Use Teamwork, Aid Another

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on October 12, 2011

Most players assume, incorrectly, that the only way to aid another is when they’re trying to make a skill check, most often during a skill challenge. They don’t know or don’t remember that there are other options when it comes to aiding another PC. In Monte Cook’s October 11th Legends & Lore article, Live Together, Die Alone, he talks about the importance of teamwork in D&D. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to highlight some of the benefits of using aid another for players and DMs.

For some readers this article will serve as a refresher. Although I’ll provide some creative ideas and situations in which aiding another can be useful, for the most part I’ll be highlighting a lot of the rules that are already out there. However, for many others I know that a lot of what I’m about to cover will be new to them.

Aid another is one of the most underused and under appreciated elements of 4e D&D. Few players are willing to give up a standard action to do anything that isn’t an attack or a second move. But in many cases there are better options and if you’re willing to work together as a team and not feel the absolute need to be the star of the show then aiding another can sometimes be the action that makes the biggest difference during combat.

Aid Another’s Skill Check

Let’s begin with a quick refresher. The aid another section of the PHB was updated a while back so I’ll be referencing what’s in the compendium. Everyone knows that they can aid another when making a skill or ability check. You use your standard action to aid an adjacent ally while he makes his check. Your DC to assist is 10 + half the level of the PC your assisting. Since all PCs in the same party are generally the same level anyway, this is a minor detail that doesn’t usually matter. For each success the ally gets +2 to his check and for each failure he gets -1.

The number of PCs who can provide aid to another single PC’s action is four, but most DMs will limit this to two, especially if it doesn’t make sense for four people to be huddled together for some detailed of fine task. In situations where four assists are possible the difference can be as much as +8 to -4 on the check based on how everyone rolled. Depending on the importance of the check or the speed with which the task must be completed, deciding not to aid another is sometimes a better option.

Aid Another’s Attack Roll

This is where we start to get into the aspects of aid another that are less familiar to most players. Did you know that you can help your ally hit an enemy? As long as you are adjacent to the target you can aid you ally’s attack by distracting the monster or pointing out a weak spot in its defenses. As a standard action you pick the ally that you want to aid (it can be any ally) and they get +2 to their next attack against the monster. You don’t even need to make a roll! You just declare that you’re aiding another’s attack roll and thy get +2. The benefit only lasts until the end of your next turn so the ally has to act quickly.

Up to four PCs can aid the same PC’s attack roll, as long as everyone is adjacent to the monster. If a monster has particularly high defenses or if a PC wants to use an especially deadly daily power, giving them the +2 to attack could mean a huge swing in the course of the battle. If it’s that important, four PCs could surround the monsters, all provide aid to the same PC and suddenly he’s got +8 to attack. This might be worth it if the attack will daze, stun or dominate the creature.

Aid Another’s Defenses

The third and final way that you can aid another is to act distract the enemy or act as a human shield thereby making it harder for monsters to hit your ally. Similar to aiding an attack, it requires a standard action and you must be adjacent to the monster making the attack when you take the aid another action. Just like aiding another’s attack, aiding another’s defenses does not require a roll. As soon as you take the action your ally gets +2 to whichever defense the monster attacks him with next.

Again up to four PCs can aid another’s defense in the same round. So if the party is trying to keep a wounded ally from being hit long enough to do something awesome or long enough to heal himself, giving up an attack to aid their defense might be a more sensible course of action.

Maximizing and Exploiting Aid Another

Now that we’ve covered the way aid another works it’s time to look at how to get the most out of this underutilized action.

There are multiple ways to bump up the normal +2 that the aid another action provides through feats, powers and items. Here are a few to consider taking if you meet the prerequisites.

Feats

Inspiring Aid (heroic)

The prerequisite is that you must be a Warlord with the Inspiring Presence class feature. Who are we kidding; this is one of the more popular Warlord builds out there so plenty of PCs will qualify. Whenever you or an ally who can hear you and who has line of sight to you takes the aid another, aid attack, or aid defense action, the bonus granted to the target equals +4 instead of +2.

