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


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MarkB

Legend
I think there is a simpler solution to this - gating things behind proficiencies.

If you want there to be tasks that can only be performed by trained individuals, and not by trained individuals plus anyone who rolls a 20, just don't allow characters without the relevant proficiency to roll.
And likewise, if it's something easy that any trained individual should be good at, don't require anyone with proficiency to roll. They just straight-up succeed.
 


77IM

Explorer!!!
Supporter
When we played Tomb of Annihilation we all got skill subspecialites like Fishing, Foraging, Cooking, Navigating, etc. so that the wilderness-travel stuff wasn't just always being handled by the guy with Survival. The specialty would give you a +2. The system worked reasonably well.
 

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
. . . This thread is about how skills are simplistic. . .

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?

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?
Skills are supposed to be simplistic. It's fifth edition.

Disadvantage on skill deficiencies is an idea that I saw earlier and would have to agree with, but...

5e already has a rule for deficiencies; they're called Flaws. But, since no one seems to use Flaws, why would anyone use Skill Deficiencies? Also, you shouldn't be rolling for something your character can't do. You only roll if there's a chance of success. So Skill Deficiencies don't need more of a rule than, "come up with an interesting way to stink at this, and you gain Inspiration."
 

Helpful NPC Thom

Adventurer
Skill deficiencies are represented by low ability scores and not being trained; adding in additional penalties is superfluous and punitive.

In my own games, there are a number of skill checks that I only allow for trained characters. If you are untrained in Arcana, you cannot identify spells or scrolls. Likewise, if you are untrained in Animal Handling, you can probably guide your horse in dangerous or tense situations, but you cannot handle anything more exotic (or do fancy horseback tricks).
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
I think there is a simpler solution to this - gating things behind proficiencies.

If you want there to be tasks that can only be performed by trained individuals, and not by trained individuals plus anyone who rolls a 20, just don't allow characters without the relevant proficiency to roll.

In any case, it's worth remembering that it's not the players who decide what and when to roll. They just describe their actions and the DM requests rolls from whoever he wants, all of them, none of them, only a few of them, etc.

So, taking this into effect, there is absolutely no need for additional rules. As a DM, you can gate some rolls behind proficiency, other behind other circumstances, etc.
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
That no one is good at everything in reality, while in the game a know-nothing on a topic can get a great roll?
Many of us have done the swapover to ability checks being 2d10 + modifier/proficiency, rather than 1d20. That has curved the bell and made the modifier/proficiency bonus (IE the "skilled" characters) be more important. If most dice rolls end up falling in the 8 to 13 range... the characters with the higher bonuses will succeed more often versus the ones that don't.

I have used it successfully in several games-- mainly the ones that have a large number of players. The more players at the table, the more checks get made on any one thing, and the greatly likelihood that someone with a bad modifier still rolls a '19' or '20' and beats the so-called trained characters, making it feel weird when it happens too often. Obviously it can still happen when rolling 2d10 as well... it just happens much less frequently and thus becomes a fun anomaly in the story, rather than a depressing state of affairs.

For smaller tables (4 players or so) I've usually just stuck with 1d20 because those anomalous "poorly-skilled character beats strongly-skilled character" happenings occur much less often.
 

Mahou Shounen

First Post
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?
I had this idea just now of the top of my head and haven’t read the rest of the thread replies, but hear me out.
The deficient skill has a base -2 that does not increase or decrease.
In addition, the highest boost the relevant ability can give is equal to half your proficiency bonus. So even if you have a +5 in Charisma at early levels, you could be a horrible liar with a -1 in deception. By max level this would grow to +1.

Alternatively, you could have a -3 and ignore ability score but then you could combine with something that would already be super low.

Or perhaps better yet combine the two, it’s a non-scaling -2 that ignores only positive ability score bonus. Or a -2/-3 but half the ability score modifier either way. Still brainstorming that part I guess.

But the idea of a homebrew rule where everyone chooses a deficient skill sounds awesome. Perhaps balanced out by giving a half-proficiency (full to bard) as well?

Or maybe don’t require it but allow any player to make that exchange if they want up to two or three times. Maybe also the option for any player to upgrade a proficiency to an expertise at the cost of taking on three deficiencies?

You’d need to either give extra attention to making sure each skill comes up, or disallow application to certain skills you know won’t come up anyway.
 

I wouldn't. I do have instances where I only allow rolls by someone proficient though.
This is pretty reasonable in certain circumstances. Lots of skills are of the 'well, you can have a go and try to get by on natural talent' variety, but you ain't going to be a virtuoso, or indeed anything other than awful, on your violin-playing Performance check if you've never picked one up before, no matter how charismatic you are.

From a characterisation point of view, though, I'd definitely be tempted to allow PC who were just naturally bad at certain things, and give them an automatic disadvantage on any roll for a given skill. My current paladin PC, for instance, has rolled badly on Perception and Insight checks so many times at this point that his obliviousness has become a running joke in the group and a character trait for me to work with. An un-proficiency rule would work great for someone like him.

I wouldn't apply proficiency bonus as a penalty though, it doesn't make a lot of sense that you'd get worse at something as you gained levels. And I'd be very wary about what mechanical bonuses I'd give in exchange, otherwise you'll have every second PC trying to swap unproficiency in Medicine, Performance, and Animal Handling for bonuses to Perception, Stealth etc.

What I might do instead is leverage the Inspiration rules. Make it analogous to a Flaw. If you roleplay out how naturally inept your PC is at (for instance) Persuasion, or if you write your PC up as inherently clumsy and noisy and you choose to take disadvantage on a Stealth check which then fails and gets your spotted by the bad guys, then you get an point of Inspiration.
 
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