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.
Casting Time: 1 action
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
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).
Let’s create a little checklist on when you can and can’t benefit from casting guidance.
- 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!).
- Task Duration. Is the target able to complete the task they are being guided in within 1 minute?
- Situation. Is it socially acceptable to cast a spell right now?
- Range. Can the caster touch the target?
- 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!