Pathfinder Advice: Dealing With Ultimate Books, or GM burnout

Theme Thursday! 

Today we’ll be talking about how to deal with new things, when extra books of rules come out and warp your game. There’s a conversation to be had on both sides of the screen, because a spell or feat that’s too powerful or too weird might change your game in ways no one likes. When everyone starts doing the craziest things casually, with no sense of fear or pride, the fun melts away into arguments and pointless numbers.

As a Player who likes Ultimate stuff: You’re an intelligent player who likes to build powerful characters with style. You get your hands on the newest material from Paizo, and in looking through the book you find something you like. It’s cool! It’s powerful! Especially when you combine it with something from the other ultimate ability from the other book!

Awesome, go for it. But before you do, take a moment to think. Is this ability fair? Sure it is, you studied it up, and you’re the one who came up with a great idea. But take a moment to talk to your GM. Maybe this ability is TOO powerful, in a way the designers never intended or in a way that will derail the carefully planned story the GM has planned. Work with your GM instead of antagonizing them, and come up with a compromise, one that lets you have your awesome character but won’t ruin anyone’s game. Everyone’s a bit of an amateur designer, especially GMs. You can work it out!

As a GM who hates Ultimate stuff: You need to play the arbiter, just as in all game rulings. New stuff can do damage to your game with nasty surprises, but much of the time you simply need to adapt: players will always surprise you! New Ultimate stuff just makes surprising you easier. Herein lies one of the great skills of a GM: your story can and must change. You’re creating a world where the player’s choices have to matter, and that includes their build choices. You need to weaken things occasionally, but always with the following in mind: your goal is to find a way to let them do their thing. Fix the problem instead of simply wiping it away. Converse with your player, and find a compromise that makes it work for you.

That said, you don’t have to be a chump. Be aware of what can make the biggest changes to your campaign, in the following order:

New spells can be the worst. Little else can warp your story as much as that which warps reality. Be prepared to change spell levels, change casting times, add an expensive material component, or whatever it takes.

Feats and class abilities, usually a problem because they are combined in unpredictable ways. Although slightly less destructive to a campaign than new spells, overpowered builds can be much, much harder to adjudicate, because players rightly feel that they have earned the right to their build because they studied up and created it. It’s their baby. And like any baby, you have to treat theirs very gently and gingerly. When you talk to the player, congratulate them on their neatly done build, and its effectiveness. Then carefully suggest that one or two abilities be changed (you will just have to study up yourself for this one). It’s vastly preferable to change abilities from different classes rather than nerfing the way two abilities interact; this lets the player have their brilliant idea remain valid, while bringing their character within the fold of the party’s power level.

Equipment and magic items are the easiest to deal with, because these can sometimes be handled in-game. If you catch the problem with the item before it’s ever used, no one feels too cheated if you make a change to it before the problem situation arises. If it’s already been abused, accept what damage has already done to the game, and come up with a clever way to remove the offending object; stolen by a rival mage, harboring a secret curse just waiting to flare up, turns out to be the long-lost heirloom of a royal house, or it is simply targeted and destroyed by the big bad guy.


I hope you find this advice helpful! With the massive expansion of new rules in the Pathfinder RPG, these issues can come up often. It’s good to have a plan before the game goes awry, or a method of repairing a game with these problems.

-Max Porter Zasada


2 responses to “Pathfinder Advice: Dealing With Ultimate Books, or GM burnout

  1. In the case of magic items that are getting abused, I’d emphasize it’s important to let your players know you’re specifically getting rid of the item. You can’t just go, “ah well that was overpowered” to yourself and then come up with a far-too-convenient story idea to get rid of the offender. It’s too superficial and players will feel targeted unfairly by it.

  2. You might be surprised. The real reason player think you’re being unfair is because your decision seems off-the-cuff, or unplanned in a a moment of frustration with the item. If, however, you appear organized, and the high priest tremulously asks if you found the long-lost temple relic, well–it was clearly planned all along for this to happen.

    Players are MUCH less attached to accidentally powerful items, because it was something given to them, rather than something they put their heart and soul into creating.

    Unless, I suppose, you’re playing a crafter with D&D 3rd edition rules, where item crafting costs experience points. 🙂


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