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In one of my games, I allowed someone to take the Leadership feat, but with the restriction that his followers (Cohort included) can't participate in combat, and that all of them (excluding Cohort) must be NPC classes for the sake of simplicity.

Well, at tenth level, he decided to have his cohort be a transmutation-specialist wizard, who who focuses on making various items, from magical to mundane. This gave him access to a large number of magic items, and the like.

He ended up actually maxing his leadership score, and now has a small army at his disposal. Generally, he uses them as a source of income, to fuel his wizard who makes him and the party shiny new toys, which then get teleported to him.

Well, the issue is, they've gotten to the point in the story where they're supposed to be helping a town defend itself from an invasion. To do this, the player decided to have all of his low-level followers make aid-another checks so the higher-level ones can mass-produce weaponry and armor. Well, this ends up having something like 19 people help each of the 8 'upper-level' followers make armor, giving them something like a +38 bonus on their craft check. All very inventive, and unique, but I'm just not sure if it works that way.

Question: How many people can help one person make a craft armor/weaponry check?

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There is nothing wrong with creating assembly lines... Just wait until other economies figure this out. –  Simon Gill Dec 7 '12 at 0:49
I don't know enough about smithing to know if you could make an assembly line for a sword. –  Zach Dec 7 '12 at 1:03
Not one that will squeeze out a sword in 5 minutes, but you can create more swords in the same amount of time if you have more and more people involved. This can turn the smith into more of a foreman. –  Simon Gill Dec 7 '12 at 1:15

7 Answers 7

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Question: How many people can help one person make a craft armor/weaponry check?

That would depend on the item being crafted. Let's start by looking at the RAW for aiding skill checks.

Aid Another

You can help someone achieve success on a skill check by making the same kind of skill check in a cooperative effort. If you roll a 10 or higher on your check, the character you're helping gets a +2 bonus on his or her check. (You can't take 10 on a skill check to aid another.) In many cases, a character's help won't be beneficial, or only a limited number of characters can help at once.

This clearly states that more than one aid roll can be made at once. So you can have multiple helpers. But how many?

In cases where the skill restricts who can achieve certain results, such as trying to open a lock using Disable Device, you can't aid another to grant a bonus to a task that your character couldn't achieve alone. The GM might impose further restrictions to aiding another on a case-by-case basis as well.

While a number of folks focus on the "you can't aid another to grant a bonus" section, I don't. As I read that passage it simply states that the +2 aid bonus can only be granted by a person who is able to do the act in question alone. In other words your aids must be competent as crafters in their own right. What is important in this passage, imo, is that it states the GM is free to impose restrictions on aiding another "on a case-by-case basis". This is were the GM can put some logical brakes on the whole affair. You need to work out what is a reasonable number of aids and that would be judged on an item by item basis. As example, crafting a longsword, DC 15, is easier than chainmail, DC 16. Both are doable with only one rank in the appropriate craft skill. But one could say, logically, that the number of aids for a suit of chainmail could be much higher than for a longsword.

I could reasonably see a dozen aids working on patches of chainmail for the main person to assemble into the final product. That is a huge time saver. So, call it twelve aids, imo.

But for the longsword, I could see two aids hammering it at once while the main person holds it and controls where blows fall. I could see this expanded to two teams of two, the first team hammering at a slightly faster rate and rotating out to rest and allow the second team to hammer for a while, also at a faster rate. The resting then rotating would allow them to bang a sword out a bit faster. The same teams would do the same kind of thing on the forge bellows to stoke the fire. It could even be stretched as far as three teams. Beyond that I think the rule of diminishing returns would make it worthless, ie the extra rest time is not needed OR the even faster hammering makes even normal quality difficult to control. So, no more than six aid rolls here, imo.

All this is great but remember that each aid still has to pass a craft roll, DC 10, in order to give the +2 aid bonus. Having to make these rolls (no taking 10) would be motivation enough for some GM's I've known in the past to limit aids more severely than I have in the examples above. Some GM's may even make one roll to cover all the aids making it all or nothing.

So, no easy answer for how many can help. You have to think about the item they are making and how teams would or could affect constructing it. It will work better for some items and not at all for others.

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I strongly advise against the single "all or nothing" roll, since it makes no sense at all. Apart from that, quite a good answer! –  Lohoris Dec 23 '13 at 14:47

In cases where the skill restricts who can achieve certain results, ... you can’t aid another to grant a bonus to a task that your character couldn’t achieve alone. The GM might impose further restrictions to aiding another on a case-by-case basis as well.

