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Last session, two of the members from my table attempted to make a combo together! I love when people contribute to the story, especially if it's going to be something epic like this situation, but I need to learn how to deal with these situations and do the proper checks, because I want them to keep happening.

The situation:

There was a tall enemy, the elf rogue was 20 ft away, and the dragonborn fighter was between the rogue and the enemy. The rogue started running towards the fighter, the fighter held the shield making a step that the rogue could use to jump, the rogue jumped using the fighter's shield and hit the enemy in the face.

What kind of check should I call to see if the characters manage to pull off their combo maneuver?

At the time I called for a DC 10 Dexterity (Acrobatics) check for the rogue, and a DC 10 Constitution check for the fighter.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already and see the help center if you need more guidance. Good Luck and Happy Gaming! \$\endgroup\$ – Someone_Evil Apr 14 at 20:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ Did you give the rogue any bonus to the attack for the hit being in the face? Or was this purely to look cool? \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Apr 15 at 7:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ What benefit Did the rogue gain by the cool parkour off the dragonborn's shield? Did the rogue do damage by hitting the elf in the face that would not have been done by hitting the elf elsewhere? \$\endgroup\$ – Jack Apr 15 at 10:51
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How can I adjudicate one character attempting to jump off a party member's shield at the enemy?

  • Well, I read about a DM who "called for a DC 10 Dexterity (Acrobatics) check for the rogue, and a DC 10 Constitution check for the fighter" and that seemed to work out so, how about that?

  • If it were me (and it isn't) I would have had the fighter take the Help action (giving the rogue advantage) and not require any checks. That could work too.

The important point is you handled it perfectly - you came up with a workable method of resolving the action, implemented it and moved the game along. That's pretty much the entire job description of being a DM at the table.

The rules are just tools to help you adjudicate fairly and consistently. Was what you did fair? It was fine. Now just be consistent with it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I must say I hate the idea of the Help action. A fighter giving up his turn for a currently unknown benefit (Outside of narrative flair) is tactically poor and unlikely to encourage people to do it again. Moving close, attacking and enabling sneak attack is much more efficient so if the aim is to encourage this type of tactic you don't want to penalise anyone by taking their action. \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Apr 15 at 7:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri. In this case, the GM could (and should if you ask me) warn the player that they would be using thrir action. Dale doesn't say it explicitely, but I don't think it is a reason not to rule it as a help action. (Awesome name btw, for some reason I imagine a serious Brie and I find it hilarious) \$\endgroup\$ – 3C273 Apr 15 at 11:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ The only thing I'd argue with here is the need for consistency. Consistency is nice, but not necessary, and the desire to be very consistent can become an impediment to the DM making a ruling in the moment, as they try to remember how they handled this last time. \$\endgroup\$ – Darth Pseudonym Apr 15 at 14:20
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There are really three options here, depending on how much the Fighter is willing to spend:

  1. The Fighter uses the Help action to give the Rogue advantage on their attack roll, which enables a sneak attack. No extra roll is needed; the Help action always works. The shield-launch is just describing in what way the Fighter is helping set up the Rogue's awesome attack, provided it's reasonable. (As DM, you might bend the rules to allow the Fighter to give Help on the attack roll while not next to the target, just because it's cool.)

  2. The Fighter stands adjacent to the target. His presence there allows the Rogue to do a Sneak Attack despite not having advantage on the attack roll; the shield launch move is just a description of how the Fighter's mere presence allows the sneak attack to work and requires no roll.

  3. The Fighter does nothing; the Rogue is just making a normal attack roll and the shield launch is simple description that requires no roll.

My personal preference for a team-up attack like that is #1, get the Fighter to use the Help action (an enormously undervalued ability). The Help action tends to be a good choice for any kind of combo attack or "Fastball Special" that makes sense but doesn't fit into explicit game terms. As I noted, this may mean allowing 'help' from a position that isn't exactly technically correct (like not adjacent to the target of the attack), but I tend to feel that it's better to bend those restrictions than require additional rolls to do something as simple as give a buddy advantage on their attack in a cool way.

