Review: Pathfinder 2 Playtest

In early March of 2018, Paizo Inc announced they’d be publishing a major revision of their Pathfinder game in 2019, the 10th anniversary of Pathfinder the RPG. Prior to this, they would be conducting a mass public playtest, evaluating the ruleset for a few months prior.

At the start of August, 2018, the Pathfinder 2 playtest went live. Included in the free package was a rulebook as well as an adventure that ostensibly covers levels 1-20, a bestiary of assorted monsters, and a few extra odds-and-ends. Prior to its release, the playtest was also available in hard copy, with softcover, hardcover, and faux leather collector’s editions being available.

Like its predecessor, Pathfinder 2 is born out of Dungeons & Dragons, and makes use of the Open Game Licence. And all the rules in the playtest are also covered by the OGL.

What It Is

The rulebook is a 434-page colour PDF featuring sketches of in-progress art for the final book along with art recycled from much of Paizo’s extensive back catalogue of art pieces (predominantly pieces done by Paizo favourite Wayne Reynolds). It features all 20 levels for twelve classes, updating the eleven core classes of Pathfinder and adding the alchemist. Included are six ancestries (aka races), three sample archetypes, and four multiclass archetypes.

The Bestiary product is 125 pages and lacks any art, and mostly focuses on monsters from the first couple Bestiary products, with a few additions from later products. There’s almost 250 monsters crammed into this product.

Why I Quit Pathfinder

Some background briefly, as this informs my evaluation of the product. (If you just want to get to my review, skip ahead to the TL;DR)

I was a big Pathfinder fan for some time, and ran four lengthy campaigns including two Adventure Paths. Prior to that, I greatly enjoyed 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons, but burned out on that system after playing Living Greyhawk for an extended period, which really brought the flaws of that edition to the forefront. While I was cautiously optimistic for 4e at first, I never really found that system to my liking and quickly moved to Pathfinder.

The weight of the ruleset finally drove me away again, as did some of its inherent flaws.

While I bought too many books, this was largely irrelevant as my players typically built their characters using online tools. By the end, I was smiling and nodding when my players said they could do something, because auditing their characters was impractical. I ceased being able to adjudicate as I had no idea what their powers did, so an honour system was in place: the players told me what they were doing in the game. Meanwhile, because the rules were so firm, it was easy to surprise me with seldom used but highly effective tactics. Such as using a combination of a feat, a spell, and a combat maneuver to steal a cleric’s holy symbol, denying them access to spells with a divine focus.

The number bloat was also problematic. In Pathfinder 1, numbers increased dramatically from level 1 to 20. Characters could have ability scores pushing 30, and checks could hit DC 35 or 40. This meant the world needed to regularly “scale” with the party, as low level threats were ineffective after four or five levels. Game elements encountered at multiple levels (like poisons, locks, and diseases) needed numerous variants that were functionally the same thing with bigger numbers. Characters were also complex to build. Pathfinder was a game of “lonely fun”, where players could spend hours building and rebuilding characters as a way to ‘play’ between game sessions. But this made the game hard for people who just wanted to show up and play (i.e. half my table), as even the “simple” characters like the fighter, rogue, and barbarian had degrees of complexity.

However, magic items were the biggest problem. I found Pathfinder, like 3rd Edition, made magic items less magical and more part of a character’s “build”, while also making it tricky to run a “low magic” campaign. You sold the vast majority of treasure you came across in order to buy gear that fit your character choices. And because all magic items could be crafted by anyone, the story and lore of magic items was excised from the game. Meanwhile, this made the economics of the game silly, as even a low level adventurer quickly earned enough money to live on for years, eliminating “financial gain” as a motive for adventuring. This also made it difficult to offer rewards (sailboats, castles, etc) as those items were expensive and could be sold to buy a sword with the next higher plus. Conversely, you couldn’t spend any of you treasure on interesting story things (paying off a debt, buying a keep, establishing a trade company) because the mechanics expected you to keep buying those magic items.

TL;DR

My biggest pet peeves of Pathfinder 1 were the overwhelming “number porn” of higher level play, the mandated complexity of characters, the predominant focus on combat, and how it treated magic items. As such, my opinion of Pathfinder 2 will be heavily influenced by how it deals with these issues.

