One of the simplifications that lies at the heart of D&D5 is the Proficiency mechanic: one central value, derived from Character Level, added to your die roll. Whether you’re hitting stuff with a pointy stick or trying to remember the name of that ancient carbunculous statue: roll 1d20 and add Proficiency.
So obviously, that’s RIPE for complication!
So here’s a few proposals on how you can muck about with Proficiency, adding complexity and individuality without breaking the game (too badly!)
Proficiency: the five core functions
To begin with, let’s split Proficiency into its main functions:
- Skill rolls
- Saving throws
- Spell-casting rolls
- Combat (and here I’d suggest further diversifying into Melee Combat and Ranged Combat)
Every character will now have five separate values to represent their relative skill in different areas. So, as a Barbarian you may favour Melee Combat, Saves and Skills; as a Wizard you’ll want to focus as much on Spell-casting; a Bard may go with a more even spread.
Now for deriving and increasing these values. Here’s a few ideas:
Method 1: Simple Level Proficiency
All values start at +2. You get +1 to one Proficiency value of your choice at Level 1 and every level thereafter. You can’t add more than Level / 3 to any one value (rounded up to 1 for L2, with an absolute maximum of +8).
This allows a generalist character to have +6 in all five areas by L20, or a specialist to have a spread of +8/+8/+8/+3/+3.
A simple progression and easy to manage, but leads to over-powered specialists.
Method 1A: Capped Maximum
All values start at +2. You get +1 to one Proficiency value of your choice at Level 1 and every level thereafter. The highest value must be within 2 points of the lowest value.
This reduces the ability of a Specialist to run ahead, with a maximum spread of +7/+7/+7/+5/+5 at L20. However, it does allow someone to have +4 to one ability at 2nd level. Almost certainly not game breaking, but does stretch the underlying assumptions of the mechanics a little.
Method 2: Points-buy
Each level you get a number of Proficiency Points equal to the new Level (i.e. at 3rd level, you get 3 points). Increasing Proficiency values costs as follows:
You can only increase 1 value per level. This allows for the following progressions:
- Generalist: focusing equally on all Proficiency values, you get +1 to one Proficiency value every level (except 18th). At 10th level you have +4/+4/+4/+4/+3 and end up with +6/+6/+6/+5/+5 at 20th level.
- Ultra-specialist: focus on a single Proficiency, you hit +6/+2/+2/+2/+2 at 10th level and +8/+2 etc. at 20th level. Good luck with those Saving Throws…
- Dual specialist: 10th level is +5/+5/+2 and 20th level is +7/+7/+2.
- Priority 3: +5/+4/+4/+3/+2 at 10th, +7/+6/+6/+4/+2 at 20th
- Focus 4: +4/+4/+4/+4/+2 at 10th, +6/+6/+6/+6/+4 at 20th
More granular, more choice, but complex book-keeping. And in reality, would anyone not go for something akin to Priority 3 or Focus 4? Might be better just defining some possible progressions at Level 1 and having players pick them.
Method 3: Class-based Proficiency
If you’re going to define Proficiency up front, why not just set it by class a la D&D3.x?
Firstly, change the default assumption back to 4 Proficiency types, dropping the split between Melee and Ranged combat. Set four core progressions:
- Strong: +3 at 4th level and further +1 every 4 levels, until +7 at 20th
- Standard: as per usual
- Moderate: +1 at 1st level, +2 at 2nd level and +1 every 4 levels until +6 at 17th
- Weak: +0 at 1st level, +1 at 2nd level and +1 every 5 levels until +4 at 17th
Then allocate classes one of two possible arrays:
- Specialist class: Strong, Standard, Moderate, Weak
- Generalist class: Standard, Standard, Moderate, Moderate
E.g. A Fighter would be Strong Attack, Standard Save, Moderate Skill, Weak Magic. A Bard could be Standard Magic, Standard Skill, Moderate Attack, Moderate Save.
Method 4: Simple Proficiency, revisited
Start with spread of +2/+2/+1/+1/+1. Maximum value of any Proficiency is 3 + Level /5 (rounded-down). Add one point to one Proficiency value as Method 1. At 5th level, a specialist could be +4/+3/+2/+1/+1. But by 20th level it’s evened out at +7/+6/+6/+6/+1.
Why put this last, rather than as Method 1B? Well, because if I were to implement one of these ideas, this is the one I’d go with. Balances customisability with simplicity. What’s not to like?!