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D&D 5E duplicate proficiency

Kobold Stew

Last Guy in the Airlock
Supporter
"If a character would gain the same proficiency from two different sources, he or she can choose a different proficiency of the same kind (skill or tool) instead" (PHB 125).

This rule appears specifically in the context of backgrounds, but I am wondering about its general applicability. (I understand this is easily house ruled in any case; but I'm trying to get a sense of the original intention.) I see two ways it can be read:

1. Narrow reading: it applies only to backgrounds. Because character generation has players select backgrounds after class, this is a sensible rule that is in fact only a specific application of the "customizing a background" rule on the same page.

2. Broad reading: it applies in other contexts where you gain a skill or tool proficiency. There's not many of these. The main case would be when you gain proficiencies from class levels: e.g. at Rogue 3 (Assassin); If you multiclass into rogue, you would get Thieves' tools (which you might already have from your previously-chosen background); if you reincarnate into a half-orc (and already have intimidation) or and elf (and already have perception), you would get a skill you already have. Are there any other circumstances that this might arise? (Note it doesn't arise if you multiclass into bard, since even if you are already proficient in a musical instrument, there are always more available; the same is true of artisan's tools for the Fighter's Student of War ability.)

My sense is that the narrow reading is correct: that outside of multiclassing the situation doesn't arise often enough that the game worries about it, and in all of the examples I gave under the "broad" reading, the player can lump it.

* Am I missing obvious cases where this situation might arise?
* Are there reasons to think the broad ruling is likely to be the intended result?

The only other situation I can see right now is the "Blessings of Knowledge" (level 1 ability for Knowledge clerics), which is actually quite powerful. you gain double proficiency in two knowledge skills (cool), and as a level 1 ability it makes sense to fudge the order of selection of class skills and knowledge skills so that the player gets double proficiency in the skills she wants. That's harder to fudge if the character has multi classed into Cleric -- they might have proficiency in Religion from another class, but (RAW) not be able to leverage that with the bonus skills of Blessings of Knowledge. (This is trivially solved, of course: you gain proficiency in any two of the listed skills, and you may choose any two of the skills in which you are proficient to gain double proficiency).

Thanks for your thoughts!

EDIT: also relevant possibly is the wording for the Light Cleric's bonus cantrip: "When you choose this domain at first level, you gain the light cantrip if you don't already know it" (PHB 61, italics added). Again, the only time I think this would come up is if you are m-cing int Cleric, since a first-level cantrip choice happens more or less at the same time as the domain choice.
 
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Artificer

First Post
I will not be allowing the use of this. It is obviously intended to give all characters an equal benefit from a background, but it will not be used that way. This will only see use when a player wants to take a skill that is not in their class list. By selecting a skill that is doubled by their intended background, a player can then opt for proficiency in any skill.

Using it for tools instead of skills might be more valid, but in general I don't think a character should be rewarded with additional versatility for over-specializing.
 

77IM

Explorer!!!
Supporter
I favor the broad reading. I think the narrow reading penalizes players for picking coherent concepts, like a MC wizard/cleric(knowledge), and the broad reading is a pleasant alternative that is in no way unbalanced.
 

GX.Sigma

Adventurer
I don't see why it should only apply to backgrounds, since you only get one background, and it doesn't overlap with your class skills (notice how it's always "choose a few from this big list"). I think the rule means exactly what it says: if you somehow get some proficiency that you already have, you can choose a different one.

The only limitation that I infer is, if you have a choice, you can't just choose ones you already have, in order to invoke this rule and choose anything. If you can make a legal choice, you have to. Like, if you have the Fighter class and take Athletics and Intimidation, and you have the Soldier background (Athletics, Intimidation), you have to go back and pick different ones from the Fighter list.
 

Crothian

First Post
I will not be allowing the use of this. It is obviously intended to give all characters an equal benefit from a background, but it will not be used that way. This will only see use when a player wants to take a skill that is not in their class list. By selecting a skill that is doubled by their intended background, a player can then opt for proficiency in any skill.

I think you need to play with people you trust instead of assuming the worst of their decisions.

I think if for any reason a character would get a skill they already have they are free to choose another one. Skills are not that powerful and while perception seems to be the one king of the skills its usefulness is strictly in the hands of the DM.
 

the Jester

Legend
I'm pretty sure that Mearls has stated that the broad ruling is the intent. Do what you will with that, but it's good enough for me.
 

The Broad ruling is correct, but this really shouldn't come up often. I think it's mostly for multi-classing (as has been mentioned). The Background are meant to be customizable, so you really shouldn't have overlap in character creation. Of course, as a DM I require justification for every non-standard skill/tool/language within the context of the character's history (not "Thieves' Tools are kewl").
 

