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I'm going to be starting a new campaign in the new year, in which the party are crewmembers of an airship. I'm planning to have my character be the helmsman, and as such I have a tool proficiency in Vehicles (Water) via the Pirate background, which the DM is letting me refluff to be proficiency in "Vehicles (Air)".

I would like my character to be an expert with airships, the reason the captain spared me from the noose and brought me onto his crew. However so far as I can tell, the only method to get a greater bonus to Vehicle-related rolls than tool proficiency is via the Artificer's 6th-level feature Tool Expertise:

Starting at 6th level, your proficiency bonus is doubled for any ability check you make that uses your proficiency with a tool.

All well and good, except I'm planning to play a Sorcerer/Warlock; picking up 6 levels of Artificer just to get my Vehicle expertise seems like an awful plan. (And even if I were to play a pure Artificer, the game is starting at level 5.)

I'm fully aware the answer may simply be "no", but is there any other method to get a bonus to handling our airship beyond simple proficiency?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Work piracy into your backstory, take a level of rogue, and attempt to convince your DM that the airship counts as Thieves Tools? :D \$\endgroup\$ Nov 29 '21 at 3:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Punintended Ha! I like the way you think. I'll have to ask my DM if he'll allow that :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Brian S
    Nov 29 '21 at 5:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ #nitpick: fluff and mechanics are mutally exclusive, letting you use vehicles(water) as vehicles(air) has mechanically ramifications (which is exactly why you asked for it), so it's not refluffing. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 1 '21 at 6:15
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It's still another multiclass, but Fighter 3 that takes the Rune Knight subclass can get the Fire Rune, which let's you double your proficiency bonus for any ability check you make that uses your proficiency with a tool. Since Vehicles(misc) is on the tool list, it should apply. It's unfortunate that it's still some levels of investment, but It's still half as much investment as Artificer would be.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Oh, nice! I think this may be the best RAW method to get expertise in a vehicle, though Punintended's comment on the question suggesting asking the DM to substitute Thieves' Tools expertise from Rogue 1 with Vehicle expertise has worked out for my particular case. \$\endgroup\$
    – Brian S
    Nov 29 '21 at 22:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for a solid RAW, and +1 for a solid DM :) \$\endgroup\$ Nov 30 '21 at 0:56
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A comedic answer:

Be a Warforged Envoy (from Unearthed Arcana)

Proceeding from the assumption that a vehicle counts as a tool, the Envoy Warforged from the Races of Eberron UA has the Integrated Tool racial trait:

Integrated Tool. Choose one tool you’re proficient with. This tool is integrated into your body, and you double your proficiency bonus for any ability checks you make with it. You must have your hands free to use this integrated tool.

So if you are proficient with Vehicles (Air), and you choose this to be your integrated tool, you will get expertise on piloting air vehicles such as airships - or rather, on one specific airship, which is built into your body.

This may make it difficult to contribute when your party enters enclosed environments smaller than a hangar, and you will need to keep your hands free while you're flying – but on the plus side, it's the cheapest way to pick up an airship at character creation, and it will be very hard to lose it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Alternate header: "Have you tried just being the airship?" \$\endgroup\$ Nov 29 '21 at 21:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ "I am a Boat aaaaand I'm going fast aaaaand..." -Lyrics from a The Lonely Realm song. \$\endgroup\$
    – Axoren
    Nov 30 '21 at 1:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ Maybe you can be a Transformer or Go-Bot, or a non-trademarked similar thing :P Although you'd still be huge to gargantuan when transforming into bipedal or quadruped form. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 30 '21 at 2:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ The steering system could be integrated. Like, you plug yourself directly into the ship \$\endgroup\$
    – Yakk
    Dec 1 '21 at 17:36
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I was not able to find a good way to get expertise on a tool (other than thieves' tools). There are feats that grant tool proficiencies but none of them grant tool expertise.

(Taking 11 levels in Rogue allows you to get a minimum result of 10 on any ability check that lets you add your proficiency bonus, which would be quite good for an airship pilot, but 11 levels in Rogue is too expensive of course.)

You may be able to persuade your DM to house rule your tool expertise. For example you could take the Skill Expert feat and ask to take a tool expertise instead of a skill expertise. It isn't broken -- in fact it's somewhat underpowered.

However there are easy ways to buff your skill rolls using magic. The enhance ability spell is available to sorcerers and lets you get advantage on the check for an hour. The ever-popular guidance spell is slightly more expensive to get (Pact of the Tome will let you access it), and gets you a bonus 1d4 on the check. You might be able to convince your DM that your familiar can help you pilot the ship, which would give you advantage.

Also, depending on how airships work, there may be things you can get other than straight tool proficiency that would help. Are these the sort of airships that are powered by trapped elementals? If so, do you need a dragonmark to pilot one?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Don't sleep on the stone of good luck: +1 to every ability check. \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60
    Nov 29 '21 at 4:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ I had been planning on Sorcerer X/Warlock 2, but a third level in Warlock for Pact of the Tome to pick up Guidance does sound nice. Guidance and Enhance Ability are both Concentration, though, so I wouldn't be able to benefit from both (unless another party member picked one of them up and used it on me), and Sorcerer doesn't get Glyph of Warding. Enhance Ability gives a slightly higher average and lasts longer, but Guidance is a cantrip. Dunno which option is best. \$\endgroup\$
    – Brian S
    Nov 29 '21 at 5:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ Seconding that I don't believe there any character options available that let you take expertise on an arbitrary tool proficiency, but if I were your DM I would let you choose a tool expertise in place of any option which normally gave you skill expertise (and I'd feel kind of bad about it, expertise in a tool is a much weaker option than expertise in a skill, though maybe it holds its own in a vehicle-based campaign). Something like Skill Expert is a feat available to anyone and grants expertise in any arbitrary skill - your DM might go for it? \$\endgroup\$
    – Carcer
    Nov 29 '21 at 10:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @nitsua60 I agree, but reading OP's question I don't think magic items would solve their roleplaying problem. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dan B
    Nov 29 '21 at 13:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ You could also pick up Guidance with the Magic Initiate feat, if that makes more sense for you. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 29 '21 at 23:17
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A modified form of the Skill Expert feat, with DM permission

Tasha's Cauldron of Everything includes the Skill Expert feat, whose description states (in part):

  • You gain proficiency in one skill of your choice.
  • Choose one skill in which you have proficiency. You gain expertise with that skill, which means your proficiency bonus is doubled for any ability check you make with it. The skill you choose must be one that isn't already benefiting from a feature, such as Expertise, that doubles your proficiency bonus.

With your DM's permission, you could use a modified version of this feat to choose a tool instead of a skill. As A DM, I would never even dream of saying no to this request; tool proficiencies are just another skill proficiency to me.

Alternatively, ask your DM if they can use the optional "Tools and Skills Together" rules from Xanathar's Guide to Everything, which would let you combine your tool proficiency with things like Survival or Nature proficiency to get advantage on the check.

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Have a high Intelligence score¹

Tool use involves making an ability check that includes a relevant ability modifier as well as your proficiency bonus (if you're proficient), so raising the corresponding ability score will make you better.

A smart slave who knows how to pilot an airship is a good candidate for being saved from the noose.

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¹ This assumes the GM is using Intelligence for steering an airship. It seems the appropriate ability to me, but your GM may differ.

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