I really don't like the idea of adding extra rolls that might cancel a cool and flavorful action just because the dice fell poorly, as long as the described move fits well with the characters' strengths. After all, mechanically the Fighter could have just walked up there and done the Help action, then the Rogue could have just walked over and made an attack. The players should not be punished with a risk of failure just for describing their actions in a more exciting way! (Contrariwise, they shouldn't get 'something for nothing' by gaining some mechanical advantage at no cost in actions or positioning.)

You can use the description to determine how reasonable the action is, and only call for extra rolls if there's something strange going on. For example, if you had a STR 8 Cleric trying to play shield-springboard for the heavily armored DEX 6 Fighter, we might have to have a talk about that; this doesn't seem like a good fit for either of them. I would either tell them that isn't going to work and help them come up with a more reasonable description, or throw in a roll (just one!) and let them know they can avoid the roll by not doing something as ridiculous as having a gnome hurl a goliath into battle. But as long as it's Captain America giving Black Widow a boost or Colossus throwing Wolverine (and not the other way around), there's no good reason to make them roll to pull off the move.

As to option #3, a purely cinematic description that makes no mechanical difference, there's never anything wrong with describing your attack in a cool way as long as you don't expect it to change the way the dice work.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This answer is a lot better than many would see at first glance. The more required rolls you have, the higher the chance for failure. But the inverse is also true; the fewer rolls you require, the higher the chance of success. There may be balance concerns, like the fact that the Fighter may not have spent an action, or that the Fighter wasn't adjacent to the enemy at the time the Help action takes place, but those weren't specified by the OP's question. \$\endgroup\$ – Daniel Zastoupil Apr 15 at 16:04
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My rule of thumb for unusual actions in combat is:

  • Make an appropriate ability check
  • If you succeed, then you get advantage (or a modest +X in systems like 3.5e). If you fail, then you miss the attack, or get disadvantage, or don't get any penalty, whichever seems appropriate.
  • Or, the same for trying to do something they couldn't otherwise do. E.g. they could try the same manouver to attack a low-flying enemy, then they wouldn't get a bonus, but they could make a melee attack they couldn't otherwise do.

In this case, I'd suggest that the jumping character perform an acrobatics, check, and the lifting character doesn't have to do a check. And that the character can attack with advantage if they succeed, and if they don't I'd allow an attack or not depending which felt most appropriate at the time. That's mostly because passing two checks simultaneously is quite a lot harder because even if both checks are easy, it only takes one failure to make the manoeuvre fail. Alternatively, you could do both checks, but be generous if one goes well and one badly (e.g. narrate it that one character fluffs up their bit, but the attack is possible because the other character made up for it.)

I'd also be generous about which abilities to use. this is probably acrobatics for the jumper and athletics for the lifter. Don't let them swap that, because there's no point having acrobatics if people can do acrobatics with an athletics check. But if they have a different skill which seems especially relevant, or if the character is invested in something relevant like shield manoeuvres, I might let them use that instead just to give the characters good chances to use the abilities they've invested in.

Explanation

The underlying rationale is that as long as it only comes up once, it's great to get an ad-hoc reward for doing something cool. But it shouldn't be so much of a reward it punishes players who don't ask, or that players come to expect it every fight, because that doesn't fit the flavour (swinging on a chandelier is a cool improvisation, it's not cool to to carry a chandelier around), and it unbalances the combat mechanics if every action someone has to think of something "cool" to do to be as effective as other characters, and if you have to constantly stop the combat to adjudicate if something was "cool" enough to deserve a bonus.

In your example of a character ruining and jumping off another character's shield to attack a monster who's unusually tall, I'd say the requirements are, one player is running into combat, the other character is close to the enemy, and can reach the enemy but not well. That's plenty unique to work, and get a bonus, but don't just assume they can always do it.

If they say "ok, next turn, I'll move back half my movement then run forward and jump off that player's shield again", you need to say "knock it off, you lot, it doesn't like that". Unless that's the only way they can make progress (e.g. against an enemy on the ceiling), in which case I'd let them repeat it, but slowly shift the narration from "how cool it is" to "how silly it is to keep doing it turn after turn".

