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A player I know suggested that when playing 4th ed, it made sense to give characters the Weapons Expertise feat for free at 5th level. I don't have much experience with 4.0, so I don't know whether I can correctly evaluate the reasonableness of this request.

Is this a common house rule? What are the benefits and drawbacks of changing the system in this way?

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Is it common for players to not have that feat already by that time? Since +hit has so large impact on everything, most characters I've seen take an expertise feat already at 1st level. –  Peteris Mar 1 at 9:14
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It's definitely common. I'm in one campaign that uses it, and you see it suggested an awful lot.

Many people feel expertise bonuses are necessary to make the math work. Here's the deal: if you extrapolate a character's attack bonuses and a monster's defenses, incorporating expected magic items and so on, the attack bonuses increase slower than the defenses. Therefore, without looking at any other factors, the characters hit less often as they level.

At level 1, a typical melee character has +4 to hit from his stats, +0 from his level, and let's say a +3 proficiency bonus from his weapon. That's a +7 to hit, versus a typical AC of 15 for a level 1 monster.

At level 30, the same character has +8 to hit from his stats, +15 from his level, +3 proficiency bonus from his weapon, and the weapon is +6 as well. That's a +32 to hit, but the monster has an AC of 44.

However, the PCs also get more situational bonuses as they go up in level. With higher level powers, they're more able to tilt the scales back in their direction; they have more ways to get combat advantage, more ways to reduce a monster's defenses, and so on. Some people feel these advantages even out the playing field such that the advantages you get from the Expertise feats are not necessary.

I can say that at paragon tier, I've found my PCs to be more effective against monsters due to those factors, but that is just one person and I can't at all speak to epic tier. There are some interesting threads here and here.

However, no matter which side of the fence you fall on, I think it's a good idea to do one of two things: either give everyone the expertise feats for free (you want to give out Implement Expertise as well, I note) or remove them entirely. The thing is, they're good enough so that people will usually wind up taking them at some point. If you think you need them, you'll take them immediately; if you don't think you need them, they're still worth taking if you want to make your character even more accurate.

Finally, it's worth noting my two sneaky little secrets about 4e. First, optimization doesn't matter. The game plays just fine if you have a 16 in your primary stat. I play a halfling barbarian, I spent the points to get an 18 Strength, and if you listen to the optimizers I'd have made a mistake and shorted myself elsewhere. But he's a blast.

Second, player skill matters at least as much if not more than optimized characters. If you show me a character with one of the expertise feats who's played by someone who doesn't get the importance of working with his group, and a character without any expertise feats who's played by someone who knows how to stay out of the way of his friend's area spells? I'll play with the latter and we'll have an easier time with the combats.

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(very old answer, new comment) I typically give the original weapon expertise feats for free (and allow players to take as many are as necessary to cover all weapons, implements and unarmed), but do not allow them to have the newer essentials feats for free because they add a powerful rider (e.g. "staff expertise" - not to be confused with "weapon expertise (staff)" also gives you the "don't grant combat advantage for ranged powers" effect). Having now played (and DM'd) at epic for a while, I'm not really convinced they're required anymore, but missing attacks is very frustrating. –  Core Dec 16 '12 at 12:20
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With the new MM3 material, and the new player essentials books we can revisit the question.

First, let's just look at the numbers

Level       Stat Mod                    
|    MonsterAC   Inherent bonus                     
|    |   Stat|   |   Proficiency    Attack
|    |   |   |   |    +HalfLevel    bonus   %ToHit
 1  15  18  4   0   2              6    0.55
 2  16  18  4   1   3              8    0.6
 3  17  18  4   1   3              8    0.55
 4  18  19  4   1   4              9    0.55           
 5  19  19  4   1   4              9    0.5
 6  20  19  4   1   5              10   0.5
 7  21  19  4   2   5              11   0.5
 8  22  20  5   2   6              13   0.55
 9  23  20  5   2   6              13   0.5
10  24  20  5   2   7              14   0.5
11  25  21  5   2   7              14   0.45
12  26  21  5   3   8              16   0.5
13  27  21  5   3   8              16   0.45
14  28  22  6   3   9              18   0.5
15  29  22  6   3   9              18   0.45
16  30  22  6   3   10             19   0.45
17  31  22  6   4   10             20   0.45
18  32  23  6   4   11             21   0.45
19  33  23  6   4   11             21   0.4
20  34  23  6   4   12             22   0.4
21  35  24  7   4   12             23   0.4
22  36  24  7   5   13             25   0.45
23  37  24  7   5   13             25   0.4
24  38  25  7   5   14             26   0.4
25  39  25  7   5   14             26   0.35
26  40  25  7   5   15             27   0.35
27  41  25  7   6   15             28   0.35
28  42  26  8   6   16             30   0.4
29  43  26  8   6   16             30   0.35
30  44  26  8   6   17             31   0.35

The math is clearly broken. While different parties may form strategies to mitigate this, missing is boring. Missing because the system doesn't understand the difference between level and half level is even more boring. A +1 significantly helps heroic characters, it is true. It then adds 5% onto the to hits of paragon, bringing the range to 45-55% and 10% onto epic, bringing things to 45-50%.

