Skill Focus: Assisting (Part 1)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on February 27, 2009

As I’ve said numerous times before, the addition of skill challenges to 4e D&D was a stroke of genius. It has provided us with the means to develop our characters in ways beyond excellence with a sword. We finally have a mechanism for using Acrobatics, Diplomacy and Thievery in a meaningful way that will yield XP.

Not all characters are strong in a variety of skills (Fighters, we’re looking at you), but thanks to the assist even the most unskilled PC can participate in a meaningful way during the skill challenge. My concern is that the assist mechanism is broken. So I’m going to share with you my ideas on how to fix it.


Let’s quickly recap the way an assist works. When a PC is making a skill check (in or out of a skill challenge) other PCs can try to help him by providing an assist. The assisting PC makes the appropriate skill check at DC 10 and if they succeed then the PC making the primary check gains a +2 bonus. It’s generally a pretty easy roll to make and even if you’re untrained you usually have a better than 50% chance of providing an assist.

The DMG suggests that the DM limit the number of PCs who can assist depending on the scenario. I like this guideline and generally we limit the number of PCs assisting to two. This keeps things from really getting out of hand and proving the primary PC with a +10 bonus.


I like that the DC to assist is low. It should be low. It needs to be low. If it was really hard then most PCs would have difficulty rolling high enough to assist. We’d be back to the problem of previous editions where the combat characters take a back seat during social encounters and other skill challenges. But a static DC to assist is crazy.

All PCs get +1 to all skills every time they advance to an even level. So by 18th level all PCs have +9 to every skill regardless of their ability modifier or skill training. Since a 1 is not a failure when rolling a skill check, every PC who reaches 18th level (or higher) will automatically succeed every time they try to assist. If they happen to have a reasonable ability score, the automatic success will happen well before they reach 18th level. When the PCs have absolutely no chance of failure then the mechanism is broken.


My solution is simple; make the DC to assist more difficult as the PCs advance. If the PCs get +1 to all skills at 2nd level, why not increase the assist DC by the same amount? As I said above, the DC to assist is already pretty easy (better than 50% for most PCs) so why not keep it in that range regardless of the PCs level? This forces the players to take feats and powers if they want to make skill checks easier. If the primary DC increases based on the PCs level then it stands to reason that assisting should get harder as well.

Heroic Tier Paragon Tier Epic Tier
PC Level Assist DC PC Level Assist DC PC Level Assist DC
1 10 11 15 21 20
2-3 11 12-13 16 22-23 21
4-5 12 14-15 17 24-25 22
6-7 13 16-17 18 26-27 23
8-9 14 18-19 19 28-29 24
10 15 20 20 30 25

What do you think? Are assists in general too easy? Should the DC remain 10 thereby making assists easier as PCs level up? Tell us how assists are working in your game: are they making skill challenge insanely easy at high levels?

If you found this useful, then be sure to check out Skill Focus: Assisting (Part 2).

1 Questing GM February 27, 2009 at 5:25 am

I generally don’t agree of scaling the difficulty the DC of Assisting just to make it consistently challenging for PCs of higher levels. By level 18, we could say that the party has worked so well together that they know exactly what does the prime person making the skill check needs and so in a sense, granting them that +2 automatically is sort of a reward so staying together for so long.

However, I would suggest that scaling of the Assisting DC can be justified if the benefits of Assisting is also increased as a result. A simple model could be that maybe benefits of Assisting at heroic tier is +2, +4 at paragon and +6 at epic with the DCs scaled accordingly. Of course, it would also be allowable for higher level PCs to choose which level of assisting so as not to allow choice for maximum benefit.

2 Jens Alm February 27, 2009 at 6:46 am

I agree with your conclusion, lvl 10-15 and above, aiding according to the standard rules has a 95% success rate (if you rule that a 1 is always a failure).

I don’t think you have to introduce a new table however, user the (revised) DC per level table in DM’s guide and say simply that an assist roll is a roll against Medium DC for the party’s level.

3 Ameron February 27, 2009 at 11:06 am

@ Questing GM

My feeling is that skill challenges, like monsters, get more difficult as the PCs become more powerful. The objectives of a negotiation, the mechanisms for disarming traps, and the likelihood of spotting hidden details will all get more difficult simply because the PCs are looking for tougher challenges. But you make a valid point. Just because the overall challenge becomes more difficult, my ability to help my companion complete the task shouldn’t be any harder. I guess it’s all in the way you role-play the encounter.

I do like the idea that assists provide increased bonuses by tier. I think I’ll suggest this to my gaming group.

@ Jens Alm

I think setting the moderate DC as the requirement for a successful assist is a great idea. It satisfies my dislike of a static DC to assist and eliminates the need for a new table. I love it.

I’m glad you both found Dungeon’s Master and hope you come back again.

4 skallawag February 27, 2009 at 2:18 pm


Can you compare the table that you have assembled against some examples in your high-level gameplay experience?

5 Ghostlore March 1, 2009 at 12:41 am

1) I agree the amount of people that can assist should be limited to no more than two, unless the situation is extremely critical and/or the DM feels it might be necessary to allow more.
2) If you increase the DC of a skill challenge aid roll to correspond to a higher level character’s stats, you are skewing that they they *should* be getting better as they gain experience. I agree +10 to a skill challenge aid roll is broken, so, as a suggestion…
3) Keep the aid roll DC at 10. The character attempting to aid the skill may only use his/her natural corresponding attribute bonus against the aid roll. No other bonuses (from level achievement or magic items) may be used. Example: Thogar is aiding a Diplomacy (CHA) check. His unaided charisma is 14, so he gets +2 to the roll when attempting to aid another. Chances are some of his stats will increase as he levels, and thus his ability to aid in some skill challenges will increase (as it should), but the bonus to aid will rarely be ridiculous, even at higher levels.
4) The DM can always decide on increasing the aid requirement should the situation warrant. (DM’s are da law!)
Just my 2C.

6 Ameron March 3, 2009 at 8:17 am

I haven’t forgotten about you. I’ll have some examples ready for you by this time tomorrow.

Removing the +1 for every ½ level increase is a great idea. It certainly addresses my beef with assists getting easier for no good reason.
And I certainly agree that the DM has the ultimate final say in the matter. 🙂

7 Richard February 2, 2010 at 2:36 pm

We are going to start incorporating something similar to Jens idea, except and assist is one level lower than the current skill check level. For instance if the Skill Check is a Hard DC, then the Assist check will be a Moderate DC for that level, if the skill check is moderate, then the assist will be easy. If they get an assist on an Easy Skill Check, I go with the normal 10 to assist.

I also tend to create skill challenges that only allow 1 assist or up to 2 assists if a player thinks of a way to help with the check that is unique and makes sense.

8 Ameron February 2, 2010 at 2:42 pm

This is a really good idea. The assist DC scales with the PCs thereby eliminating the auto-assist you get by paragon level.

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