Pathfinder Unchained Review Chapter 3 Gameplay

There is a fair bit of material in Chapter 3 and it is fairly wide ranging.  This chapter goes through changes to the alignment system, altering the way the game utilises actions, removing having to roll a d20 for each of your iterative attacks once your base attack bonus goes above 5, a new system of combat tactics for martial types, wound levels introduced and finally a new system for diseases and poisons.  This was a long read for me but I can now let you know what I think of the new offerings.

Alignment System Changes

They offer up a couple of alternatives in this section.  The first looks at a fluid alignment system that allows the player to move along the alignment track depending on the actions that they perform, and also gain benefits for performing in line with the alignment role they are currently set in.  the other option they toss up is removing Alignment all together.

Changing Alignment

At the heart of this system is an idea of challenging alignment by providing moral dilemmas which is something I am generally all for.  These dilemmas force the players to make decisions (not easy decisions) that may alter or confirm their alignment.  It is similar in a way to the numeric system introduced in Ultimate Campaign that suggested starting alignments based on Background choices and the like.  In this version there is a numeric scale for where your character fits on the Law -> Neutral -> Chaos scale and a second for where you are on the Good -> Neutral -> Evil scale.

Pathfinder Unchained
This is shaping up to being an interesting addition to the library

There are a couple of different systems for starting characters with the suggested being that everyone starts in the middle as True Neutral and their character builds from there (with special rules for classes that require certain alignments).  When faced with a dilemma or situation that may alter alignment or confirm it the GM may call for a shift or an affirmation of a characters alignment based on the actions they take.  The GM may be the one that tracks your alignment or perhaps the player, that is for the table to decide, but I do like this system with some provisos.

The reason I like this system is that it will allow a player to follow the way they want to play the character and the true alignment for them should find them.  That said I can still see conflict because of this system.  In all my years of playing games that used alignment systems I can think of very few times where people did it exemplary and if challenged about it would get upset and arguments would ensue.  Take for example people playing a Paladin.  They are meant to be bastions of Law and Goodness.  Challenge a a player who supports breaking into a home to get information and the player cries foul, they follow a higher law, not the law of the realm.  If one of the other players dispatch a foe that is unconscious the Paladin handily just turns his back.  Challenge them and it is “I didn’t see it!”  I can see these arguments occurring again in this system, especially when they discuss the moral dilemma’s being in very grey space.

The other problem that I have with this system is that there is no affirmation bonuses for the Neutrally aligned.  An affirmation bonus may be something like a bonus to damage or to hit etc. that you get to use in the day following the fact that you consolidated your alignment by acting it.  Lawful get the bonus, Chaotic get the bonus, Good gets the bonus as does Evil but if you are following a Neutral path you don’t.  And the reason they give is ridiculous.  See how all the above get a new bonus where they did not before – well Neutral does not because they can’t be targeted by alignment spells.  What a load of rubbish.

So while I like this idea of a fluid alignment I can’t see the benefit in the extra bookkeeping required for it.  The notion is certainly a noble one from Paizo but it really does not solve the issues that I have with the existing system.

Removing Alignment

I am fairly certain many of you are probably thinking “We don’t use alignment” and you are thinking that this is some paper that has been wasted in their new shiny book.  Well you are kind of very wrong but right at the same time.  You see they have removed alignment and everything that goes along with it.  Detect evil spells, spells of protection from x, class features, feats etc. it all goes!  They then talk about how you get around this and it is a very elegant adaptation where a player takes on three loyalties.  It may be that you are loyal to causing pain, loyal to gold and loyal to your code of honour.   Once you have your three you rank them for intensity and then you play the character with those loyalties in mind.  Your loyalties can change over time through the course of the campaign but in general that is the gist of the system.

If the system were that simple, I would adopt it in a moment but things become blurry when you have to consider all of the things that the removal of the ideas of good and evil; law and chaos effect.  The creatures and their effects can become mixed up, then you have to consider their loyalties as a GM, change the wording of a lot of class features and in fact outright replace some of them too.  It is a really good idea but the flow on complexity of removing it when the whole of the core books rely on it really makes you wonder if it is worth removing at all.  The alignment system is flawed, but how much does it truly get in the way in game?  I will not be using this system either.

Action Economy

Have you ever sat at a game of Pathfinder where the conversation flow was a bit like;

GM: What sort of action is that?

Player: It is a free action, I’m sure of it.

GM: Can you check, it sounds more like a reaction to me.

Player (looking through books): It’s in here somewhere.  I know it is not a Standard or a move or a full round action…  Here it is, it says it is an immediate action – what the heck is that?

