Pathfinder Second Edition is upon us, and I am excited to check out what this new version offers. I have played Pathfinder almost exclusively since first released ten years ago, and only picked up Dungeons and Dragons fifth edition as a supplement, so this is a big deal.
I do not doubt second edition is a good game I will enjoy. The question is, will it be enough to make the switch, or I should I stick with the old edition and just mine the new game for ideas as my old game plods along?
I did a rambling tweet thread as I flipped through the new rulebook for four-five hours over a couple of days, trying to decide whether I want to explore this game further, or just stick with the old edition.
— Paul W (@palwwrites) July 25, 2019
This post is a slightly cleaned up reformating of that thread with a few additions. This is not a review, and I doubt I will bother to write one, but rather semi-random things I found interesting as I browsed through the book the first time. I will, however, update this post if I find any misinterpretations on my part.
So please allow me to ramble while I try to make up my mind.
The rulebook stresses a welcoming environment and that gaming is for everyone. This should be redundant but sadly is not.
The book also notes that all participants, including the GM, are players. Gender may not be relevant. Race is not a term anymore. Instead, Pathfinder Second Edition use Ancestry and Ethnicity. Boob plate has never really been an issue with Paizo, that I have noticed, but Seoni has now upgraded her wardrobe nevertheless.
Kudos to Paizo.
Paizo production values have always been top-notch, and that seems to be the case still. The books are sturdy, and the artwork is excellent.
I’ve not a fan of the Paizo’s layout choices and colors for a while now, since the Beginner’s Box really, and this is still an issue. All the color codes, symbols, and boxes are supposed to help me, I get that, but it gets a bit cluttered. I would have preferred a cleaner layout. There has been some noise regarding the character sheet, which I think is related to some of the same layout choices.
Pathfinder Second Edition Character Classes
Characters are built by picking ancestry, heritage, background, and then a class. Human ancestries have ethnicities while the others have not. Goblin is an ancestry while an orc is a creature. Peculiar, perhaps, but probably because the goblin is available for characters, while orcs are not.
Backgrounds are very similar to, say, Dungeons and Dragons, and the Dragon Age RPG. I enjoy this very much. Clean, flexible, and better than 1e’s traits.
The classes are the usual suspects, with the addition of the alchemist. The alchemist came off as underpowered in the first edition, so I am curious to see how this new version plays. A wizard alchemist is now easy to create, which I like. The idea of every alchemist being a lunatic bomb-thrower was more than a little disturbing.
The one improvement that stood out at first glance was the cleric and is maybe my favorite change in the new game. The first edition cleric did not leave much room of customization, which was boring really. All classes now lots of swappable feats. Choosing religion adds divine skill and selected spells in addition to domains and favored weapons. Between archetypes, multiclassing and cloistered clerics, AD&D’s specialty priests are now possible after almost 20 years. I got giddy at the thought.
Paizo has rigged the classes for endless expansion in all kinds of crazy directions. The system is built to be expanded quite a bit.
The old archetypes and multiclassing are handled by feats and do not alter the basic stats like hit points, saves or attack bonuses. Multiclassing does not involve taking another class, so the reference to “class” is redundant. The effect, however, is the same as the character takes splashes of other classes, but without significantly nerfing the initial class. This should work much better than previously, making multiclassing, to use a familiar term, a much more interesting option.
I am not sure how I feel about the skill feats. Granted, skill feats are not feat taxes as they have their own slots, but should not new uses for skills just be a part of the skill difficulty? Does the system need skill feats?
The numerical side of the character generation and leveling is simplified. Everything increase in specific increments as the characters advance in level. There are no longer any skill points and automatic increases in attack or saves. Paper and pencil character sheets could actually be a thing again. Theoretically.
Retraining is part of the core experience, so you can make changes if you regret past choices. This was unthinkable when the idea first appeared a few years back, but I have grown to appreciate retraining.
Playing Pathfinder Second Edition
The system refers to three modes of play: Encounters, Exploration, and Downtime. This is nothing new, just clearer terminology.
I like that downtime is part of the core experience. The concept should be familiar from Ultimate Campaigns and later D&D 5e. I would love to push it one step further, as in Adventuring in Middle-Earth, as covered in a previous post, but all in due time I suppose.
An epic scope required a bit of time, so any Pathfinder campaign should last at least a nice civil war, if not Aragon’s lifespan. I have tried a few times, and it worked alright. The full-on fellowship is probably a harder sell. Regardless, downtime should be part of the game, and I appreciate it is part of the core rules.
