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The Guidance Cantrip Is Not OP’ed. Here’s Why…

When I first starting playing 5e, guidance leapt out as an easily spammable cantrip that was almost certain to be abused on the D&D table.

Guidance

Divination cantrip

Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Touch
Components: V, S
Duration: Concentration, up to 1 minute

You touch one willing creature. Once before the spell ends, the target can roll a d4 and add the number rolled to one ability check of its choice. It can roll the die before or after making the ability check. The spell then ends.

Spell Lists: Artificer, Cleric, Druid

Warning: casting guidance every turn can lead to your cleric overheating. (Art by WOTC).

Wow, a 1d4 bonus to every skill check the party makes outside of combat! That is crazy powerful!

Well… actually not quite.

Once a fellow Dungeon Master noted that the cantrip’s 1 minute duration should really limit guidance to being used with skill checks that would take a minute or less to perform, the spell suddenly became a lot more balanced.

The success of searching a room, using Investigation, isn’t decided in a moment, or even in a minute… it’s an ongoing task, and it’s hard to believe a cleric that follows the rogue around the sage’s library constantly tapping their shoulder is going to help them find the clue they’re looking for…. it’s far more likely to be an annoying distraction. Certainly it doesn’t feel as helpful as simply ‘helping’ would be (see Working Together on p.175 of the Player’s Handbook), thereby conferring advantage on the rogue’s roll.

Given the spell’s 1 minute duration, it’s reasonable to assume guidance is designed to be used as a buff for completing those ‘instant’ challenges, such as jumping over a pit of molten lava, raising the portcullis, or performing a Medicine check to stabilise a dying creature.

That already rules out a LOT of uses of guidance we often (incorrectly) see in play.

But then there’s another consideration. The caster should really have some in game stimulus that causes them to cast the spell. A cleric doesn’t know, for example, that the rustling in the bushes is going to occur at exactly 5:37pm and has therefore cast guidance on themselves at 5:36pm and 30 seconds. In other words, once the DM calls for a Perception check it’s too late to cast guidance. Similarly for Insight checks, and any knowledge checks (you either already had that knowledge or you didn’t… that was decided years ago, most likely. So – unless it’s a question of ‘remembering’ something they already know – the cleric casting guidance before another party member tries to identify a plant or rune doesn’t really make sense).

There are other restrictions too. Guidance requires one to touch the target, and is also limited by concentration. Furthermore, there’s the social limitations to consider. Starting to cast a spell in the middle of negotiations with a hostile party might be enough to trigger a ‘roll for initiative’ moment, while casting in a tavern, law court or King’s chamber is likely to be frowned on, if not enough to have one arrested. (Starting to cast a spell in polite company is not dissimilar to drawing your sword).

Guidance Restrictions

Let’s create a little checklist on when you can and can’t benefit from casting guidance.

  1. Foresight. Can the caster discern, in the game world, that their or their ally’s skills are about to be tested? (With at least 6 seconds to spare!).
  2. Task Duration. Is the target able to complete the task they are being guided in within 1 minute?
  3. Situation. Is it socially acceptable to cast a spell right now?
  4. Range. Can the caster touch the target?
  5. Concentration. Is the caster still able to concentrate on the spell for the duration of the guided task?

If the situation meets all those requirements, go ahead and let your player cast guidance. If not, explain why it doesn’t work!

More DM Tips

Liked this? Maybe you better check whether you’re playing the Ready action correctly (I wasn’t for about 4 years!), or read my deep delve on surprise in 5e D&D.

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5 Comments

  1. Rick Coen

    TL;DR = I agree!

    No one has yet tried to abuse this cantrip on our two campaigns – but I admit I was going to test the boundaries if we started up a third (both of my character concepts have the cantrip)!

    When we had an NPC cleric in the group, in the game where I play (as opposed to GM), we did use Guidance primarily in situations where there was time and planning involved. Like to climb the house to set an ambush, or before walking into the suspected evildoer’s perfectly legitimate business front, or just before the rogue sneaks off to scout the keep (although the time limit was an issue with that one). “Moradin bless you, my child” was the trigger, with a quick hammer-sign gesture of benediction. I think the cleric used it one other time, to help himself break free of a tar trap.

    One thing we had thought about – duration of check being the key here – was if it could be used while resting. “Why does that matter?” Well… house rules. Short version – a chance to throw off the effects of low level exhaustion, or a fresh save against poison or disease. But… your body is fighting that effect all day, not just at minute 479 of your 8-hour Long Rest!

    • duncan

      Hi Rick

      Yes, exactly, and one can extend the same logic for any ongoing process basically.

      Btw, you know a saving throw isn’t counted as an ability check in 5e, right? Seems like you’re using guidance for saving throws… which might be a house rule of yours.

      Cheers!

      d

      • Frederick Dale Coen

        Not actually a save – was trying not to derail conversation with our house rules, chose my words poorly. The exhaustion and injury checks are actually CON checks specifically so they don’t benefit from proficiency bonus. You are right, though, that Poison and Disease are saving throws. And the cleric’s escape from the tar was an Athletics check (having failed the spell save initially to avoid being in the tar in the first place!).

  2. boxty

    Well if you’ve played Kingdom Come: Deliverance, they are always praising the lord and this or that and I’m sure they toned it down quite a bit for modern audiences. So offering a prayer or blessing in the middle of a conversation may sound odd to our modern ears, but not to the medieval fantasy settings we are imagining.

    • duncan

      Hi Boxty

      I haven’t played Kingdom Come: Deliverance, but medieval society and D&D society are quite different. For one thing, in medieval European society there was one widely accepted religion (amongst nobles). If you know someone is praying to your God, and you also know that prayers are not answered in a direct and dangerous way (no one in medieval christianity witnessed a cleric bring some lightning from the skies etc), then you might feel relaxed about a newcomer uttering a prayer.

      If however someone was praying to a god that you don’t know, who might be hostile to you, and whose powers could be anything (in a world of high magic) you would be very nervous indeed and probably want to shut that down ASAP.

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