Lots of things are left up to the luck of a dice roll in D&D, so how can you give yourself the best odds to successfully disarm that trap or identify that glowing orb? The proficiency bonus in D&D 5e is here to help!
Let’s jump right into the thick of it: what proficiency bonus is in D&D 5e, how you use it, calculate it, and how to increase and modify it. Don’t forget to bring a Ranger, cause we’re going into Rules & Terminology Territory!
What is Proficiency Bonus?
Your proficiency bonus is a number used to modify some rolls, checks, and saves in D&D.
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Mind you, proficiency bonus should not be confused with proficiencies in general. Your proficiency bonus is a modifier (like +3), whereas “proficiences” refers to skills, tools, weapons, etc that you are considered proficient/trained with.
The spot on your character sheet for proficiency bonus is between Inspiration and Saving Throws, here:
You can see proficiency bonus as aptitude: a reflection of a character’s training with a weapon, tool, or skill. It increases with experience (gaining levels, feats, etc.) and is added to actions you’re “proficient” in, like skill checks. The higher your level, the higher the bonus and likelihood of succeeding at an action.
What is Proficiency Bonus Used for in 5e?
Alright, now you get what “proficiency bonus” means in D&D 5e let’s move on to how you use it in game! Below is a basic rundown of the most common ways you’ll use this modifier.
Weapon Attack Rolls
Proficiency bonus is added to all attack rolls you make using weapons you are proficient with, which are listed in your class description.
Say you’re playing a Wizard. Wizards are more about mental prowess, and are only proficient with daggers, darts, slings, quarterstaffs, and light crossbows. You can add their proficiency bonus to attacks made with any of those. But if you pick up the Fighter’s dropped battleaxe – something you’re not trained to use – no proficiency bonus for you.
Weapon attack roll with proficient weapon = d20 + proficiency bonus
Weapon attack roll with non-proficient weapon = d20
Physical classes – Barbarians, Fighters, Rangers, etc. – have more weapons training and are proficient with more types of weapons. For example, Fighters add their proficiency bonus to any weapon attack roll because they are proficient with all martial and simple weapons.
There are two options for becoming proficient with more weapons:
- the Weapon Master feat
- leveling up in certain classes
- taking levels in another class (AKA multiclassing)
Spell Attack Rolls
Figuring proficiency when casting spells that require an attack roll is a bit simpler. Whenever you make an attack roll for a spell, you can always add your proficiency bonus! No need to worry about being proficient or not for casting a spell.
If it sounds confusing in comparison to weapon attacks, think about it this way: casters have to learn a spell to use it; they’re trained or “proficient” with that spell.
Your character’s natural affinity for spell casting is added along with your proficiency bonus to give you your Spell Attack bonus, like this:
Your Spell Attack Bonus = your Spellcasting Ability Modifier + your Proficiency Bonus
For a magical journey through everything Spell Attack Bonus, see our full guide!
Which saving throws can you add your proficiency bonus to? Why, to all the saving throws listed in the “proficiencies” section of your class description!
You can add saving throw proficiencies a few ways:
- the Resilient feat
- leveling up in certain classes
Very occasionally a class feature will tell you that an opponent must make a saving throw vs a score that includes your proficiency bonus, like the high level Rogue feature Death Strike in the Assassin archetype.
Spell Save DC
If you’re playing a spellcasting class, you will also need your proficiency bonus for calculating spell save DC (the number enemies try to beat to evade your spells).
Spell Save DC = 8 + Spellcasting Ability Modifier + Proficiency Bonus
For everything you need to know about Spell Save DC, see our article D&D Spell Save DC 5e – Calculate, Use & Increase!
Similar to attacking with a weapon, you can also add your proficiency bonus to any skill check rolls for skills you are proficient in.
If you’re rolling a skill check for a skill you’re proficient in, the formula looks like this:
d20 + skill score + proficiency bonus
If you’re rolling for a skill check for a skill you aren’t proficient in, you don’t add the proficiency bonus on, it’s just:
d20 + skill score
You can find your skills on the first page of your character sheet. Your score for each skill is the same as the ability score modifier that the skill is based on indicated in parentheses next to the skill. For example, Perception (Wis) is a Wisdom-based skill, so your Wisdom ability score modifier is your skill score for Wisdom. See my full guide to Ability Scores for more.
