D&D 5E How Would You Implement Skill Deficiencies in D&D 5e?


5e Freelancer
While I generally like how skills work in D&D 5e, I do have a few criticisms of it. These are mainly due to some skills being egregiously more useful/common than others (Animal Handling vs Perception, or Nature vs Stealth), but those criticisms are not what this thread is about.

This thread is about how skills are simplistic. In most cases, you're either proficient (in which case you add your proficiency bonus to ability checks that use that skill), or you're not (in which case you don't add your proficiency bonus). There are some outliers, like the Bard's Jack of All Trades feature or Expertise, but they're still really simple. And this is great for many new players who just want to learn how to play the game. However, I've lately found it increasingly boring. I want a bit more diversity. Tasha's has helped a bit in this matter by allowing more people to get Expertise (through the Skill Expert feat and the Ranger variant class feature, Deft Explorer), but there still isn't that much to it in 5e. I feel that if there was just a bit more oomph, characters could be differentiated through their skill bonuses a bit more.

And while I was thinking on this, I came up with the idea of Skill Deficiencies. Upon character creation, you choose a skill that you aren't proficient in, and you make that be the skill you are deficient at. A Barbarian would likely choose Arcana or History, a Wizard would probably choose Athletics or a Charisma skill, and so on. IMO, something like this would make it a bit more fun roleplaying certain characters and interactions between party members, like a Rogue teasing the Paladin at being the literal worst at Stealth checks (due disadvantage on Stealth if they wear Heavy Armor, and having Deficiency in that skill), or a Lorehold Strixhaven character teasing a fellow party member about failing their History class. Although I liked the idea (and still do), I am yet to figure out how it would work mechanically, and would like to see how others feel on this matter before I implement a house rule at my tables.

My first idea was pretty simple and obvious: have characters subtract their Proficiency Bonus (or possibly half your proficiency bonus) from ability checks using skills that they are deficient in. However, this quickly comes up with a strange conundrum; why would you get worse at the skill as you leveled up? Why would a barbarian that's bad at Arcana have a worse bonus to Arcana at level 20 than they did at level 1?

This then brought me to consider a change to their skill deficiencies that doesn't change as you level up, like a -5 to that skill or disadvantage on all ability checks that use that skill. However, I'm still not sure which one would be better, or if there's a better way to do it.

Any thoughts? I'd appreciate some feedback, and any experiences that DMs/players have had with similar features. Do you think that this is a good idea or a bad one?

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Disadvantage would be the way to go in this regard. It never changes in value from level, and it prevents a character from ever having advantage on the check.

I'm kind of curious what the point is though. If you're trying to diversify skill use among characters, you're going to find the same skills chosen over and over again. I expect Medicine, Performance, and Animal Handling will be taken regularly.


Oh, I thought of a way to help with making skills more complex for you. Consider each skill and assign various sub-skill specialties, such as swimming for Athletics. A character may take a specialization in a skill granted by their background by giving up a tool or language proficiency. Specialization gives expertise on the specific use of that skill. This will allow characters to differentiate by choosing specialties.


If you mean Skill Deficiency as in "This is a skill I can't wrap my mind around and must rely on my general natural talent around that area to succeed" then.

Flat -2 to the ability check/contest.

Basic proficiency a +2. Basic natural skill is a 15-14 in the matching score. The opposite is a -2.

Kobold Stew

Last Guy in the Airlock
It's not entirely clear what problem you are trying to fix. Simple isn't bad in itself.

Using disadvantage might solve some things (knowledge skills, perhaps), but doesn't work for stealth, where you would then be effectively cancelling out the penalty from heavy armour.

There are only a few problems I see with the skill system:

1. when dump-stats work against the intuitive story: e.g. an untrained high-CHA halfling being more intimidating than a typical trained half-orc. This happens a lot.

2. when new things work against a key niche of the class (my thoughts on feats that give expertise are different than yours; also, I want to enjoy playing rogues more).

3. when players aren't incentivized to invest in suboptimal skills. The benefit from being proficient in Athletics or Acrobatics should be meaningful, so that the choice of skills becomes a meaningful decision that shapes the way the character is played. (In some ways this is another way of framing point 1.)

That's where I chafe, and making it harder for the untrained doesn't by itself solve any of them.

I do have ideas on how these could be addressed to satisfy me, but I know that they won't appeal to all. E.g.
(a) a bigger starting proficiency bonus, for example (or a jump to +3 at level 3) would help. If all skills gave +4 instead of +2 to start (and DCs all went up by 2), you might have a solution to the problem you identify.
(b) all classes get 2 skills, only (including Rangers and rogues) BUT Rogues get a second background as a class feature.

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