Optimally, though this means the most work for DMs, monster ACs should be lowered to meet expectations, -1 per tier is a decent rule of thumb. This preserves the choice of taking the enhanced expertise skills to actually enhance their accuracy, rather than reducing the rate of their accuracy dropping.

Edit: the R&D staff recommend giving free math fixes here:

You're not likely to see any big, universal fixes to this. We can't easily rescale the monster numbers again, because it takes a long time for those changes to percolate through the system and the player community. We could let characters have more feats, but there's wide agreement that characters are already complicated enough. Obviously, you can add any house rule that you like. For example, you could give PCs a free +1 feat bonus to all accuracy and defenses at heroic tier, increasing to +2 at paragon and +3 at epic. That removes much of the pressure to choose "feat tax" feats. But we're not ready to make that a global rule.

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I'm using it at the moment (or something similar, a flat +1 per tier to hit).

In retrospect, I really don't think its as necessary as some people make it out to be (afore mentioned player skill and teamworking really taking the cake there) and I'm not sure I would recommend it.

The so Called 'Math Problem" I find only really exists on paper

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Note that if you have any implement users in your group, you probably want PHB3's Versatile Expertise. It's Weapon Expertise plus Implement Expertise.

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I did and regretted it. My players had trouble convincing the character builder to give them a free feat. It turned out that one player didn't have expertise for several sessions while the others did, and that left him somewhat gimpy.

I also found that monsters were a little too easy to hit. I used tons of soldiers because they were the only NPCs that didn't get attacked on a 5.

I realize expertise is supposed to fix some math error, but the players are powerful enough without it, especially if they optimize. If your players are totally incapable of optimizing, you might want to hand it to them. But if they've even heard of the char op boards, they won't need the extra help.

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What books were you pulling monsters from? Also, if you look at the math, it only becomes important in late heroic and later. –  Brian Ballsun-Stanton Sep 14 '11 at 6:12
    
@Brian, I was blindly pulling monsters out of DDI with little regard for the book they came from. –  valadil Sep 14 '11 at 14:13
    
I kind of dislike this answer because the problem isn't with the rule issue itself but with a computer program's capability of handling it. –  mirv120 Sep 14 '11 at 21:08
    
@mirv120, the computer problem was only half the reason. I didn't think the fix was necessary. Accounting for the error in the builder created a power discrepancy between players. I didn't like what the CB did for my game in general and if I could have gotten my players to quit using it I would have. –  valadil Sep 15 '11 at 0:59
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It seems - and I'm not a 4th ed expert here - come down to what you want out of the game, and the feel that is present. The feats in question seem like they're fairly powerful in giving a good bonus to attack checks. Which makes the question, do you want to give your players a free bonus and have them be able to hit a bit more often, win a bit more easily; or do you want to make them pay for it if they want it and thus have to choose if that bit of extra hitting is worth it?

Depending on the game, and how you want to go with it, will determine the answer for it. Free stuff is always popular, and fairly common for various house games. The question of "should I" though is a personal choice that depends on the game you are running.

I realize this is a non-answer, but felt it should be pointed out that by giving them this bonus, you have slanted the tables more in their favor and need to be aware of it. It will mean you have to do that much more later if you want to add a bit more challenge.

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I liked this answer. I don't use the free "everyone gets's expertise feat for free", although if people take the feat I think that's cool. It's definitely not a requirement, though. –  Peter Seckler Sep 4 '10 at 23:39
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A lot has to do with my players. I often play with power gamers with a high level of skill. For them I would never dream of giving them a free +1. On the flipside, while playing with my wife and kid, I often find myself reducing defenses, which amounts to the same thing as giving Weapon Expertise.

In most cases though, I think Versatile Expertise solves the situation well enough. In general, VE is flexible enough not to force them into a single weapon but doesn't feel like such a freebie.

I can only speak for my players, but if I gave them all a free +1 they'd think I was going soft on them. I'd rather keep that kind of thing hidden and on a case by case basis behind the screen.

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