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In one instance, a player uses his Disguise kit proficiency to craft a well-made disguise, and then whenever someone makes a check to see though it, he adds his proficiency bonus plus relevant ability modifier (which would presumably be Charisma, but an argument could be made for Intelligence) to the roll versus their Insight. In another instance, a player (proficient in Deception) throws together a disguise from what's lying around, and then when trying to pass himself off as that to someone suspicious nearby, he adds his proficiency bonus plus his Charisma modifier to the roll versus their Insight.

I don't understand what the benefit of the tool proficiency is when in many cases, you can choose instead to become proficient in Deception, which has more applicable uses.

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Tools (p.154 PHB) says:

A tool helps you to do something you couldn't otherwise do ... Proficiency with a tool allows you to add your proficiency bonus to any ability check you make using that tool. Tool use is not tied to a single ability, since proficiency with a tool represents broader knowledge of its use.

Disguise Kit (p.154 PHB) says:

Proficiency with this kit lets you add your proficiency bonus to any ability checks you make to create a visual disguise.

So, to make a disguise you need a disguise kit - no disguise kit, no disguise; you may be able to improvise one (with disadvantage) if your DM is kind.

You can use a disguise kit on yourself or somebody else, whoever you use it on uses your check to determine how good the disguise is.

You do not need to be proficient; proficiency with it allows you to add your proficiency bonus (duh) to your ability modifier. Which ability? INT (getting details right), WIS (observing what you are copying) and DEX (applying make-up) are all contenders; STR & CON and (surprisingly) CHA - not so much.

Importantly, you are making a visual disguise. It allows you look different

Deception skill (p. 178 PHB) says:

Your Charisma (Deception) check determines whether you can convincingly hide the truth, either verbally or through your actions.

The Deception check allows you to hide the truth; logically this can be the truth that its you wearing a disguise. It allows you to act different.

Depending on the situation, looking different may be enough or acting different may be enough or you may need to do both.

For example, you may want to get into the castle disguised as the captain of the guard. The DM decides that this is an Intelligence (Disguise Kit) check and rolls secretly, getting say an 8 + 2 INT + 2 Proficiency = 12.

The guards have a passive Wisdom (Perception) of say 12. The guards on the outer baily are inattentive and the captain comes through several times a day so they make the check with disadvantage (12-5=8) - you pass through with a nod. The guards on the inner baily are more attentive their 12 matches your 12 so they are suspicious - the DM Calls for a Charisma (Deception) opposed by their passive Wisdom (Insight), with advantage because the disguise is nearly good enough on its own. Now to get to the treasury, the guards are hyper-vigilant and advantage mean they see serious flaws in the disguise - make your Charisma (Deception) with no advantage or disadvantage against their passive Wisdom (Insight) with advantage.

Without proficiency in the kit, your total would be 10 and you would be questioned at the first gate rather than the second.

Now you could dispense with disguise altogether - claim that you are the captain polymorphed! Now, this would use Charisma (Deception) only but I can see a lot of disadvantage (literally) with this approach.

Alternative, you could disguise the charlatan sorcerer in your party who has proficiency with deception and high charisma; which you don't - you socially inept clod :). Here you are the make-up artist and she is the thespian.

Please note that the example is deliberately simplistic and there are whole nuances of difficulty I'm glossing over. There is a range for both disguise and deception ranging from looking like an Orc from half a mile away to convincing the queen of the orcs that you are her mate while you are, you know, mating.

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    \$\begingroup\$ SevenSidedDie didn't say a disguise kit can't be used on yourself. He said it can be used on someone else. In no way did he rule out someone using it on his or her own self. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Jun 9 '15 at 4:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GMJoe "by someone proficient in its use to disguise someone else" is, at best, ambiguous. \$\endgroup\$ – Dale M Jun 9 '15 at 4:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ The exact meaning of SSD's answer aside, I do think this answer does a better job of addressing the differences between the 2 proficiencies. \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Jun 9 '15 at 4:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DaleM I thought the bit about there being overlap between the two proficiencies removed that ambiguity - but it now occurs to me that there might be a form of overlap other than self-disguising that I've overlooked, so I'll agree that it's ambiguous. Perhaps you should change the wording of your first sentence to "I might respectfully disagree?" \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Jun 9 '15 at 4:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think this answer has the gist of it. Disguising as somebody else, and being able to convince somebody you are somebody else, are two entirely different skills. Dressing an actor up as a pirate does not make a difference if they can't play a convincing pirate. \$\endgroup\$ – Theik Jun 9 '15 at 7:21
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A disguise kit can be employed by someone proficient in its use to disguise yourself or someone else. Deception can only benefit oneself.

But furthermore and more importantly, Deception can't actually be used to create a disguise. Deception allows you to, and I quote, “pass yourself off in a disguise” — that is, to act the part well enough to wear an existing disguise believably. Deception offers no way to craft a disguise in the first place. The only “disguise” you can create with Deception is one that requires only alteration of yourself that can be done with acting.

So they have overlap, but each can do things the other can't.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ When I disguise a party member, and someone tries to see through their disguise, what do they add to their roll? My proficiency bonus/ability modifier, or theirs? \$\endgroup\$ – Zso Jun 8 '15 at 17:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ @1000thSon There's obviously room for exceptions based on the exact situation, but as a general rule the roll is against whoever made the disguise. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jun 8 '15 at 17:37
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Person A owns a disguise kit, but doesn't have Disguise kit proficiency. He uses it to create a disguise (Int or Cha + 0). If he succeeds, he gets Advantage on Deception/Performance checks based on his Disguise.

Person B owns a disguise kit and has the Disguise Kit proficiency. She uses it to create a disguise (Int or Cha + Proficiency Bonus). If she succeeds, she gets Advantage on Deception/Performance checks based on her Disguise.

Because of the Proficiency Bonus, Person B has a better chance of succeeding. Proficient or not, if they don't have a disguise kit and just try to throw something together, they get Disadvantage on the Disguise check and don't get the Disguise Kit Proficiency bonus if applicable..

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. Good first answer! Can you support your answer by citing the rules or other evidence? \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Apr 15 '19 at 20:36

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