I've just started running a 5E game after decades away. Im coming from the BECMI and AD&D era. I remember how finding a sword +1 plus +2 against goblins at low levels was quite a haul. But it now seems less than spectacular when every starting player is granted a +2 bonus from the start.

I've read about bonus inflation but I guess I missed all that in the editions in between. Is a first level wizard's apprentice really 10% more accurate with a dagger than an NPC fishmonger or butcher?

It seems other than making things a little less likely to succeed there shouldn't be any other negative impacts on the game if I were to scale the bonus back (or eliminate it for starting characters) and add it back gradually at higher levels. Am I missing something in the mechanics that will wreck my campaign?

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    \$\begingroup\$ To clarify, you're asking what is the design purpose of the proficiency bonus? Or are you interested in house rules that reduce/delay/remove it? \$\endgroup\$ – Oblivious Sage Aug 20 '16 at 13:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yes, your stated question: "Why have proficiency bonus at all?" Does not match what you are asking in the body of your question: "Has anyone tried to run a campaign with no starting bonus and begin accrue it back at higher levels?" These are two very different questions and will generate very different answers. \$\endgroup\$ – keithcurtis Aug 20 '16 at 15:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ Reminder: comments are for clarifying content, not posting small or incomplete answers. Please use answer posts to submit answers instead. Prior comments containing answers have been removed. (If a question is on hold and not accepting new answers, comments are still not for posting answers.) \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Aug 21 '16 at 2:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ The latest edits to this question have made it not-a-question, which rather damages the informational benefits of its answers. \$\endgroup\$ – Ben Barden Aug 3 '17 at 13:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ @BenBarden I've rolled it back to the last "actually a question" revision. It's less important to do with a closed question, but that does make the whole page make more sense now. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Aug 3 '17 at 14:45

I've not tried eliminating the starting proficiency bonus as you suggest, but the effects should be easy enough to predict. Until the bonus is restored (as you suggest you would like to do at higher levels, presumably with a differ progression rate), starting characters will find combat considerably more difficult, and hence, more likely to be lethal. You would need to reduce the number of opponents, or find monsters with a lower CR to challenge the party until parity with published proficiency is restored (at whatever level you intend.

I'm not sure that the gains (making a +1 sword seem special), are enough to balance the drawback of less interesting fights.

Consider also, that proficiency bonuses also affect skill checks and saving throws. Being proficient in a skill would have no meaning for a first level character, and saving throws would be flat across the board, being determined solely by attribute, rather that attribute and class proficiency.

For the tiny little gain, I would highly recommend against fiddling with the proficiency bonus. It's baked into too many things.

If your intent is merely to make a +1 sword seem special, modify that sword, rather than the whole system. Give it a minor ability or special feature. Maybe it floats, plays a fighting tune in combat, casts dim light, can cast fear once a day, or just looks really cool with a gem-encrusted hilt.

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Proficiency is the main thing that differentiates the classes at low levels.

A character of any class could have a 16 in any stat, for a +3 bonus to attack rolls or ability (skill) checks. Before high levels where you have lots of class features, the main difference between a strong wizard with a greatsword and a fighter with a greatsword, or a dextrous wizard with lockpicks and a rogue with lockpicks, is that the fighter and the rogue are proficient with the tools of their trades (especially the rogue with their double proficiency due to Expertise), making them more likely to succeed than someone who has the ability scores but not the proficiency. Take that away, and you may have a hard time convincing anyone not to play a caster class, even if they have a different style in mind, because there's little reason not to, and those who do play non-casters will find themselves frustratingly outclassed.

Also, the game is balanced with the bonus in mind. If the game isn't hard/deadly enough for you (and it's pretty deadly at low levels as written, with so few hit points), I suggest finding another way to increase the difficulty that doesn't risk every challenge turning into a long Three Stooges skit of missed rolls.

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Do not take out, without a substitute, the initial proficiency bonus.

The reason to have proficiency bonus at all is because it is a measure of experience and expertise in some areas. What do I mean by that?

In the current system, a wizard and a fighter can both use swords with no need for training at all. The difference is that the fighter is trained with the use of those martial weapons, therefore, the fighter can add the bonus that represent his knowledge on the use of the weapon to the attack roll. Without the proficiency bonus there is no difference between a wizard with a sword and a fighter with a sword (aside from class bonuses).

But proficiency bonus do more than add things to the attack roll. They help with saves and skills rolls. For some DM they can be used to allow or block players to try an action, for example, trying to lock-picking a seemingly complex lock, something that one without the "training" would not be able to do no matter how good the roll is. The logic behind that would be, is it a fairly easy task? everyone can try it, do you need an expert? Sorry, you are not. But the validity of that is up to the DM and outside of the scope of this answer.