Think about the potential. Four allies surround the big boss monster and all of them aid the striker’s next attack roll. On top of his normal attack score he now has an additional +16. Time to pull out that daily power.

Warlord’s Formation (paragon)

The prerequisite is that you must be a Warlord with an Intelligence 17 or higher. When you use the aid another, aid attack, or aid defense action, you can target up to two allies with that action.

A Warlord with this feat and Inspiring Aid can potentially provide two different allies with +4 to their next attacks against the enemy by giving up his standard action. Don’t forget that the Warlord can also spend his move action to flank, providing combat advantage for another +2, and spend his minor action to heal. Not a bad turn for any Warlord.

Powers

Both the Bard and the Paladin have heroic tier utility powers that can really make a difference when aiding another PC.

Clockwork Precision (Bard, level 6 Daily Utility)
This power is burst 10 and grants everyone in the area a +3 bonus rather than +2 when using the aid another action for the entire encounter.

One Heart, One Mind (Paladin, level 6 Daily Utility)
This power is burst 6 and gives all allies telepathic communication as long as they remain within 20 squares of each other. On top of the telepathy (which is cool in its own right) the power grants everyone in the area a +4 bonus rather than +2 when using the aid another action for the entire encounter.

Item

Erathis’s Beacon
This Divine Boon has a property that grants your ally a +4 bonus rather than +2 when using the aid another action. It also has other healing powers which make it very useful. It is an uncommon boon so this may not be something that your PC is likely to get any time soon.

Anyone Can Aid Another

Now that I’ve highlighted some of the potential that working together and aiding another can offer don’t forget that the monsters can use these tricks too. This is not limited to just the PCs. As a DM I often throw in a lot of really low level minions just so they can aid another, namely the big monster, with the really devastating attacks. The minions get slaughtered but they get the job done. By using minions a few levels lower than the encounter level I can get a lot more into the encounter than normal and still stay within my XP budget.

It’s All About Teamwork

For teamwork to be most effective everyone in the party needs to remember their role and be sure to follow it. When it comes to aiding another it’s unlikely that strikers will (or should) give up their standard action to aid another’s attack (unless it’s another striker). Yet that same striker may indeed be the best PC to aid another’s defense depending on circumstance.

Communicate with the rest of your party and if you think that getting a bonus to your attack or defense will make a difference in the upcoming round ask the other players to aid you. By explaining what you’re trying to accomplish or keeping them informed about how badly you’re hurt, they’re much more likely to give up their standard action to help you. It doesn’t matter who deals the killing blow as long as the entire party survives the ordeal. Remember that the next time you’re asked to aid another.

How much of this article was news to you? Now that you’re better informed about how aid another works do you think you’re more likely to do it? How often do PCs in your game aid another’s attacks or defenses? Does your DM have his monsters work together to aid one another?

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Lahrs October 12, 2011 at 10:01 am

I think one reason Aid Another is passed over in combat is due to the use of a standard action. It isn’t about being the star, it is about taking a monster down.

Yes, you can aid another and give them a +2 to hit, but since you have to be next to them anyway, moving, even if it means taking an OA to do so, and grant flanking will also give them a +2, but will still allow you to attack. The only instance I could see this being truly beneficial is if, as you described, you had to hit a very high AC and needed multiple people aiding. My thought on that matter though is if you need multiple people aiding one PC just for the chance to hit, maybe it is a good time to run.

The other option mentioned is giving another PC a +2 to all defenses. I would always welcome a +2 to defense, but a good offense is in many ways better than a good defense. Taking the monster down faster is usually in the parties best interest. I will admit in certain situations, depending on initiative order, it could be of use, but in general, I would forgo aiding in defense and try to take the monster down faster.

One aspect you did not mention, though technically not Aid Another, is using the heal check to grant saving throws or allowing another person use their second wind on your turn. I have used both many times in battle.

