I know this game has been out for a long time. I still owned a gaming store when they announced the playtest books. I was so disgusted with the act I sold all my Pathfinder things and got out of it. I was playing far more interesting games that were edgy and new and cool. Over the years since then I have had friends mention that they missed the Pathfinder game I was running set in a Planar melting pot. And I realised I missed that campaign too. So much so I thought that maybe I should look at what happened after the playtest. What was the state of play at the moment in the Pathfinder world? Then there were other triggers. People asked after things I had created and offered for free on the Paizo message boards and reviews going through my feeds.
On my birthday I was taken on a tour of gaming stores in a city nearby and at the first one, I asked if they had Pathfinder 2E. Not the Core book was the reply, but the Advanced Players Guide and Bestiary 2, as well as the tokens for those books. Plus, because he needed the space he sold me the books for half price and gave me the tokens. The next store had the Core Rulebook, but without the fancy deals. I had a copy and so I have read it now and talked to a guy I am mates with who has played it. This review is based on that reading and his comments. I will do another after I have played it as I have the formations of a group that is going to give it a crack.
I had surprisingly few preconceptions when I started this journey. I knew two things about this edition, because I had so successfully cut myself off from it when they started the playtest. The first thing I thought I knew was this was a money grab. They had bloated 1 E so much that Paizo had no choice but to reboot to continue to make money from the product. The other thing I knew was they had removed the reference to Races and were doing things differently. I am old school (and old caucasian) so when I first heard that I rolled my eyes. I tell you this because I am a little ashamed of that reaction, because it is that kind of reaction that create the systemic issues in our own society, and because I was flat out wrong about it, which you will see when I discuss it below.
One big preconception, which is not Pathfinder specific, is that I do not like Role Playing Games (RPGs) that balance the setting to expected player power. I feel that this kind of system breaks with reality and causes players to be bravo about threats. I come from a gaming style where if the Innkeep tells me the swamp hides the lair of a black dragon who ate the finest swordsman in the world, that I, as a 4th level fighter, should listen to the Innkeep and keep the hell out of the swamp. I enjoy scenes that are tense and social, so if an NPC comes out of the woodwork telling me to give them back a ring I looted from a corpse (just the ring, I can keep the rest) and I do not know the NPC then it is best to negotiate. Today’s gamers are likely to just attack him because encounters are balanced and so they can take him. Balance breeds murder hobos. This preconception does not change. If you play in my game, understand I expect you as a player to work out if the encounter is one you can handle.
Let us all get this out of the way too. The book is high quality. The printing excellent and the artwork is very good. The art style can at times be a little less precise than the previous version but I do like the change. I would have liked a little more art in the book, but what is there is quality. So, to make this fair, I will review the Core rulebook chapter by chapter because my review is going to be mixed. I come out of the read with reservations and positive feelings from the changes, and I feel that only after playing it will I be able to truly give a full comment about what I feel about this edition.
This part of the gamebook is brief but begins to highlight a theme that will occur through the book. That is the book is a dry read. It is clinical and cuts most of the fat from the writing to be clear and concise. The book itself is 600 pages plus so this style of writing does make it a harder read than most. It also puts the claim on the back of the book that:
The new Pathfinder rules are easier to learn and faster to play, and they offer deeper customization than ever before!
highly flawed. These rules are not easy to learn. I spent much of the time reading the rules of this game with a shocking headache and having to reference details in other parts of the book by way of the Glossary Index at the back. It is a HARD slog to read this book. As a whole, which I will mention in the conclusion, I do feel the claim of customization to be true, and I will talk about the Play comment after I have actually played it. But back to the Introduction chapter.
The other thing that I picked up in the Introduction, is that this game is aligning with computer RPG styles. Everything has an icon or a trait (read keyword) to identify it quickly. Even the style of play is codified to Encounter, Exploration and Downtime. None of this is surprising and many games have been heading along this path which is fine. In a game that is kind of in a way directly in competition with video games, this is to be expected. It is also not like these concepts were not in the previous versions, they were just nos so codified.
