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

JiffyPopTart

Bree-Yark
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?
There are some times it makes sense for every player to roll an individual skill check...but there are also times where it makes more sense to limit the party to single roll to represent a group action.

Take Stealth as an example.

During combat rounds, every character who wants to hide is going to need to make their own individual roll.

But how about outside of combat? Say the party want to set up an ambush along a trail. In this case it might be appropriate to have the party generate a single roll collectively and use that number for the entire side.

Or maybe the rogue helps everyone on one side of the trail hide (rolling a number for that group) and then she goes and hides on the opposite side by herself (rolling a second number).

Generally I have the party nominate one player to make a single collective roll for any activity that the entire party is taking part in. I then allow the others characters to Help, cast Guidance, or do something else during that time. Maybe a really low score to "help" has the opposite effect, or maybe just helping in general gives advantage without the need for a roll.

Overall I think the skill system works best when you treat different situations with different combinations of skill resolution methods.
 

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