Messing Around with D&D 5E Proficiency

I enjoyed Dungeons & Dragons 3x and Pathfinder 1st Edition skills and skill ranks. Of course, people were going to learn how to game the system (pun intended) and min-max the heck out of it. I was—and still am—okay with that. When D&D 5e came out, I wasn’t sure how much I liked the dwindling skills and the base level dependent bonus they brought in with Proficiencies. Even before I had the Dungeon Master’s Guide in my hands, I thought of using the bonuses as step dice (+2 would be d4, +3 a d6, +4 = d8, etc.). I decided to do this with my new home game campaign and it has been a combination of success and failure.

proficiency dice 5e

Messing with Rules can Cause Major Swings

As I mentioned in my post regarding restarting a D&D 5e game, I have been scouring the internet for others’ experiences, tips, tricks, and so on when it comes to gaming and, in particular, Dungeons & Dragons. One of the options that came about with D&D 5th Edition Proficiencies was adding the Proficiency bonus to damage. I believe this came from Nerdarchy in a discussion about some of their 5e Homebrew rules.

This, in and of itself, isn’t that bad. However, if you were to couple the dice rolling Proficiency method with adding the bonus to dice—especially at low levels, it can change things up quickly. Here I have a group of level 1 players making their way through an adventure designed for them using RAW and it was over almost as soon as it began.

One of the tips regarding adding the character’s Proficiency to the damage roll was that it helps simplify and speed things up, making it easier for newer players to learn the game. There is a point there. Consider: “I roll it here, here, and here, but not here?” vs. “So, I’m rolling. I’m proficient. I add it. Period.”

The problem I ran into, however, was the additional bonus being added to damage was making creatures drop in one hit rather than 2 or more. So, sure, combat was sped up. The rules were a bit simpler, but the balance was noticeably out of whack to me. The players may not have noticed, but they did admit it seemed way easier than other combats we have run in the past.

Adding Dice can Add Complexity

Upon reflection, I believe the Proficiency dice added a small, albeit noticeable level of complexity. Yeah, it allows for greater variation, but it’s one of those things you need to see in action to really grasp. I have used the Proficiency dice with experienced players before without issue. They roll, they add everything up, they tell me the total.

In the game with relatively novice players, however, I had to repeat numerous times, roll a d20, add a d4, add your bonus. Even rolling the dice together, it’s an extra step. It is a small step many of us who are more experienced can handle. Given time—and not knowing any better—my home group can catch on and learn it quickly. However, it’s an extra step when compared to roll a d20 and add your bonus.

Also, one thing I had to consider as I was helping them fill out their character sheets was their Spell Save DCs. I kept the Proficiency bonus from the base rules to add to the Spell DCs rather than have them roll on spells, especially when they normally wouldn’t roll to use those spells.

Drop the Damage Bonus Weigh the Dice Mechanic

Luckily, my home group is my family. They’re willing to try things out and adapt. I admittedly didn’t realize adding the Proficiency bonus to damage rolls would make as much a difference as it did. I could easily keep it as is and amp up combatants’ Hit Points, but I don’t think I will. We’re just going back to RAW and not adding the Proficiency to damage.

When it comes to whether we will keep the Proficiency dice or not, I have to talk that over with the group. I like the idea of it, but not necessarily the practice. Maybe another session or two and they’ll be rolling like pros and it won’t seem so odd. I don’t see it swinging too wildly as I did when applied to damage.

9 Comments


  1. Using proficiency dice makes the game SUPER swingy, especially at higher levels, and completely breaks the math.

    Level 20, you have +5 ability, +3 weapon, and +6 proficiency. That’s +14. A roll is 15 – 34.

    Make that a d12 instead? You now get 9 – 40. Nothing in the game goes up to 40 because the core design principle, the overriding rule that they made all the other rules follow, is the fact that you CANNOT* roll that high, period. They call it “bounded accuracy” and literally every single part of the rules is founded on the idea that this is true.

    Throw that away, and the math of EVERYTHING falls apart.

    *Yes, expertise can roll higher. D&D is built on exceptions. But that’s only a couple specific skills on one or two characters, not everybody all the time.