Given how frequent perception checks are in my games, Perception is a great skill to have proficiency in to get those extra digits added to your roll and your Passive Perception checks! The image below is from a warlock I played, they had low Wisdom and no proficiency in Perception so I only got +1 added to my d20 rolls for Perception.
Skill proficiencies are determined during character creation by your choice in background, feats, race, and class. Some ways to become proficient in more skills include:
- feats like Skilled
- specific subclasses like Clerics (Knowledge Domain) and Bards (College of Lore)
Another simple one, your class description will also tell you which tools your character is proficient with.
Rogues, of course, are proficient with Thieves’ Tools. So, you add their proficiency bonus to reflect that their chances of successfully disarming a trap are much higher. But if an untrained Rogue tries to use an Herbalism Kit to mix a poultice, they’re unlikely to achieve anything useful.
Just like skills, most tool proficiency comes during character creation. To add even more tools to your proverbial proficiency belt, consider options like these:
- backgrounds like Guild Artisan
- feats like Skilled
- training in your in-game downtime
The training lasts for 250 days and costs 1 gp per day. After you spend the requisite amount of time and money, you learn the new language or gain proficiency with the new tool.Page 187, Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook 5th Edition.
How to Calculate Your Proficiency Bonus in 5e
A character’s proficiency bonus is based on level, and you can find it listed on the level advancement table in your class description.
Mainly, your proficiency bonus is passive (you don’t have to roll for it). Specific instances may tell you to modify your proficiency bonus, like double or halve it, but it usually only changes when leveling up.
If you don’t have your class table handy, you can use a quick reference character advancement table like this one:
|Experience Points||Level||Proficiency Bonus|
Don’t have it written on your sheet or any of these tables to reference? You can think about it like this:
- level 1 proficiency bonus is +2, and it increases by +1 every four levels thereafter
- it starts at 2 and you add 1 to your proficiency bonus at levels 5, 9, 13, and 17
Things You Do NOT Use Your Proficiency Bonus For
Above we covered when to add the proficiency bonus. But what about the opposite?
As tempting as it is to justify adding your proficiency bonus to everything, here are a few common situations you do NOT use it:
- Armor class
- Skills, weapon, tools, etc you’re pretty sure you should be proficient with
- Using it more than once per roll
Your proficiency bonus can’t be added to a single die roll or other number more than once… If a circumstance suggests that your proficiency bonus applies more than once to the same roll or that it should be multiplied more than once, you nevertheless add it only once, multiply it only once, and halve it only once.Page 12, Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook 5th Edition.
Is Proficiency Bonus Added to Damage?
No, you do not add your proficiency bonus to your damage. Not weapon damage, not spell damage – just nope.
However, in rare instances, you can add your proficiency bonus to damage rolls made by animals or magical creatures you command. The two examples of this in the Players Handbook are:
- a Wizard’s Undead Thrall (in the School of Necromancy Arcane Tradition)
- a Ranger’s Rangers’ Companion (in the Beast Master archetype)
Is Proficiency Bonus Added to Armor Class?
Nope, proficiency bonus is not added to your armor class (AC) 99.9% of the time.
There’s only one example I can think of where you add proficiency bonus to AC in the Players Handbook: the feat Defensive Duelist.
Prerequisite: Dexterity of 13 or higherPage 165, Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook 5th Edition.
When you are wielding a finesse weapon with which you are proficient and another creature hits you with a melee attack, you can use your reaction to add your proficiency bonus to your AC for that attack, potentially causing the attack to miss you.
You can be proficient with types of armor though, meaning get all the benefits of the armor.
Can You Wear Armor You Aren’t Proficient With?
While you can wear armor that you lack proficiency with, it has serious downsides!