There are a lot of pointers to major changes in the system from what it had been. Especially among the action economy which goes from being a level based beast to every player now having three actions. You can spend those actions as you will on general actions, feats, and move actions, but everyone gets three, always. It is the Feats that eventually will make the difference here. Plus everyone gets a reaction. That statement there hides a bit of a surprise for later in the book. One that I love, but SPOILERS.
Criticals are now broadened. A natural 20 is a critical success, a natural 1 is a critical failure. But also, if you score 10 higher than the Difficulty Class (DC) or target number then that is a Critical Success, and if you score 10 less than the DC that is a critical failure. This is a good system, but also comes with its challenges and complications which I will talk more about when we hit the spell section.
The Introduction also points to the character generation process. There are big changes here. More hit points, no dice rolling of any form, choose an Ancestry, a Background, a Class and then finalise all the stuff including spells, abilities and modifiers. Abilities all start at 10 and are altered by choices giving you boosts and flaws to abilities (+2 and -2 respectively). It also clearly states that no one can start with an Ability score above 18 at 1st level also. I will not go into too much precision here as many of the following chapters explain it all in detail.
Finally, the advancement system has been simplified even more. Rather than having a system where the next level meant you needed to collect a proportionally large amount of experience (XP) the system now has one amount of XP to collect for every level. That number is 1000 XP. Each time your character collects that amount of XP they move to the next level. This is a brilliant addition, as the way that Pathfinder is “balanced” was in 1E you needed to get a proportional amount more than the level before it but the creatures and challenges you were facing provided an extra amount. This simple change makes things much easier for the GM to design encounters so good work Paizo.
Ancestries and Backgrounds
Ok, so here is the big change to Races. They are now Ancestries and I really like what they have done here. Ancestries provide a base amount of hit points, some languages, ability boosts and flaws and if every member of that ancestry is born with an ability (like they can see in Darkvision) then this is added by default. All of this is provided for each Ancestry in a handy sidebar. The hit points you get from your Ancestry get added to the hit points you get in the class you choose (as well as Constitution mods etc.) for your starting points. No die rolling, you just get them and it also means that every character is going to start with a healthy amount of hit points in comparison to the first edition.
I really like the concept of how they have handled this. It is a major change to how it was done before. Prior to this, you would take a specific “Race” such as a Wood Elf and they would come with set ability mods and a set series of abilities or powers and no correlation with hit points. It was always what class you took that determines that. In some of the later books, they began to play variations on different races, but here you would choose Elf as your Ancestry and then build the “Wood” part into it in a very modular and customisable manner which I will now discuss with a warning.
The warning is this: I hate Feats. One of my pet hates about Pathfinder 1 E was the sheer volume of Feats that were presented. Feats are essentially small rule snippets that govern how the game and the characters therein are played. Having too many of these Feats makes Games Mastering (GM) a game nigh on impossible. You have players asking how their Feats work and you have to be across NPC Feats and Monster Feats and it does reach a point where you feel you are reaching for the book every 10 minutes of game time to clarify feats. Let me tell you now, they did NOT in ANY WAY reign this issue in. They made it far, far worse.
To build that Wood Elf under the “Elf” Ancestry, you will now take Ancestry Feats at 1st, 5th, 9th, 13th and 17th levels. I both love and hate this idea. It offers so much customisation to a character and the way a player wants to use their character, but it also makes every race insanely variable. As a GM this adds so much to your load if you have new players. In this system, there is going to have to be so much onus on players to understand their characters abilities and Feats as a GM is going to be incapable of it. That means there has to be intricate trust and faith that the players are applying their character abilities accurately. This is not going to bode well for new players to RPG’s. They will need a buddy system or something similar because I can tell you now that the way Feats are increased is not just in the Ancestry section.
Also, the idea that you get these Ancestry abilities as you increase skill in your Class feels wrong to me. Let us say that I am a rogue with Elf ancestry who has hit 5th level. Why does that increase in doing rogue abilities suddenly awaken my understanding that as an Elf I can take time to notice more because I have such a long life? Let us face it, my Elf could already be 25o years of age but it is only through class levels that you awaken Ancestral abilities. I get there is no other type of progression in the game but this feels to me artificial.
