Expertise isn’t Boring!
Nor is it a math fix.
Oooh two heresies in two sentances.
I’ll start with the titular one, that the expertise feats are not boring. The first thing is to understand that the idea of them being “boring” is based around what they do – grant a bonus to hit, and nothing else. This supposedly makes them a boring feat choice because their only interaction with the PC is to make them hit more often. Yet this misses the fact that individual feat choices are only as interesting as your ability to gain the benifits that the feat provides.
Many “interesting” feats are conditional “when X is happening you get Y cool benifit”, so unless your character (or party) is optimised to make X happen a lot, you may go whole sessions without ever seeing the benefit of Y, which often leads to forgetting about Y. Now sure Expertise doesn’t come up a lot if the session is all RP and skill checks, but it comes up every time you attack in a combat – and that happens a lot.
So here is the thing, expertise lets your character use their combat powers more successfully. That means you get to do the cool stuff in your powers more often (5/10/15% more often ;)), which makes your game more fun (well it does for me.. I hate missing those effects – Healing Strike I’m looking at you).
Then there is the way expertise enables character ideas. Got a character concept that requires a Fighter with 14 str? Expertise + the right fighter type and weapons will keep that +7 attack that maters so much for making your marks matter. Got a Barbarian/Druid hybrid that you want to keep balanced – Versatile Expertise keeps that +7 and +4 that matter. In short you can just make simply more interesting characters because you can keep the characters accuracy up there in the realms that matter for being effective in 4E.
This leads to the math fix argument. After all the whole last paragraph seems to say that Expertise “fixes the math so the character works”. But that isn’t what the math fix is about. It is about some calculations people have done to look at the advancement of monster defences vs the advancement of character attacks.
The first thing to realise is that , yes based on straight math comparison it is easier to hit at heroic tier than epic. However that straight math is ignoring the more readily available bonuses to hit (and damage) that higher level characters have available to them so the net effect is that it is often easier to hit in epic than in heroic (depending on party choices).
The second thing is that for it to be a “math fix” it must be necassary for all characters to aquire the feat before 30th level so as to be effective. This simply isn’t true, for characters with an 18 or higher starting stat for their primary attack and an Epic Destiny that further boosts that stat by two the feats are just not required, and an 18 primary stat is anything but hard to have for a 4E PC.
SoiIn looking at the straight math of monster defences at level 30, and assuming a “10” is needed to hit and that no one is helping you the following becomes apparent at level 30 for fighting the 9 current level 30 standard monsters:
- If you have a 16 starting stat, a +2 accuracy weapon, and no Epic Destiny stat pip you will need Expertise to keep hitting on 10’s (on average).
- Being able to attack a non-AC defence is less useful at level 30, because non-AC defences largely catch AC at that level. (Hopefully WotC will fix that because it breaks the paradigm between weapons and implements.)
- If you use an implement you must have the ability to attack all the non-AC defences to improve your chances.
- If you start with a 16 stat, use an implement, and take no ED pip you must take Expertise, and even then you need to select the lowest defence. (This is the worst case due to the issues with non-AC catching AC.)
- If you start with an 18 stat, use an implement and don’t take an ED pip then Expertise is a good choice.
So while there is a case that Implement users should take expertise by the time they are in Epic, certainly it is only needed for the least accurate weapon users. So the feats are not a blanket “math fix” but rather they allow “less optimal” builds to still function all the way to Epic level – which strikes me as a good thing for the game.
You might see it as a “feat tax” on “less optimal” builds, yet I would rather such builds be able to work well and be fun than work poorly and be frustrating for their players.
So when you are looking at your character, don’t skip the Expertise feats out of some perception that they are “boring”, and nor should you be taking them because they are supposedly “necassary”. Rather choose the feats because they make your character work better and that makes them more intersting to play.
Just keep in mind that if you have an 18 or higher primary stat, and your attack bonus with a weapon is +7 you pretty much don’t need them ever (as long as you take an ED with a stat pip). Remember also that your allies should be helping you hit more; from lowering enemy defences, to providing combat advantage or other bonuses (often stacking) to hit this will get that required roll down well under 10 more often than not as you go up in levels.
That is really the key to evaluating the Expertise feats, 4E is a group game your party needs to work well together for them to be successful as a group. Your individual character matters in that dynamic, weakest link and all that, but the use of good teamwork will affect the outcome of your fights much more than any individual feat choice.