The Help Action

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.

Player’s Handbook, pg. 192

Working Together

Sometimes two or more characters team up to attempt a task. The character who’s leading the effort–or the one with the highest ability modifier–can make an ability check with advantage, reflecting the help provided by the other characters. In combat, this requires the Help action.

A character can only provide help if the task is one that he or she could attempt alone. For example, trying to open a lock requires proficiency with thieves’ tools, so a character who lacks that proficiency can’t help another character in that task.

Moreover, a character can help only when two or more individuals working together would actually be productive. Some tasks, such as threading a needle, are no easier with help.

Player’s Handbook, pg. 175

Help Action 5e

The help action is often overlooked or overused by DnD 5e players. But helping, or working together, are core to the Dungeons and Dragons experience as a collaborative roleplaying game.

In this article, I’ll cover how the help action works both in and out of combat, how it relates to the rules for “working together” (PHB 175), and a few tips, character builds, and spells to make the most of the help action in your next DnD game.

What Does Help Action Do in 5e?

The help action does one of two things in DnD 5e:

  • Out of combat: Grants advantage on an ability check that another creature makes. For this to be usable, it must be a situation where the helper “could attempt [the task] alone” AND where “two or more individuals working together would actually be productive.”

    The examples given in the Player’s Handbook are that a player would need proficiency with thieves’ tools to help pick a lock and that a player couldn’t help another creature thread a needle, because this task would be “no easier with help.”

  • In combat: You target an enemy creature, causing the next attack roll against it to be made with advantage. You must be within 5 feet of the enemy (the “target” of the help action in this context) to use the help action, but you do not need to remain within 5 feet of the enemy before that attack roll is made.

That’s the basics of the help action in 5e, but it doesn’t cover all the rules and nuances.

What Are the Rules for Help Action in 5e?

The rules for Help Action in DnD 5e are as follows:

  • In combat, help applies to the NEXT ally to attack a target; not to a SPECIFIC ally. This was confirmed on Sage Advice by 5e’s lead game designer.

    While I’m normally okay with Jeremy Crawford’s rulings, this one is actually contradicted by the Hobgoblin racial ability, Fey Gift. This racial gives a buff to the creature you help in combat…which, technically, is the enemy. Obviously, this is not the intention of Fey Gift. But then, who do you buff? The first ally to attack the target?

    Furthermore, Jeremy Crawford contradicts himself with this tweet, stating that a Mastermind Rogue can help two allies in combat, one with their action and one with their bonus action. Does this mean that the next two attacks against the target (the enemy) gain advantage? It sure doesn’t sound like it or seem like it based on the context of the question (Can a MM Rogue “assist 2 different PCs in combat” to which JC replies, “Yes.”

    So while the Rules as Written are that help applies to the TARGET FOE, not AN ALLY, many DMs ignore this in light of these contradictions with other printed material and Jeremy Crawford’s own words. Ask your DM how they plan to rule if you’re cooking up tactics that rely on the help action in combat.

    Unfortunately, this awkward wording of the help action remains in the latest One DnD playtest materials, so this confusion/necessary house ruling will persist in the future of DnD.

  • In combat, help only applies to the FIRST attack roll made against the target. This is both a continuation and extension of the rule above. Help definitely does not apply to multiple attacks; only the first attack against the “target.” Even if your DM rules that the “target” of help is your ally rather than the enemy creature, only their first attack roll is made with advantage.

  • You do not need to stay within 5 feet of the foe after using the help action. The Sage Advice Compendium confirmed that “you can take the [help] action and then move away. The action itself is what grants advantage to your ally, not your staying next to the foe” (SAC 12).

  • A familiar from the Find Familiar spell can use the help action in combat. Also confirmed in the Compendium, a familiar “can take non-attack actions, including help” (SAC 18).

d&d 5e monster myconid minis helping each other

How Do I Use Help Action in 5e?

Here are a few situations and ways to use help action in combat in DnD 5e:

  1. Use it with your familiar. By far, the most common tactic involving the help action is to use it with your familiar from the Find Familiar spell. It can’t attack anyway, so this is far and away the most useful thing it can do in combat.

    The common choice is the Owl familiar, which, with the Flyby trait, does not provoke opportunity attacks. Coupled with the ability to fly, the Owl is very safe to run in, use the Help action, and then fly out of range/line of sight of enemies afterward. Ranged enemies can still snipe the Owl, but it only costs 10 gp and an hour casting time to get it back again.