The Ancestries available in the Core book are Dwarf, Elf, Gnome, Goblin, Halfling and Human. As a side note, in the human Ancestry, there are options to be a half-orc and half-elf also. I personally do not like the inclusion of Goblin here. I understand it being there though. Paizo’s Pathfinder Goblin is iconic to the franchise and so they are pushing that. I have had Goblins as Players in my 1E games so it is not that I will ban them, I just do not feel they are core to this style of game. Especially in their representation of most of Paizo’s products as stupid, uncultured, chaotic arsonists. Not very heroic as a core option, but that is just my personal thoughts on them. Players in my game will need to justify any selection of Goblins that they wish to make.
OK, let us then move to the Background portion of this chapter. It is really the first part that highlights how skills have changed, but I will discuss that in a moment. In this section, you choose a Background for your Character. It gives a nice backstory to the character and mechanically gives bonuses to abilities, gives you training in skills and sometimes a Feat. Skills have been greatly reduced in number in this edition and they are now measured by status. Untrained, Trained, Expert, Master and Legendary. This is a nice system and gives a real feel of progression to the system. I will only say at this stage that the ability to become higher than Trained is largely tied to level, but the benefits are pretty significant.
There is little else to say about Backgrounds. That may feel short and to the point but really they are there to give your character depth. So little do players consider what has come before and this gives a neat little opening to allow the player to have a thought about what led me to the adventuring portion of the character career.
There are a healthy 12 classes in the Core rulebook. They are Alchemist, Barbarian, Bard, Champion, Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Monk, Ranger, Rogue, Sorcerer and Wizard. This is the Chapter where you also begin to understand a few things about what was in the Introduction. I did not mention it before but there are 4 spellcasting styles (Arcane, Divine, Occult and Primal) and three different spell systems (regular spells, focus spells and ritual spells). These are all broken down in the spells section but as you read through the classes in this chapter you get hit with references to these time and again. The splitting of the spell systems in this manner is one of my major reservations, but I will talk about that largely in the spell section. The one thing that I will talk to nos is the Focus style of magic.
Remember Bards in 1st Edition and they had songs that did stuff, and they could sing a song effectively for X rounds a day based on their level and stats etc.? Well, class abilities like that are practically all (across many of the classes, not just the Bard) Focus spells. Plus, Focus Spells are heavily restricted. You start with a pool of 1 in your Focus spells and can never have more than 3 in the pool which you pick up through various Feats. Technically there are some items that break that rule, but there it is. To use your Focus spells you pay one from the pool and do the ability etc. but if you are out of focus then you must spend 10 minutes getting it back to be able to do it again. This system annoys me a lot because it adds another system on top of multiple other systems that a GM is expected to monitor and rule on. The complexity increases and in this case, it is because they value customisation over manageability.
Classes as a whole are hugely customisable now. Classes all give a baseline of initial proficiencies in weapons, armour and saving throws (that work the same as skills now). There is also a Class DC that is used when opponents save against your class abilities also. Then you find a 20 level Class Feature panel that largely just tells you when to pick class Feats and reminds you about your Ancestry feats etc. Yes, your classes are now essentially completely built from Feat choices. They can be Ancestral, General, Class or Skill Feats. In most (if not all) classes you will make a choice at the first level which essentially will give your class a theme or direction for their career. I am looking currently at Alchemist and the options are Bomber, Chirurgeon or Mutagenist. From that choice, it then lists the Class Feats for the Class in Level order (that is the level they become available for selection starting from 1st).
Again, my feelings about this are mixed. I really do not like the Focus Spell system that just overrides what used to be core class abilities. I love the customization this system provides for the players. The complexity of this system for a GM though is a nightmare! Plus there are core abilities that have just disappeared. I had a conversation with a friend that Cleric’s do not turn undead anymore! Well, they can, if they take the Feat. That to me was the defining role of a Cleric and it is now a choice? It is hard to imagine this, plus it is a 2nd level Feat so they cannot even do it at base level!
There is not too much I can say about the individual classes as they are so customisable now. All of the classes give a couple of examples of how you might put together a good example of the class. For example, when I was reading this game and imagining how one of my players who loves playing rangers with an archery focus would go put together a character. It would be a nightmare as they tend not to be rules savvy, but then I turned the page and there was the example Ranger Archer which was a great model. Plus they all seem pretty well put together at a casual glance.
