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The Actor feat gives the benefit:

You can mimic the speech of another person or the sounds made by other creatures. You must have heard the person speaking, or heard the creature make the sound, for at least 1 minute. A successful Wisdom (Insight) check contested by your Charisma (Deception) check allows a listener to determine that the effect is faked. (PHB 165)

But if this is the boon of a feat, what could a creature without it do? Can they not attempt to mimic sounds and voices? Should they get Disadvantage? Do they need to observe longer?

If the feat was not there I would simply make them roll a Deception or Performance check opposed by Insight. I see no reason to give any penalty all the time.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Keep in mind the Actor feat description also says "You have advantage on Charisma (Deception) and Charisma (Performance) checks". If you have the feat, you apply this advantage trying to mimic someone's speech. \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor Jun 20 '17 at 17:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ @enkryptor But then this is not a boon of the feat, just an example. Which is not in line with how feats are written. \$\endgroup\$ – Szega Jun 20 '17 at 17:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree, that part looks unnecessary. \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor Jun 20 '17 at 17:58
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Anyone can attempt to do that

Anyone can attempt to do anything, whether they have the feat to do it or not (even try to recall everything accurately, as in Keen Mind). It doesn't mean they will always succeed, but it also doesn't mean they need the feat to make an attempt.

This is an example of bad wording, for a feat

The way this feat is framed implies that only characters with this feat can succeed. Drawing on the wisdom from the Unearthed Arcana: Feats, specifically on the "bad feat" (as identified in the article) named "Warhammer Master," we learn the following:

The ability to knock aside an opponent's shield is nifty -- but that's something any character should be able to attempt. Locking that down into a feat threatens to limit the game's flexibility. You could argue that anyone could still try that trick, but the way the feat frames the ability makes it sound like only characters with this feat can succeed. This option is an area that I'd want DMs to adjudicate on their own, rather than bloating the game with fiddly rules.

This is in response to this part of the Warhammer Master feat:

In addition, you can use your warhammer to knock away a foe's shield. If you hit a creature that’s using a shield, you can have the attack deal no damage and force the creature to drop its shield.

The design goal, as far as Mike Mearls was concerned, was to write feats in such a way that they did not limit the game's flexibility. The way this part of the Actor feat is written implies you need to have the Actor feat to even attempt to mimic someone's speech.

How do non Actors do it without stepping on the feat?

I believe the non-obvious but valid intent, which will still grant this ability to everyone else without necessarily needing to step on this feat's toes, was to imply that the Actor is so good, they can mimic anyone after one minute's worth of study. Everyone else has to take at least a few hours before they can even try properly.

Listen to a chirping bird for a minute, or a bubbling brook, and try to mimic that sound. You might be able to, but you probably can't; but, someone in the world probably could (out of the 7B people on Earth, chances are pretty high, right?)

This feat makes your character so good, they will find that person is themselves, for any sound or speech pattern.

What do they roll?

The Actor feat gives us the guidance for what skill to use:

A successful Wisdom (Insight) check contested by your Charisma (Deception) check allows a listener to determine that the effect is faked.

This makes sense as you are trying to deceive someone that you are what you are not. Based on this feat, then in most cases, you should roll Deception vs Insight. However, for non-Actors, you could use different skills as you see fit.

  • A Charisma (Performance) check could replace Deception, if you interpret this particular check as a test of how masterfully they can mimic another sound. Perhaps they are openly mimicking robins singing to an audience of children.

  • A Charisma (Stealth) check could replace Deception, if they are trying to hide by creating noise that makes them blend into the environment.

If interpreted this way, then for the Actors, the predictability of what skill to use means they know where to put their proficiency and Expertise, should they acquire them. This makes this feat even more useful, because for Actors, they always know which skill to use.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ For me that Cha(Stealth) check seems really weird. Stealth is more about choosing a hiding place or figuring out the blind spots of a guard. I do not think training in that overlaps with this task. \$\endgroup\$ – Szega Jun 22 '17 at 9:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Szega The DM has great latitude, and any skill can be paired with any ability score. Blending in by making bird sounds out of sight of the enemy, for example, isn't really covered by Dexterity, but rather by how well you sell it, which falls under Charisma. \$\endgroup\$ – user27327 Jun 22 '17 at 15:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree that it is not Dex, but I do not see it as Stealth. I would call for Cha(Performance). \$\endgroup\$ – Szega Jun 22 '17 at 16:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Szega If you look at the entry for Performance, it doesn't support that use case. It is specifically about performing with instruments in front of an audience. So neither Stealth nor Performance fit 100%, but my example dealt with hiding, so Stealth is a better fit \$\endgroup\$ – user27327 Jun 22 '17 at 22:12
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The feat guarantees it will be a contested check

In game, anyone can attempt anything. In some cases, the rules suggest specific mechanics for resolving the situation.

Without the strict rules, DM is free to resolve the outcome using common sense. For an obviously lame action the DM probably just say "you failed", without making any rolls.

I say "let us pass!", trying to mimic their commander's voice.

The Actor feat gives a hint for the DM - for that particular character that wasn't a bad idea at all.

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