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When a druid uses its Wild Shape feature:

Your game statistics are replaced by the statistics of the beast, but you retain your alignment, personality, and Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma scores. You also retain all of your skill and saving throw proficiencies, in addition to gaining those of the creature. If the creature has the same proficiency as you and the bonus in its stat block is higher than yours, use the creature's bonus instead of yours.

Consider the example of a Circle of the Moon druid, who does not have proficiency in Stealth, taking the form of a saber-toothed tiger. A saber-toothed tiger's statblock states that it has a +6 modifier to Stealth. Since the beast's Dexterity modifier is +2, and a CR 2 beast has a proficiency bonus of +2 (DMG ch. 9), the saber-toothed tiger must have double proficiency in Stealth.

Should the druid therefore double their proficiency bonus and add it to the saber-tooth tiger's Dexterity modifier, resulting in the wild-shaped druid having +8 to Stealth at level 6, +10 to Stealth at level 9, etc.?

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You must apply the higher stat, no doubling of PC stat

Textual Argument

Your game statistics are replaced by the statistics of the beast, but you retain your alignment, personality, and Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma scores. You also retain all of your skill and saving throw proficiencies, in addition to gaining those of the creature. If the creature has the same proficiency as you and the bonus in its stat block is higher than yours, use the creature's bonus instead of yours.

For a particular skill, there are two proficiency bonuses contemplated in the above text: your humanoid form proficiency bonus, and the beast stat block's proficiency bonus. You propose a third category: a hybrid proficiency bonus with the PC's proficiency as base, augmented by the beast's 2x proficiency feature.

When in doubt, the rules of the game only do what they say they do. Every sentence of this text involves a direction to pick between either a PC number or a Beast number. There is no mention of calculating new numbers. Instead, the text states that you must choose the "bonus" that is higher. Here, "bonus" probably refers to "skill bonus", as defined in MM chapter 8: "A skill bonus is the sum of a monster's relevant ability modifier and its proficiency bonus". The text dictates that you must use the higher of two bonuses: you may not invent a third number.

MM Chapter 8 continues:

A skill bonus is the sum of a monster's relevant ability modifier and its proficiency bonus, which is determined by the monster's challenge rating (as shown in the Proficiency Bonus by Challenge Rating table). Other modifiers might apply. For instance, a monster might have a larger-than-expected bonus (usually double its proficiency bonus) to account for its heightened expertise.

The saber-tooth does not have an ability that doubles its proficiency bonus. There is no evidence that "heightened expertise" is anything other than flavorful description. If "heightened expertise" were a real ability, it would appear in the monster's statblack. Again, when in doubt, the rules only do what they say they do. From the MM, all we really know is that a monster has a higher proficiency bonus in a particular skill merely because it says so.
Hit point modifiers are likewise determined arbitrarily. Bugbears and Copper Dragon Wyrmlings are the same CR, with the same Constitution, but the Wyrmling has +4 and the Bugbear has +5. That's just how it is.

Because the higher proficiency bonus is not tied to an ability, you have no basis on which to apply said nonexistant ability to a proficiency bonus imported from your druid.

Purpose Argument

The 5e Bounded Accuracy system is meant to reduce the amount of math that a player has to do on the fly. This is in contrast to Pathfinder, where a druids may resort to excel spreadsheets to calculate how different modifiers and buffs apply for all of their various beast shapes.

DMG Chapter 7's section on Proficiency Bonus does not speak explicitly to your question, but it emphasizes the focus on picking a single number and applying it once:

Occasionally, your proficiency bonus might be multiplied or divided (doubled or halved, for example) before you apply it. For example, the rogue’s Expertise feature doubles the proficiency bonus for certain ability checks. If a circumstance suggests that your proficiency bonus applies more than once to the same roll, you still add it only once and multiply or divide it only once.

Note that, in the above text, a doubled proficiency bonus is not treated as a proficiency bonus applied twice: the doubled proficiency bonus is the new proficiency bonus.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk May 9 at 11:37
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RAW : You must apply your own unmodified proficiency bonus

This answer is based on Rules As Written (as is this answer), and is obviously contrary to the designer's intent (as elaborated here).

You already quoted the relevant rules from the Wild Shape class feature:

Your game statistics are replaced by the statistics of the beast, but you retain your alignment, personality, and Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma scores. You also retain all of your skill and saving throw proficiencies, in addition to gaining those of the creature.

This allows you to gain the saber-toothed tiger's skill proficiencies - which are "Perception" and "Stealth", not numerical values.

