CRB is a repository of all the creative things that float through my mind about the RPG Pathfinder. Two major features are random character generation and building characters based on the god they worship. Anything that seems like it adds to the creative aspects of the game will pop up from time to time, including location descriptions, adventure ideas and even short stories. CRB won't just be my own creativity, it will open the floor to anyone who has an idea sparked by what I present to you.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Way Outside The Box

Allowing Your Players To Be Innovative And Rolling With It

Note: There will be some spoilers for the Shattered Star Adventure Path in this article.

Illustration by Luis Perez
With tons of rules, sometimes Pathfinder and other rules-heavy games can be overwhelming to both players and GMs. Some complain that all the rules can make the game less intuitive to play. I’ve previously spoken about not overlooking what rules can add to the game, and I really think the rules can enhance the game. This happens especially when your players learn to do incredibly creative things with all the fun abilities available to them. With that in mind, today I want to talk about player creativity.

First off I want to mention the whole idea of not saying “no”, but saying “yes, but.” Although a lot of the rules are clearly laid out applications, sometimes players will use a rule in a manner that the developers never considered. Many times my players try something that is not clearly outlined in the game. In my most recent sessions of Shattered Star the players came across an orb that allowed a creature clairvoyance into a room if they walked within 10’ of it. The orb seemed to do nothing but light the room and show the symbol of Groetus, but my players weren’t satisfied.

One of the players, the Cleric of Sarenrae, actually went out of is way to touch the orb. There are, as written, no provisions for what happens when you touch the orb—although it does say it has a connection with high ranking priests of the god Groetus. Since my player was so reckless, I allowed him to touch the mind of the creature just briefly. It overwhelmed him and staggered (a condition in Pathfinder) him. However, it also gave him a glimpse into the creature’s mind and a title.

So how do I figure out what to do if it isn’t a specific rule about how this works? The thing is it’s also not against rules. Anyone who knows me, knows that I’m a by-the-book RAW (rules as written) type of guy; but not all the rules are written. So, although no rule was broken, new rules were extrapolated and the players enjoyed it. It opened up a whole new avenue of great RP with an NPC and they ended up finally thinking of ways to cure his insanity.

Now even the RAW can work well in the favor of the PCs if you let them be creative. In the same session the players came upon four werebears who were mind-controlled by evil entities. My players do their best not to kill anything they don’t absolutely have to. Since one of the werebears succeeded in its roll and denied the command, at least for the first round, it told them to run. They figured these werebears were not the bad guys and tried to figure out steps to save these souls. But how?

The Cleric had himself a feat that allows him to choose to give creatures affected by his channel Protection From Evil. Protection From Evil first gives a +2 resistance bonus to all saves, as well as allowing an immediate new saving throw against charm effects with a +2 morale bonus to saves. Oh, but there’s more! The Paladin who considers these creatures as mind-controlled allies grants all of them within 10’ a +4 morale bonus to saves versus charm. Although this overrides the +2 from the Cleric with the +4 from the Paladin the total ends up being +6.

So by thinking quickly the players have rescued these werebear brothers from their mental enslavement—even if temporarily—and in doing so learn more about the creatures they must face. And over the course of four books my players have continuously tried to use the rules in new and interesting ways. Were the werebears technically allies? That’s a matter of interpretation, and that where we get back to the saying, “yes, but” thing.

As a GM, whether you are playing a rules-light or a rules-heavy game, it is your job to allow your players to be creative and innovative. Their successes and failures, when you let them go big, are the stories that players tell around other tables and over beers with other gaming buddies. I for one applaud my players when they come up with something so incredibly insane that it just might work.

In what ways have you let your players use the powers creatively? How have you interpreted rules that aren’t fully outlined when your character try something crazy? What have been some most memorable success/failures from your players going big?

GMs can be just as innovative as players. If these articles have helped you think outside the box then please consider becoming a contributor to my Patreon. Year one of all my Wednesday articles are available in PDF format to my patrons as a gift. If you’d like to join the further conversation in the CRB community join us on Facebook, Google+, Tumblr, and Twitter. My inbox is open for further questions or comments on any of these platforms so feel free to contact me directly.

The opening illustration was created by a fine artist Luis Perez. You can find him on TwitterTumblr, and on Instagram at luisperezart.


  1. In the last game I ran, the players knew they were going to fight an Orc Shaman riding a vicious wyvern. The chemist in my group went back to his lab and essentially invented wyvern-bane. He made all the necessary rolls, and the group had enough time to create 4 arrows coated in wyvern-bane. All they needed was one, as the star archer managed to nail a perfect shot after gaining initiative. This, in turn, took down the Shaman, who was quickly dispatched before she could show her true might.

    THERE'S NO SUCH THING AS WYVERNBANE... except now there is. Definitely one of the highlights of the campaign so far.

    1. There's a lot of things that don't exist until the players create it. Good on them.