The Good

In a curious bit of design the game makes heavy use of icons to convey action usage. I was worried about this in the previews, but there are only five icons and four are nicely related. It’s actually easier to parse than I was expecting, even in monsters. I found I could quickly tell at a glance the number of actions something required, and it makes different powers in monster statblocks pop.

Speaking of elements that sounded bad on paper, I like the Three Action system. It’s simpler than Pathfinder’s Standard/ Move/ Swift/ Interrupt/ Full-Round economy. There’s more opportunity to mix-and-match. In theory it should lead to just as much option paralysis as 4e or Pathfinder, where players pick through their spells and powers to avoid “wasting” a Minor Action or Move, but as all actions are equal it works more smoothly: you can default to a go-to Action. Such as just making another attack or casting a quick spell or shifting over five feet.

In place a pound or kilogram based encumbered system, the game uses a Bulk system like Starfinder, which overlaps weight and bulkiness, but keeps the numbers low. I’m likely going to outright steal this for my 5e game. It enables encumbrance to matter while also making the numbers manageable.

There’s a lot of decision points for classes, which a lot of players crave. This edition of the game is built on Lonely Fun. After each gained level you choosing from multiple options and can spent hours planning your character’s final build. Pathfinder 1 had numerous customization options for most classes: fighter feats, rogue tricks, rage powers, etc; this edition consolidates them all as class feats. Which will also make it easy for this game to receive content upgrades. It will be easy to add new chains of feats, which can easy be given to multiple classes.

The problem of quadratic wizards is partially solved by removing automatic scaling of spells. To cast a lower level spell and have it be more effective requires the use of a higher level spell slot. This should be very familiar to 5e D&D players. This means spellcasters will always be limited to a couple spells of their highest level, and low level spell slots are much more limited in number. However, Pathfinder 2 also retains at-will catrips for spellcasters, which now scale will level. This is presented as using the heightening mechanic other spells use, but it’s automatic rather than requiring the use of a higher level spell slot.

Also keep spellcasters in check is the “Concentration” system. Some spells (typically strong buffs and spells that inflict negative status effects) require you to spend an action to concentrate each round, which can be interrupted with a readied action.

I like that they renamed races as “ancestry”. Race is a loaded term that games are generally better off without. Similarly, I do like the idea of ancestry feats, gaining new species bonuses at set levels. I like that a characters species ends up mattering more than just at first level.

Similarly, Backgrounds have been added, replacing Traits as small bonuses gained from training prior to becoming an adventurer. These give a quick bump to skills. It’s a neat idea and I always liked having an idea of what your character did prior, be in farmhand or blacksmith.

I’m uncertain how I feel about the paladin, which retains its alignment restriction and has to be Lawful Good. I like the idea of the LG pally, and I prefer the baseline to be more restrictive so GMs can choose to lift prerequisites rather than imposing them and becoming the bad guy. But the “paladin” is a narrow trope, and I wonder if it might be better to rename the class the “warpriest” with different alignment-based titles: blackguard for Chaotic Evil, templar for Lawful Evil, and paladin for Lawful Good. Perhaps with a small variant power like the barbarian’s totem or wizard’s school adding some extra distinction.

The Bad

Icons really simpler than I feared, but are still awkward. When writing down your character’s powers on a scrap sheet of paper (and you will need them, as there’s not enough space on the character sheet) how do you denote actions? How does a GM type them into a document? Such as homebrew monsters. You almost need a custom font. (I also expect a dozen variants icons done by 3rd party companies, as each makes their own personal version.)

The presentation of cantrips is awkward. While they scale via level it’s written like other heightening spells, with the spell level rather than character level.  This is awkward and opens up potential misreading. It feels like this was written for an earlier draft when other types of multiclassing were in the game and a character’s level might not match their caster level.

Meanwhile, cantrip damage feels underpowered. These might deal up to 4 dice or damage with two actions at high level, while at the same level a ranger might have a bow that deals six dice of damage with a single action. So while a wizard can cast spells all the time, they’re do significantly better damage with that back-up crossbow.

Having critical success and failure dependant on the degree of success inherently slows down combat. It’s not enough to know if you succeeded or failed, you need to stop and do the full math to determine the margin of your success. Which would be tricky even if making an attack or save was simple and not “ability modifier + proficiency modifier + circumstance bonus + conditional bonus + item bonus + circumstance penalty + conditional penalty + item penalty + untyped penalties”. Plus, characters can make as many as three attacks with a bonus that could change each time  (and there’s not really space on the sheet to record these variant attack numbers).

