Equipment Proficiencies Should Not be Granted From Backgrounds

1 month ago

I disagree with the current inclusion of equipment proficiencies (medium armor and thieves tools) in PC backgrounds. Backgrounds should give access to skills, different starting equipment/resources, and different faction recommendation (in addition to unique dialogue choices later).

The major problem with the current implementation is that it destroys game balance. 5e is balanced by restricting the equipment available to each class - and this game ignores that fact to it's detriment. Specifically, giving a level 1 wizard access to medium armor is a huge change to game balance. I've seen it in my games, and I've seen it in the forums: magic users with martial equipment proficiencies are far beyond a typical power curve.

Thieves tool proficiency isn't as big of a problem (because you can always reload for chests anyways) but I think it should still be changed. Thieves tools are part of what makes rogues unique (or half-elves flexible). Giving anyone who chooses the lowlife background access seems like it undercuts the importance of the class choice. Worse, because the lowlife background is balanced around "giving" thieves tool proficiency, a character (like a rogue) that picks lowlife is actually getting less from the background that is most thematically appropriate. I think that's a shame.

Feats are less of an issue here - with one exception. The feat that gives heavy armor proficiency at level 4 should be removed. It's a HUGE boost to casters and no boost to martials - making it unbalanced and thematically incoherent. Other feats, such as the one that gives access to thieves tools or new ones that may give crafting proficiencies (or skills), are largely fine. They have less effect in combat and by level 4 it's just less of a concern. An armor feat that gives one "step" up in proficiency would also be appropriate (so light to medium, for example).

I like backgrounds and I think they should stay, I just don't think equipment proficiencies are appropriate, and they're certainly not balanced.

TomReneth
Level 9
1 month ago

Sellsword do seem to upset the balance of the game a bit, no doubt about that. Giving wizards medium armor pushes their surivability up too much compared to their baseline combat abilities.

Lowlife I am less certain about because Rogues are still the only ones who can get Expertise with Thieves' Tools and it makes for a more flexible party overall. I'm not a huge fan of RPGs that try to force certain classes on you instead of simply making each class desirable on their own.

As for imbalance in general, Potent Cantrip will probably be an automatic inclusion on wizards and clerics when it begins working. Cantrips that target saving throws (Shadow Dagger, Sacred Flame, Acid Splash, Poison Spray) have guaranteed damage by changing them from "save to negate" to "save for half".


Typos happen. More so on the phone.

1 month ago (edited)

I agree about not giving weapon or armor proficiencies via background. For what it's worth, no Background published in any official D&D 5e material does this; I think that's a good sign that you shouldn't do it. There's even literally a Sellsword Background in Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide, and it does not give any weapon or armor proficiencies. I believe these Backgrounds are out of balance with the rest of 5e.

Proficiency in specific skills or tools though, that's a common feature of 5e Backgrounds.

At the very least, if you pick a Background that gives a redundant feature, you should be able to pick another feature of the same type. That's RAW for 5e, straight from the SRD:

Proficiencies

Each background gives a character proficiency in two skills.
In addition, most backgrounds give a character proficiency with one or more tools.
If a character would gain the same proficiency from two different sources, he or she can choose a different proficiency of the same kind (skill or tool) instead.

The SRD is very clear about what Backgrounds should confer.

shout27
Level 7
1 month ago

If Multiclassing were available I might agree with you. It isn't, so I'm taking the upgraded backgrounds for what they are, the ability to kind of multiclass without dealing with multiclassing.

Does this give a pretty major advantage to the classes that were designed to not have access to the abilities in question? Yes. Do I really care? no. I've played too many of the 'unfair' games to really give a shit. 

Get over your balance issues and just play the effing game. I've long since gotten tired of playing classes rather than people. 



Anfindel
Level 7
1 month ago

I checked with my dorf paladin - he doesn't give a damn if the mage tagging along does or doesn't get to wear armor heavier than a piece of paper - he just wants the mage to cast a boom boom on a bad monster before it has dorf for supper. He says it's not a competition - it's a team effort.

Who am I to disagree with an angry dorf with a big axe?

Skryia
Level 8
1 month ago

I’m with Anfidel and shout27 on this, though I wouldn’t object overmuch if backgrounds didn‘t have equipment proficiencies (I love Sellsword-Wizard, but could give it up). But backgrounds naturally come with tool and skill proficiencies and Lowlife solves a lot of problems for parties (you shouldn’t be obligated to bring a Rogue or any particular single class, IMO), especially given there’s no multiclassing. And even Sellsword kinda self-limits due to item availability (way easier to spread the loot love around when everyone doesn’t want the same armor category). With respect to backgrounds, there are two things I’d like to see: more background variety, and actually making it so backgrounds do as the PHB says and let you swap redundant skills for other comparable skills. Because it is a bit silly that Sellsword Fighter 9 (or Paladin/Ranger/Cleric) and Lowlife Rogue are wasting your background abilities while being on-point for RP. Even if they’d just let you trade a background skill for a different background skill based on the same stat, that’d be a but improvement. 

