Chapter 5: Proficiencies (Optional)
Most of what a player character can do is defined by his race, class, and ability scores. These three characteristics don't cover everything, however. Characters can have a wide range of talents, from the potent (and intricate) arts of magic to the simple and mundane knowledge of how to build a good fire. The character's magical ability (or lack thereof) is defined by his class. Lesser abilities, such as fire building, are defined by proficiencies.
A proficiency is a learned skill that isn't essential to the character's class. A ranger, for example, may find it useful to know something about navigation, especially if he lives near an ocean or sea coast. On the other hand, he isn't likely to suffer if he doesn't know how to navigate; he is a ranger, not a sailor.
Proficiencies are divided into two groups: weapon proficiencies (those related to weapons and combat) and nonweapon proficiencies (those related to everything else).
All proficiency rules are additions to the game. Weapon proficiencies are tournament-level rules, optional in regular play, and nonweapon proficiencies are completely optional. Proficiencies are not necessary for a balanced game. They add an additional dimension to characters, however, and anything that enriches characterization is a bonus. If weapon proficiencies are used in your game, expect them to apply to all characters, including NPCs. Nonweapon proficiencies may be used by players who enjoy them and ignored by those who don't without giving unfair advantages to anyone (provided your DM allows this; he's the one who must deal with any problems).
Once a proficiency slot is filled, it can never be changed or reassigned.
Even newly created, 1st-level characters have proficiencies. The number of proficiency slots that a character starts with is determined by his group, as shown in Table 34. Each proficiency slot is empty until the player “fills” it by selecting a proficiency. If your DM allows nonweapon proficiencies, the character's Intelligence score can modify the number of slots he has, granting him more proficiencies (see Table 4). In both cases, new proficiencies are learned the same way.
Consider the case of Rath, a dwarf fighter. Table 34 gives him four weapon proficiency slots (he is a warrior). If nonweapon proficiencies are used, he has three slots and his Intelligence of 11 gives him two additional proficiency slots (according to Table 4) for a total of five nonweapon proficiency slots. The player must assign weapon or nonweapon proficiencies to all of these slots before the character goes on his first adventure. These represent what the character has learned before beginning his adventuring career.
Thereafter, as the character advances in experience levels, he gains additional proficiency slots. The rate at which he gains them depends on the group he belongs to. Table 34 lists how many weapon and nonweapon proficiency slots the character starts with, and how many levels the character must gain before he earns another slot.
Initial Weapon Proficiencies is the number of weapon proficiency slots received by characters of that group at 1st level.
# Levels (for both weapon and nonweapon proficiencies) tells how quickly a character gains additional proficiency slots. A new proficiency slot is gained at every experience level that is evenly divisible by the number listed. Rath (a warrior), for example, gains one weapon proficiency slot at every level evenly divisible by 3. He gets one new slot at 3rd level, another at 6th, another at 9th, and so on. (Note that Rath also gains one nonweapon proficiency at 3rd, 6th, 9th, etc.)
Penalty is the modifier to the character's attack rolls when he fights using a weapon he is not proficient with. Rath, a dwarf, chose to be proficient with the warhammer. Finding himself in a desperate situation, he snatches up a flail, even though he knows little about it (he is not proficient with it). Using with weapon awkwardly, he has a -2 penalty to his chance to hit.
Initial Nonweapon Proficiencies is the number of nonweapon proficiency slots that character has at 1st level. Even if you are playing with weapon proficiencies, nonweapon proficiencies are optional.
Like all skills and abilities, proficiencies do not leap unbidden and fully realized into a character's mind. Instead, a character must train, study, and practice to learn a new proficiency. However, role-playing the training time needed to learn a new skill is not much fun. Thus, there are no training times or study periods associated with any proficiency. When a character chooses a proficiency, it is assumed that he had been studying it in his spare time.
Consider just how much spare time the character has. The player is not role-playing every second of his character's life. The player may decide to have his character spend a night in town before setting out on the long journey the next day. Perhaps the character must wait around for several days while his companions heal from the last adventure. Or he might spend weeks on an uneventful ocean voyage. What is he doing during that time?
Among other things, he is studying whatever new proficiencies he will eventually learn. Using this “down time” to handle the unexciting aspects of a role-playing campaign lets players concentrate on more important (or more interesting) matters.
Another part of training is finding a teacher. Most skills are easier to learn if someone teaches the character. The DM can handle this in several ways. For those who like simplicity, ignore the need for teachers—there are self-taught people everywhere in the world. For those who want more complexity, make the player characters find someone to teach them any new proficiency they want to learn. This can be another player character or an NPC. Although this adds realism, it tends to limit the PC's adventuring options, especially if he is required to stay in regular contact with his instructor. Furthermore, most teachers want payment. While a barter arrangement might be reached, the normal payment is cash. The actual cost of the service depends on the nature of the skill, the amount of training desired, the availability of tutors, the greed of the instructor, and the desire of the DM to remove excess cash from his campaign.