I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man's. I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.

- William Blake

Friday, May 18, 2018

5e quick fix: Help Action

5e quick fixes are exactly what they say on the tin. Small house rules to fix D&D problems you probably don't have. Use them wisely!

This is how it works in 5e:


You can lend your aid to another creature in the completion of a task. When you take the Help action, the creature you aid gains advantage on the next ability check it makes to perform the task you are helping with, provided that it makes the check before the start of your next turn.
Alternatively, you can aid a friendly creature in attacking a creature within 5 feet of you. You feint, distract the target, or in some other way team up to make your ally's attack more effective. If your ally attacks the target before your next turn, the first attack roll is made with advantage.

Second paragraph makes sense and we will not discuss it here.

First one is needlessly tied to "turns". What if you're going through an ancient library and looking for a forgotten tome? Seems that the help action would be applicable even if there are no turns to be counted.

But it also seems to rely too much on GM fiat.

When can I help? I assume I  must declare HOW I'm helping, and the GM must find my idea reasonable. But HOW reasonable?

Should the Int 8 barbarian be that useful to the Int 20 wizard trying to find the tome? What about that Int 5 NPC that can barely read? What about the Int 14 cleric, should she be MORE helpful than the barbarian?

Can your cat familiar help the Str 20 champion to move a huge boulder?

"Volo's Brazen Strumpets? Dear lord, can this brute even READ?"
Many people would say "the DM will decide arbitrarily depending on the circumstances".

But you know me, I always prefer a simple mechanical solution to "the system is bad, but the GM can fix it if it gets ridiculous".

So here is the fix: the helper must succeed against he original DC divided by two to actually help.

Let's see some examples:

Find a forgotten tome in a huge library (DC 20): the barbarian with Int 8 will roll against DC 10 to be of any help. The chances that he will be useful are fifty-fifty.

Perform an ordinary task (DC 10): it only takes beating a DC 5 to help someone with an ordinary task, so in most ordinary circumstances two heads think better than one. Easy task? You can help 90% of the time even with no bonus.

Moving an impossibly huge boulder (DC 25): the Str 3 cat is unlikely to beat the DC 13 difficulty to help the champion, but at least there is a 20% chance. The Str 8 wizard would be more helpful, and the Str 16 paladin has more than 50% chance of being useful - 60% or more if trained in athletics.

Of course, the difference between cat, wizard and paladin looks too small, but that's an effect of bounded accuracy. I'd prefer using 2d10 instead of 1d20 for skills anyway!

Another way of dealing with this is group checks. But, as you know, if the Str 20 champion is trying to move a boulder, having a couple of Str 16 folks at his side can actually HINDER his chances! To fix that, try this post: Harder stealth (5e quick fix).


  1. The group I normally play with uses the rule that a PC may assist another in a skill check *if* the assisting PC is proficient in that skill; i.e., the wizard skilled in Arcana might Help the warlock decipher some ancient runes, or Help the barely-literate barbarian recall the purpose of the ancient standing stones. Similarly, the athletic barbarian might Help any other character in moving a boulder, but a feeble warlock would not (though the warlock could be Helped *by* any character trained in Athletics).

    It's worked out so far, but I like the system detailed here, especially for frequently-neglected skills such as Perform and Animal Handling.

  2. Having leaned over this before, I find this quick fix perfectly functional, what still needs tweaking is the help action's effect: flat granting of advantage means that one extra person will help as much as twenty, which is too out of sync with common sense and thus problematic.

    1. A fair point. Probably could be fixed by giving a +2 bonus if two people are helping, +3 if three people, etc. But this will probably vary according to circumstances: three of four people will certainly help when carrying a couch, but maybe not in conversation, etc.