1 month ago (edited)

I mean yeah, "who cares about balance" is fine in principle, but it's less about "this thing is overpowered" than it is about "this makes my choices irrelevant." The primary goal of balance in a game is to ensure that all of the choices a player makes are consequential and give them the ability to impact the game in a unique way. When one background is just really good, it does kinda render other choices moot.

Like yeah a Sellsword mage is a cool background, but when every mage is a Sellsword because you'd be dumb not to take it, it kinda loses its impact.

EDIT: I'll also point out that multiclassing by 5e RAW only gives you some of the proficiencies of the new class, and multiclassing also delays your ability to get ASI's or Feats, so getting armor proficiency via Background is a HUGE deal.

silverblade
Level 7
1 month ago

EDIT: I'll also point out that multiclassing by 5e RAW only gives you some of the proficiencies of the new class, and multiclassing also delays your ability to get ASI's or Feats, so getting armor proficiency via Background is a HUGE deal.

I’m going to have to agree also. Armor/weapon proficiencies through background seems overpowered.

Since Solasta does not have multiclass and D&D feats, creating new feats to emulate multiclass is the way to go. Then there is sacrifice to gain powers you’d normally only get through MC. 

1 month ago

On 1-hand it does seem over powered...


But on the other hand, what kind of soldier or sell-sword does not get trained in the base equipment of there duty?


I think the average member of this background would be trained in:

 - Medium armor

 - Spear 

 - shield


It comes to balance vs In-game-world-logical...

silverblade
Level 7
1 month ago

On 1-hand it does seem over powered...

But on the other hand, what kind of soldier or sell-sword does not get trained in the base equipment of there duty?

I think the average member of this background would be trained in:

 - Medium armor

 - Spear 

 - shield

It comes to balance vs In-game-world-logical...

A bad one? Heh.

I'd like to think that a character who is a wizard now, was such a poor soldier trainee that they never learned any of the martial skills well or they never stuck.  But perhaps they managed to learn some of the other intellectual skills which they were predisposed to learning.

1 month ago

On 1-hand it does seem over powered...

But on the other hand, what kind of soldier or sell-sword does not get trained in the base equipment of there duty?

I think the average member of this background would be trained in:

 - Medium armor

 - Spear 

 - shield

It comes to balance vs In-game-world-logical...

A bad one? Heh.

I'd like to think that a character who is a wizard now, was such a poor soldier trainee that they never learned any of the martial skills well or they never stuck.  But perhaps they managed to learn some of the other intellectual skills which they were predisposed to learning.


They made the future wizard the cook...

silverblade
Level 7
1 month ago

They made the future wizard the cook...

Haha. Well Steven Seagal in Under Siege was just a cook...

Skryia
Level 8
1 month ago

I don’t agree that a Sellsword Wizard would logically be due to the Wizard having been a bad/mediocre soldier. They could simply have decided they had enough of stabbing things and would prefer to incinerate things instead. Or perhaps sustained an injury (or even just something simple like arthritis) that makes wielding a sword and heavy armor untenable but medium armor is comfy enough still, etc etc.

1 month ago

Since Solasta does not have multiclass and D&D feats, creating new feats to emulate multiclass is the way to go. Then there is sacrifice to gain powers you’d normally only get through MC.

This is a really elegant solution to multiclassing. And honestly, if you look at feats in the PHB, a lot of them are more or less aimed at doing this exact thing - give you pieces of a class to sort of broaden your abilities or synergize with your current class. I like this a lot.

Rokahn
Level 2
1 month ago (edited)

On the subject of tool proficiencies, these absolutely should be part of backgrounds. Part of the design philosophy of 5e is that you should never be required to bring any class. It's no coincidence that in the PHB alone, there are 2 backgrounds with proficiency in Thieves' Tools.


On the subject of martial weapon proficiency, I think people make too much of a deal over this. Martial weapons only get a small damage bump over basic weapons (+1 damage in most cases). Since this is taken by a non-martial class, they typically have better things to do than hit the opponent with a stick. And once cantrips upgrade at lvl5, they are typically the superior option over weapon attacks because they are tied to your primary attribute. On top of all that, dwarves and elves come with a couple of martial weapon proficiencies, so they aren't that special to begin with.