Kobold Stew

Last Guy in the Airlock
Supporter
Thanks so much for the feedback -- I didn't know Mearls had tweeted about this. It's actually pretty iterating how rarely the circumstances come up; my sense is there were many more instances i the play test. As it is now, I can see players feeling slightly cheated if their disguise-master gets given a duplicate proficiency at level 3 when they become an assassin. I'm not sure that's a completely justified feeling, but I can see it.

Does it make more sense for the newly-decided poisoner to learn Artisans' tools instead? No, but that's "balanced". I think it really can work perfectly fine either way.
 

gyor

Legend
The only times I see it really be needed, are with an elf who takes the sailor background or other backvround that grants perception, Half Orcs with a background that grants intimidate, and a charatan assassin, or an entertainer background. Honestly ai have no problem with the rule.
 

Jeff Carlsen

Adventurer
The broad version is definitely better. Skills are supposed to be equal. As a DM, I will essentially allow anyone to trade one skill for another if it better matches their character concept, regardless of duplicates. The only place I might limit that is if everyone starts wanting the Perception skill.
 

Ashr

First Post
I think you need to play with people you trust instead of assuming the worst of their decisions.
Jeff Carlsen said:
The broad version is definitely better. Skills are supposed to be equal. As a DM, I will essentially allow anyone to trade one skill for another if it better matches their character concept, regardless of duplicates. The only place I might limit that is if everyone starts wanting the Perception skill.


I think these are two key concepts in the spirit of the game. I've always been of a mindset that players should build a character concept, then try and match the character sheet to that. Rather than just building an optimal build. Mixing roleplay and roll-play together so that they complement each other and everyone has fun.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
It seems to me that if you deliberately choose a background whose skills is on your class skill list, you can completely circumvent that class restriction.

Simply choose as your class skills the exact two skills your background gives you. This instantly allows you to re-choose from all skills, not limited to your class skill list.



Example: A Barbarian's class skill list is "Choose two from Animal Handling, Athletics,
Intimidation, Nature, Perception, and Survival".

The Soldier background hands out Athletics, Intimidation.

So you want to select Athletics and Intimidation as your class skills. As soon as you then choose Soldier, you have duplicate proficiencies, and can re-choose from all skills.

This effectively means that you don't need to choose a background that complements your class in order to get a more diverse skill set that just your class skill list. In fact, you shouldn't. It's far better to pick a background that hands out skills your class is already giving you.

You would think a barbarian guild artisan (!), hermit (!!) or sage (!!!) would gain access to a wider selection of skills than the stereotypical barbarian folk hero, outlander or soldier...

...but you'd be wrong, since it is the latter trio who can be proficient in pretty much everything, instead of just two specific things.

I find this counter-intuitive, and I would like to hear if anyone has seen a rules suggestion or house rule that makes this awkwardness go away? :)
 
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Paraxis

Explorer
Broad reading.

Any time you gain a skill or tool proficiency you already have you gain another in it's place, keeping it in the same category, skill or tool.

Example,
Half Elf (any two skills)
Bard (any three skills) and (three musical instrument proficiencies)
Entertainer Background (acrobatics and performance, so just take them as half elf or bard and they are any two) and disguise kit plus one more musical instrument which becomes any tool proficiency you want like thieve's tools.

Honestly I just let my players use the customizing a background rules on page 125 of the PHB, pick any two skills, pick a combination of any two tool or language proficiencies.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
It seems to me that if you deliberately choose a background whose skills is on your class skill list, you can completely circumvent that class restriction.

Simply choose as your class skills the exact two skills your background gives you. This instantly allows you to re-choose from all skills, not limited to your class skill list.



Example: A Barbarian's class skill list is "Choose two from Animal Handling, Athletics,
Intimidation, Nature, Perception, and Survival".

The Soldier background hands out Athletics, Intimidation.

So you want to select Athletics and Intimidation as your class skills. As soon as you then choose Soldier, you have duplicate proficiencies, and can re-choose from all skills.

This effectively means that you don't need to choose a background that complements your class in order to get a more diverse skill set that just your class skill list. In fact, you shouldn't. It's far better to pick a background that hands out skills your class is already giving you.

You would think a barbarian guild artisan (!), hermit (!!) or sage (!!!) would gain access to a wider selection of skills than the stereotypical barbarian folk hero, outlander or soldier...

...but you'd be wrong, since it is the latter trio who can be proficient in pretty much everything, instead of just two specific things.