Skills is a short, sharp chapter. It is a breath of relief because they reduced the number of skills down to seventeen. I am not how many there were in the first edition but it was significantly more. A reduction here is good as it makes skills clearer as to which should be chosen for which tasks. But the chapter does not begin with a description, it begins with a table that tells you what can be done untrained in the skill and what you need to be trained or better to do with the skill. It then discusses general actions with skills that can be done across many of the skills like Recall Knowledge or Earn Income etc. It is really good to have some structure around these kinds of things and makes this chapter one of my favourites. It then lays out the skills and also the actions that are specified for that skill. It is clear, well laid out and provides examples where things may be complex.
My only criticism of this chapter is it is not really consistent with the other chapters. All the class Feats were in the Class. All the Ancestry Feats were with the Ancestries. But to see the Skill Fetas you have to go to the next chapter, Feats. It is a very small niggle, but not overly consistent for presentation purposes.
I was kind of surprised in this chapter as it seems the “General Feats” has been greatly reduced. There are only seventeen of them. Of course, there appear to be a million and a half skill feats but it is nice to see them reign in the more general options. This chapter gives you some nice summary tables and then list all of the feats (general and skill) by the level that you can take them alphabetically. It is a solid chapter that will guarantee you a headache as you read well over 100 small rule entries without any context. Guarantee I can not remember a single one of them now.
I like what they have done with this chapter. It really is a fresh look at the equipment in this edition. The chapter starts off with the regular discussion about currency and then they discuss item levels. This is a new twist but it is a balance thing so I just raised an eyebrow and moved on. The cool thing here is the system they replaced Encumbrance with. No longer are the characters have to multiply the number of pounds of items and add them to other items and compare it to strength tables. No, they use a system called Bulk. You can carry a Bulk of 5 + your Strength Modifier and each item has a Bulk Rating. Many items are negligible (“-“) and so you can carry as much as you want – within reason. Others are light bulk (denoted by an L) and 10 L’s = 1 Bulk (always round down so 19 L items are 1 bulk, 20 L items is 2 Bulk). Other items have a numeric value being the amount of Bulk. Go over that limit you are encumbered and there is a point where you can’t move which is also denoted in Bulk. It is simple and easy to understand.
They then move on to talk about all of the items you can buy. I can tell you a few things here, the first being that prices are significantly reduced in this edition. I think Full Plate Armour is 30 Gold and the lowest level healing potion is like 4 gold. This was amazing to me, but fine too. I can roll with that. Plus, it told me something about the game that the high starting hit points told me. There is some high damage in this game. Cheap potions confirm that there has to be cheap replenishment of the thing that determines life.
Shields are likely to be less used in this version of the game. Why? Because to get the AC bonus of your shield for the turn your character must spend an action to “Raise the Shield”. I do love this concept, plus with one of the general feats, you get the option to use their shield to block incoming damage. Weapons on the other hand will be used a lot. There are a bunch of different types and a bunch of new traits. One thing I like in this space is that there are Weapon Critical Specialisation traits, which allow for different effects to occur with each weapon group if you score a critical hit if you have the requisite Feats or items that is. Just as an example, Weapons of the Flail type knock opponents prone as an effect.
The only criticism of this chapter I really have is the handling of the Alchemical Items. In this chapter, they only provide a list of the cheapest, lowest levelled Alchemical items there are and the remaining items are all in the magical section. A lot of that surrounds the idea that characters are meant to craft a lot of things themselves with a renewed focus on downtime and there are special rules for Alchemists to do so. I think that this concept should just have listed everything in the Equipment chapter.
OK, prepare for some major ranting. This section has many flaws and it irritates me. Let us go for the most basic rant. The spells are listed alphabetically. They are not listed by spell type in level order for one reason only. That reason is they needlessly broke spells into 4 different types: arcane, divine, occult and primal. That said many of these traditions (in which two are pretty much new) just share spells of the other disciplines. So they made spells alphabetical. Not a big deal you may think. My main gripe here is wear and tear on the book. My book will be used by a lot of people and many of them will be spellcasters. When they level up they will want to consider spell choices and so rather than have to look over two to three pages where the level X spells are, they will have to be moving from one area to the next which will provide a LOT of wear and tear on my book. Dumb Paizo. Very dumb. These books are not cheap.