This is my opinion of course, but I rarely find using Aid Another beneficial while in combat.

When I DM, sometimes I will have minions aid the big baddy with defense and healing. This in many ways makes minions even more powerful and all the more reason to get rid of them. Adding a potential +8 bonus to all defenses makes the main monster even more formidable and requires stripping away his layers of defense (the minions) before the PC’s have a chance to do damage.

2 Quirky DM October 12, 2011 at 11:36 am

I’ll agree with Lahrs- the “me me me” mentality of most players in combat preclude the thought of using a standard action to help someone else. It’s why all the healing powers are now minor actions. Even commander’s strike let’s the warlord take the credit for all the damage that’s being done by another character.

However, I believe that daily powers and some encounter powers should always be the target of aid another. These are limited resources and besides the extra damage, they often have other riders that you want to make sure take effect.

Optimizing the Aid Another action to a +4 bonus can make a huge difference though. It does seem like a boring combat when you are using most of your actions to perform Aid Another.

Perhaps we need some powers that let you use Aid Another as a minor action. (perhaps a feat to allow this as an encounter power)

3 Kenneth McNay October 12, 2011 at 12:39 pm

One of the first things that comes to mind when considering powers that actively help another party member is the Rogue Utility power, Sneak in the Attack.

4 Rafael aka LordArchaon October 12, 2011 at 3:30 pm

I’m another fan of Aid Another… In my adaption to D&D of the MtG plane of Zendikar, Merfolk have a little feature and some feats to optimize Aid Another.
Speaking of official material though, I think there’s another great feat to talk about: Duty’s Virtue (Dragon 393). It makes Aid Another a minor action when used to aid defences of bloodied allies. A once per round minor action +2 to a comrade’s defence is great IMO, especially if further optimized to +4.

5 Lahrs October 12, 2011 at 8:55 pm

I did not know about that feat, but it seems it would be very useful and I could see myself using it often in a battle.

6 Will Doyle October 13, 2011 at 8:47 am

Wow, it’s never even crossed my mind to use Aid Another for the bad guys. I’m totally doing that.

I agree with some of the comments above though – players never seem to find it a beneficial use of a standard action. I’ll love to see some new powers function in a similar manner to Aid Another, based off minor actions, and perhaps having different conditional effects. Lots of scope there, I think.

7 Philo Pharynx October 13, 2011 at 1:07 pm

Aid another is often not numerically worth it unless you are doing a specialized build. Taking multiple feats to aid another is a strong opportunity cost. You could use those feats to aid the party in other ways.

Let’s look at damage:

Lets say you do 1d8+4 damage. That averages 8.5, assuming you hit 100% of the time.

If you hit on 12+, your ally needs to do an average of 38.3 damage before aiding him is numerically better.
If you hit on 14+, your ally needs to do an average of 29.8 damage before aiding him is numerically better.
If you hit on 16+, your ally needs to do an average of 21.8 damage before aiding him is numerically better.
If you hit on 18+, your ally needs to do an average of 12.8 damage before aiding him is numerically better.
Note, this does not take critical hits into account and assumes a +2 from your aid another.

Even using multiple aids, each person should calculate their benefit and see if it’s better to get multiple attacks. To calculate multiply your average damage times your percent chance to hit (12+ is 0.45) take that number and divide it by the percent bonus you give. +2 is 0.1, +4 is .2. Also note that the average damage is based on his damage times his to-hit percentage.

So in the 18+example, if the ally normally would also hit on 18+ (before the bonus), then they would need to roll 51.2 on average before it’s more useful to give up your 1d8+4 attack.
In the 12+ example, assuming your ally hits on 12+ before the bonus, they would need damage dice that rolled an average of 69.6 before it’s more useful.

This does not take conditions or power effects into account. But remember that the aiding ally forgoes using conditions or power effects himself.

