Pathfinder Second Edition Playtest Curiosity

It seems like almost a lifetime ago when the blog’s founder and I were up in arms a bit and voiced our displeasure with the upcoming Pathfinder Second Edition. I’m a business guy, though, so I got part of it, but Mark and I still shared a number of the same concerns. Here it is, half a year or so later, and I have finally taken the plunge and decided to look at Pathfinder 2E. I have a lot of opinions—don’t we all? I’m not totally sure how exactly I feel about this game yet, but—after my first reading—I’m pretty sure this is going to be a love it / hate it divisive type game. That’s nothing new in the tabletop roleplaying game community. What does this newest addition to the Paizo collection of SKUs bring, though?

My Initial Reactions to a New Pathfinder RPG

Okay, after the initial chest thumping about not wanting a new edition or being pulled into a money sink, I couldn’t help but have a look at the second edition of the bastard child of Dungeons & Dragons. In a lot of ways, I actually like what I am seeing. By the same token, I see some things that concern me. Without burying the lead, I’ll say I am definitely interested in trying out the playtest. There are enough things that I like about what the Paizo team has done here to have me interested in playing. So, score one point for nerds with a business sense.

Those things that worry me, though, I feel may turn a number of people off. I haven’t bothered to look online yet and see what others are saying or even read any of the playtest feedback that’s already available online. I wanted to avoid tainting my own views before writing this. I do feel, however, either this game is going to do very well or not so near as well as the publisher hopes. I suppose time will tell.

One point of note: I know Mark had mentioned in his earlier post on the top that the playtest would come out and 12 months later the final version would be out, forcing people to relearn the rules. I remember the first Pathfinder Playtest. I don’t remember any sweeping changes that made it seem like a big deal. What about you guys out there in Internetlandia? Take that with a grain of salt, though, because I didn’t see anything major with the changes between D&D 3E and D&D 3.5. Maybe I just don’t get as caught up in the infinite rules of minutia.

Pathfinder Second Edition has No Races!

Really, this section is supposed to be about what’s new in this version of Pathfinder, but I figured that would get your attention. Also, it’s absolutely, 100% true…sorta. Paizo decided to due away with the somewhat problematic term of “race” for your character. Instead, characters will each possess ancestry. So, the concept of a player character race remains, but they call it something different. They also handle it somewhat differently. While they’ve taken away the racist jokes about gnome punting from players, they have done what Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition promised to do—they made the choice of race matter throughout your character’s career. I should note: Wizards of the Coast failed to deliver on their promise. Paizo ended up doing exactly what I was hoping WotC would do and even what it sounded at first like they were saying they would do with 5E races in their new Pathfinder 2nd Ed. Ancestries.

All ancestries in the game receive two bonus stats at +2 and one -2 modifier to an attribute. The exception to this, of course, is the human ancestry. They instead just receive two bonuses. Oh, speaking of races and the removal thereof, there is no more Half-Orc or Half-Elf race. Instead, the option to be Half-Elf or Half-Orc is an option you can choose as a human. So, to an extent, those half races are human variants.

After the racial attribute modifiers, characters also receive a handful of racial abilities. The bonuses languages have changed a bit, offering only one of a small handful with an Intelligence 14 or better. However, the last part of a character’s ancestry is their Ancestry Feats.

My friends, feats are everywhere in this game. This is one of those parts that I think is going to lead to some issues for players out there. Some are going to love it. Some are going to hate it. At first level, players choose one ancestry feat for their characters. They also get to choose other ancestry feats as they level up. This lends itself to more customization and optimization, but also means for those concerned with analysis paralysis in OG Pathfinder and some versions of DnD, you may well end up facing more of it in this edition.

Choices, Choices, Choices

Yes, Pathfinder Second Edition is full of choices for customization and optimization. I think they do a good job of making this clear through every aspect of the game. To try and lay it all out for you here without reprinting the rules in their entirety will be a bit of a challenge. If you haven’t yet and want to learn more about what I’m talking about, have a gander yourself by downloading the Pathfinder 2nd Ed. Playtest rulebook for free from Paizo.

I started out playing Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Second Edition. Back then, rolling was the primary way to determine a character’s attributes. Standard array and point buy were optional. As the years and editions went on, standard array and point buy became more prevalent with rolling taking a back seat except for old grognards like me. In this latest incarnation of the game, point buy is front and center. For the first time, I don’t immediately hate it. I’ll tell you why, though. Everyone starts with a 10 in each attribute, then they get ancestry modifiers, then background modifiers, then class modifiers, then four more boosts. Okay, I like it, because I ten to like big numbers and, unless you’re specifically try not to, getting an 18 in your primary attribute is pretty much guaranteed. These same bonuses apply with the optional array and rolling as well. Of course, with rolling it could go either way. And, some are going to draw the comparison between gritty fantasy and super heroic fantasy with characters starting off with these sorts of stats, so we know it’s not for everyone.

