Skill Focus: Assisting (Part 2)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on April 8, 2009

Assisting with skill checks needs to be something more than just a quick roll or an afterthought. I like the concept of assisting and I think there’s a lot of room to build on this mechanic. In Skill Focus: Assisting (Part 1) I was complained about what I think is a broken mechanic and shared my ideas on how to improve it. This time I’m only going to focus on the positives. I’m going to explore what actions constitute assists and expand on them.

Let me recap the way an assist works. When a PC is making a skill check, 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.

Now, I have issues with the static DC 10, but I’ve already ranted about that particular issue. Normally, if the primary PC is making a Diplomacy check and you want to assist, then you also make a Diplomacy check (at DC 10). This makes sense, but it shouldn’t be your only option.

Assist with Other Skills

The idea behind assisting is to allow PCs who aren’t as good in a lot of skills to participate in skill challenges. If you’re a Fighter with a low Charisma and no formal training in Diplomacy you can still try to help achieve a success. In most cases your likelihood of assisting is about 50%. I agree that assisting during a skill challenge is not as exciting as fighting a dragon, but it’s better than remaining silent in the back of the crowd while your friends do all the talking. Heaven forbid they call on you to be the primary on a Diplomacy check. Hello, failure!

But what if that same Fighter is a Dragonborn with a +6 in History? Shouldn’t he be able to use History to assist with the Diplomacy check? I think he should, as long as the player can come up with a good reason or explanation for why this would be the case.

Add Value

I only allow an assist roll if the PC providing the assist can describe how their input will be useful. The assist has to add value. If your idea of assisting is declaring “I assist” and rolling a d20, then you’d hate to play at my table. I reward creativity and encourage the players to use their imaginations. I don’t care what you come up with, as long as it’s plausible. Perhaps you remember another detail that the first person forgot to mention or you want to demonstrate a second point of view on a particular discussion. You action has to make sense for your character and it has to add something.

If you can come up with a clever idea on how to use Athletics to assist with a Nature check, then I’m going to allow it. This example came up when a PC needed to keep horses in line. The first PC made a primary Nature check to handle the animals and the second PC used Athletics to pull on the reigns and use sheer force to keep the animals in check. A very reasonable use of both skills and in this scenario they certainly assisted each other.

Another example is the use of Perception and Arcana to assist with Thievery. The first PC discovered a series of dart traps and attempted the primary Thievery check to disarm them. The second PC assisted with Perception by trying to spot how the trap was connected to the pressure plates in the floor. The third PC used Arcana to direct his Mage Hand to try and trigger traps down the hall before the PCs got there. These were both deemed valid uses for other skills which should make disarming the traps easier.

Play To Your Strengths

By allowing PCs to use other skills to assist they’ll look at their best skills and try to figure out ways to use them. If the assist DC is 10 then the roll should be easy, if not automatic. It also motivates everyone to participate since they can keep using the skills they are good at and not have to assist using the same skill as the person who acted before them.

What do you think? Am I being too liberal by allowing players to assist with different skills? Perhaps assisting with a different skill should be more difficult? Perhaps it should only provide a +1 bonus? We welcome your views on this idea.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Dungeon April 8, 2009 at 9:43 am

Maybe you can only assist using skills you’re trained it. so a dragonborn trained in endurance could use his endurance check to assist someone else who is doing a skill challenge involving athletics. or someone trained in history could assist a cleric with a religion check.
as for the bonus gained by assisting, i would suggest a +2. The DC for the assist should be higher for skills that rarely or don’t involve eachother (athletics and perception is a good example).
that’s all i can think of for now.

2 Ameron April 8, 2009 at 10:23 am

@Dungeon
I like your suggestion to only allow assisting with different skill if the PC is trained in it. Chances are, if you’re trying to assist with a different skill it’s because you’re not trained in the main sill and think one of your better skills is more likely to yield success. I think you’ll find that 9/10 times that other skill will be trained anyway.

I was thinking that if you only got a +1 modifier from assisting with a different skill then PCs might be more likly to try and assist with the same skill used in the first place. But I can see value in just leaving it +2. It would certainly make things easier.

3 Rook April 8, 2009 at 6:24 pm

Bravo! I love this concept. Anything that gets the players thinking outside the box and inspires creativity can only add a positive to your game. I agree that any secondary assist should add a +2 bonus to the primary skill check and that the assist skill should be trained only. I also think that the DC for the secondary skill check should remain at 10 as well. However, if the player is really reaching for justification in using a particular skill for the assist, then perhaps raising that skill check DC to 12 or ever 14 would be justified. But even then, they will still probably succeed.

4 Ameron April 9, 2009 at 7:43 am

@Rook
I think we’re in absolute agreement that anything that encourages the player to be more engaged in the game and anything that ultimately results in the game being more fun for everyone should be allowed. Or at least the attempt should be allowed. If I want to assist your Diplomacy check with my Bluff (assuming I’m trained in Bluff) then hey, why not. As long as my reason for doing so makes sense. Thanks for your comment.

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