I find this counter-intuitive, and I would like to hear if anyone has seen a rules suggestion or house rule that makes this awkwardness go away? :)

If it bothers you, just limit the skill to something that makes sense to one of the concepts (background or class). The DM and player agree on a replacement skill that makes sense and move on.
 

Kobold Stew

Last Guy in the Airlock
Supporter
Whoa -- thread necro from five months ago!

It seems to me that if you deliberately choose a background whose skills is on your class skill list, you can completely circumvent that class restriction.

<snip>

I find this counter-intuitive, and I would like to hear if anyone has seen a rules suggestion or house rule that makes this awkwardness go away? :)

You are essentially just restating the problem I set out in the OP -- it's one reason why the narrow reading is helpful. I've got no problems everything balancing out when you start playing, but for changes to the character as he or she levels up, I think there's a really good case not to allow free choice of proficiencies to avoid duplicates. That's my rules suggestion.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
Whoa -- thread necro from five months ago!
Believe it or not, but yours was the only EN thread that I could find discussing this rather surprising point.

Or at least I think so, even though I really don't care much for the narrow vs broad discussion. Of course, I'm looking for discussion on the starting proficiencies from class and background. To me, the rules can only be interpreted one way, and that is for duplicate proficiencies to blow away the class restrictions, and I would like to know how this rule came about and what playtesters had against the alternative rule that if your background duplicates your choice of class skill, you simply get to remake that choice (i.e. make another choice from your class skill list) assuming all class lists contain at least five skills (so there's an actual choice involved still).
 

CapnZapp

Legend
If it bothers you, just limit the skill to something that makes sense to one of the concepts (background or class). The DM and player agree on a replacement skill that makes sense and move on.
But I already know I'm allowed to change any rule I want.

What I want to hear is if you (and others) like the current rule, and if so, what you would have disliked about the alternative where if you want diverse skills you would choose a non-stereotypical background for your class?
 

Pickles JG

First Post
Thanks so much for the feedback -- I didn't know Mearls had tweeted about this. It's actually pretty iterating how rarely the circumstances come up; my sense is there were many more instances i the play test. As it is now, I can see players feeling slightly cheated if their disguise-master gets given a duplicate proficiency at level 3 when they become an assassin. I'm not sure that's a completely justified feeling, but I can see it.

Does it make more sense for the newly-decided poisoner to learn Artisans' tools instead? No, but that's "balanced". I think it really can work perfectly fine either way.

This exactly the case I was thinking about. By the narrow reading you are encouraged to take a proficiency other than disguise kit for your first levels, undermining your character concept for those early levels. And you are assuming the poisoner is "newly decided" rather than finishing his apprenticeship or whatever.
 

Pickles JG

First Post
But I already know I'm allowed to change any rule I want.

What I want to hear is if you (and others) like the current rule, and if so, what you would have disliked about the alternative where if you want diverse skills you would choose a non-stereotypical background for your class?

You are allowed to make up backgrounds & skills relevant to them. I already think the idea is you get a couple of class skills & another couple of skills. The full freedom to pick overlapping choices allows you to avoid having to bother messing about with this afterall 8 backgrounds is very few (or 12 or so with variants).
 

Remathilis

Legend
It seems to me that if you deliberately choose a background whose skills is on your class skill list, you can completely circumvent that class restriction.

Simply choose as your class skills the exact two skills your background gives you. This instantly allows you to re-choose from all skills, not limited to your class skill list.

I find this counter-intuitive, and I would like to hear if anyone has seen a rules suggestion or house rule that makes this awkwardness go away? :)

The fix is simple: only allow them additional choices OFF THEIR CLASS SKILL LIST.

You make a Half-orc Barbarian (Soldier). He has 5 skills. He gets intimidate for free (half-orc). He then gets Athletics and Intimidate (again) for free (Soldier). Since he already has Intimidate, he gets an extra choice off the Barbarian List. He can now select three additional skills off of his class list; (Say, Perception, Survival, Animal Handling). He couldn't use his cross-over skill (Intimidate) to select Arcana since its not on his class skill list.

If he gets it later due to a class feature, he gets another choice off his class list. When he's out of class-list skills, he can then pick something off his class list. (In the barbarian's case, his SEVENTH Skill choice could be Arcana). If he multi-classes, he gets his choice off whatever class skill list granted him the bonus (a barbarian/rogue who gains deception for being an assassin could select a skill of the rogue list, not the barbarian list).

It hinges of course on doing skills race/backgorund/class order, but it keeps the flavor of the class.

Of course, tools are a different kettle of fish. I think I'll default to the "pick anything" model since only one set of tools (thieves tools) is useful beyond fluff. Ditto Languages.
 

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