Someone at Paizo felt that the action system was too complex.  So they then decided to replace it in Pathfinder Unchained with something equally as bamboozling!  This really is a convoluted system that replaces a complex system.  What I am trying to say is that the system that is in place already works.  It may have a lot of terminology but once you get to know a character and their powers it just works.  With the new system I can see it working for people that get confused with different terms but in essence it is very close to the same thing.

They replace all the different types of actions and give each player 3 simple actions and one reaction each round.  Simple actions are for simple things but they can be combined to do more complex things.  So swinging my sword is a simple action but charging is an Advanced action that takes two simple actions whilst using a touch spell on up to six allies is a complex action that uses up all three.  Reactions can be set so that if a certain situation occurs you can do a simple action (opportunity attacks etc.).  There are still free actions too and that is the system.

It is not better or worse in my opinion but I think I will stay with what I have in the base version or core version of the game.  But that said there is one seriously cool thing in this section of the book.  It literally goes through all the possible actions that have been recognised as such in the core and advanced rulebooks and tells you how many actions it takes.  Now you might say to me why is that so special – well it is a good place to create a cheat sheet for your players saying these are the things you can do per round if they have not got a good grasp on everything!  I broke out a combat manoeuvre the other day that none of the players had ever heard of (it was from the Advanced Players Guide) so I will be building a cheat sheet 🙂

Removing Iterative Attacks

If a character has multiple attacks it takes extra time for them to roll each attack, and then if they hit multiple times it slows the game down.  Especially if the player does not know their character well.  So the good folk at Paizo thought that it would be a good idea to have a single d20 roll evaluate the complete round of attacks and just group the damage all in one big roll.  It is not a bad idea – oh wait, yes it is.

The system that they have come up with is involved, introduces new types of hits like a glancing blow when you actually do not beat the opponents armour class by 5 or less?  OK, so now you have to suck it up, if a creature does not make your AC they still do damage to you?  Then there are all these special conditions like two weapon fighting and true strike and extra attacks and basically no thank you.   Thanks for considering it, and there may be a few people that like it but for me this is not an option I will be pursuing.

Stamina Pool and Combat Tricks

They present an optional system for you to consider giving to the Fighter class or multiple of the martial classes.  And if you really want to you can give it to everyone.  It involves a pool system and allows for the martial character to spend effort in the form of Stamina to do cool stuff.  At a base level you can spend stamina from the pool and add them to your to hit roll to make hitting those hard baddies a little bit easier.  The pool is given in the form of a feat and there are two other feats that extend the ability of the Stamina pool.

Now, just that little extra I described above is cool, but that is not all!  Every combat feat (or damn close to it) from all of the previous core books has been listed and there are cool little extras that you can do with each of them with the expenditure of stamina points.  How cool is that?  It literally takes up 23 pages of dense text to cover it all but I think this is a neat little system.  I am thinking that I will allow this into my game but it will be for Fighter’s rather than other martial classes that already get cool little abilities.  This is certainly where most of the value in this chapter lies.

Wound Thresholds

The dragon flies in without a wound and begins the protracted battle with our heroes, the problem is that when that protracted battle is two minutes later and the dragon only has 5 hit points left it is still operating as it did when it did not have a hit point of damage.  Wound systems are put into RPG’s to demonstrate the effect of coming in harms way and the system as spelled out in this book does just that in a logical and impressive manner – it is well worth checking it out.

I do want to use this system but I have some reservations that I will discuss with my players before putting it in place.  Those reservations pretty much revolve around the idea that the first to start hitting the negatives applied is usually the one that loses the battle.  It does make things different in a major way and puts a much more tactical requirement on having a healer within the party and really makes them extremely important.  With that warning in place though I do hope to be able to use this system in my games in the future.

Diseases and Poisons

This section concludes the chapter on gameplay and I have to say that the folks ended it with three of the best sections of the book.  The new options for fighters, the wound thresholds and the more incremental usage of diseases and poisons.  This section kind of puts a standard on how the various diseases and poisons work in Pathfinder.  They write out a standard for a physical disease, mental disease and a standard for poisons that attack each statistic.  The standards show a steady progression that takes you from the Healthy state through to the Dead state with three, four or five stages in between.

Potion bottle props
Cool little potion and poison phials

I found just that to be an elegant system but then they go further.  They list out the diseases and poisons in the following pages and show how they (or if they) deviate from what is listed.  It is all quite a compact and remarkable system that I will for sure be adding into my game.


As I read this chapter I felt like this was going to be the worst material I had seen to date with what they fronted the chapter with.  But then they hit three home runs that I can really see being used in my games.  It is obviously the theme of this book but as we are this far in and there are really only two chapters left to go.  The next chapter is a huge installment on Magic and then following that we have some changes to the Monsters of Pathfinder!  Stay tuned for those two reviews!

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