You then apply the standard rules on ability checks:

Sometimes, the DM might ask for an ability check using a specific skill--for example, “Make a Wisdom (Perception) check.” At other times, a player might ask the DM if proficiency in a particular skill applies to a check. In either case, proficiency in a skill means an individual can add his or her proficiency bonus to ability checks that involve that skill. Without proficiency in the skill, the individual makes a normal ability check.

To resolve a Dexterity(Stealth) check while in saber-toothed tiger shape, you roll a d20, add the relevant ability modifier (your dexterity modifier has been replaced by the creature statistics, and is now +2), and then add your own proficiency bonus (which depends on your level). In your specific example, that means a "skill bonus" of +5 at level 6, +6 at level 9, +7 at level 13, and +8 at level 17.

One more word about the last part of the Wild Shape class feature:

If the creature has the same proficiency as you and the bonus in its stat block is higher than yours, use the creature's bonus instead of yours.

The conditions of this sentence are not met: you do not have the same proficiency as the creature in the first place, thus you can't use the creature's bonus instead of yours. RAW, the numerical values displayed in a beast's stat block may only be used if you already have proficiency.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes thanks, OK to remove. \$\endgroup\$ – mdrichey May 13 at 22:51
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No; the druid can only choose between the beast's skill or their own, if they're proficient.

The difficulty here, I think, is that you're reading "gain [the proficiencies of] the creature" and thinking, "Aha! I am now proficient in stealth, and should calculate my skill bonus!"

That's not how it works. You get the beast's skills at the beast's skill level, not your own. The only time you recalculate anything is if you are personally proficient in stealth (or whatever skill) and now need to know what the bonus is with your beast form's superior (or inferior!) ability score.

If your druid isn't proficient with Stealth and has turned into a saber-toothed tiger, as you suggest, then you don't get a choice here: Your stealth rolls are made at +6, period. You are exactly as stealthy as any other smilodon.

The reason for this is the way the rule is written:

Your game statistics are replaced by the statistics of the beast

Okay, so you use all the beast's skills and forget about your own.

You also retain all of your skill and saving throw proficiencies in addition to gaining those of the creature.

So add proficiency in Nature, Athletics, and whatever else is on your sheet to the animal's skills. Good deal.

If the creature has the same proficiency as you...

It doesn't, because you're not proficient in stealth. So we can skip that bit. Therefore your stealth is still operating under the first rule: replaced.

The whole idea here is to make wild shaping (and other shapeshifting) as fast and easy as possible for the player to do on-the-fly. You don't do the 3e thing of recalculating all your skills and abilities every time you change shape (which usually means you need to work out the stat blocks for your beast forms ahead of time); you just grab the monster stat block out of the book and that becomes your temporary character sheet. There are one or two exceptions, to allow you to not become near-mindless just because you turned into a fish, and to avoid the mess where a bunch of your skills are better in human form than in beast form. But overall, the idea that you'd need to deconstruct your beast form's skill bonuses, reverse-engineer them, and then rebuild them goes against the clear intent of the rules.

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    \$\begingroup\$ How do you resolve the line in the Wild Shape feature that specifically says the druid gains the skill proficiencies of the form they take? That's a subtly different meaning than saying "you gain the bonuses of the creature", which seems to be how you've interpreted the line. \$\endgroup\$ – Xirema May 7 at 20:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ Because your game statistics are replaced by the statistics of the beast. Unless and until it actually says anything different, your skill bonuses -- which are obviously game statistics -- are replaced by the beast's. If your stealth is replaced by the beast's stealth, your personal skill bonus just does not matter anymore. Later you may get to pick between that bonus and your own personal skill bonus, but not in the case described. \$\endgroup\$ – Darth Pseudonym May 7 at 20:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ This runs afoul of the fact that skill bonuses aren't statistics, they are calculations based on statistics. The formula is the same, but the variables have changed, so the end result is different. As you note however, you can ignore the formula and just use the monsters bonus if you both have proficiency in the skill, but only then. \$\endgroup\$ – GreySage May 7 at 21:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Bash There is a tiny bit of reverse engineering in that if your int/wis/cha is different from the creature's, AND you are not proficient with the skill in question, AND the creature is, then you have to subtract the creature's ability bonus and add your own. So in the case you mentioned, yeah, the perception score would be +9. Mostly I meant you aren't supposed to be pulling it apart to the point of asking what the beast's proficiency bonus is and whether it's doubled. \$\endgroup\$ – Darth Pseudonym May 9 at 16:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ Oddly - This answer uses the same method I supported here, yet I share the concerns regarding the skill proficiency gain. Made me consider a new option. \$\endgroup\$ – Bash May 9 at 19:22
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A Druid would gain a doubled proficiency bonus in skills that the beast form has expertise in; and they would use whichever [doubled] proficiency bonus is higher

Just to start with, ignoring the question about doubling the proficiency bonus, it's clear that a Druid would gain at least the normal skill proficiencies of the beast form they are assuming:

You also retain all of your skill and saving throw proficiencies, in addition to gaining those of the creature. If the creature has the same proficiency as you and the bonus in its stat block is higher than yours, use the creature's bonus instead of yours.

