Saturday 8 September 2018

What I learned about Pathfinder second edition after playing it

As can be expected at the release of a new playtest, there's a tonne of theorising on the internet about how Pathfinder 2nd edition plays but far fewer people actually playing the game. My group took a weekend in the first week of release to launch our first foray into the ruleset and we've continued the Doomsday Dawn adventure over Roll20, so we have a pretty good grasp of how the game actually plays.

As a bit of background, I've been kicking it in Golarion for around five years now so I'm more than familiar with Pathfinder and what constitutes the game. That said, what follows isn't just a comparison to that game. I want to treat the new edition on its own merits. That said, there is clear inspiration found here from other games, so I'm going to talk about that.

The Main Changes

As you'd expect in a brand spanking new edition, there are changes (though no 4e paradigm shifts) - for better and worse, but that's the entire point of a playtest, right?

Take resonance for example. Charisma has become magic item fuel (why? Not sure) in the form of resonance points. You need these to use magic items, which includes swigging a potion. This rule obviously limits the number of magic trinkets, weapons and whatnot you can use at a time - perhaps inspired by 5e's attunement rules. So far in our games, this hasn't presented an issue and it's probably a fair limitation.

A rule, however, that will crop up time and again for obvious reasons is initiative. This is now based on what you're doing at the time that the encounter starts. Are you sneaking? Roll stealth for initiative. Tracking? Roll survival. Most of the time you'll be rolling perception, which is fine. In our games this has generally been fine and it's a nice way of getting players to think about what they're doing during exploration (which is now he highlighted as a distinct 'mode'). It caused a few issues with stealth (they had a glowing bear at one point, which kind of detracts from the stealth angle). Overall, fine.

I'll tell you what's a real improvement, though. The action economy. You get three actions - any action. Want three attacks? Have them, but with penalties to each subsequent attach. Move twice, raise your shield. Attack, move, grapple. For our group the action economy is by far the best element of the game so far as we're finding it keeps combat fluid. Not having attacks of opportunity being a universal rule (it's now a fighter thing) makes combat a bit less of a chore. But, with a wider variety of bespoke monster reactions, you still have to second guess whether an enemy you're pulling away from might smack you good with something.

And believe me, if you have a magic weapon you'll be smacking real good. A +1 weapon now adds an extra damage die, meaning a +1 greataxe is 2d12, critting with 4d12. In Doomsday Dawn it's possible to have this very early on. What's more is that crits now happen by getting 10+ over your target, so low AC is punishing. I should know - I played a barbarian at one point and I got utterly decimated a lot, but I also dealt crazy damage (magic greataxe and rage). Speaking of AC, the new design makes everyone pretty much end up with the same.

You could take a swingy-as-hell system as a positive or negative (I quite like swingy), but something I've found to be a real positive is the proficiency system, which allows you to become trained, expert, master etc in skills, weapons and armour. There are no skill points - you can upgrade from trained to expert in a skill for a set bonus. Clean and simple.

Something that seems clean and simple, but I've not really made up my mind about yet is the ability score creation. Rolling isn't the default anymore - instead every ability starts at 10 and you get bonuses from your class, background and ancestry (race), plus some free ones. You basically end up with an array, which is fine but we found that the order to do this presented in the book was a little confusing.

Future Fixes

Let's get one thing straight. Magic items as presented in the playtest are pretty humdrum. There's nothing weird or particularly interesting, but I do give them kudos for not making everything about combat. I'd love to see items that are a bit more imaginative.

Right now there's a clear imbalance in classes, with rogues getting a lot of love and rangers being just plain dull. The problem with the ranger is that they will generally have one class feat from the selection that far outshines the others, so that's what people will go with. Barbarians are still pretty cool, but as I said before the new crit system is not kind to them. I know, I know, I'm not actually a fan of game balance (T&T fan over here), but since Pathfinder is more combat oriented, it's needed moreso.

Main takeaways

Ultimately, we're enjoying the playtest. While we recognise classes aren't yet up to snuff and perhaps the feats are a little bit on the game side, the action economy and streamlined skills system do make things cleaner. Pathfinder will never be my favourite system, but cutting back on the bloat of the first edition can only be a good thing.

Images: Paizo Publishing

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