Using Guidance in Dungeons and Dragons 5e

In the world of Dungeons and Dragons (DnD) there is an almost unlimited range of spells. The official rules give players access to hundreds, class, and level permitting. But in reality, like all good role-playing games, the limit is really only set by the imagination of the players and the Dungeon Master. Some spells are fairly obvious. Lightning Bolts are going to knock an opponent off their feet, Fireball will consume the approaching enemies in a sheet of flame, and Healing spells do exactly what you might imagine. But some spells require a bit more explanation to understand their full potential. The Guidance spell is certainly one of those.

What is Guidance?

Guidance is a Cantrip, a zero-level spell that players can wield as a prepared magical action without the usual requirements of it taking time to activate or taking up a slot in the player’s spell ranking. Think of them as a magical reflex that you have gained through repeated use in the past so that now you come with them pre-loaded and ready to cast. It is not available to all DnD classes generally the Cleric and all Divine subclasses such as the Paladin etc.

In terms of game mechanics, the player casting it elects another player as a target and adds 1d4 to any ability for the duration of one ability check. In the player’s world, this can be seen as the spell enabling them to unlock knowledge, strength, dexterity, etc that they didn’t know that they had to improve their chances of successfully passing an ability check.

Being a Cantrip, it is a simple spell. Casting time takes only one action in the sequence of events, the spell is activated by the caster touching the designated target, and whilst the caster maintains concentration, for the next minute, that player may add the additional 1d4 roll to the ability check in question. Once the ability check is rolled, regardless of success, and once a minute has elapsed the spell ends.

Think of it as a boast, a short duration power up to help the target player temporarily tap into some sort of magically-induced additional prowess. And as the spell is a Touch spell, the caster could use it on themselves.

Although Cantrips are magical, many non-magical classes gain access to the use of them at higher levels. The DnD world is a magical place, even if you are the most staunch fighter or shadow-hugging rogue, eventually, some of the magic from the world around you will, over time, ooze into your being. This is what gives non-magical classes the ability to wield magic like a low-level magic-user.

An Example of Guidance at Work

The players have fought, tricked, and charmed their way into The Temple of Salmasis, a heavily guarded fountain of knowledge. They are seeking information about The Lich-King, a terrible undead lord who has taken an interest in the party and has become their nemesis. The players believe that in the Book of the Dead which is housed here, they might find information about this dreaded creature which will help them defeat it. 

Moorlock the Rogue opens the book and finds the relevant pages about the Lich-King. The DM decided that a successful Intelligence test will reveal something useful to him. His Intelligence is 14, above average so a roll of 14 or under will mark success. Before he starts reading, Gramley the Cleric elects to cast Guidance on Moorlock to further increase his concentration and understanding of the text. He places his hand on the Rogue’s shoulder, concentrates on the Guidance cantrip, and rolls 1d4. He rolls a three, effectively making Moorlock’s Intelligence 17 for this ability check. Moorlock rolls 1D20, gets a 15. Naturally, that would mark a failure but the Guidance cantrip helps him find the information he needs from the text. Armed with this new knowledge, the party is better equipped to defeat the ancient enemy.

Some Guidance on Guidance

It is best to think of guidance as a non-combat spell. You could use it on a fighter as they run into battle, enabling them a better chance to save against certain rages and dangers in combat, but the caster has to remain in deep concentration, leaving them vulnerable. Better to put the caster to better use and have the fighter buy better armour. Use it to help rogues climb and defeat traps or like above, find out information.

Use and Misuse of Guidance

Guidance might feel like a simple cantrip to cast but being that the caster can use it “at will,” that does mean that you could use it on every ability check that any player in the party needs to make. That is really going to slow the game down and make for dull interludes in the flow of the action. 

It is up to the DM to enforce a sensible rule. It is also up to the players to police themselves so that the game doesn’t descend into a frenzy of dice-rolling. One solution is to state that as the Guidance cantrip, being a Clerical power, is the result of divine blessing, then it can only be used when the God in question approves of the reason that it is being used. Gods are selfish beings, if there is nothing in it for them, if their cause isn’t furthered, then it doesn’t work. 

Stacking Guidance

If you have two characters in the party able to wield the Guidance cantrip then feasibly they could both cast that spell on the intended target. The rules state that the effects of the same spell cast multiple times don’t combine. If two spell-casters both elected to cast Guidance spells on the same person simultaneously, both casters would roll 1d4 and the highest result would be used. Not the total of both combined.

Final Thoughts

Remember, the rules are just that…rules. They are guidelines to help you take the epic quests and heroic deeds from your imagination and play them out before your eyes. If the rules seem not to work, change them. If they slow down the speed of play, streamline them, change them, or ignore them altogether. 

Most campaigns and gaming groups play their preferred versions of Dungeons and Dragons and so the Guidance Cantrip, like every other aspect of the game, should be used as best suits your needs. 

Rules are made to be broken. Have fun.