Thinking Outside the Box

What started out as a thread on why druids using wild shape cannot pick up or otherwise manipulate has...expanded, to include all manner of other ideas, like using Conjurations to grab things that arent creatures and changing into various animal forms to breath underwater. Case in point, in one session a party member fell in a pit, and was trying to clamber out. Josh hit on the idea to have the druid use thorn whip to grab the character and lift her out. I mean, you can use it to pull a monster 2 squares each round, so why not use it to move a player?
I'm all for performing nonstandard actions so long as they never make another, similar action obsolete. Actually, I might allow this if the player burned an Action Point, but I wouldnt allow a player to do something routinely that did everything that a basic attack could do and more, since thats the point of having at-will powers.

There are a couple ways that I could resolve this. The first is to allow the druid to just make an attack, deal damage, and pull the target up 2 squares. The attack roll would be the easy part since the character isnt trying to dodge: I'd just have the player beat a defense of 10 since its the same thing you need to do in order to assist. The damage would stem from the fact that its a vine covered in thorns, so would do some harm.
I dont think that forced movement was meant to allow you to tug a creature up, but in this case I have no problem with it. The character would need to make an immediate Athletics check tocrab onto the wall, if the druid wasnt going to "sustain" the vines on her next turn, but otherwise its all good.
I could also allow the druid to declare her intent and roll Nature to determine success, treating it as an impromptu Athletics roll made to climb. Of course, the difficulty would scale up to a hard DC since thats not the direct purpose of the skill. The other way I figured to help resolve this is to use either of the above methods, but only have it grant a bonus to the creature's Athletics check to climb (likely equal to the druid's Wisdom bonus since it would be lame to force all that in order to amount to an Aid Another bonus).

The idea has merit, but I dont want to invalidate the use of Athletics checks, meaning I'd probably stick with the latter just to be safe. If one player wants to basically do nothing while the other player spends her turn lifting them 2 squares per standard action, thats their decision. Frankly its a bit better to make the Athletics check to get 3 squares of height, and they can combine it to expedite the process if they are able to. I dont think its overpowered or going to break the game, and I'm glad to see them using powers in unorthodox ways.

This lead me to consider other druid evocations on the list. For example, twisting vines is a level 1 encounter evocation that makes the area difficult terrain from all the vegetation busting out of the ground. I would totally allow the druid to burn this power, make a Nature check, and instead have an area grant a bonus on climb checks for her allies (causing plants to erupt out of the area in such a way as to make stable handholds). Is it balanced? I have no fucking clue. Do I care? Not really. If it becomes something that the players constantly abuse, then I wont let them do it anymore, and the narrative be damned.
"But Antioch," you say, "players might do this all the time in skill challenges and make them too easy!" This is true. In this situation, were I a druid, I would try to pull this as often as I could. So, assuming we get stuck in a "climbing puzzle", and I happened to have it available, I'd do it if I thought it would get us past the bullshit wall. Now, I'm not a fan of making other players and abilities obsolete. Were I to allow this, I'd require the druid to make a difficult Nature check to pull it off, and probably a Hard DC at that. What this means is that unlike a player using the pertinent skill normally, its both harder to do and expends resources. I might not even allow it to count as a success, but instead grant a bonus to everyone else.
This wouldnt be bad! It would let a druid act very thematic to make Nature checks in order to manipulate the terrain to the party's advantage, and there are plenty of ways you can work this into the narrative. Growing shade to assist on an Endurance check when its too hot, calming a wild animal, navigating through a forest, or talking to plants to help track something down.

On the other hand, I'm concerned about martial characters, who cannot necessarily use their powers to perform similar feats, and I dont want to leave them out in the cold while spellcasting classes get to do more flexible things with their stuff. This is one reason why I'm against the whole idea: I dont want a repeat of 3E where some classes were very static in what they could do, while spellcasters got a better deal.
I'm at a loss as to how a fighter might use his encounter attacks to a similar effect. Perhaps as part of an Intimidate check? I could see a fighter burning unstoppable to gain a bonus on a physical skill or Endurance (especially Endurance), but many of them are weapon attacks and frankly it seems much more limited.

Anyway, in the end I trust my players. The oft-unspoken clause I give them is that I'll allow it until I see it being abused, and they are completely comfortable with that degree of trust and mutual respect.

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