Proficiency Problems

This is post is going to be short. It’s going to be hard-hitting. It’s probably only going to be read by an amount of people I could count on one or two hands. This post is about proficiency bonuses, and how they’re killing esports D&D.

The leading experts on character optimization (if you think they’re full of it you can tell them so but I warn you they’re rather testy) seem convinced that, in terms of their “Gold: Why haven’t you taken this yet? A defining choice for a build, or even the whole class.” rating system, the Weapon Expertise feats (effectively a +1 to-hit, plus some slight other bonuses) are worth that gold rating. Setting aside that “+1 to hit” should not be a defining choice for a class (*cough get to work Wizards cough cough*), the experts here seem to believe it’s rather important, among the very most important things, in fact. So, what then if I told you there were feats that granted you +2 or even +3 to hit with certain weapons without any other conditional statements? What would those be rated? Gold+? Platinum? (Astral) Diamond? In fact, these feats exist: the weapon proficiency feats.

Now that I have established the grave threat (clearly!) of weapon proficiency feats, why do we care as DMs? Shouldn’t the players be allowed to pick a weapon to specialize in? Well, we need to care because magic weapons only come in two categories: “useful”, and “for sale, 80% off”. But surely a magic weapon would be useful, would it not? Then consider the following: a level 1 player with a +4 ability score bonus to hit wielding a +3 proficiency weapon with a 1d8 damage die, and that same player wielding a +1 magic equivalent he is not proficient in. The theoretical damage per round may be higher for the magic weapon off the bat, but the problem is that damage relies on you feeling like a rockstar 5% of the time and like a baked potato the other 95% of the time (assuming critical hits exist, expected damage per round for a basic attack is going to be 5.28 and 6.8 respectively; assuming critical hits don’t exist, expected damage per round changes to 5.1 versus 4.75). Not only is your damage actually markedly worse for 95% of the attacks you make (well, okay, ~45% since you miss the other 50% of the time and it’s hard to do worse than 0 damage), but you don’t get to apply any on-hit effects that extra 10 or 15 percentile points of the pie you’re missing from the lack of a proficiency bonus. And, as The Id DM has shown in great depth, almost all player character attacks have some kind of rider attached, and a great many of those are on a successful hit.

This leads to a very, very obvious problem: a player would often rather use a mundane weapon with which they are proficient than a magic weapon with which they are not despite the magic weapon costing an order of magnitude (or multiple orders of magnitude) more.

DMs often want to include magic weapons of a particular variety; for instance, DMs may wish to include a great Dwarven mordenkrad, powerful and mighty! Used to slay giants and other foul beasts! It truly rings of heroism. Just enough heroism to be marked 80% off and put up for auction because nobody is proficient with mordenkrads.

Basically, what I’m saying here is this: it’d be nice if instead of +2 and +3 bonuses, proficiency was +1 and +2. It’s great to be a specialist in a certain kind of weapon, it makes you feel unique, but really there’s no reason for weapon proficiency to be such a comparatively large bonus. Nobody should want to pawn Excalibur because “it makes me hit too infrequently, I’m not proficient”. That’s just lame.

Until Next Time,
The Hydra DM

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Posted on March 1, 2012, in Rules Design and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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