I would limit the number to however many narratively makes sense. Have the player describe the kind of help. Two people working together to make a sword sounds reasonable. Four, in my opinion, would be pushing it.

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Two points. First, I agree with okeefe that you'd want a "common sense" check to justify that the amount of aid makes sense for the given situation. Adding one or two people to crafting a sword may work (one pumping the bellows, another observing the temper of the steel, that kind of thing). That doesn't scale well, however, and eventually that smithy is so packed full that you couldn't swing a hammer without braining one or two while you're at it. Generally speaking, a natural limit will present itself with that simple rule (though you may need to haggle with your players—in which case, I'd let them go as high as they could claim with a straight face just to get on with the game).

Second, however, I'd interpret this carefully:

you can’t aid another to grant a bonus to a task that your character couldn’t achieve alone.

This can go one of two ways as a mechanical limiting factor. First, you could interpret it such that you can't have more bonus than the base person performing the skill has naturally. i.e. A character with a craft +10 can only have aid another to the point where he is granted a +10 through the aid another rule. In this case, the max result possible would be 40 if they roll a 20.

A second interpretation (and one harder to support because of "grant a bonus", though one I'm more likely to champion on my own) is that the maximum result cannot exceed something achievable by the person performing the skill. i.e. a character with a craft +10 with a ridiculous aid another boost can only achieve a total max roll of 30 when all's said. That's more justifiable on the grounds that this represents all they could achieve on the luckiest day of their life. It just makes sense to me that you couldn't achieve more with aid than you could achieve with a roll of 20 (i.e. the luckiest possible circumstances on the best day you ever had).

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I would urge you to reconsider the last paragraph. - Think of the chain mail example mentioned earlier. On your own on your most productive day you still only have 2 hands. If you have helpers making patches and you just combine them, you'll potentially be much much faster! –  Julix Mar 25 '14 at 0:16
I'm not entirely sold on either interpretation. If it came up in-game, it'd probably depend on the individual circumstances and whether I thought collaboration had a chance of improving so much. –  Jacob Proffitt Mar 25 '14 at 17:09
I just checked out loads of videos on smiting and what not and there are so so many tasks involved that if you wanted to be effective at getting help from many people for mass producing you'd really have to have crazy organizational and management skills, (but then it should be possible, with different teams working on different parts and the main crafter switching tasks for the difficult parts like the hardening as needed). –  Julix Mar 25 '14 at 19:05

Let's start this analysis with swords:


The 9 months figure I "remembered" appears to have been dead wrong... For a single smith to hammer out a sword it takes between about a week and a month, depending on the size of the blade to be forged.


Optimizing an armorer's facility should begin with the single anvil. 1 anvil can be used by no more than 3 people at a time. One person holds the metal and 2 alternate hammer-blows. Using a simple 2 iron process (one is in the coals heating up while the other is being hammered), means 3 people can hammer 2 swords simultaneously. Share a bunch of anvils per fire and you can scale out from there.

Once the sword is about finished, you need to temper it, which needs the fire and a quenching bucket (it's the rapid-cooling that causes the metal to harden); sharpening comes next, requiring a grinding wheel; and finally "finishing", or putting leather grip on the handle and fitting a sheath to it.

So, your (hypothetically historical) assembly line would be 3*anvil smithies to bang on steel until the steel becomes swords, a grinder, a leatherworker, and since most sheaths have some metal in them an extra smith to bang out those small parts (that don't need the level of craftsmanship a blade does).

Since you are referring to "weaponry" and not "swords", you probably want woodworkers in this armory to make axe handles, flails, spears, etc. The metal parts probably need an anvil at the swordmaker's area since you don't want the spearhead/axehead to break the first swing any more than you want the sword to break first swing. Armor tends to need lots of detail work. Sure, you could get 2 people working together on either the metal or leather parts of the armor, then you need to fit them together.

Finally you don't mention whether or not these will be magical weapons/armor or just "regular" arms and armor. Assuming (for completeness) that you plan to do magical arms/armor you will then need a significant number of magicians (who I'm assuming won't work cheap) to enchant the items, and the quality of artisans churning out the arms/armor need to be better since you can only enchant masterwork weapons.

As for an answer to your question, if your character has 8 followers, I would cap the "lackeys" at 2 per follower since realistically you would have a follower and 2 lackeys at each anvil. Other non-forging tasks would be tackled by splitting up the "lesser" work, but for the sake of mechanical simplicity a follower would take anywhere between a week and a month (let's figure 3 per month for smaller blades, the poor followers can't keep up sprint pace for too long a time) for each sword solo, and lackeys helping will cut the time anywhere from 1/2 to 1/3 the solo-time per sword depending on how much help he gets... but I'm sure the broken craft/profession rules would suggest that 1 follower could take the assistance of 100 lackeys each armed with a typewriter and bang out the works of Shakespeare in under a week... however, I would tend to house-rule any realistic attempt at that economy to make it feel "right" to me anyways so your mileage may vary.

