex symbols and incantations inscribed within. With a wave of your hand and a whispered word, the magical ward protecting the treasure chest before you fades away.
- Your extensive knowledge of History proves invaluable as you navigate the winding catacombs beneath the ruined fortress. You recall the stories of a long-forgotten siege, and with a keen eye for detail, you uncover the hidden trapdoor leading to the chamber beyond.
- With your unparalleled expertise in Nature, you track the elusive quarry through the dense forest, following subtle clues and signs that others would surely miss. As the sun begins to set, you finally spot your prey, and your deft hand with a bow brings it down with a single, swift shot.
- Your proficiency in Persuasion allows you to sway the suspicious guard, convincing them that you and your companions are nothing more than harmless travelers passing through. With a friendly smile and a few well-chosen words, you gain access to the keep and its secrets.
- Drawing on your vast knowledge of Religion, you recognize the ancient symbols etched into the walls of the forgotten temple. With a prayer to your deity and a firm hand, you channel divine energy into the sacred space, driving out the unholy presence lurking within.
- Your expert insight into Insight allows you to read the hidden emotions and intentions of the shady character across the tavern. You sense their fear and desperation, and with a careful touch, you gently coax the truth out of them, revealing the dark plot that threatens the town.
- As you pour over the ancient map, your keen eye for Investigation allows you to discern the subtle markings and hidden clues that reveal the location of the long-lost artifact. With a sense of excitement and anticipation, you set off on the perilous journey to claim your prize.
So there you have it, whether it’s expertise or not, you’re now equipped to make any check look trivial. Well, not if you’re one of those people that consistently rolls under a five, only the dice gods can help you poor souls.