Archives of Nethys

Rules Index | GM Screen | Player's Guide

Chapter 4: Variant Rules

Proficiency without Level

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 198
This variant presents a change to the proficiency bonus system, scaling it differently for a style of game that’s outside the norm. This is a significant change to the system.

The proficiency rank progression in the Core Rulebook is designed for heroic fantasy games where heroes rise from humble origins to world-shattering strength. For some games, this narrative arc doesn’t fit. Such games are about hedging bets in an uncertain and gritty world, in which even the world’s best fighter can’t guarantee a win against a large group of moderately skilled brigands. In games like these, your group might want to consider removing the character’s level from the proficiency bonus.

The initial implementation is fairly straightforward: the proficiency bonus just becomes +2 for trained, +4 for expert, +6 for master, and +8 for legendary. We recommend giving an untrained character a –2 proficiency modifier instead of a +0 proficiency bonus.

Additionally, for creatures, hazards, magic items, and so on, reduce each statistic that would include a proficiency bonus by the level of the creature or other rules element. These statistics are typically modifiers and DCs for attacks, ACs, saving throws, Perception, skills, and spells.

Finally, decrease the skill DCs of most tasks to account for the level being removed. You can just subtract the level from the DC tables in the Core Rulebook, or you can reference Table 4–17: Simple Skill DCs (No Level) for a set of DCs that’s easier to remember. The new DCs make it a little harder for high-level characters to succeed than it would be when using the default numbers from the Core Rulebook, in keeping with the theme mentioned earlier. Combat outcomes will tend to flatten out, with critical successes and critical failures being less likely across the game. This is particularly notable in spells, where you’re less likely to see the extreme effects of critical failures on saves.

Table 4-17: Simple Skill DCs (No Level)

Proficiency RankDC

Adjusting Encounters

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 198
Telling stories where a large group of low-level monsters can still be a significant threat to a high-level PC (and conversely, a single higher-level monster is not much of a threat to a group of PCs) requires some significant shifts in encounter building, including shifts in the PCs’ rewards.

Under the math in the Core Rulebook, two monsters of a certain level are roughly as challenging as a single monster 2 levels higher. However, with level removed from proficiency, this assumption is no longer true. The XP budget for creatures uses a different scale, as shown in Table 4–18: Creature XP (No Level). You’ll still use the same XP budget for a given threat level as shown on Table 10–1: Encounter Budget on page 489 of the Core Rulebook (80 XP for a moderate-threat encounter, 120 for a severe-threat encounter, and so on).

Table 4-18: Creature XP (No Level)

Creature’s LevelXP
Party level – 79
Party level – 612
Party level – 514
Party level – 418
Party level – 321
Party level – 226
Party level – 132
Party level40
Party level + 148
Party level + 260
Party level + 372
Party level + 490
Party level + 5108
Party level + 6135
Party level + 7160
While the XP values in Table 4–18 work well in most cases, sometimes they might not account for the effects of creatures’ special abilities when facing a party of a drastically different level. For instance, a ghost mage could prove too much for 5th-level PCs with its incorporeality, flight, and high-level spells, even though it’s outnumbered.

Adjusting Treasure

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 198
Treasure and the cost of items in the Core Rulebook are designed to make it as easy as possible for you to build encounters without worrying about awarding too much or too little treasure based on whether you use creatures who carry items. However, using this variant, the PCs might defeat a creature 5 levels higher than they are, or even more! Too many encounters with higher-level foes can wind up giving the PCs more treasure than you expected, or vice-versa if they’re fighting weaker foes that put up more of a fight but still have poor treasure. You can nudge this in the right direction by making periodic adjustments if the PCs’ treasure drifts too far from expectations. Making it so they can’t easily sell or buy magic items will mean it’s harder for them to exploit treasure they gain. To sidestep the treasure economy entirely, you can use the automatic item bonus progression.