Somehow, the actual bonuses characters gain at higher levels are less than 5th Edition. While your checks increase by your level, the difference between a low level rogue pickpocketing someone and untrained fighter attempting the same task might only be 2, while the master rogue and high level fighter might only vary by 5. The expert feels like less of an expert.

I’m uncertain how I feel about bards having the occult spell list. It does give them a very different feel than wizard/rogues, but they lose access to what my bards considered their go-to spells. Not all the spells feel particularly bardic, which is likely because they’re establishing the tone of the spell list for a theoretical occultist class. I’m still not sold on the bard becoming a full caster; I wasn’t happy with that design in 5e either as it meant fewer unique class features that only a bard could do.

There’s still a lot of vestigial elements in the rules. For example, the rules still mention “rolling for initiative”. But that’s a Perception check now. So… why not just say “roll your Perception”? Or “determine initiative”. The game also still has Ability Scores that go from 1-18 (and higher) with related modifiers. D&D can’t get away from elements like “18 Strength” or “8 Charisma” but Pathfinder could. Heck, previously it was for fear prerequisites, which were an odd numbered Ability Score, but even that doesn’t seem to exist. There’s zero reason to maintain the distinction between Ability Scores and Modifiers as they’re a sacred cow for a different game that is just there to confuse new players. Dump ’em. Similarly, they could just drop Constitution and tie Fort saves to Strength (as no one makes Constitution a dump stat, so it’s always 12-16, and there are no associated skills). They could also rename Charisma as “Presence”, making it more clear what it represents.

TAC aka Touch Armour Class also seems vestigial. And redundant. It existed in 3e because wizards half 1/2 Base Attack Bonus and a low Dexterity, so a separate accuracy mechanic was needed for them to hitting with rays. But wizards now have the same BAB as everyone else. While they still rely on Dex to hit, they could just as easily use their spellcasting stat. (Relying also creates an accuracy problem, as TAC goes up at the same rate as regular AC and saves, but wizards and clerics are unlikely to be able to boost their Dexterity at the same rate as their spellcasting Ability Score.) TAX is extra complexity largely to avoid having wizards hit with Intelligence or Charisma. But the whole things is extra moot: as touch AC is typically a couple points less than AC, it could be folded into flat-footed AC and have an identical effect.

Half-elves and half-orcs as human sub-ancestries feels off. You only get a single ancestry feat at first level, and choosing a core race shouldn’t be your one choice. As a concept it’s neat: I can imagine cool variant humans like primitive neandertals, changelings born from hags, or lycanthropic skinwalkers. But I’m not sure I like it for half-elves and half-orcs. Plus, when you need to have a sidebar in the book telling people where to find the option they want… maybe that option isn’t where it should be. You can’t tell people how to play the game, you have to make a version of the game that plays how people want.

Also… why isn’t there a “half-human” option for the elf?

I miss subrace options, like hill dwarf and mountain dwarf or high elf and grey elf. It works as feats but it’s odd taking these at higher levels. Which leads to some odd feats. Such as the elf being “forlorn” and getting a mechanical benefit for watching friends age, wither, and die; there’s also something weird about how you could just choose to get that feat at level 13, especially if none of the adventuring party died.

Not a fan of feat based multiclassing. But, given classes are just bundles of feats, I’m not sure there’s a better way. Having seen this in 4e, it doesn’t work well in in play as similar classes have too much overlap for the multiclassing feats to be of value as a feat, while dissimilar classes provide the most benefit: it encourages multiclassing “against type”.

For me, one of the more problematic aspects of the rulebook was the writing. As a ruleset, Pathinder 2 is written with “computer coder” language rather than natural language. It is full of lots of jargon (Strike, Step, Stride, Bolstered) that refers to snippets of information, and what something says on the surface isn’t what it necessarily means as that word might be redefined for the game. Powers are loaded with tags that refer elsewhere; there are over 150 traits in the game (which will only increase with even minor expansion). And even simple powers commonly refer to one of the 44 conditions in the game. It’s common to have single powers that makes use of a jargon keyword, requires knowledge of a couple tags/ traits, and imparts a condition. While this makes it easy for experienced players to parse while keeping the actual text of the power small, this requires a LOT of baseline system mastery to comprehend. Meanwhile, most powers end with a list of limitations and clarifications on how it interacts with other elements. To prevent abuse. It really bogs down reading of the book.