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This is a good answer, but what kind of ability check would you recommend for this situation with 2 characters working together? I think that is the premise of the question. \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Apr 15 at 10:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ I honestly think this was more "how to adjudicate situations like this", but that's a good point, I'll add some specifics. \$\endgroup\$ – Jack V. Apr 15 at 10:36
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What you did is great

Make a call, ask for a roll, keep the game moving.

But, for future reference, you need to ask:

What are they trying to do?

To determine if a check is needed and what ability scores could apply, we need to know both the player's goal and their approach.

So, the rogue wants to jump off the fighter's shield. Cool! But what are they trying to achieve? Do they just want to look cool? Are they trying to move to a foe further away than their speed? Are they trying to jump over an obstruction in their way? Do they want more damage? Are they trying to increase the chance of a hit? Something else?

If it were me GMing

I'd probably do the following.

Want to look cool? OK, the rogue looks cool. No in-game effect, but onlookers are impressed. Maybe later on an NPC says something about the amazing sight.

Move further than their speed? I'd allow a Strength (Athletics) check. if the fighter spends an Action Helping, then the check is at advantage.

Jump over an obstruction? Strength (Athletics) or maybe Dexterity (Acrobatics). Same advantage if the fighter helps.

Want better chance to hit? The fighter must take the Help Action and the rogue gets advantage.

Want more damage? I'd only allow this if there was a massive size difference between the fighter and the rogue (X-Men fastball specials don't work when both are Medium sized and able :-). Maybe an improvised ranged weapon attack from the fighter, but using Strength? On a hit, the rogue gets to add the fighter's Strength bonus to the damage roll?

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tl;dr Multiple Checks

  • Fighter makes a Strength check
  • Rogue makes a Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics) check
  • Rogue gets advantage on the attack roll

Long version

There are multiple parts to this situation and we need to find a ruling for each of them. Your instincts were good and I wouldn't be too worried about how you handled it at the table. I also agree its a good idea to learn what the rules say so you can make an informed decision should the situation arise again. So without further ado here is how I would rule this.

The fighter with the shield

By a strict reading of the rules this action would be classified as the 'help' action and doing it would consume the fighter's main action. Under rules-as-fun this is a terrible ruling though and effectively punishes the players for trying something cool by harming their action economy. Instead I would rules this uses the fighters reaction. Under reactions in the PHB we have (emphasis mine):

Certain special abilities, spells and situations allow you to take a special action called a reaction.

I believe this situation would qualify as one worthy of a reaction. So what roll do they need to make? Under 'using each ability' we have the following rule for strength:

A Strength check can model any attempt to lift, push, pull, or break something, force your body through a space, or to otherwise apply brute force to a situation.

From that description a strength check would be the appropriate one for the fighter to make. You may choose to make it a Strength (Athletics) check if you like but the rules provide no support other than not ruling it out.

The difficulty class for this check should be based on how heavy the rogue is and how far they are trying to throw them. I would suggest starting with a DC of 10 and increasing for a heavy rogue, or if they are trying to throw them an exceptionally long way, use the rogues normal jump distance as a rough guide. I would add 1 to the DC for each additional foot you attempt to throw them beyond their typical jump distance.

So the fighter uses their reaction to make a DC10 (+ distance) Strength check to throw the rogue with their shield. If they fail but still exceed DC10 I would allow the rogue to make the jump but not allow any additional height/distance from the fighter pushing upwards. If they fail to make DC10 the fighter crumples under the weight and cannot hold the shield steady.

The rogue making the leap

For the rogues jump no action is require as it can be included as part of their movement. From movement and position in the PHB (emphasis mine):

Your movement can include jumping, climbing and swimming. These different modes of movement can be combined with walking, or they can constitute your entire move. However you're moving, you deduct the distance of each part of your move from your speed until it is used up.