This doesn’t stop with classes. Since 3rd Edition, classes have offered a myriad of special and unique abilities to the player characters. I think 4th edition was where I first remember it being more customizable, choosing which abilities or powers our characters had access to. Pathfinder brought in archetypes, splat books, and more to help make classes feel more unique. The reality is, however, that it was a series of additions and limited customization for these newer versions including 5E. Trappings and stylization is where the customization really comes in. However, in Pathfinder Second Edition, you are again picking feats from first level and beyond in order to make that character different than others of the same class.

The key issue here is, players are going to have to know their characters, their capabilities, and how it all works. Traditionally, we all rely on the Game Master to adjudicate rules. As such, they have a tendency to serve as rules encyclopedias, knowing what everyone’s character can do. After all, a fighter is a fighter is a fighter, right? In Pathfinder Second Edition, they kind of flip that notion on its head. Players build their characters’ classes into what they want them to be.

One benefit to this is the simplification of multiclassing via this method. Multiclassing is now the result of spending class feats on multiclass feats. Your characters have a single level, not levels spread out amongst several different classes. This also removes the complication of dealing with class or favored skills, remembering which the character is leveling up in, etc.

Of course, in general, building your character class up in this highly customized way means that players are going to have to pay more attention. The GM—and either other players of the same class—are not necessarily going to have as in-depth a knowledge and familiarity as they would have in other d20 variations. That isn’t going to sit well with some players. Meanwhile, those people who treat optimization as a game in and of itself are going to have a blast with this.

Skills in Pathfinder Second Edition

I like skill-based roleplaying games. Mark has pointed out that the ranked system from 3x and Pathfinder kind of ended up being broken. Players would work together to max out specific skills so it was difficult to deceive the characters. Personally, I don’t find that a failing of design, but I’m not the heavy mechanics guy either. I liked being able to build up a character’s skills as I saw fit. I could see how others could abuse the system, though. Fifth Edition Dungeons & Dragons tried to address this problem by bringing in Proficiencies. Yes, the 2nd ed. Game I started in had proficiencies as well, but 5th edition did it differently. If you were proficient in a skill, you got a bonus based on your level and some feats, class abilities, etc. could grant you additional bonuses to skills.

Personally, I wasn’t a fan of that solution. That meant everyone with the skill, more or less, had about the same competency in the skill. This new game has proficiencies, but there are different levels of proficiency—trained, expert, and master. Whichever level of proficiency gives a specific bonus based on level. This still isn’t the skill point maneuvering I enjoyed in earlier versions of the game, but does provide variance, which might be good enough for me. Honestly, I am not sure yet. This is going to be another point of contention for players out there. Some like skills. Some don’t. Some like point by point skills. Some enjoy the proficiency approach.

Oh, and remember how you would debate about spending a feat on Skill Feats? Yeah, there is no more debate here. Character end up getting skill feats at second level—automatically prescribed by advancement.

Other Things that Matter in the New Pathfinder

Animal Companions. I knew something was up when I first saw the Table of Contents and Animal Companions had its own section listed. To be clear, it’s not a long section, but it is interesting. Animal companions are enhanced version of animals from the bestiary. They also grow in power as you level. More interesting is that they have a specific ability based on their type. The badger, for example, allows you to pin down your opponent and even enter into a rage. Familiars grant specific abilities, but also have some customizations.

How about gear? Weapons. Sure. A sword is a sword is a sword, right? Well, some are one-handed, some are two-handed. Some have reach. Some don’t. Some can use the Dex modifier instead of Str. Some do d6 damage while others do d8 or d10. It’s been this way for years. Pathfinder Second Edition, though, brings in aspects that make weapons more unique. Weapon choice matters now in more than just terms of damage. The Conan RPG by Modiphius did this, but Pathfinder Second Edition has added some additional qualities.

How about actions? Yes, even additional choices in combat actions. I’m not talking about just the choice between a charge or cleave or a fireball, either. Characters have three actions to spend during their turn. Different activities require a different number of actions. Take a spell, for example. The somatic, verbal, and material types are each different actions. So, you can cast a spell that is verbal and somatic and still have an action left; or, you can cast a spell that uses all three and exhaust your actions for that turn.

There was talk previously of the different modes of play. What an earlier blog commenter stated is absolutely right. This is nothing new. Breaking it down like this, however, provided a compartmentalized way to provide guidance to GMs on how to run different parts of the game. It’s not much like there are specific or distinct rules for these or that they’re some sort of sub-game.

Overall First Impressions of Pathfinder 2E

In reality, I can’t say that I saw too much “new” upon my first review of the material. There were a lot of things that are new to the system itself, but not new to RPGs. There are a lot of things that I like. The dedication to customization is, as I said throughout the system. That’s going to go a long way with a number of players. Will it be enough? That level of customization is going to scare others away. Meanwhile, how they’ve assembled so many elements of the game—from ancestries and classes to weapons and animal companions—means they have opened up the floodgates for producing additional material to publish and sell. It also opens the way for 3rd party publishers and homebrewers. I can see the classes can potentially provide more of a challenge—and, even ancestries—than they did in the previous edition of Pathfinder. The other part of that is that, left unchecked, you can end up with a lot of overlap between official, 3pp, and homebrew.

