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Specifically related to 5E, can I use the Expertise ability granted by Rogue class ability to increase my proficiency in a skill that is granted by racial or background? Specifically, I am making a Criminal (Enforcer) Half-orc Rogue. Can I use Expertise to double the proficiency bonus for those skills if I didn't take the proficiency with the class?

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The rogue's expertise reads

Expertise

At 1st level, choose two of your skill proficiencies, or one of your skill proficiencies and your proficiency with Thieves' Tools. Your proficiency bonus is doubled for any ability check you make that uses either of the chosen proficiencies. At 6th level, you can choose two more of your proficiencies (in skills or with thieves' tools) to gain this benefit.

It doesn't specify that it has to be obtained from the class, so you can pick any of your skills that you are proficient with. Do note however, that the only tool proficiency you can apply it to is with thieves tools.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for the quick answer. That was where my train of thought was heading, just wanted some confirmation that I was on the right set of tracks. Granted, this character is going to be used for a single session run as a gauge for a couple of my DM's friends, so probably won't use the skills that much, but could come up in the future. \$\endgroup\$ – Melvang Nov 14 '17 at 7:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ I juat happened to be on the right place and right time. rides into sunset \$\endgroup\$ – PnP Nov 14 '17 at 8:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @melvang one of the running 5e philosophies is: "If it were that way, it would be written so". If the expertise feature were limited to rogue skill proficiencies it would say so. Notice that it says that it applies to thieves tools, but it doesn't say "one of your tools", so the conclusion by PnP is right on the money. "If it would apply to other tools it would say so". But I am being repetitive already. \$\endgroup\$ – Mindwin Nov 14 '17 at 15:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ I actually don't know if this applies to backgrounds, due to PHB 11-13. The step-by-step character building guide says: "1. Choose a Race. 2. Choose a Class. 3. Determine Ability Scores. 4. Describe Your Character [Choose a Background]". At the time when you gain your first Rogue level (and select expertise) you don't yet have proficiency in any skills offered by your background. At level 6 when you choose additional expertise, now you do have proficiency in those skills. This could just be an oversight of the creators, though. \$\endgroup\$ – stevendesu Aug 13 '18 at 11:23
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Rules as Written

There's actually a weird quirk that I discovered while looking into this (which caused me to Google the bug and find this thread)

According to the Player's Handbook pages 11-13 (Chapter 1: Step - by - Step Characters):

Once you have a character in mind, follow these steps in order

PHB 11 (emphasis mine)

Then the steps:

1. Choose a Race

...

2. Choose a Class

... On your character sheet, record all the features that your class gives you at 1st level.

3. Determine Ability Scores

...

4. Describe Your Character

... A background gives your character a background feature (a general benefit) and proficiency in two skills, and it might also give you additional languages or proficiency with certain kinds of tools. Record this information, along with the personality information you develop, on your character sheet.

PBH 11-13 (summarized)

Following these steps in order (as directed), you will record your class feature (including expertise) before you have selected a background. Therefore at level 1 a Rogue can apply expertise to their racial skills, but not to their background skills

Rules as Interpreted

Reading the chapter on Backgrounds:

Every story has a beginning. Your character’s background reveals where you came from, how you became an adventurer, and your place in the world. Your fighter might have been a courageous knight or a grizzled soldier. Your wizard could have been a sage or an artisan. Your rogue might have gotten by as a guild thief or commanded audiences as a jester. Choosing a background provides you with important story cues about your character’s identity. The most important question to ask about your background is what changed? Why did you stop doing whatever your background describes and start adventuring? Where did you get the money to purchase your starting gear, or, if you come from a wealthy background, why don't you have more money? How did you learn the skills of your class? What sets you apart from ordinary people who share your background?

PHB 125 (emphasis mine)

It's written as though your background takes place chronologically before level 1. You're effectively "level 0" during this part of your life, and when you give up whatever you were doing before is when you take your first level in an adventuring class. This suggests you should pick a background before you pick a class - or at the very least that any skills or features of your background should apply at the time of initial level up.

It also seems odd that Rogue's two most signature skills (stealth and sleight of hand) would be barred from gaining expertise unless a Rogue foregoes the two backgrounds that sounds like they were made for Rogue: Charlatan and Criminal.

Taking these two facts into account, it seems reasonable to assume that background skills can also receive expertise.

When in doubt, ask your DM. DMs have the final authority on how they choose to interpret the rules.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ "Man discovers one weird quirk. Rogues hate him." \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Aug 13 '18 at 12:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ The PHB states that if a character “would gain the same proficiency from two different sources [they] can choose a different proficiency of the same kind (skill or tool) instead.” Which complicates your answer a bit (in that they can choose stealth / slight of hand from their class and choose a different proficiency to get from their background) \$\endgroup\$ – illustro Aug 13 '18 at 14:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ @illustro Can you link the page for that? That sounds like a really interesting little rule since it could theoretically grant access to skills you would never have available. For instance, a Wizard can normally only learn two from a selection of six skills. By picking a background that overlaps with one of the two you pick, could you learn any skill on a Wizard? \$\endgroup\$ – stevendesu Aug 13 '18 at 22:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ @stevendesu sure: PHB pg 125 Backgrounds > Proficiencies \$\endgroup\$ – illustro Aug 13 '18 at 23:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ It’s the section immediately after the one you quoted in your answer. \$\endgroup\$ – illustro Aug 13 '18 at 23:33

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