  2. Use it before an ally makes an important attack roll. Normally, it’s better to attack or cast a spell rather than use the help action. After all, if two players make attack rolls (rolling 2d20 total), there’s a chance that both attacks will land; if one play helps and one player attacks, you’re still rolling 2d20 total, but only one attack can possibly land.

    However, if an enemy is about to use a very important attack (usually a spell attack with a strong secondary effect), it might be better to increase the likelihood of it landing, rather than taking your own attack roll. Note that, with a strict DM, this requires communication on the player you hope to help’s turn, since otherwise, you’re using above-table knowledge to make in-game decisions (i.e., metagaming).

  3. Ready it for before an attack later in the round. If your DM rules that the help action targets an enemy rather than an ally (which, again, rules as written, it does), then there’s still a way to get around this annoyance and help the ally you actually want to help — the ready action. Simply ready the help action for directly before the attack roll you want to help with, and you’re golden. You can also do this with your familiar.

    The downside of this tactic is that the helper must remain within 5 feet of the target before the trigger occurs, because otherwise, the help action will be invalid at that moment, and the readied action will be wasted.

  4. Be a Mastermind Rogue. Their 3rd-level feature, Master of Tactics, allows you to use the help action as a bonus action, and to target an enemy within 30 feet of you rather than 5 feet. This allows you to give an ally attack advantage every round of combat, which is a nice, consistent boost to your party-wide damage.

    Note that Rogues have a lot competing for their bonus action already with Cunning Action (dash, hide, or disengage for a bonus action). However, if you’re playing a ranged Rogue character, you don’t need to rely on Cunning Action as much as melee-based Rogues.

  5. Be a Hobgoblin. Their racial feature, Fey Gift, allows them to use the help action as a bonus action a number of times equal to their proficiency bonus per long rest. Additionally, they can choose from one of three buffs when they help an ally:

    • Hospitality. +1d6 + proficiency bonus temporary hit points for you and the helped ally.

    • Passage. +10 speed for you and the helped ally.

    • Spite. The first time the helped ally lands an attack before your next turn, the target of the attack has disadvantage on their next attack roll.

    These are all great bonuses, as is the ability to help and attack on the same turn. Of course, it completely contradicts the wording and rules as written of the help action itself, but there we are.

Help Action 5e DM Tips

Many DMs feel that the help action outside of combat is annoying and slightly game-breaking. After all, it can basically be spammed without limit…but not really. Here are both rules as written tips and house rules for making the help action less spammable:

  • Ask players HOW they help. Remember, the rules for “Working Together” (PHB 175) require that “two or more individuals working together would actually be productive.” In other words, the burden is on your players to explain how their help would be, well, helpful.

  • Don’t allow it if the explanation of helping makes no sense. If your player can’t come up with how their help would “actually be productive,” don’t allow the help action to be used for that ability check.

    Sometimes, this isn’t really necessary — two players pushing open a door are obviously stronger than one player. Other times, you’ll actually get a good bit of roleplaying and character-building by forcing this explanation.

  • Require proficiency in an ability to help with an ability check. This is technically a house rule (albeit a common one), but it’s actually somewhat supported by the rules for “Working Together.” Specifically, “a character can only provide help if the task is one that they could attempt alone…a character who lacks [proficiency in thieves’ tools] can’t help another character [trying to open a lock].”

    Now, any character can attempt any skill check in most circumstances, so technically, they do satisfy the requirement of being able to “attempt” that task alone. But the thieves’ tools example suggests that 5e’s developers recognized that help might be too spammable/un-fun if some guardrails weren’t put around the action.

Help Action DnD 5e FAQ

DnD 5e help action questions and answers:

  1. Does the help action affect saving throws? No, the help action does not affect saving throws; it only affects a single attack roll. If your ally uses a saving throw-based spell, like Toll the Dead, the help action has no effect on the target enemy’s ability to resist the spell.

  2. Can monsters take the help action? Yes, monsters can take the help action in DnD 5e, as they have the same basic actions as player characters do. However, helping does suggest both collaboration and a modicum of intelligence, so helping might not be roleplay-friendly with certain creatures.

  3. Is help an action or bonus action? Help is an action in DnD 5e. There are only two exceptions to this: Mastermind Rogues can help as a bonus action as often as they like, and hobgoblins can use help as a bonus action a number of times equal to their proficiency bonus.

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