‘Pathfinder Second Edition’ First Impressions

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Pathfinder 2.0 Image

I love Pathfinder. I love both the complexity and the depth of the system. I love the Adventure Paths, the writing, Golarion, the multitude of character options, and Paizo the company. I will be the first to admit I’m a fanboy. Admittedly though, the game is difficult to teach, and some of the complexity often slows the action, sending us back to the books to check a rule–even for people like me who read Pathfinder rules for fun between games.

So, while I want to keep the rich depth of the game, we can afford to lose some of the complexity.

While I’m not in need of a new addition, I’m happy for one that improves play in exciting and clarifying ways without losing what I love about Pathfinder. In addition to this streamlining though, there are two things I’ve always wanted different in Pathfinder, and one major aspect of the game that cannot be lost.

Here’s what I would want to see in the new edition– two changes and a major keep;

  1. Change: Encourage more movement in combat
  2. Change: Make magic items wondrous again–get rid of the Big Six
  3. Keep: Character options. Keep the breadth and depth of character options both in creation and in play

From what I have seen so far, and based off what I’d want out of a new edition, Pathfinder Second Edition appears to be killing it!

Dynamic Combat

I want to see more movement in combat.

In the current edition of Pathfinder characters get seven different action types, free, full-round, immediate, move, standard, swift, and other. Focusing on movement, this really boils down to  a move action, and a standard action (such as one attack) or, foregoing the movement, the character can take a full-round action. A full round action may give the character access to multiple attacks or special attacks. When taking the full-round a character can take a  free “five foot step.” Because of the in-game value of full-round actions, typically once combat starts it turns into the 5-foot shuffle as everyone is maximizing their damage by taking full-round actions and utilizing 5-foot steps.

Further, if a player does choose to have their character use a move action and a standard action, the move needs to be used entirely before or after the standard action. You could run up to a creature and swing, or swing and then run away, but there’s no running up to something, doing something, and then continuing on your movement.

Harsk and Seoni battle some undead
Harsk and Seoni battle some undead. Image from Paizo Website.

In the new action economy as detailed on a recent blog on the Paizo web site, these seven different actions types are reduced to just an action and a reaction. Most everything a character can do such as move, attack, get a potion, drink a potion, is an action. Most spells take two actions. In a single round, measured in seconds, the character can take three actions, and one reaction.

From the All About Actions blog,

Three Actions

It’s your turn. You get to take three actions. That’s it. You want to move three times? Done. Instead you want to move once, draw your sword, and attack? No problem. How about attack three times? Go ahead (but you’ll take an increasing penalty for each additional attack). With only a few notable exceptions, most things in the game now take one action to accomplish. Opening a door, drawing a weapon, reloading a crossbow, moving up to your speed, raising your shield, taking a guarded step, swinging your greataxe—all of these and much more take just one action to perform.

There are, of course, some exceptions. A few things don’t take an action at all, like talking or dropping a weapon. Conversely, most of the spells in the game take two actions to cast, although some can be cast quickly, such as a heal spell that targets yourself. Many of the classes can teach you specific activities that take two more actions to perform. The fighter, for example, has a feat that you can select called Sudden Charge, which costs two actions but lets you to move twice your speed and attack once, allowing fighters to get right into the fray!

One Reaction
… all characters get one reaction they can take when the conditions are right.

Reactions always come with a trigger that must occur before the reaction can be taken. Let’s say you’re playing a paladin with a shield and you have spent an action to defend yourself with that shield. Not only does this boost your Armor Class; it also allows you to take a special reaction if you are hit by an attack. This shield block reduces the damage taken by an amount up to the shield’s hardness!

This is so much easier to explain and understand for the new and old players alike, but it also opens up a whole new set of gameplay. The Paizo development staff has been responsive in the comments to the blog posts, and Vic Wertz said that, “this allows strategic things you could not do before.”

For instance, consider in The Lord of the Rings when the fellowship is fighting the cave troll in Moria. The characters are darting in, taking single strikes at the big cave troll, and darting back–move action in, attack action, move action out. The whole party could be doing that, the beast might get its one reaction to strike at one of the party, but it’s going to have to choose who to move towards to strike on its turn. It won’t be able to just stand there and unleash all potential attacks on the characters that are forced to stand next to the cave troll. It’s a simple and obvious tactic that just was not possible in original Pathfinder. The best you could do was span this over two rounds– Move in, attack, stand there taking hits until your next round when the character could attack, then move away.

