One thing that for some reason bothers me with 3.5 and Pathfinder is the mechanic of aiding another player in a skill check. I need to figure out how to reduce the influence of this, or more clearly put a limit on how it can be used. Maybe it’s just that I, as the GM, need to enforce more of a story-telling requirement on the mechanic.
The issue, I think, is that it slows the game down so much, and anytime someone attempts any kind of skill check, there is a race to see who can shout “Aid!” the fastest and roll a d20, to try and make sure they get the roll in before the person doing the action resolves their action.
Listen at the door? “Aid!” – now wait? How are you aiding their listen at the door? Or are you just listening at the door also? Great, now everyone wants to take turns listening at every door. Search the room? 5 d20s hit the table. Know anything about Basilisks? 5 more d20s. Trying to smooth talk the local witch into making a nice potion for you? Let’s aid each other’s Diplomacy check!
So, maybe I should reclassify this as a “running the game” issue, but I actually LIKE when players find creative ways to help each other out and use some kind of teamwork to solve the problem. The main issue is that the mechanic is vague enough, and probably my enforcement of how to use it loose enough, that it’s lost any real interest or punch, and now serves just to slow the game down. It’s a math game, and that’s all.
And the math gets impacted pretty significantly If something is going to be hidden and a challenge for the party to find, it’s got to have a completely different number when I know 5 dice are going to be rolled at it instead of one – or when a player is going to get +4 (or more) from aiding comrades. It’s gotten to the point that I’ve gone ahead and just asked the party’s scout to add a permanent +4 to his search roll when searching without peril, because I’m just going to assume everyone’ decided to aid him and I max that bonus at +4.
Probably, knowing when to roll and when not to roll is the first answer and culling out all the extra die rolls that don’t add any fun, interest, or drama to the game. The second is to make a clear rule, in the rule book even, that describes how you go about trying to assist. If a player announces that they are taking an action – your opportunity to assist is gone. You may attempt the same action on your turn if you like, OR, you can try to create a benefit on your turn that another player can take advantage on in a later turn.
This makes the “Aid Another” an action that a player has to make, in the moment. It’s no longer just a die roll – it has to be something they actively want to do to help. If we’re not in initiative, a player can always volunteer to actually describe an “action” that they’re taking to help another character do something. That action may allow a die roll to aid. In most scenarios, a person can only be assisted so much, so I think I’d limit the aid to coming from one other player.
There’s still the problem of common rolls and “default aiding” to worry about. Do we really want to hear how the rogue is going to focus in listening for inconsistencies in the rustling of the trees any time the ranger is guiding them through the wilderness? Should we just award a permanent +2 to ranger’s perceptiveness while traveling unmolested? Should we limit the roll to only the ranger, and not allow this extraneous rolling every time? Maybe to aid, you have to spend some sort of resource, like energy or fate points, to encourage people to aid only in interesting way or at important times?
I feel like I’ve been ending a lot of posts with questions lately instead of answers!