My group just started playing 5th last night, and we immediately ran into issues with the 'Working Together'/'Skill Assist'/'Skill Help' rules. By the rules it seems like nearly every single skill roll should be made with advantage, but logically that doesn't seem right.
The rules about working together and skill assists seem pretty light, and we couldn't find any extra information. This is the entirety of the assistance/help rules for skill checks:
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 (see chapter 9). 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.
From this description, it seems like anyone can help anyone else with nearly anything, as long as each person could technically attempt the task (not necessarily ever succeed), and two people could reasonably be productive at the task. To us, it was difficult to find tasks at which two players could not be at least a little bit more productive when working together. Even discounting some of the more obtuse approaches to assisting (like coaching someone on stealth or encouraging someone to be a better liar), many of the core skills seem like they would always fit in this:
- Perception - Having two people looking around is always going to be better than one. Maybe I can't see as well as the elf (maybe my perception skill is -3 and I have sand in my eyes), but I can look around and report what I do see.
- Investigate - if you can read, you should be able to at least help someone pour through reference material. I'm not an expert at ancient dwarven civilization, but I can look through this book about them and tell you what I find.
- Arcana - It's DnD. Magic is everywhere. Everyone should be able to assist everyone else at least a little bit in magic. Maybe I don't know how to cast that fireball spell, but someone shot a fireball at me once, so I'm at least aware of its existence and properties.
- History - We all know some history. I might not know the specific battle you're talking about, but I know that the victorious general eventually became the emperor.
- Insight - Unless you're dealing with a specific example that only the person making the skill check would know, then other people can at least offer some insight. I may not have a lot of insight into which painting would be the most valuable, but I know that bigger is usually more expensive.
Keep in mind that the rules never state how proficient or good with the skill you have to be to assist. You could conceivably have the worst perception in the entire universe, but still assist a world class perceptor because a) you could attempt the perception on your own, and b) two sets of eyes are better than one.
In out game, it ended up that every time someone made a skill check of any kind, they just announced it and waited for someone else to say 'I'll assist.'
Wizard: "I want to look at this spell and see if I know where it's from"
Fighter: "I'll assist"
Wizard rolls with advantage
Rogue: "I'll look out this window to assess any threats"
Warlock: "I'll assist"
Rogue rolls with advantage
Bard: "I want to use insight to determine how this magical cloak is built"
Silence due to other players not paying attention
Monk: "Oh right, sorry, I assist."
Bard rolls with advantage
Given the 'Working Together' rules, I can't see how any of these situations would be invalid. It seems like as long as there is at least one other person in the room, regardless of their skill level or knowledge or experience, you should always be rolling skill checks with advantage. This sounds incorrect, but we couldn't find any rules against it.
Is this how skill assists are supposed to work? And if not, where in the rule book does it explain the nuances of the assist action?