Finally, medium armor for a Wizard is admittedly very strong. However, I would still be inclined to say it's ok for 2 reasons:

  1. Multiclassing is not in the game. Normally, you can get this easily with multiclassing. 
  2. There is a cost to selecting Sellsword over other backgrounds which grant proficiency in knowledge skills and crafting tools. Because a Wizard will naturally have high intelligence, ideally you want to have as many knowledge skills on them as possible. If another character takes a knowledge skill, his bonus to the roll will never be as high as what a Wizard could get. The same is true for crafting tools.

EDIT: I realize my arguments no longer hold true if you make characters with 18 in all attributes (which is possible). But I don't think that is a valid argument since that act alone will unbalance the game (in more than one way).

TomReneth
Level 9
1 month ago (edited)

On the subject of tool proficiencies, these absolutely should be part of backgrounds. Part of the design philosophy of 5e is that you should never be required to bring any class. It's no coincidence that in the PHB alone, there are 2 backgrounds with proficiency in Thieves' Tools.


On the subject of martial weapon proficiency, I think people make too much of a deal over this. Martial weapons only get a small damage bump over basic weapons (+1 damage in most cases). Since this is taken by a non-martial class, they typically have better things to do than hit the opponent with a stick. And once cantrips upgrade at lvl5, they are typically the superior option over weapon attacks because they are tied to your primary attribute. On top of all that, dwarves and elves come with a couple of martial weapon proficiencies, so they aren't that special to begin with.


Finally, medium armor for a Wizard is admittedly very strong. However, I would still be inclined to say it's ok for 2 reasons:

  1. Multiclassing is not in the game. Normally, you can get this easily with multiclassing. 
  2. There is a cost to selecting Sellsword over other backgrounds which grant proficiency in knowledge skills and crafting tools. Because a Wizard will naturally have high intelligence, ideally you want to have as many knowledge skills on them as possible. If another character takes a knowledge skill, his bonus to the roll will never be as high as what a Wizard could get. The same is true for crafting tools.

EDIT: I realize my arguments no longer hold true if you make characters with 18 in all attributes (which is possible). But I don't think that is a valid argument since that act alone will unbalance the game (in more than one way).

I think most people are specifically concerned with Sellsword, rather than Lowlife or Lawkeeper. Or any of the other ones.

The problem with Sellsword isn't that it gives Wizards medium armor, but that it gives them medium armor at a minimum cost. It's easy to cover knowledge checks if you absolutely want to have a one-person library by, for example, just being a half-elf to get 2 free skill proficiencies. A half-elf Sellsword Wizard can have proficiency with Arcana, History, Nature and Religion on top of Athletics and Intimidation.

Athletics happens a nice skill to add to a Wizard for its use in jumping. Proficiency with Athletics seems to add 1 square of jumping movement (accompanied by a skill check, so beware in combat). And it helps defend against being shoved or knocked prone by enemies, which is also very nice.

Martial classes are further inclined to pick something other than Lawkeeper or Sellsword to avoid wasting background features, making knowledge skills very common for them. 4 out of the 8 backgrounds give one or more knowledge skills. Even just a team of 4 roleplaying characters are likely to cover a decent number of them because of this. For example, I built my Shadowcaster as an Academic for roleplaying purposes and found him to be a perfect compliment to pass knowledge checks for something like a Sellsword Wizard.


Simply put, the added survivability a Wizard in particular gets from better armor can upset the balance of the system a fair bit early on and makes them even more desirable compared to martial characters in the long run than they already are. I think medium (and heavy) armor proficiency should be available to wizards, but as feats, so there is some tangible cost to go down that route. It's currently too optimal a combo and it is making all the non-Sellsword Wizards cry.

Your argument about the indirect cost of picking Sellsword applies better to Rogues than to Wizards, all in all, because Rogues will eventually get the same AC with light armor as they would in medium. Studded leather with 20 dex is base 17 AC and half-plate with a dex of 14+ is also 17. So it's a question of whether the Rogue wants to reach their peak base AC early or if they want a wider variety of skills and tool proficiencies. They also normally have access to the Athletics skill, unlike the Wizard. Part of the reason for this is that Rogues will often max out dex as soon as possible, which helps both damage and survivability, while Wizards will have to choose between dex and int unless they have good armor. With Sellsword, you only need 14 dex, so you're free to pump Int and Con or add feats at your leisure at no cost to your AC.


Typos happen. More so on the phone.