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The Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide says:

Some half-elves in Faerûn have a racial trait in place of the Skill Versatility trait. If your DM allows it, your half-elf character can forgo Skill Versatility and instead take the elf trait Keen Senses or a trait based on your elf parentage:

Emphasis mine. The traits based on parentage are things like swim speed for aquatic elves or magic for drow parents. But here's the thing. Skill Versatility is

You gain proficiency in two skills of your choice.

while Keen Senses is

You have proficiency in the Perception skill.

Why would one ever pick Keen Senses over Skill Versatility (with Perception and another skill)? Is this a design oversight, or a typo where it's meant to be "and", or is there something about these traits that I'm missing?

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The Keen senses option is indeed inherently weaker

Your analysis regarding the Keen senses is correct - it gives you proficiency in a single particular skill when you could have proficiency in two skills of your choice. This issue is known yet uncorrected: In a 2015 tweet DnD 5e's lead rules developer Jeremy Crawford acknowledges it as follows:

The half-elf's Keen Senses option in the SCAG is, alas, superfluous. Take one of the juicy options below it.

This confirms that it indeed is an "or", not an "and".

The most recent errata for Player's Handbook and SCAG contain no mention on changing these rules, so until further revisions you can treat taking Keen senses instead of the Skill versatility as a valid, if nonsensical option of the game.

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If you gain Keen Senses you gain a +2 to perception (a highly valued skill) that will grow as you level up. If you add to wisdom you only gain +1 to perception and you also gain other bonus' from your other attribute increase.

So it breaks down to gaining +2 to one thing or +1 to several things. Yes +1 to several things is more plusses.... but a +2 in perception is pretty useful and allows you to not take that as one of your class skills giving you a +2 (your proficiency at level 1) in something else as well.

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  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ Hi Topher. I'm confused by this answer. Where does +1 to Wisdom come in? The choice is Skill Versatility (become proficient in two skills of your choice) vs Keen Senses (proficiency in Perception, as you note). \$\endgroup\$ – mattdm Sep 16 '18 at 9:09

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