I can also envision a character running across a battlefield trying to reach a destination, hacking down minions as they go. In First Edition, the character would be forced to either start or end their round next to a creature they were attacking. In Second Edition, given three actions, any number of which could be movement, they could be darting across the field, taking a swing when convenient. I keep talking about melee combat and movement, but any other action could be used as well.

Further, in Pathfinder First Edition, a player has an all-or-nothing choice–forgo all of my movement to use all my attacks (might be two, or at higher levels three or four), or take one attack and move. In second edition, not only do characters have the option of three attacks right at first level (something a one fisted fighter in first edition does not get until 11th level), but a player can choose to take one or two attacks and still get movement, or go all out and take all three attacks with no movement.

As I discuss later in this post, character options in and out of combat are key for me, and this new action economy is simple, easy to explain, and while I have not played this yet, it seems as if it’s going to result in more character choice, with dynamic and cinematic combat as characters and their foes are moving all over the battlefield.

I just focused here on how I feel the new action economy will result in more movement on the battlefield. Read the full action economy blog (and if you’re ambitious, the comments) to see everything else this new economy opens up for the game, such as the new reaction that can be taken when it’s not a character’s turn–fighters can take an attack of opportunity, or a sword-and-board fighter can do some interesting things with their shield. Wizards can maybe use their reaction to cast a counter spell. It’s a whole new gamespace for Paizo to work in that was historically just “Attack of Opportunity” a mechanic that discouraged so much interesting play. There are hints that not only will fewer characters and monsters be able to take Attacks of Opportunity, but that fewer actions will trigger them. AOO’s are some of my player’s biggest complaints–often they say something they want to do, just to hear, “that triggers an AOO.” Not being the rules-nerds like me, they just figure I’m making it up as I go–come on, It’s not that hard!).

Wondrous Magic Items

I want magic items to be wondrous, special, and rare again.

In the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons days magic was rare (in my campaigns) and had interesting effects. They weren’t just stat boosting items. Pathfinder First Edition makes the assumption that as characters level they will be boosting their to-hit, armor class, saving throws, and abilities such as strength and intelligence, through the use of magic. Characters are mathamatically expected to have what has become known as the “Big Six” to stay competitive against level appropriate monsters–magic weapon, magic armor, cloak of resistance, stat-boosting item (headbands for mental stats, belts for physical), ring of protection, and an amulet of natural armor.

Expecting characters to have the Big Six has a couple of negative effects

  1. Magic items are boring stat boosters: In the old system characters have limited slots for items–if the character is wearing a Cloak of Resistance (that gives a yawn-inducing bonus to saving throws), you can’t also be wearing something interesting like Cloak of The Bat, or Cloak of the Hedge Wizard for instance. This is true of rings, amulets, and all the other items as well. Interesting items are sold to buy “necessary Items” in Pathfinder 1.0.
  2. Magic is everywhere/not special: Requiring players to have the Big Six also results in the Christmas Tree Effect. The character is lit-up with magic! Magic is not rare and exciting, it’s commonplace and ubiquitous.
Hyrm an intelligent magic sword
Hyrm, an intelligent magic Bastard sword from, Pathfinder Tales ‘Liar’s Blade.’ Magic promises to be special again in ‘Pathfinder Second Edition.’ Illustration by Greg Opalinski.

While I eagerly await a blog post detailing the changes to magic items, it appears as if Pathfinder Second Edition fixes this issue. From the initial blog post First Look at the Pathfinder Playtest, Paizo allude’s to the elimination of the Big Six.

Monsters and Treasure

Of all of the systems that Game Masters interact with, magic items are one of the most important, so we spent extra time ensuring that they are interesting and fun. First and foremost, we have taken significant steps to allow characters to carry the items they want, instead of the items that they feel they must have to succeed. Good armor and a powerful weapon are still critical to the game, but you no longer have to carry a host of other smaller trinkets to boost up your saving throws or ability scores. Instead, you find and make the magic items that grant you cool new things to do during play, giving you the edge against all of the monsters intent on making you into their next meal.

Some of how they allow for deviation from this Christmas Tree effect will likely be rebalancing encounters so that these inherent bonuses are not necessary, but also, there are some other ways characters will achieve these bonuses without the need of magic. One is more liberal stat increases like in Starfinder, where, instead of a one point increase in one ability score every four levels, characters will be boosting multiple ability scores every few levels. Another such stat boosting method is that weapons come in various levels of workmanship–mundane through legendary, each providing increasing bonuses to hit, just because of the quality of the weapon.