Three other quick items: The human ancestry is tied to specific regions within the Pathfinder lore. While Paizo did a great job of building up Golarion, I like my own setting options so I’m not required to know much official lore. Soooooo….eh, I get it, but not digging it. They also got rid of 0 level spells and brought in cantrips, like they have in 5e. That means unlimited spells for casters, which I know made a huge difference for spellcasters in my Fifth Edition games. Also, no more confirming criticals—thank the gods.

I’ll definitely be giving Pathfinder Second Edition a try. My eldest is super excited for it since I went through the book and some of the changes with her. So, you’ll be hearing more on that, I’m sure.

Addendum: For fun, I was going to try and create two characters of the same race and class and show how they are different at different levels. I ran into a few issues I need to research and verify. However, I did find some potential drawbacks I am hoping will be addressed or are due to my misunderstanding. I’ve looked through the most recent rules updates and don’t see them there, but will admit I see more of what Mark was saying with relearning a system 12 months later as some of these updates are pretty major (I’m looking at you heritage feats).

8 Comments


  1. As a player and dabbling GM, I’ve been really turned off Pathfinder and other d20 based systems. I’ve found that other systems do the things I like about RPGs a lot better.

    That said, some of the things you’ve mentioned here do sound interesting. Lots of customization is always cool.

    Thanks for your thoughts, I’ll have to check out the play test myself if I get a chance.

    Reply

    1. Bryce, if you do, let me know how it goes. If you’re not into the d20 games, I don’t think this would be the one to convert you, to be honest.

      Reply

  2. Is this in any way Paizo’s attempt to make Pathfinder more like D&D 5e?

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    1. Ummmm….yeah, like, a lot.

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    2. It is certainly doing some 5e things but it is also making itself different in a couple of very key ways. 1) It is unapologetically more complex. 5e was designed to be very streamlined, with only limited use of tables, charts, non-class customization, etc. PF 2e has maintained a LOT of crunch. 2) 5e really made an effort to slow down character power scaling. So, for example, a group of CR 1 goblins, stays a threat longer. PF 2e embraces level scaling very similar to older editions like D&D 3.5.
      To me, it seems like they are trying to upgrade there system with the things everyone loved out of 5e while trying to maintain the crunchiness and customization that caused their fan base to choose PF 1e over D&D 5e in the first place.

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  3. Very fair and and good points, Cody. At the same time, it was Paizo’s continued addition of feats and customization options that did turn some players off. I don’t think that’s the majority, else they wouldn’t be heading in this direction and it does make for a good distinction between the 5E and PF2e.

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    1. Fair point about PF1e getting blotted but I’m not sure that was entirely a design choice. Rather I think it’s what happens when a system delays rebooting to a new addition will maintaining a fairly aggressive content release schedule. This is exactly what happened with 3.5 D&D. 3.5e, at its core, wasn’t much more complex than 2e at first. It was only after several years of monthly releases that things started getting silly. I think the same thing happened with PF1e. I suspect it just came down to nobody at Paizo wanting to kill their golden goose and they let go far past its prime. It will be interesting to see if they attempt an aggressive release schedule with PF2e or if they follow in WotC footsteps and take a much more measured approach to their content release. Personally, I’m hoping for something in the middle. I think FFG’s SWRPG line is a fine example of how you should grow your game. They release something about every other month for several years and thanks to smart design, books heavy on the crunch and little power creep, they were able to grow SWRPG into a game with an enormous number of career and race options without affecting gameplay or balance much.

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      1. True. And, yes, Piazo nwas certainly adamant for awhile about not needing a reboot. I don’t know that 3e was that close to 2e as there were so many additions, rules for everything–feats, skill points, etc. I mean, let’s face it, it wasn’t much to handle for a lot of gamers, but I think side-by-side there was worlds of difference even just starting out.

        I agree that FFG’s release schedule is pretty good, but they have a lot of revenue streams. Paizo doesn’t have as many, but does have multiple revenue streams. I haven’t seen their books, but I think it’s fair to assume their money comes from the books whereas FFG probably makes a fair share off the board games, hence what they push out the door more often. This is all conjecture, though. I don’t have any insider access to the companies or their books.

        I think one of the other key differences seen here is that WotC has many worlds to choose from and can spruce it up a bit, but all I have seen from Paizo is their core setting. Maybe I am wrong. Granted, most of WotC’s products have been in a single setting, but they spread it out amongst their adventure modules, which I think was kind of refreshing, but at the same time am not a huge fan of. From a logic standpoint, it makes perfect sense, but getting little pieces of the story here and there isn’t for the guy who hasn’t followed anything else they have done for that setting in 20+ years.

        I think this product is perfect for the right crowd. Just like every other game out there, it’s not going to be for everyone. Paizo knows that. Any publisher would be a fool to think they’d developed and produced the “One” game that would draw everyone in. People like Mark–nope, he’s not interested. Meanwhile, I still kind of am. I see where my issues will be and can plan accordingly. Other people are very excited to see this come to fruition. I want to see it out as a supporter of the hobby and I want to see how they handle future releases as both a hobbyist and a business guy.

        Reply

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