If you wear armor that you lack proficiency with, you have disadvantage on any ability check, saving throw, or attack roll that involves Strength or Dexterity, and you can’t cast spells.Page 144, Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook, 5th Edition
What Happens if You Don’t Have Proficiency With a Skill?
All that happens is that you don’t add your proficiency bonus to your roll. You don’t get disadvantage if you don’t have proficiency with a weapon, spell, skill or saving throw.
Can You Choose to Not Use Your Proficiency Bonus?
No, there is nothing in the rules that suggests using your proficiency bonus is optional.
If you want to be worse at a roll (for some reason), you could just use a weapon/tool/skill you are not proficient with. Heck, if you really want to bungle an attack you can just close your eyes in battle and give yourself disadvantage! The real puzzler is: why would you want to?
How Does Multiclassing Affect Proficiency Bonus?
The short answer is: it doesn’t! Proficiency bonus is based on your total level, not just your level in a specific class.
Playing a whirlwind of fury and magic, a 4th level Sorcerer with 2 levels of Barbarian? Total level is 6, so you have the proficiency bonus of a 6th level character (+3).
Classes and Proficiency Bonus
Highly versatile by nature, Bards have many features that modify their proficiency bonus or add proficiencies.
Here are the base class features that apply:
Jack of All Trades
Starting at 2nd level, you can add half your proficiency bonus, rounded down, to any ability check you make that doesn’t already include your proficiency bonus.Page 54, Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook 5th Edition.
At 3rd level, choose two of your skill proficiencies. Your proficiency bonus is doubled for any ability check you make that uses either of the chosen proficiencies. At 10th level, you can choose another two…Page 54, Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook 5th Edition.
And when your Bard goes for their undergrad degree, you get a few more depending on their major:
College of Lore
When you join the College of Lore at 3rd level, you gain proficiency with three skills of your choice.Page 54, Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook 5th Edition.
College of Valor
When you join the college of Valor at 3rd level, you gain proficiency with medium armor, shields, and martial weapons.Page 55, Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook 5th Edition.
Clerics don’t mess with their proficiency bonus much, but when they choose a Domain it affects some skills and armor.
When you pick the Knowledge Domain:
Blessing of Knowledge
At 1st Level, you learn two languages of your choice. You also become proficient in your choice of two of the following skills: rcana, History, Nature, or Religion. Your proficiency bonus is doubled for any ability check you make that uses either of those skills.Page 59, Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook 5th Edition.
And if you choose the Life Domain or War Domain, you receive this benefit:
When you choose this domain at 1st level, you gain proficiency with heavy armor.Page 60 & 63, Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook 5th Edition.
Fighters get a couple of mods to proficiency bonus and extra armor proficiencies as well.
If you go for the Battle Master Martial Archetype, you’ll get:
Student of War
When you choose this domain at 1st level, you gain proficiency with heavy armor.Page 73, Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook 5th Edition.
Folks that choose the Champion route, eventually receive the feature:
Starting at 7th level, you can add half your proficiency bonus (round up) to any Strength, Dexterity, or Consitution check you make that doesn’t already use your proficiency bonus.72, Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook 5th Edition.
Though Rangers don’t get as many features that affect proficiency bonus, they do get one that can be really freaking useful:
You are particularly familiar with one type of natural environment and are adept at traveling and surviving in such regions. Choose one type of favored terrain: arctic, coast, desert, forest, grassland, mountain, swamp, or the Underdark. When you make an Intelligence or Wisdom check related to your favored terrain, your proficiency bonus is doubled if you are using a skill that you are proficient in… [plus other benefits] …You choose additional favored terrain types at 6th and 10th level.Page 91, Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook 5th Edition.
The iconic skill monkey of D&D, Rogues get more modifications to their proficiency bonus than most classes.
The proficiency-centric class features all Rogues get are:
At 1st level, choose two of your skill proficiencies, or one of your skill proficiencies and your proficiency with thieves’ tools. Your proficiency bonus is doubled for any ability checks you make that uses either of the chosen proficiencies.
At 6th level, you can choose two more…Page 96, Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook 5th Edition.