The fourth episode of The Glass Cannon Podcast playtest also spends some time talking about how magic items will be implemented. The mechanics are promising. Characters will be limited to how much magic they can use in a day–items worn, potions consumed–by tracking something called “Resonance.” Each player has an amount of Resonance (Level + Charisma modifier if I heard correctly), and when an item is donned or used, Resonance is used, once Resonance is used up, the there is risk of failure with additional magic use. This will greatly decrease the Christmas Tree Effect.

Another interesting magic item bit gleaned from the podcasts is that magic weapons damage dice scale with their magical bonuses. If a longsword does 1d8 damage, a +1 longsword does an extra d8 damage, and a +2 longsword does 3d8!

Character Options

So far I have discussed two items I am happy to see changed from Pathfinder First Edition. But there’s one thing, much more important to me, that Pathfinder Second Edition must keep, and that’s character options. Character options during character creation, as well as options in and out of combat.

One of the best parts of current Pathfinder is the enormous variety of character builds. Given the number of classes, feats, traits, skills, and many other choices, players can make whatever character they envision.

Harsk the iconic ranger
Harsk the iconic ranger. It appears as if ‘Pathfinder Second Edition’ will give us character options at every level. Illustration by Wayne Reynolds.

In the Paizo blog post, Leveling Up, we get a peak at what goes into building a character.

Leveling Up!

Gaining new levels and the toys that come with them is a core part of Pathfinder First Edition, and we want to make it more rewarding in the new edition.

Once you have enough Experience Points to level up, you’ll increase your proficiencies, then get some more Hit Points (8 + Constitution modifier for a cleric, for example), and then get to make the choices for your new level. What choices? Those are all covered on your class’s class advancement table. For instance, at 2nd and 3rd levels, the cleric gets the following:

  • 2 Cleric feat, skill feat
  • 3 2nd-level spells, general feat, skill increase

One thing we knew we wanted to include in the new edition was a good number of choices for all characters. In first edition, this could be pretty unequal. Even though over time, the game incorporated more ways to customize any type of character, we wanted to build in more robust customization into the structure of every class. That’s why every class gets specific class talents (which include spells for spellcasters) at 1st level and every other level thereafter, increases to skills every other level, and feats at every level!

Feats are one of the best ways to customize a character and give them special and heroic things they can do. Getting a choice of a new feat at every level makes leveling always have something interesting to add to your character–no more “dead levels.”

Feats Feats Feats!

On any level when you don’t gain a class feat, you gain a skill feat to change the ways you can use skills, a general feat that’s useful to any character regardless of class, or an ancestry feat that reflects the training or advantages of your people. Skill feats are part of the general feat category, too, so if you really want to invest in your skills, you can drop 15 feats on improving them!

Many of your feats—especially class feats—give you new actions, activities, and so on that you can use. They have a special format to tell you how they work with your three actions and one reaction. Formatting them this way means that it’s easier to tell whether a feat is something you can always do or a special action you can take. In Pathfinder First Edition terms, this would be like the difference between Weapon Focus and Vital Strike.

One of our goals with feats was to make them easier to choose and to use. Most feats require very few prerequisites, so you won’t need to worry about picking a feat you really don’t want in order to eventually get one you do. Any prerequisites build off your level, your proficiency, and any previous feats the new feat builds onto.

I’m fond of classes such as the Magus that have class specific magus arcana to pick from. This class design looks like we’re not only giving players something to choose at every level, but also special choices based off of their class decision.

I also like that it looks like we’re alternating between class feats and skill or ancestry feats. When there’s no limit to feat selection there’s the temptation to just pick the optimal combat feat. I like having the impetus to pick more flavorful feats.

While I’m eager to get my hands on the class mechanics and choices, it looks like Paizo is satisfying my must-have requirement of character options. It’s one of Pathfinder’s core strengths, and I’m glad that they see it that way too.

More to Come!

Paizo is putting out three blog posts a week to wet our appetite for Pathfinder Second Edition right up until the release of the playtest materials in August. The PDFs will be available for free on the Paizo site come August 2, but If you want a printed version, you’ll only get it if you pre-order by May 1st.

Want more? Go check out the Pathfinder Playtest podcasts. The amazing folks at the Glass Cannon Podcast, sat down with Paizo’s Director of Game Design, Jason Bulmahn, and Publisher Eric Mona to play through the Crypt of the Everflame Pathfinder module, with Jason Bulmahn converting the module on the the fly for the Pathfinder Second Edition ruleset. Highly entertaining while giving us some great insight into the new edition.

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