Wild Shape, Player's Handbook, pg. 67

So the question remaining is, do they double their proficiency bonus when making an ability check that uses this skill? This depends on whether this doubled proficiency bonus is part of the creature's features or not.

The Monster manual gives some potential insight into the answer to this question:

The Skills entry is reserved for monsters that are proficient in one or more skills. For example, a monster that is very perceptive and stealthy might have bonuses to Wisdom (Perception) and Dexterity (Stealth) checks.

A skill bonus is the sum of a monster's relevant ability modifier and its proficiency bonus, which is determined by the monster's challenge rating (as shown in the Proficiency Bonus by Challenge Rating table). Other modifiers might apply. For instance, a monster might have a larger-than-expected bonus (usually double its proficiency bonus) to account for its heightened expertise.

Statistics, Monster Manual, pg. 8

This easily explains how a Saber-Toothed Tiger has a +6 to their Dexterity (Stealth) checks despite only being a CR2 (+2PROF) creature with 14 Dexterity (+2DEX) (MM, pg. 336).

So if a Saber-Toothed tiger is able to double their proficiency bonus to their Stealth skill, this constitutes a feature of the tiger that should transfer to the Wild Shape'd Druid. As a result, a Druid Wild Shape'd into the form of a Saber-Toothed Tiger should be able to replace the tiger's Proficiency bonus with their own, if their proficiency bonus is higher, and therefore gain the doubled bonus as a consequence.

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    \$\begingroup\$ @Akixkisu Yes, but as quoted from the Wild Shape feature, the druid would gain the proficiencies of the beast they shift into. \$\endgroup\$ – Xirema May 7 at 20:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ The MM uses the term "heightened expertise" which is a compound clause. \$\endgroup\$ – Akixkisu May 7 at 21:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Akixkisu Which is fine; but it's still a feature that causes them to double their proficiency bonus. What they choose to call it is irrelevant to whether it applies or not. I did agree to minimize the use of the term so as to avoid confusing it with the Rogue/Bard's Expertise feature. \$\endgroup\$ – Xirema May 7 at 21:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree with the body of this question, but I don't see any support for the notion that the druid would use whichever is higher. Their proficiency bonus is their proficiency bonus, they don't use the bonus of the creature and they don't get to choose it, it just is (regardless, the druids prof bonus will almost always be higher than the form's bonus anyway). \$\endgroup\$ – GreySage May 7 at 21:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ @GreySage I cut that part of the Wild Shape description to cut down on text, but I've added it back in to make sure it doesn't go unstated: It's explicitly stated that if the creature's bonus is higher, the Druid would use that bonus instead. \$\endgroup\$ – Xirema May 7 at 21:34
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No, you gain the proficiencies of the beast. There is "heightened expertise" which is not the same as a doubled proficiency bonus. Only one proficiency bonus applies at any time.

Beast Shapes, PHB 67:

Your game statistics are replaced by the statistics of the beast, but you retain your alignment, personality, and Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma scores. You also retain all of your skill and saving throw proficiencies, in addition to gaining those of the creature. If the creature has the same proficiency as you and the bonus in its stat block is higher than yours, use the creature’s bonus instead of yours.

The bonus of the saber-toothed tiger is +6. Do you have the same proficiency?

No, you now gain the proficiency of the creature.

If your druid is not proficient, then you can't double your druid's proficiency bonus because your druid has no proficiency. If your Druid would have had proficiency, then the third sentence would have applied.

There is no such thing as a doubled proficiency bonus involved, Expertise is a different case (PHB 54, 97).

Some creatures have a higher bonus than a proficency would give because they are natrually better at the task. So instead of the +2, you would normally get in the case, you gain a +4 (6- dex).

Skills, MM 8:

A skill bonus is the sum of a monster's relevant ability modifier and its proficiency bonus, which is determined by the monster's challenge rating (as shown in the Proficiency Bonus by Challenge Rating table). Other modifiers might apply. For instance, a monster might have a larger-than-expected bonus (usually double its proficiency bonus) to account for its heightened expertise.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Let us continue this discussion in chat. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose May 7 at 20:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 : I guess most downvotes were made on an earlier version of this answer, but it currently accurately answers OP's question without relying on unclear wild shape mechanics (using the "better proficiency bonus" method) \$\endgroup\$ – Bash May 9 at 9:41

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