All this Pathfinder 2 into the kind of game that feels compelled to include a “dead” condition, because it needs to clearly and mechanically define what “dead” is. (I can’t wait for the inevitable combo that pairs the fighter’s Determination with a spell, magic item, or feat that allows someone to take an action when they normally wouldn’t, and permits the fighter to just remove the dead condition.)

Then there are the feats. Pathfinder 2 is basically feat porn. There are ancestry feats, skill feats, class feats, general feats, spells disguised as feats, and more. Class features have all but entirely been replaced with feats. Virtually all combat feats are now class feats, and generic feats are typically limited to skills.

This has led to a lot of generic feats just becoming class options options, often for fighters. Attacks of Opportunity for one, as well as Blind-Fight, Combat Reflexes, Power Attack, Spring Attack, and Point-Blank Shot. The fighter doesn’t have any more identity than in Pathfinder 1, many other classes just have those options taken away. Wanted to play a Spring Attacking rogue again? Sorry, that’s now a fighter feat. And while the fighter has some great feats that can allow some good diversity of builds—archer, swashbuckler, two weapon fighter, great weapon fighter, sword-and-board, etc—their few class features give bonuses to heavy armour, which aren’t great for several of those options. If you don’t play a fighter how the game expects you to play a fighter, you’re wasting class features.

As non-skill feats are localized to classes, this often means some feats are printed in multiple places. It is nice that they didn’t just rename some options and just gave both the rogue and ranger Quick Draw, the ranger and fighter Double Slice, and the fighter and paladin Opportunity Attack. But does mean less content overall as text is being written in the same place two or three times. However, as hinted earlier, because these optionals are baked into classes rather than being generic, it means there are options that could be in one class but aren’t, such as the ranger not getting Point-Blank Shot. And despite reprinting, there is some overlap: the ranger gets Favoured Aim at 2nd level but the fighter instead has Incredible Aim at 8th level, which is largely identical but phrased differently in terms of requirements. This means your character’s builds are far more dependant on how the designer thinks you should build a PC of that class and less on what you want to do. Such as the ranger, who is focused on crossbows over longbows now (because the iconic dwarf uses a crossbow).

As an extended example, let’s consider the paladin. As it has to be Lawful Good and requires a god that permits LG clerics, there are an impressive seven possible paladin patrons: the gods of cities/law, farming/hunting, honor/justice, history/knowledge, healing/redemption, and art/love, and the forge/protection. And at second level, paladins pick an oath that defines what kind of creatures they sworn to eliminate, with demons/fiends being one. Looking at elves, there’s a ancestry feat for elves based on fighting demons. That immediately sounds like it synergizes: an elf paladin sworn to kill demons. There is a couple good deity choices, with Iomedae (justice), Sarenrae (healing), and Torag (dwarves protection) being strong paladin choices. But if the player decides to play to the elven tropes of the bow and worship Erastil (god of family, farming, and hunting) it sounds reasonable. But there’s no ranged paladin options. They’d have to multiclass into fighter  to even get those feats, with the fighter multiclass archetype given zero benefits. It’s literally a wasted feat. A feat tax to get access to feats needed to play the character you want.

It’s also odd that all the feats are located in the classes, rather than being consolidated in the feats section and lists of feats being with the classes. Especially as the spells are consolidated in a single section with lengthy spell lists. Making this extra odd, there are a number of class feats that just grant powers, which are included with the spells. The paladin gets the lay on hands power and no other class, so why is it listed under spells instead of just included with the paladin?

The Ugly

The ancestries seem unbalanced.

Most get low-light vision, but halflings and humans get nothing extra for lacking low-light vision and darkvision. And adding insult to injury, halflings only have 6 hp. Meanwhile, dwarves get darkvision and the Unburdened ability and they get 10 hit points.

Also… why the heck do humans move at 25 feet?

I don’t see any mechanical difference for small creatures. So why not have all PC races the same size?

In general, relying on feats for the ancestry abilities makes the species seem ununified. Nothing connects elves or seems particularly elven. There is no signature elven ability.