The game is balance around the proficiency bonus

The game takes into consideration the proficiency bonus and put the challenge accordingly. This is more evident at higher levels. If we take the example of the wizard and the fighter and pit them with melee weapons against a monster with a moderately high AC (20), the difference is obvious.

With proficiency bonus of 6 at 20

  • Fighter at 20 (Strength 20 [+5]) vs AC 20 would need to roll 9 to bypass the AC.
  • Wizard at 20 (Strength 10 [+0]) vs AC 20 would need to roll a natural 20 to bypass the AC.
  • Wizard at 20 (Strength 20 [+5]) vs AC 20 would need to roll 15 to bypass the AC (That is a beefy wizard)

Without proficiency bonus

  • Fighter at 20 (Strength 20 [+5]) vs AC 20 would need to roll 15 to bypass the AC.
  • Wizard at 20 (Strength 10 [+0]) vs AC 20 would need to roll a natural 20 to bypass the AC.
  • Wizard at 20 (Strength 20 [+5]) vs AC 20 would need to roll 15 to bypass the AC (our beefy wizard again)

As you can see, the difference between the wizard and fighter is clear with the proficiency bonus while without it is blurry at best.

+1 is a big deal, therefore, taking out the initial bonus is even "worse"

Taking out the initial bonus will only increase the difficulty of the encounters and task that require rolls. This is because all creatures has this bonus in consideration and has its own bonuses (Player Basic Rules 57). There are calculation out there for what is called "bounded accuracy" that is very relevant to this topic, a link here.

Monsters also have this bonus, which is incorporated in their stat blocks.

For the weapon part, having a +1 is an advantage versus any creature and much more of a big deal than in previous editions. Also, D&D 5e has the philosophy of low tier magical items in its design, making them much more valuable than in precious editions.

Everything can be adjusted if it feels too easy or too hard

If you find that the encounters are too easy or hard, adjust them. That is the best you can do to provide a challenge to you and your players. A little Homebrew comes with 5e.

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    \$\begingroup\$ That's a thorough answer, but I'm not sure it addresses the question being asked. It appears that the OP is asking about removing the starting proficiency bonus, and adding it back in at higher levels, presumably with a different progression in order to resume parity with published levels. \$\endgroup\$ – keithcurtis Aug 20 '16 at 15:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ @keithcurtis I Fixed the my answer to be more clear and to clarify where are the key parts on his question. Is this better? \$\endgroup\$ – Chepelink Aug 20 '16 at 15:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ It still doesn't seem to address that he doesn't seem to be asking about the proficiency bonus in general, just the starting bonus, with an eventual restoration to regular levels. I've tried my own stab at an answer which I hope will address this. Until the OP clarifies exactly what he or she is asking, either answer approach should work. \$\endgroup\$ – keithcurtis Aug 20 '16 at 15:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ Sorry, you changed your comment while I was answering. :) I'll take a look. \$\endgroup\$ – keithcurtis Aug 20 '16 at 15:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ @keithcurtis Ah, ok. Just to clarify a little more my answer. He seems to ask 2 things. One by the tittle of his question (About why bother with proficiency bonus) and the other what would happen if the initial bonus is taken out. I think I covered both much better. One with the explanation of why to bother and the other addressing the "bounded accuracy". \$\endgroup\$ – Chepelink Aug 20 '16 at 15:43

A baseline is a baseline

What is important is the difference between the your attack bonus and the AC of the monsters.
It does not matter if you have an attack bonus of +5 (+2 from proficiency bonus, +3 from Ability) and the Goblin has AC15 or you have a Thac0 of 19 and a Goblin has AC9. You still have to roll a 10 to hit.
It would give you the same game experience if the attack bonus were +100, and the AC 110.

So why is it not 0, if it could be anything? To handle, as the name implies, proficiency.
A Fighter, even with the same Strength value, is supposed to be better than a Wizard when using a Longsword. In ADnD, the Wizard cannot even try, in DnD5 he just has somewhat smaller hit chance. I think the second way is much better.

A +1 sword is still a big deal

It increases your damage output by 15-25 percent, depending on other factors. But the main attraction is that many monsters take half or even no damage from non-magical weapons.

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    \$\begingroup\$ When you say "calculated accordingly," are you talking about OP making modifications to ACs in order to compensate for a -2 offset to proficiency? If so that's not clear; if not, then it very much does matter, as you're talking about skewing likelihoods of many of the actions players take succeeding. (Never mind when you get into how bonuses interact with (dis)advantaged rolls, which is non-linear and--for many--non-intuitive.) \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Aug 20 '16 at 15:00

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