    Reply

    1. You have a valid point and one that must be weighed when considering the dice option. I agree that it is allows for a lot more swing at the higher levels and–playing in previous games with more experienced players–we had a lot of fun with it. It included stats that weren’t in the Unholy Monster Manual, but we were okay with that. I imagine the designers were too, which is why the provided it as an optional rule in the DMG.

      Reply

      1. One thing to consider… Results become MORE random at high levels… Exactly when practice and training should make you more consistent and reliable.

        As above… You physically cannot roll under a +5 ability +6 proficiency and a 1 rolled… Total 12. Unless you get actual minuses, you cannot fail an Average DC 10 check.

        Change to dice? +5 +1 on d20 +1 on d10. Suddenly you can and do miss checks. Not often, but 1 in 20 is infinitely higher than Never. In fact, it’s the same odds as rolling a 1!

        (Remember, rolling 1 on d20 for an ability check is NOT auto-fail. Only the Attack action) .

        So yeah, accuracy and consistency go DOWN with experience. Kind of counter intuitive

        Reply

        1. It could only go “down” if there were the other option, definitely broken if used side-by-side. However, counter that with, you get a chance of gaining up to +4 at earlier levels and the chance to do increasingly better increases as you increase. What are the chance of getting +4 when starting out? What are the chances of getting +4 or better at level 10 or 12? Now, this means you’re removing the guaranteed +4 from mmid-low levels, because yeah, sometimes they will get less. About half the time, they’re going to do as well or better than they could have by standard. There was mention of a magic item earlier, if memory serves, but consider also bonuses from tactical positioning/good roleplaying, feats, and different sources. There are so many things that /can/ break bounded accuracy, this can actually potentially help to reel it back in, although that’s not why I’m doing it at all. Instead, the concept is : “sometimes, you’re good. sometimes, you’re not as good as others. sometimes you’re really good. and sometimes you’re fucking awesome.” Without the optional rule, you can count on a consistent spread. With the optional rule, the bell becomes more shallow but wider. Some people want to stick hard and fact to more easily predictable math and that’s the core rule. The designers looked at it and realized that this didn’t break the game, but did change the math. I tend to agree and it definitely /feels/ different when playing.

          Reply

        2. I’ll also say this, since the higher rolls definitely do not bother me, you do have me considering adding a d4 at each bump instead of increasing the dice size. Still be swingy at the high end, but less so toward the low end….and considering I have a couple of players who enjoyed their dice pools from other games, may not be horrible for /my/ game, not everyone’s game.

          Reply

  2. You put a lot of emphasis on getting big numbers. D&D 5E is not about getting huge numbers. Quite the opposite. It’s very much the wrong system for that.

    You would be better served by Pathfinder or 4E if getting big numbers appeals to you.

    Reply

    1. Hmmmm…I wrote it….I read it…..I re-read it, but somehow I am not finding the words you are. There was never an emphasis for big numbers, just not an issue with it. If I wanted 4E or PF, I’d play one of those, but I don’t. Why is it, if you don’t play how someone else thinks you should play, they think you should play something else?

      Recap: 1. Oh, but there’s too much swing and the numbers are too big. A. Big numbers don’t bother me and I’m okay with the swing. 2. There’s still too much swing and what about these low numbers? A. Still okay with the swing and those lower numbers can actually work in favor when considering apprehension of big numbers and other potential boosts, but here’s a way to reduce swing slightly and combat the lower numbers issue. 3. You just want big numbers. You should just play something else. A. O.o?!

      Reply

  3. At least you are playing with things there – it is good to see you tackle something like this and make it your own. I agree a bit that adding the dice makes things super swingy for higher levels but at the basis of that the averages still come back to where they should be, in fact, the averages make them (the players) slightly better off in the long run.

    Interesting read Cam.

    Reply

    1. Thanks, Mark. There’s a number of other things I am going to be trying (and some I already have), so I’ll be reporting back on that. One thing I wanted to try and couldn’t really find a way to work in as of yet is the weapon qualities from Conan.

      Reply

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