Despite the difference between a skilled individual and incompetent individual being a couple points, Pathfinder 2 retains the number creep of Pathfinder 1. You add your level to almost every d20 roll. This needlessly inflates the DCs requiring challenges to continually shift and increase to provide an appropriate difficulty. Locks become harder, walls become slicker, and poisons become deadlier.

The DC of poisons and diseases are a pet peeve of mine. You need to continually have deadlier and deadlier poisons as old poisons cease to be effective; rather than a single poison that paralyzes, you need ten to twenty. Arsenic is a level 1 poison but only has a DC 15, so a level 1 wizard with 12 Con has a +2 and needs a 13 to not be affected. Reasonable. But that same wizard at level 10 has a +11 and needs a 4, without accounting for magic armor’s bonuses to saves. A fighter at the same level can just add arsenic to their morning coffee and suffer no ill effects.

(As a example of how easily this gets funky, werewolves are level 3 monster. So you could fight them at that level band. But curing lycanthropy before getting access to remove curse (a 4th level spell) requires surviving ingestion wolfsbane, a level 10 poison. When would you ever need to eat wolfsbane? If you’re able to handle wolfsbane, you can get someone to cast remove curse.)

The game doesn’t even need to have 5th Edition D&D’s bounded accuracy and flat math to get away from that. Page 337 has a table of DC by level. Poison (and disease for that matter) could always be a hard difficulty save of the character’s level. Heck, pair this with an expected damage-by-level table and even the damage of poison could scale…

Which leads to another complaint. I could not find an expected damage-by-level table. Which is essential for GMing. I need to know how much damage is appropriate for a level 10 PC.

Pathfinder 2 retains the magic item treadmill of Pathfinder 1. You’re expected to find no less than three permanent magical items before you read second level! Over the course of an expected campaign, you will find seventy-five permanent magical items. And twice that in consumables.

Magic items are very much required for the math of the game, and there is no “inherent bonus” system offered. And magic items are even more required for martial characters: by mid-levels of the game, the majority of their damage is expected to come from their magical weapons rather than their skill or ability.

Pathfinder 2 also replicates 4th Edition D&D’s treasure parcel system, where a set number of permanent items are awarded each level, which are expected to be chosen by the DM rather than rolled randomly. So in addition to planning each session, the DM has to keep track of their player’s gear and seed adventures with appropriate boosts. (Or rely on player’s wish lists for gear.) I hated the needless bookkeeping of tracking treasure parcels in 4e, and was very happy when random treasure tables returned with D&D Essentials.

The classes are exceedingly focused on combat. Even a typically exploratory option, like the druid’s wild shape, can only be used to turn into “battle forms” (which, of course, happens via spells). There’s no turning into a mouse to sneak past guards or a sparrow to quickly deliver a message. Meanwhile, it only lasts a minute so it is of zero use while tracking or travelling. Formerly, low level spells could work well for this. Your higher level spells were the combat spells that you saved to be effective in battle, while the increasing number of low level spells were most useful for utility or creative uses. But even this is diminished, as spellcasters get far fewer spells each level. The wizard caps at three 1st-level spells.

The combat “rabbit hole” makes sense with the feat-centric design: if you’re choosing feats, an option that works only out-of-combat is a trap option. It’s an option no one will take as it hinders their expected power level. Flavourful options (what Wizard of the Coast designers refer to as ribbons) work best as static class features that cannot be exchanged. The kind of class features Pathfinder 2 removed…

Meanwhile, for all the talk of “Downtime” being the third mode of play, there’s a single ancestry feat, a single class feat, and four generic feats that affect downtime. You could remove it from the game with minimal impact. It’s there not because it’s important, but because it feels like a mandated inclusion. Heck, even several of the out-of-combat spells were moved to a seperate “rituals” subsection for… reasons. (If they work anything like rituals in 4e, players will quickly forget they exist. Excluding resurrect.)

Roleplaying in Pathfinder 2, like 3e and PF1, remains the red headed stepchild of the game. It exists, but you’re not encouraged to roleplay. There are no rewards for playing in character. No inclusion of character traits or aspects— like in FATE—which can be used as roleplaying hooks or triggered by the gamemaster. No storypoints or narrative manipulation mechanics. Even things like puzzles seem downplayed. There’s a single puzzle in the playtest adventure, Doomday Dawn, which is solved by throwing DC 25 Intelligence checks at the “puzzle”. And while classes give you some possible character traits, neither ancestries nor backgrounds mention these. Backgrounds give pretty much the minimum amount of flavour possible.