The new action economy is promising and seems to give us a faster game. Everyone gets three actions and may spend them on single actions, activities, reactions, and free actions. Single actions include Strike, Strike, Raise shield, etc. Multiple strikes seem to be available at the first level, but may not always be a good idea. The full attack is gone. This should encourage movement and not just stand around to grind out all the attacks. Shield users must spend an action to use the shield, and all may want to save an action for a reaction. I do obviously not yet see all the implications of this, or whether this is balanced. Actually playing is required. This could potentially be a nerf of the fighter, but I certainly hope not, and I doubt it.
There are several degrees of dying, adjusted by recovery checks. This seems fiddly, and I struggle to understand how degrees of dying adds to the game.
Hero Points are part of the core experience, which is a sucker punch to my grognard AD&D infused heart, similar to retraining. Kids today.
NPCs, Monsters, and Encounters
There are no NPC and monster design rules in the core rulebook or the Bestiary, which is quite radical for a 1000 page rules set. Apparently, they will appear in the Gamemastery Guide.
A simple comparison of the Balor shows me that my old library of stat blocks clearly is useless. The powerup is a good thing, but converting on the fly will be dodgy. Pathfinder 2e may be better, but my backlog of encounters is like tears in the rain.
However, I may be better off letting go of my old library regardless, as 3e NPC CRs were broken. Monster and NPC design needs to less rigorous. Looking at the drow the Bestiary may give us some clue of how this is supposed to work as there is no HD listing in the stats. This gives me a nice 13th Age vibe, or even NPC-as-a-monster from the later 3e Monster Manuals, which is a good thing.
Encounter building uses a budget that reminds me of D&D 4e if memory serves. Five extreme-threat bosses appear to be sufficient to level one character a level. Sounds reasonable. The overall system is simple, probably alright, and easily ignored for those who prefer to eyeball encounter levels.
Magic and Magic Items
Revised and updated magic items are always interesting, and there seems to be a lower power curve in the system overall. Ability boosters are less important, and bonuses are smaller. I’ve been doing this a while, and Dungeons and Dragon have done the same. Smaller bonuses help the game. Sadly scaling items is not part of the core system.
Magic schools, sources, and traditions feel complete. Primal magic, alchemy, and occultism make sense and does not feel like an afterthought. The new wands make a lot of sense.
The concept of talismans is excellent. A glaring omission in previous 3.x editions. It appeared briefly in D&D 3e Oriental Adventures, then disappeared again.
Item runes is now a thing. Where is the Ring of Protection? Not in the core book, it seems, and this old favorite is possibly redundant. Armor and save bonuses are handled by resilience and armor potency runes. The explorer’s outfit is now an enchantable armor, so armor and save bonuses are possible for all classes.
I cannot find signs of natural armor, luck, profane, and holy bonuses. Good.
Rituals are part of the core experience. This is a nice nod to the outstanding Kobold Press Deep Magic, Paizo’s own Occult Adventures, and even the 3.x epic spells. Rituals are great world building tools and beg to be explored.
The second edition rules include party treasure and character wealth by level baselines. The “Christmas tree” effect is still here, although capped by ten items, which for me seems like a pointless rule as the “big items” are mostly reduced to one ability booster, and a resilience rune to get the save bonus. Items have assigned levels for balancing treasure and crafting. The magic shop is certainly still part of the game.
The core rulebook spends a whole chapter on Golarion with expansive strokes, which I understand because Paizo wants to create shared experiences and sell more books. The material is alright, enough to get excited, but not enough to use as is. A starter town, like Sandpoint, would have been more useful but also less exciting. The artwork is stunning. Personally, I prefer to not have setting material in the rule book, but perhaps that is just me.
So Do I Make the Switch?
This concludes my Pathfinder Second Editon first impressions after a few hours flipping through the book. The new game seems to be for folks who want more character and tactical options than Dungeons and Dragons offers, just like the previous edition.
The overall impression is very promising. I do not think the new edition is compatible with the first edition, but I do not recall Paizo ever claiming it to be, but I think the new edition should play very much like the first.
My old library of encounters and custom magic items will be a loss, but perhaps it is time to let go.
I suspect the second edition is more GM friendly regarding prep, which I very much welcome. Creating encounters with custom monsters and NPC was very time consuming, and the stat blocks seemed endless. Paizo has streamlined game prep quite a bit it seems.
I am undecided on whether I want to switch, but there are certainly ideas here worth exploring for house rules. I would enjoy trying this game but ultimately I will probably let my group decide if they will bother learning a new system. The whole group should decide, not just one of the players, which seems fitting to Paizo’s attitude to their game.
The Reading List
There will be plenty to read about Pathfinder Second Edition. Here is publisher Erik Mona’s launch blog post.
The first reviews first are in. Enworld has two big reviews: Complexity vs. Depth – A Look Inside Pathfinder 2nd Edition by Morrus, and It’s Finally Here! The Pathfinder 2E Review by Ben Reece, both very thorough and worth reading before making any purchase.
Dungeon Musings has some thoughts on the subject.