By 11th level, you have refined your chosen skills until they approach perfection. Whenever you make an ability check that lets you add proficiency bonus, you can treat a d20 roll of 9 or lower as a 10.Page 96, Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook 5th Edition.
By 15th level, you have acquired greater mental strength. You gain proficiency in Wisdom saving throws.Page 96, Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook 5th Edition.
Furthermore, if you end up choosing the Assassin Archetype:
When you choose this archetypes at 3rd level, you gain proficiency with the disguise kit and the poisoner’s kit.Page 97, Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook 5th Edition.
A Sorcerer with the Draconic Bloodline Sorcerous Origin gets a specific, but probably pretty useful bonus when trying to convince a dragon not to eat the party:
You can speak, read, and write Draconic. Additionally, whenever you make a Charisma check when interacting with dragons, your proficiency bonus is doubled if it applies to the check.Page 102, Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook 5th Edition.
You may not use it all the time… but next time you need to convince a dragon not to eat the party you’ll be glad to have it.
As a Warlock you get little in the way of proficiency mods, except one through an Eldritch Incantation:
You gain proficiency in the Deception and Persuasion skills.Page 110, Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook 5th Edition.
Wizards receive extensive magical training at school, so they don’t end up getting a whole lot more in the proficiency department.
The one I can find in the Players Handbook is specific to the Arcane Tradition of the School of Abjuration:
Beginning at 10th level, when you cast an abjuration spell that requires you to make an ability check as a part of casting a spell (as in counterspell and dispel magic), you add your proficiency bonus…Page 115, Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook 5th Edition.
How to Increase Proficiency Bonus in 5e
Increasing your proficiency bonus isn’t as easy as it might sound. But rejoice! This section has all the ways to boost that bonus and pump-up those proficiencies.
For most builds leveling up is the only way to increase proficiency bonus. It’s certainly the most reliable way because the bonus increases by +1 every 4 levels for everyone – regardless of class, race, etc.
Check out the level/bonus table listed earlier for a quick reference.
Just like IRL, as your character gains experience (literally and metaphorically!) they get better at things. And the steady increase in proficiency bonus reflects this elegantly.
Only a few races get modifications to their proficiency bonus or added proficiencies. Below are the three options from the Players Handbook.
Dwarfs (any sub-race)
Even baby Dwarfs have spent more time studying and classifying rocks than most Geologists, so they automatically have:
Whenever you make an Intelligence (History) check related to the origin of stonework, you are considered proficient in the History skill and add double your proficiency bonus to the check…Page 20, Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook 5th Edition.
Half-Elves are the favorite choice for Rogues and Bards for a reason – they got mad skillz, yo!
You gain proficiency in two skills of your choice.Page 39, Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook 5th Edition.
Rock Gnomes are D&D’s magical version of a mad scientist; they just love figuring out how things work. Playing a Rock Gnome you’ll get this benefit:
Whenever you make an Intelligence (History) check related to magic items, alchemical objects, or technological devices, you add twice your proficiency bonusPage 37, Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook 5th Edition.
Straight up proficiency bonuses from items are very very rare. In fact, there seems to only be one and it’s a legendary:
Ioun Stone (Mastery)
Your proficiency bonus increases by 1 while this pale green prism orbits your head.Page 177, Dungeon & Dragons Dungeon Master’s Guide 5th Edition.
The only classes that get modifications of some kind to their overall proficiency bonus are Bards, Fighters, and Rogues. See the previous section for details!
Conclusion – Proficiency Bonus 5e
Thinking about a super-specific build, like a fiendish arcane poisoner? Maybe you want to max out your skills so you’re ready for anything? Or, perhaps you’re just chasing those sweet, sweet attack roll buffs.
Think about almost anything you want to do in game, and the proficiency bonus in D&D 5e can help you do it better. And now that you’ve got a solid understanding of when and how to apply it, go forth and adventure!
How about some cool accessories to take with you on your adventure? Check out my favorite D&D gaming accessories for players!
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Hi, I’m Emily, the tabletop gamer behind My Kind of Meeple. If this article helped you, I’d be honoured if you’d say, “Thanks!” with a £3 coffee on Ko-fi.