So long as the rogue has enough movement they can make the jump without using an action or bonus action. Since they are starting 20 feet away and moving 20 feet up, unless they have increase mobility (fast race, feat or multi-classing) they will need to use the cunning action (bonus action) to dash in order to have sufficient movement.

From the special types of movement rules we have:

High Jump. When you make a high jump, you leap into the air a number of feet equal to 3 + your Strength modifier if you move at least 10 feet on foot immediately before the jump. [...] In some circumstances, your DM might allow you to make a Strength (Athletics) check to jump higher than you normally can.

[...] You can extend your arms half your height above yourself during the jump. Thus, you can reach above you a distance equal to the height of the jump plus 1 1/2 times your height.

Depending on the rogues race and strength modifier this may or may not be high enough to reach the tall enemy. If it is not you may like to make them roll a Strength (Athletics) check with a DC equal to 10 + the number of additional feat required (my house rule). You may like to allow the fighter's strength check to replace this check provided they succeed, or allow the two to combine both results to reach even greater heights.

Acrobatics. Your Dexterity (Acrobatics) check covers your attempt to stay on your feet in a tricky situation, such as when you're trying to run across a sheet of ice [...] The DM might also call for a Dexterity (Acrobatics) check to see if you can perform acrobatic stunts, including dives, rolls, somersaults, and flips.

The acrobatics rules do not cover jumping which is handled by Strength (Athletics) in the rules. However if the rogue is not jumping but being thrown by the fighter you could rules that keeping their feat on the shield or positioning themselves in the air to make the attack requires a Dexterity (Acrobatics) check. I would suggest DC 10 for this check.

So the rogue makes either a Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics) check to make the leap during their movement. Don't make them roll both, one check should be sufficient. If they don't have enough speed to cover the entire leap they can use their bonus action to dash with cunning action.

The attack roll

The rules have no support for this kind of attack and have no specific ruling on them. The is no rule on aiming at specific body parts or on special attacks other than the general case from the advantage and disadvantage rules.

The DM can also decide that circumstances influence a roll in one direction or the other and grant advantage or impose disadvantage as a result.

This DM (me) would definitely decide that these circumstances influence the attack roll positively and grant advantage on the attack. In doing so it grants the rogue sneak attack even if the fighter is not within 5 feet of the target.

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The Help Action

That would be a near-textbook example of the Help action (pg. 193 of the Player's Handbook):

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.

The fighter is helping the rogue with their attack. Basically the fighter is giving up their action to give the rogue advantage their attack.

You may want to involve additional ability checks if you feel it should be more difficult; I wouldn't, but it is GM discretion. No check is required by the rules . The loss of the fighter's action pretty much balances out the advantage for the rogue. The range makes gaining advantage on the attack iffy but not unreasonable. the description is a pretty good justification for how you really aid the attack without fighting the same enemy.

I would run it like this:

  1. The fighter spends their action taking the Help action to give the rogue advantage on the attack.

  2. The rogue makes jump move and makes their attack with advantage.

Encouraging action like this by not making them too difficult helps keep fights fun and exciting. The standard cost/benefit of the Help action makes this well-balanced. Giving a rogue advantage on an attack has all kinds of benefits, most prominently Sneak Attack damage which covers aiming for the face nicely. Having another player spend an action to do so is not unreasonable. If getting advantage in this way is too easy. they will always want advantage for nothing; if it is too hard (too many checks), then they won't want to risk it.

This is actually a pretty cool way to give the rogue advantage without the fighter having to disengage their current enemy and move to and attack the enemy the rogue is targeting, the cost of an action is not a big one for what they are getting.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ There's no such thing as a "jump check". Athletics checks are not needed for jumps, as long as the distance of the jump is within their normal capability. Anything beyond that is up to the DM. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Apr 15 at 20:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast thank you, edition confusion setting in. I removed any mention of it. \$\endgroup\$ – John Apr 15 at 20:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ Sorry, I think we were both editing at the same time so your edit reverted some of my fixes. I'll try and merge the two. (Should be fixed now.) \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Apr 15 at 20:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ You seem to have edited a mention of a jump check back in to #2... \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Apr 15 at 20:38

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