The second problem with spells is tied up with the new system of Critical Success and Critical Failure. Because there are now gradations on every roll in varying success levels that means there have to be differing levels of success per spell. There is a basic spell save table that deals with damaging spells which works well, but what happens if someone Critically Succeeds against your Uncontrollable Dance spell. If they only succeed, what does that mean and so on? Well, let me tell you, nearly every single spell that is not a primary damage spell now has its own little table telling you exactly that. Why is this bad? Because of the complexity for the GM. They need to check each spell as they go to find out what happened.
It does not end there either. With some spells, the spellcaster makes a check against the targets class DC or maybe one of their saving throw DC’s. But in some of them, the target makes a check against the spell DC or the Caster’s class DC. In most cases, it is not overly clear which is which without a close reading of the spell itself. Why does this have to be so hard? Why could they not have kept the point where a target rolled the save and if it succeeded the effect did not happen, if they failed the effect goes off.
Then there is the Focus spell debacle, which I talked about under the Classes section. Many class abilities that were core to the class in first edition are now covered in this awful spell system meaning that it is “magic” now when the bard sings a song to sway a crowd. Just ridiculous, but I feel I got my point across in the above section. That leads me now to the final types of spells, Rituals.
I think in the Paizo meeting for this their committee got together and said, what spells in the main available catalogue could be envisioned being done with multiple casters. They then RIPPED these spells out of the classes that could cast them and said, you know what – you have to learn that as a ritual spell now and have multiple people to cast it. These spells all used to be castable by a single spellcaster. No longer, they now take days and cost a heap to cast. I like the idea of ritualised magic in my games. But it is a cinematic thing for spells that have far-reaching effects. Paizo, instead just nerfs some standard spells and builds up a third, useless style of magic around it. I loathe this concept.
Is there anything I liked in this chapter? Thanks for asking, yes there is. I have been reading different versions of this game for a long time where they talk about slotting lower level spells into higher-level slots. In most cases, it never made sense unless they were using MetaMagic Feats. Well, I can now tell you that this is the system that breaks that trend. There are now spells that make absolute sense to slot into higher-level spell slots. By doing this, they have managed to reduce the number of spells. I will give one example that used to be two different spells. Invisibility and Advanced Invisibility. They are now just the one spell. You get the two different effects by slotting it into different level slots.
Admittedly there may be restrictions as you need to learn the spell at two different slots, or it needs to be a signature spell or the like. But what I am saying here, despite the fine print, is that in a lot of cases there is an absolute reason beyond MetaMagic (which exists) to use different level slots for preparing/casting spells. It feels like people have been trying to make this happen for a long time but Pathfinder 2E has finally got it right. Just wait and see what they did with magic weapons!
The Age of Lost Omens
Ok, frank confession. I skimmed this section as I have absolutely no intention of using Golarion as the world I run my game in. I will use their Gods because the way the system is set up it is actually hard to extract them without a massive lot of work, but I will not use the world. This gives a brief history of Golarion and details very broadly some of the areas and creature types common to the world. It is pretty and gives you just enough to be interested, but not my cup of tea. I used Golarion for a long time, enough to know I would not be again. I just checked in to make sure the God section was reasonable for Champions and Clerics but left this for others to look at.
Playing the Game
Here are all of the rules as the game should be all things being equal. Feats break a lot of these rules, but this is the baseline. This is what you can expect from the game and details the specifics of each of the different modes (encounter, exploration and downtime). There are some decent changes in here. The rules around dying are some of my favourites. They don’t do negative numbers anymore and use a simple system where you start at a condition called dying. Each time you take damage while dying, this condition increases by one, regardless of the amount of damage. If you reach Dying 4, you die. Simple and efficient.
