I have some problems with “Aid Another.”

Maybe it’s because I’m too permissive, maybe it’s because my players are too pushy. I don’t really know. I run into a lot of problems with the idea of PCs working together, and it’s hard to really blame anyone.

Some of the problem is inherent in “skill systems.” Some of the problem is with players not wanting to accept a fail, or when I can’t think of a good way to spin a defeat at a plot-critical juncture.

“Can I try again?” is a related problem.

I feel like teamwork should never be discouraged. Sometimes it’s hard to get players to work together at all. Just killing PCs when players fight amongst themselves seems like double jeopardy to me.

Flanking from 3e seemed like a pretty cool idea.

Flanking enabled PCs to gang up on monsters in a fairly straightforward manner. A +2 bonus to-hit was pretty good in 3e, and Combat Advantage was pretty sweet in 4e (though it could become redundant at times).

But “Aid Another” when it comes to skill checks — is really underwhelming. It usually either breaks the system or has so little impact as to not be worth mentioning. A bunch of PCs dog-pile a skill check and blow it away.

Would you give them “the win?”

You want to reward cooperation, but if the players’ use Aid Another as a “win” button, then where’s the challenge? You might stop asking for skill checks entirely, or remove incentives. But then players strike out on their own.

And what do you do about situations in which players are rolling for skills before announcing what they’re doing, and justifying their actions with whatever came up… or they’re rolling for something when you asked someone else for the roll, and they want to “keep” the roll because it was good…

What’s the real problem? How do you make cooperation meaningful?

I read Marvel Heroics, and there’s something I love about it — the Affiliation die. Let me sum up for you: the player builds a dice pool around the “affiliation die,” the size of which is determined by their immediate allies.

Each character has a d6, a d8, and a d10 assigned to the “Solo,” “Buddy,” and “Team” affiliations. Some PCs are better alone, some are better in teams (if you can call the Fantastic Four a team, good grief), and some are at their best with a partner or sidekick. I wanted to steal this system badly. SO BADLY.

The problem was really with the numbers.

How do you convert a dice pool concept — which is intrinsically linked to the roll of multiple dice — to a system which consistently uses single dice rolls to determine outcomes? The two are virtually antithetical.

Well, I figured it out.

Damage dice are based upon the number of allies present.

During character creation, and between adventures, players assign a d6, d8, and d10 each to “alone,” “partnered,” and “teamwork” affiliations. When they are by themselves, they use the associated die for all damage rolls. With one other ally, they use the associated die. With three or more… you get it.

Why is this such a fantastic idea?

Well for starters, damage has always been arbitrary. Do individual weapons deal unique damage, or does everyone roll a d6? That debate I think goes back to OD&D. How many times have YOU had a player argue to use some bizarre exotic weapon that’s totally out of place in your setting just to get bigger dice?

I remember reading through powers in 4e and realizing that many powers were similar across tiers, where only the number and shape of the dice differed.

What this does is definitively answer the question: “how are the other characters helping?” The answer for a loner is “by taking a hike.” The answer for a buddy-cop depends on his buddy. And teams… well, they hang together.

Imagine for a moment, a low-level wizard who picks up fireball. He’s used to working alone and so his fireball is only 5d6 fighting alongside the party.

As the party battles monsters together, the wizard becomes more confident in Not Blowing Up his teammates, and gradually shifts his affiliations so that he deals first 5d8, and eventually 5d10 damage with his fireball.

Cool story, right? It’s like character development or something.

There’s a direct, mechanical benefit for players choosing whether to work together or split up. If your games are like mine, you can never keep everyone together in one location. I wish I could. They always split up.

And I don’t want to just punish them for not working together. I mean, sometimes they split up for perfectly good reasons. Ambition… sometimes initiative. It would be nice to have a mechanic reflect that.

You want to know where else this works great?

MINIONS. Stronger together than apart. When do they retreat? Why, when the party whittles them down to the point they no longer have an advantage.

PAIRED MONSTERS. Sometimes monsters partner-up for some reason.

SOLO MONSTERS. Better by themselves than in a group. It’s like when the Boss sees his men running into the room, and he’s all, “I’ll leave them to you.”

Just think about it. Enemies have easy-to-use damage dice based upon the presence of other monsters.

This is big, you guys. I realize there’s some controversy because some people like, REALLY think that damage should be this hard-coded effect based on mass and energy, but hit points are just as arbitrary as damage is.

Applying CLEAR incentives to splitting up or working together is HUGE.

I wanted to come up with a title based on the “Conservation of Ninjutsu.”