Is there a limit to the number of characters that can help during one skill check? Can NPCs, especially those bought during character burning as Bodyguards, Squires and Apprentices or Gangs and Crews, help? I could think of logical reasons why e.g. only 4-5 people can assail one person in melee and I could think of similar reasons why too large group working on a too focused task isn't efficient but where do I set the limit without it being or appearing like GM fiat? Is there a rule concerning this?

It seems like helping is an almost omnipotent tool when used correctly. A large group of NPCs with the relevant skill (e.g. a horde of goblins with Bow or Sword) can provide far more bonus dice than even a superb opponent could muster. Usually the drawback would be the difficulty to get challenging tests to advance a skill but as helpers learn based on the Ob of the test compared to their skill exponent one can circumvent it. Need a routine test? Roll the skill with the overwhelming support from your gang. Need a challenging test? Send your second in command into the fray to roll the skill and assist yourself. It gets even worse with a character who has his beliefs and instincts optimized for helping and receiving help. What rules would prevent such behavior?


2 Answers 2


Burning Wheel Gold, page 36

Lastly, the helping player must participate in the scene: He describes how his character is helping the other.

The GM is the final arbiter of who can and can’t help.

It's the GM's job to make sure the help makes sense. Depending on the test, more helpers isn't going to matter. If you're doing Surgery, sure, someone with Bloodletting could help. Can a second person help, crowded around the injured party? That seems like kind of a stretch.

For a group attacking a single person hand-to-hand, I'd probably cap help at +2D. How much can they really help each other? (For a large group of Bowyers, look at the Range and Cover rules.)

Players who are playing cleverly can engage the help rules to earn them the right kinds of tests. Often there's the choice of accepting the help and having a chance of success versus not accepting help to earn a challenging test. Just remember that failed rolls should have consequences, otherwise why roll at all?

A character with beliefs or instincts about helping is telling the GM to challenge them on helping or provide instances where helping causes a difficult situation. I could imagine them being put into situations (based on their other beliefs and those of the other players) where there are more than one opportunity to help such that they can't be everywhere at once. The more interesting question is: What do they want to do in game other than pump up their skills?


The basic rules for helping have some peculiarities:

  1. They only discuss help between player characters.
  2. Under the heading "How can I help?" the two numbered rules for helping concern which skills/stats/attributes may help which ones. The text does include the sentence "Often this is situational, but the help must make sense to the players." The context of the sentence is: Which skills can help? But you could argue that, for example, the thousandth soldier with his spear is not very helpful in catching one warrior, since all of them engaging the one guy does not make sense to the players. The sentence "The GM is the final arbiter of who can and can't help." can also be found there.

Supposing we also allow non-player characters to help (as is done in the book, at least for handling hordes of mooks in combat), the rules seem to be:

  1. What makes sense for the players?
  2. GM makes the decision.

Given that the game contains a robust list of skills, general guidelines would be difficult to write. One rule which might aid is that helpers learn; so do all of the participants learn? If not, they are not helping in the sense intended by the rules.


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