In addition, many powers (mostly leader and controllers) give bonuses or penalties. While a bonus on an ally is equal to aid another, a penalty on an enemy is better because multiple allies can take advantage of it. Often these are minor actions or if they are standard actions they include an attack of some sort. While some are encounters, there are some good at wills. A Seekers Biting Swarm gives the enemy and all adjacent enemies a penalty to attacks. An Artificer’s magic weapon gives a bonus to attack and damage to all adjacent allies (and gets a +1 bonus itself). A defender’s mark is usually a free or minor action and it is the equivalent to aiding every other ally’s defense, not counting the other effects of the mark. Many powers grant combat advantage (or a condition that grants combat advantage), which is a boost to everybody’s attack, and esepcially to rogues.

Warlords are mentioned for having good feats for aiding another. But in almost all cases, using direct the strike or commander’s strike to give the person another attack is better. Spending the feats on lend might and lend strength make this option much better. And at almost every level encounter or daily power for a warlord ther is an option to attack and grant an ally an attack.

Next, remember that you still don’t guarantee a hit. Let’s say your whole party boosts up somebody’s uber-powerful one-hit-kill power. They still miss on a one, and you’ve given up all of the aiding character’s chance to damage the bad guy. You’ve put all your eggs in one basket.

When aiding somebody with a daily power, consider that all dailies either have an effect or a miss power, or they are reliable. In many cases a miss with a daily is as effective as a hit with an encounter power.

I’m not saying that you should never use aid another. It’s a good option to consider when you are weakened (or perhaps blind, if your DM allows it). If an ally is critically hurt, and you are hurt, and the ally has already used his second wind it’s another case. (If they haven’t used their second wind, it’s probably better to use first aid on them. If you aren’t hurt, then why not distract the enemy by attacking it yourself). It’s very good when there’s a strong power differential between you and your ally (i.e. you have no daily or encounter powers left and your ally has a really good one available. Or minions and solos on the bad guy side. Or it might be a good idea for that spunky NPC kid that’s tagging along.)

8 Oliver October 13, 2011 at 4:01 pm

Hello dungeonsmaster,

I love this kind of article crossed with the ddinsider.
The ddinsider article is completly theoric and with yours, we have the pieces to use it in our campaign.

It’s a great idea to do it and I hope we’ll read others like that.

Great work, well done.

Best regards.

9 Kincle October 14, 2011 at 1:43 am

One of the most exploitation-worthy effects of the Aid Attack action is that it applies to all of an ally’s attacks until the end of your next turn, which is a great time for your Ranger to Twin Strike-Action Point-Twin Strike-Off-Hand Strike for 5 attacks, each with a +2-4 bonus.
Warlord: “Hey, look over there!”
Ranger: *eviscerate*

10 Ameron (Derek Myers) October 14, 2011 at 8:21 am

@Kincle
The compendium says “That ally gains a +2 bonus to its next attack roll against the chosen enemy.” Unfortunately this means that it only applies to the next single attack roll and not all attacks made by that ally. That’s why so few players are willing to give up a standard attack to do it. Now if it was all attacks on your turn we’d see PCs aid another every round a striker wanted to use an action point.

11 Sunyaku October 15, 2011 at 1:02 am

I’m still considering throwing a ridiculous creature at my players to teach them about this. Something like an “iron turtle” golem that has a crazy high AC and that the PCs can only hit if they aid each other. It wouldn’t do a lot of damage, but it would be very irritating if the turtle was blocking the path of the players, and had to be removed.

12 Ameron (Derek Myers) October 15, 2011 at 2:28 pm

@Sunyaku
Here’s an idea. Throw a few minions at the party but make all of their defenses incredibly high. All the party has to do is score a successful hit to kill any one of them, but they essentially need a 20 unless they get help from one another. I think this would be a really interesting experiment.

13 Sunyaku October 18, 2011 at 12:12 am

@Ameron Even better! SEVERAL iron turtle golems! :D Thanks for the suggestion. I’ll do this sometime in the next few months, and I’ll try to remember to let you know how it turns out.

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