Guess what? If you get healed and get up again you gain the Wounded condition, which if you ever enter dying again, unless you are fully healed and the wounds removed, puts you closer to dying. I love this system. It is simple and elegant. Players do not get to rest for 8 hours and suddenly have nothing wrong with them. Damage, death and wounds mean something in this game and I am grateful for it.
Hero points have been made a core feature. They have removed some of the more esoteric options it gave you and it allows for two things. One, if you use all your Hero points you have remaining you lose the dying condition and wake up OR use one Hero point and roll a dice on a check you just failed, though you MUST use the second roll. Hero points are also sessional. When you show up for a game you get a hero point, and if your character does something heroic they may get awarded another. At the end of the game, if you have any unused hero points they vanish. I like this simple elegant system.
This is probably my least favourite section of nearly any RPG I have read about GMing ever. The reason behind that is it is all about balancing stuff. Balance an encounter. Balance the treasure. Balance the encounter times so players have enough time to craft the items the game expects them to so it is balanced. There is so little actual information in here about building engaging games that I would almost suggest anyone with a modicum of experience to just skip altogether. The only thing I liked here was the discussion about Environment and Hazards, and they were barely interesting. If you want to learn how to run an engaging fantasy RPG, find a copy of the second edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Master Guide and read it. Many people say they have read it, few have. Read it and do what it says and your players will love your game. Or just read all of the posts on this blog – either or…
Crafting and Treasure
This is a fairly large section and a lot of it covers crafting items and the like. I will also say this, it has moved away from the format this game has ever used. It breaks items up into Consumables and Permanent items. beyond that into different other formats. It actually makes a lot of sense but does not feel very much like the game it stemmed from. Honestly, I think that may be the point.
There is a new system for items you have called investiture. You can only have 10 items a day in operation and they need to be invested. This does not necessarily extend to all items but for things that you wear you can almost guarantee they need to be invested. Wands also got downgraded majorly. Where they used to have a number of charges, they can now only be used once a day. You can use them a second time for the day with the chance that they will be destroyed, and if it is not destroyed it will be damaged. Gone are the mages with a wand of Magic Missile to fall back on when they are tapped out.
Weapons and Armour are now a delight. I have a good friend and he and I have been for a long time trying to work out a way how weapons and armour could be created and improved. It is now here as most magical armour or weapons utilise runes in this version of the game. The runes are upgradeable and you can add more runes the better the weapon becomes. Of course it all revolves around crafting checks and getting the right runes, but this system is brilliant. Go you good thing.
There are loads of goodies to keep you going in this section. I do feel that a lot of things have been “toned down” but I also think that Paizo knew they had overdone the power of things and that a lot of people playing the game wanted it to be less over the top at higher levels.
My Conclusion without playing the game
Let me talk first about what I think some of the intentions around the changes may have been at Paizo for this edition beyond my initial gut reaction that it was a money grab. I feel Paizo wanted to distance themselves from their beginnings as a Dungeons and Dragons game. There have been serious changes in the heart of this game and though they still say Armour Class and Hit Points the game is a very different version of any form it has been in the past. To me, this is a great thing. It is now a fantasy Role Playing Game in its own right.
Beyond that I find a lot that I like about this game and want to try. There are a lot of reservations that I have too, but I need to know what it plays like. When I chatted to my mate about his experience he was really positive about it. He did reaffirm that he did not play a massive number of sessions though and would like to give some more a go. That is what I need to do to be able to finally make a call on this game. I have a campaign I have had in the back of my mind for a super long time so it is time to start it and I will use this system.
I have read a lot of support for this version of the game and the reviews I tend to come across are gushing. That said, my anectdotal evidence is not a lot of people took it up. I have people shooting me questions about Pathfinder through the site and I try to talk to them. I mention they may need to take a different tack if they are playing 2E but in every instance so far all the people I have spoken to have stuck with 1E. To be fair, all my content here relates to 1E so maybe it is just that I am not in the right circles anymore. Time will tell. When I have played the game I will return and report back what I think after quite a few games. Let me give it the shot it deserves.
I will also be reviewing the Bestiary 1 & 2, the Game Mastery Guide and the Advanced Player Guide in the near future. Keep an eye out if that interests you! Thanks for reading and if you have any comments to make please leave them in the section below.