Some small pet peeves. There’s no printer friendly version of the PDFs. Or even lite PDFs for easy loading on tablets. Even the PDF-only monster Bestiary isn’t particularly printer friendly with its ink devouriering sidebars, headers, and colour-coded level rarity. Even the character sheet that came with the package was not printer friendly! What the hell, Paizo?! There’s literally zero reason to make a character sheet with a fancy coloured background; if I want a character sheet with a funky parchement background, I’ll use parchment coloured paper.

There’s also no pregens included. Especially for Doomsday Dawn, which requires you to make multiple different characters. I’d have like to have a few pregenerated high level characters to compare against monsters and check my understanding of the math & character building rules.

Okay, ending this with a likely controversial complaint:” the “Gaming Is for All” section on page 5-6. This felt like the book was lecturing players who just wanted to read the rules. Now, the topic of that section is SUPER important and includes some must-read text. But… as it fills an entire half-page and occupies such a large percentage of the introduction, it’s long. Too long. Because it’s such a speed bump that delays getting to the rules, this section will likely often be skipped. A lack of brevity will mean fewer people read this valuable advice. This section desperately needs to be edited down  to a single paragraph. And then repeated and reiterated throughout the book.

“Gaming Is for All” is something that needs to be a theme throughout the entire book and not just slapped at the beginning like a disclaimer and then not mentioned again. As it stands, the section comes off as hollow virtue signalling.

The Awesome

Goblins were added as a ancestry. Nice! This has been hotly debated on the forums for goblin PCs potentially being disruptive. But Pathfinder’s goblins are so very iconic to that game it makes sense to move them closer to the forefront. Still, it would be nice for the game and core rules to acknowledge common and uncommon species, perhaps leaving certain options for GM permission. Goblins could be paired with other optional ancestries, like aasimar, tieflings, and kitsune.

I like how each class gives a blurb on potential character traits, as well as stereotypes others might have of you based on your class. I especially like how each class’ entry gives some discussion of how that character might spend their days off.

The other new addition is the alchemist. This is an odd choice and I imagine many Pathfinder players all had their own preferred base class that needed to be promoted. The the gunslinger or summoner maybe, or perhaps even the battlerager or investigator. I don’t mind the alchemist, and quite like the implementation. Specifically, I like how this alchemist makes and actually throws the same alchemical items other players can buy, rather than their alchemical items being entirely different to all other alchemical items in the game. There’s some nice design work there.

Archetypes are simple. They seem super easy to add and are nice and flexible. Being self-contained feat packages makes them easy to balance and allows that one archetype to supplement multiple classes at once. Similarly, it should be simple to add other variant classes, as classes are basically feat packages. Instead of requiring a separate skald class, you can add an appropriate totem and a dozen new class feats and that option is done. And making a brawler is as simple as picking the least mystical monk options.

Critical hits and failures with spells is fun. I’m uncertain it needed to apply to all spells, as it’s a lot of bookkeeping for area-of-effect spells. But a monster fumbling on a debuff is undeniably cool.

The game has four set spell lists all the classes use: arcane, primal, divine, and occult. It’s nice and simple. The names are a little odd, given they could just as easily be called the wizard, druid, cleric, and bard spell lists. But I imagine this leaves room for expansion with other classes.

A related comment: I love how the sorcerer isn’t tied to arcane. Instead, their bloodline determines the spells they have access to. That’s amazing and really makes that class more interesting that just being the wizard with an alternate spellcasting system (while also negating the need for a “spontaneous cleric” or “sorcererous druid”).

The resurrection ritual can fumble. GMs live for these kind of shenanigans and the potential of an evil spirit taking over the body or the dead PC animating as an undead.  

Final Thoughts

Before I started reading the Pathfinder 2 rulebook, I thought about what I wanted the game to do. I mentally laid out my “deal breakering” problems that I would want addressed, which I listed at the start of this review:

1) Reduce the “number porn” of higher level play

2) Reduce or limit the mandated complexity of characters

3) Place some focus on play other than combat,

4) Magic item Christmas Tree & Treadmill

Bonuses for characters were not reduced. Comparing the numbers for monsters with monsters in a Pathfinder 1 Bestiary show monster math is fairly close to the same, and Pathfinder 2 monsters are higher in a number of places.

