Cruven – I use Arcana to investigate the origins of the portal in order to learn how we might vanquish the elder evil that has attacked the realm.
DM – Will anyone assist Cruven? The DC to assist is 17.
Dox – 29. I assist.
Jacinth – 25. I assist.
Luk – 17. I assist.
Josey – 18. I assist
Cruven – Ok, with four assists that’s +8 to my roll. My base is a 17, so I’m rolling on a 25. Here goes…
DM – Don’t bother. The DC is only 23 so with the assists you can’t fail this check.
How often has this happened at your gaming table? Assisting is a great way to help a PC out with a check that they might not make on their own. It’s a potentially game breaking mechanic if a PC is already highly proficient at a given skill. As the DM, how do you prevent reckless assist roles?
PCs shouldn’t be assisting just because the rules let them. While the spirit of 4e encourages us to say yes, sometimes doing so ruins or breaks the experience. Should a Rogue raised in the back alleys of a large city, who has never travelled beyond its borders be assisting the Bard with a History check about an ancient civilization that hasn’t existed for well over 1,000 years?
There is certainly an argument to say yes and allow the assist. The Rogue could have obtained this information from any number of sources. Saying yes allows the game to flow uninterrupted, everyone gets to participate. Rather than say no to the request, as a DM be proactive and set your expectations on assisting before the campaign starts.
Assisting Takes An Action
The easy way to eliminate spontaneous assisting during every players’ action is to require that the assist be the players action for that turn. One or two players might still opt to assist on certain checks, but most players will not – preferring to take a full action on their own turn.
This option makes sense to me. Assisting takes time, often just as much time as the action you are helping with. It’s only reasonable then that the assist take as much time and that the player sacrifice their turn to help. After all if assisting is an action worth taking, then it should trump any other action the PC might want to take on their turn.
In order to assist with a task some basic knowledge is required. Another way DMs can keep the entire party from spontaneously assisting is requiring PCs to be trained in the appropriate skill they wish to assist. How else are you going to assist with an arcane ritual or lie convincingly to a master spy?
This option is a little heavy-handed as some classes only have a few trained skills. Certain martial classes receive training in only physical skills. Limiting the ability to assist with only trained skills means these characters may not be able to fully participate in social skill challenges. As a result I would recommend instituting this limitation on assisting sparingly.
The Evil Eye
Perhaps my favourite convention to dissuade PCs from arbitrarily assisting is a technique I like to call the evil eye. The evil eye requires some work to institute, but once done it can be very effective.
The PCs are required to a have a long term nemesis, which isn’t usually very difficult in most D&D campaigns. This opponent or nemesis has access to magic or the ability to curse the PCs. During a combat encounter, which the nemesis escapes, a hex is placed on each of the PCs. The only way to end the hex, is to defeat or kill the villain.
The mechanics of the hex are simple. Each PC rolls a d20 after every extended rest. Anytime before the next extended rest that this number is rolled the enemy becomes aware of the PCs and his eye is drawn towards them. Imagine this being similar to Frodo putting on the one ring and drawing the attention of Sauron and the Nazgul. The result is the enemy knows the physical location of the PC and until the next short rest that PC suffers a -1 to all ability, skill and attack rolls.
The fear of this consequence will keep PCs from making any arbitrary d20 rolls. It also adds an interesting dynamic to the game that will keep the PCs motivated towards eliminating this foe.
This isn’t the first time we’ve looked at ways to improve assisting. In our article Skill Focus: Assisting (Part 2), we discuss these topics which you may also find useful at your gaming table.
- Assist with Other Skills
- Add Value
- Play To Your Strengths
How have you dealt with every PC at the table deciding that they would like to assist during every skill check being made? Have your efforts been successful or met with further frustration?