5e Characters Too Powerful? Nerfing 5e Question

Since being introduced to 5e I have often thought that its characters are overpowered – compared to the rule systems I grew up on. I am wondering if the following would break 5e – or make it better…

  • Remove proficiency bonus for all characters
  • Remove proficiency bonus for all creatures/NPCs – this might be harder to manage
  • Add non-proficiency penalty for all skill/abilities that creatures/NPCs are not proficient with

I think the changes would have these impacts:

  • Combat – both sides would miss more often
  • Make magic items more valuable and more needed for advancement and higher level (CR) encounters

What do you all think? Has anyone tried to Nerf 5e? What did you do? How did it work?

Semper Fidelis & Good Gaming All

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Why such complication?

Just increase the CR of the monsters fought, or number of them, or damage output.


Well OSDM,

Because my mind works that way… I honestly did not think of that approach. I think the feel that I want in a campaign is overall lower power - from PCs and creatures/NPCs. If I increase CR or numbers then it doesn’t provide the “right” feel. Maybe I need to get over that and roll with 5e.

Thanks for the idea.

Semper Fidelis & Good Gaming All

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Would slowing the progression help? (Don’t use XP, level when DM thinks appropriate?)

What do your players want? I know many are fans of DCC for “start from nothing” character approach as well.

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I don’t think I’d mess with proficiency bonuses. I’d start with using the healing variant rules in the DMG. Long rest = healing by hit dice. Short rest = only healing by hit dice if healing kit is used.

If you’re going to house rule, maybe limit cantrips that can be cast per day equal to the number they know.

Other ideas: have intelligent monsters target spell casters and engage ranged combat PCs in melee. Give monsters healing–either clerics/shamans and/or healing potions. Add environmental conditions that really mess with tactical combat. Add resistances if they make sense to the monster.

But @JaredR beat me to the punch in recommending Five Torches Deep. I was a Kickstarter backer. I’ve read the rules and am excited to run it. I think it will require some referee adjudicating since the rules are quite light, but I think it will do the things you want while maintaining enough of 5E to feel familiar. I’m already set to run an adventure using Five Torches Deep at Evercon in January.

I saw someone on youtube that suggested implementing a lower level cap for the sake of a grittier game.

Basically, you would stop the standard character progression at level 9 (in the video he said 6 but that seems too limiting to me. Not all classes even get their second subclass feature by 6). After that, characters only get ability score increases/feats when they would level.
No proficiency mod progression beyond +4, no spells beyond 5th level, no aura of courage or purity of body, no divine intervention and no capstone features in the future.

I personally never tried it but it would keep the power level of your PCs lower than if they were to progress normally to level 10 and above (while still allowing for some progression).

Hi All,
Thank you for the answers. After thinking about this for a few days, my main objection is the innate powers of characters at 1st & 2nd level and the fact most will have a +4 to +5 then. Thus, I wanted to make it harder earlier, i.e. removing the proficiency bonus. After consideration, proficiency is pretty baked into 5e so I don’t think that is the mechanism to change. Maybe OSDM is right.

I have not run 5e very much – about 10 hours to date – and I am trying to reconcile what I am learning about it and my experience with AD&D, other older systems and my with my preference for grittier, lower initial power gaming.

I want masterwork items and +1/+2 magic items would become much more important and sought after.

I would like to know what others may have done to alter 5e to their tastes and how those house rules changed the game.

I guess time will tell.

Semper Fidelis & Good Gaming All

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