Skill Advancement (5e Variant Rule)
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I'm good at fighting with long swords and battle axes, but which one is better I cannot say!
I grew up using the bow, it's in my family heritage, but somehow I'm still no more skilled than my father, nor my son, nor are either of them particularly superior to me.
- People who miss the point-buy skills system, but don't miss its complexity.
- People who want to be variably effective in otherwise equal skills.
- People who want the game to express the combined impact of varying degrees of training and natural talent.
- People who want more internal variation in their character so that they have more build options.
- People who want to explore the idea of a character developing a skill through to mastery.
Reason and Scope
In the core rules, a character is either good at something or they aren't, (labelled as proficiencies) and how good they are at those things scales with their level via a single universal proficiency modifier. It's simple and efficient, but also anticlimactic and boring. This rule variant treats all (non-save) proficiencies as a skill and expands upon the training rules to hybridize the old point-buy systems into 5e proficiencies for a bit of granularity.
1. Any proficiency can be at one of three ranks; Amateur, Professional, or Master.
- A) At amateur rank, your proficiency bonus is halved.
- B) At professional rank, your proficiency bonus applies as normal.
- C) At master rank it is doubled.
2. Any (non-save) proficiency can be learned via training rules. The cost given in the PHB is the "base price" for advancement from amateur to professional.
- A) Weapons and armor proficiencies take twice as long as normal (500 days) and cost 2gp per day.
- B) Skill proficiencies take three times as long (750 days) and cost 3gp per day.
- C) It takes half of that base time to increase a proficiency rank from nothing to amateur.
- D) It takes double that base time to train a skill from professional to master. You cannot skip ranks.
3. To handle the involvement of languages, they are treated as skills as well. Obviously, they apply to no die rolls. Instead:
- A) At no rank, that language is total gibberish to you.
- B) At amateur rank you can understand some of what people are saying, follow instructions, and express a few simple ideas if people understand your unpracticed tongue.
- C) At professional rank you can speak the language fluently, and write it as well if you are educated. (Just a roleplaying thing)
- D) At master rank you can speak and write the language well enough to be a poet, lawyer, philosopher, politician, or some other well educated, literate person.
4. There are several ways to handle the initial proficiencies granted by the character templates:
- A) They act as normal. The DM decides what rank they start with, and what to do with duplicate proficiencies. (Such as two instances of proficiency with heavy armor) This is the least impactful.
- B) In addition to A, players can choose to subtract ranks from one proficiency to put them into another. The DM may limit this to one rank per proficiency, or specify that they cannot "unlearn" a proficiency by doing this. The DM can also decide if this can be done to learn skills outside your templates.This incorporates a certain amount of skill resource economy without outright importing the point-buy system.
- C) Each proficiency provided by a template counts as two skill points. Proficiencies listed by your templates are "aptitudes" costing 1 point per rank, while all other proficiencies are "ineptitudes" and cost two points per rank. This version most closely resembles the old point-buy system.
- Example: A level 1 character who is an amateur short-swordsman would only get +1 on his attack rolls with a short sword, but if he's a master crossbowman as well, he gets +4 to attacks using crossbows.
- Example: A character decides to train in short bows. Training a weapon skill to professional takes double the time it would to learn a language, but because he is training to amateur, that value is halved again, so it takes him 250 days at 2gp per day (500gp). He can now train to professional rank, though it will now take him 500 days and 1,000gp, and master rank after that will take 1,000 days (a little under three years) and 2,000gp.
- Example: The DM decides that all initial proficiencies count as amateur rank, and that characters can remove one rank per skill to add it to any other skill. A player removes his first ranks in short swords, long swords, and INT(History) to become a master with the short bow.
The overall effect is one of greater diversity. In the core rules, how effective you are is basically your fundamental abilities (something like your natural talent, but more expansive) combined with your level. Every Dwarf/Rogue/Artisan will have the exact same proficiencies, and if they're the same level, they'll also get the same proficiency bonus, leaving only the abilities to distinguish them. Using the above rules, depending on how much of part 4 the DM implements, can result in far greater diversity between such (mechanically) identical characters. One may decide to move his proficiency in short swords over to upgrade his proficiency in thieves tools, while another may sacrifice his throwing hammers proficiency to improve his acrobatics! Or if the full point-buy system is used, each character could have a fully unique set of proficiencies! The danger is in the DM deciding the exact limits of the skill resource economy. Too loose without a matching challenge, and some players will easily break balance.