While I don’t think the game needs to go with the flat math and bounded accuracy of 5th Edition D&D, Pathfinder 2 could easily have halved their bonuses by only adding 1/2 level to d20 checks rather than level. And not assuming magic items in their math would further reduce the number bloat.

Characters are just as complex as they were in Pathfinder 2. There are no simple characters for people who just want to sit down and play, as even the fighter and rogue require choosing one or more feats every level. And while the fighter is often considered simple as it doesn’t have spells, it requires selecting and managing more feats than normal.

For a final product, I think suggested builds would be lovely. One or two characters that are laid out with suggested feat chains from level 1 to 20. It’s not perfect, but it would help.

The combat focus in the game bugs me. Too often my Pathfinder campaigns descended into lurching from combat to combat in a dungeon, especially when running the published adventures. While you don’t *need* rules for roleplaying, encouraging that type of play helps. After all, nothing stops you from roleplaying in a game of Battletech or Warhammer 40,000 either, but that doesn’t mean those are RPGs. A good roleplaying game with continually suggest personality traits, and maybe even include a section for “personality” or “flaws” on the character sheet.

Lastly is magic items. Which isn’t any better in Pathfinder 2. The edition has even added the new Resonance mechanic which pretty much solely exists as a crutch to prevent why higher level parties don’t just buy dozens of low level magic items. It’s the definition of a rules patch: it doesn’t remotely fix the underlying problem and just smooths over a more irritating proud nail.

Pathfinder 2 is a very curious beast. Superficially, it incorporates a lot of 4th Edition design elements. Treasure packages, classes based around individual powers, heavy combat focus, emphasis on tactical play and in-combat movement, mandated magic items, comparable bonuses across classes, jargon and keyword heavy writing style, and even icon based powers. Which feels ironic as Pathfinder was created to appeal to D&D fans who didn’t like 4th Edition.

It’s really hard to judge this product because it’s so very dense. Even after a week of reading the book and watching several streamed playtest games there are still elements I’m not entirely sure I understand. Every single time I pick up the book and look up something, I stumble across some other sub-mechanic I have missed. Between the start of this section and and the end I decided to double-check how grappled was handled and came across references rolling against someone’s “Fortitude DC”. A quick search of the document pulls up a few other examples but no explanation of what a Fortitude DC is. An opposed check by rolling a Fortitude save? But then why not say that? And while doing an editing pass of the review I wondered how spells save DCs were determined, and spent five minutes trying to find out for certain as it’s not explained in either the Classes or Spells chapters. It’s a dense rulebook with spread out rules that require you to reference rules in two or three other places to figure out how something works. While learning the rules I was constantly flipping back-and-forth throughout the book.

With the lengthy above review all said and done… who is this product for?

I think it will appeal to alot of Pathfinder 1 fans as well as to D&D fans who are unhappy with 5th Editions “rulings not rules” attitude and want a game with less arbitration (and more crunchy character options). Ironically, I expect a lot of 4th Edition D&D fans who feel left out by 5th Edition and unsatisfied with that game’s simplicity will also enjoy Pathfinder 2. It’s become my go-to recommendation to jaded 4e fans.

Who is it not for? As this edition is not backwards compatible, using any class options for Pathfinder 1 is not an option. As such, I don’t this game as a good idea for die-hard Pathfinder fans who still enjoy the system: there’s so much material out there already that upgrading is likely unnecessary. You can play for years with what you have. Similarly, if you are like me and fell out of love with Pathfinder, this game is unlikely to win you back.

The Pathfinder 2 Playtest is also its own product, which largely stands alone. I’m uncertain how much this playtest book will reflect the final product: by design, this book was meant to provoke reactions from players and illicit feedback. The designers have admitted that whenever they had two different design directions they could go, they favoured the more extreme version to gather better feedback. And given several months have passed since this version of the playtest was sent to the printers, I bet the internal version Paizo is using already differs in a number of ways. So, very likely, a number of major complaints with the game could already be “fixes” and are simply awaiting reaction from the fans.

It will be interesting to see how much or little the final product diverges from this.

 

 

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