But that's just me; I would suggest that you take the "realistic" approach above, then look at what your campaign's story needs and modify accordingly.

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I am not sure your '9 months to a year' time frame is accurate. forum.rpg.net/archive/index.php/t-324307.html forum.rpg.net/archive/index.php/t-475441.html wiki.answers.com/Q/… –  Colin D Dec 7 '12 at 18:03
Hmm... I see one source saying that in WWII Japan an average sword maker made 3-4 CHEAP katanas per month. I also see this: anvilfire.com/FAQs/swords_faq_index.htm which says that grinding, hilding, sheathing would likely take 1-2 weeks EACH. Then you add in the smelting of turning iron into steel (or not). I'll keep looking for a definitive source on time per blade and update when I find it. –  Pulsehead Dec 7 '12 at 20:01
Also created history.stackexchange.com/questions/5862/… to help find the answer faster –  Pulsehead Dec 7 '12 at 20:18
@ColinD, Crikey I hate being wrong! Looks like your figure is about right for smithing. –  Pulsehead Dec 8 '12 at 2:05

I'm unsure of any specific rule that covers this, but is it reasonable that 20 people working together can produce regular quality armor and weapons faster? I'd have to say yes, especially given the long base creation time.

If they wanted to use the mechanic to produce items that would normally require exquisite skill, that would be... less reasonable.

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Yes, and no. I'm not asking about 20 people working together to make a large amount of armor: I'm asking about 20 people working together to make 1 sword, then finishing it in record time and making another sword. –  Zach Dec 7 '12 at 0:46
@Zach: I wouldn't allow that, it feels like using 9 women to get a baby in a month. On the other hand, if it's a matter of a bunch of swords I would allow a greatly shortened production time on items 2 and above--you've got an assembly line, once it's filled they come out fast. –  Loren Pechtel Dec 7 '12 at 3:52
Look up Brook's Law (from the Mythical Man Month): "If 9 women get pregant, they cannot produce a baby in 1 month". A single smith could work on no more than 2 swords at a time. The heating/hammering process means that while 1 heats, he's beating on the other. Sure, you can get 2 smiths hammering on the same sword at once but it still takes MONTHS of hammering to make a sword. –  Pulsehead Dec 7 '12 at 14:48

you can’t aid another to grant a bonus to a task that your character couldn’t achieve alone.

Reads to me as the bonus being capped at +10 (assuming the craftsman is taking-10, which he should be), so five people.

I don’t know nearly amout smithing to say whether or not that’s reasonable. Doesn’t sound horribly far-fetched to me, but I don’t really know.

The other answers have all said about the same thing. What I want to add is that what may make much more sense is for those followers to work in parallel. Each one works on his or her own sword, or maybe in pairs or what have you to achieve the DC you want. You won’t complete a single sword faster – but you’ll complete 10 swords much faster.

Also, I want to recommend a certain amount of leniency. It seems to me that the for the guy with his own mini-army to churn out a bunch of equipment to help the town just makes sense – not in a necessarily realistic sense, but in a narrative sense. It sounds like something you’d read in a novel. More importantly, the mundane crafting rules are brutal when it comes to time-frame: they take astoundingly long amounts of time to complete (which may be totally realistic; again I really don’t know. I have my doubts though). Raising the DC and the check can lower that considerably, but it’s still really long – and low-level followers can’t exactly maximize that check. So if this is their goal, I think they’re going to need – and I think they deserve – a little leniency.

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These people are radically less effective aiding another than crafting their own items. Indeed, each of them could be crafting magic items instead, at a flat 1K gp progress per day, with the 'feats' provided by the wizard. If your concerns are balance concerns, they are grossly misplaced.

If your concerns are with respect to the aid another rules, the answer is "as many as you think makes sense in the situation", which probably should depend on the kind of item crafted, the exact method used, the size of the crafters, any special allowed-to-occupy-the-same-space abilities the crafters have, use of magic items, whether off-site engineering teams are allowed, etc. Just be consistent, and don't worry too much about whether or not your evaluation closely matches optimised production models; D&D isn't a very good economic simulator at the best of times and trying to make it one with The Right Ruling here is just going to give you a headache.

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