‘Pathfinder Playtest’ Let Loose at GenCon! Early Thoughts, All Signs Point to Yes!

Reading Time: 9 minutes

Pathfinder 2.0 ImageIt’s here! The Pathfinder Playtest has been let loose on the world and it’s time for everyone to dive in, make characters, and play Doomsday Dawn, the seven part playtest module! Eager players who pre-ordered should be receiving their hard-copy books now, but for everyone else, the materials, in pdf form, are all available FOR FREE on the Pathfinder Playtest site.

The Pathfinder first edition playtest was released at GenCon ten years ago and since then the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game has grown by leaps and bounds both in terms of player base, as well as available Adventure Paths, campaign materials, character options, bestiaries, and other supporting material. At the time Paizo was building off of an existing game system, D&D 3.5, and making only minor improvements, but since then, with ten additional years of game-design background, and experience with the development of Starfinder, a completely new and highly successful science-fantasy system set in the future of the Pathfinder universe, Paizo is ready to streamline Pathfinder, keeping what we love, adding new concepts, and eliminating some of the baggage that came with the old system.

Over the next four months we get to help playtest Pathfinder Second Edition, after which, Paizo will begin wrapping up the changes with the goal of releasing the new edition at GenCon 2019, a year from now.

Getting Involved in the Playtest

The best way to end up with the second edition of Pathfinder being a gaming system you’ll love is to get involved in the playtest and provide the best feedback you can. As of now, Paizo has released the following products.

  1. Pathfinder Playtest Rulebook
  2. Pathfinder Playtest Adventure: Doomsday Dawn
  3. Pathfinder Playtest Flip-Mat Multi-Pack
  4. Pathfinder Playtest Bestiary (pdf only)
Pathfinder Playtest Materials
Yay, hardcopies of everything but the ‘Pathfinder Playtest Bestiary,’ which will only be available as a pdf. Photo by Ryan Hiller.

The only certain way to get a hardcover version of any of the materials is to have pre-ordered a copy (the materials appear to be on Amazon, your FLGS may have ordered some, and I’m presuming some will be at GenCon!), this is the only printing they will do of the Pathfinder Playtest because as I said earlier, there’s a very tight time frame until Paizo sends off the final rules for printing.

Don’t worry though, if you don’t have a physical copy, all of the materials are available for free in pdf format on the Paizo site, so there’s no reason not to just download and check out the rules, if not fully participate in the Pathfinder Playtest.

Paizo released the module Doomsday Dawn to be used for the playtest. Doomsday Dawn, in addition to being the playtest adventure, looks to be an interesting module in and of it self. Session one starts with the characters helping someone out just prior to the Swallowtail Festival in Sandpoint, the beginning of Rise of the Runelords Adventure Path! This first playtest session begins with character generation and a traditional dungeon crawl to get familiar with the rules. Each of the following six sessions focus on different areas of the game. Players and GM alike will have questionnaires to look at before playing to track various things, and fill out after the session. Paizo will use the information provided to balance and tweak the system as well as make larger changes as necessary.

Given the intended GenCon release of the final version of the rules in just one year, and the lead-time necessary to submit a book for printing, the playtest schedule is pretty aggressive, beginning in August and running into November. The seven parts of the playtest include;

  1. The Lost Star, August 7 – August 26
  2. In Pale Mountain’s Shadow, August 27 – September 9
  3. Affair At Sombrefell Hall, September 10 – September 23
  4. The Mirrored Moon, September 24 – October 8
  5. The Heroes Of Undarin, October 9 – October 21
  6. Red Flags, October 22 – November 4
  7. When The Stars Go Dark, November 5 – November 18

While you can play and submit your feedback at other times, these time periods will be the best chance to get your opinions and feedback noted.

To have the best chance for Pathfinder 2.0 to be the game you want, playtest it and provide feedback. It’s happening with or without your feedback, so why not help make it the best it can be?

There’s a great deal more information in a recent Paizo bog post on playtesting Doomsday Dawn, as well as information about participating with the playtest through Pathfinder Society play, or playing in your own custom adventures.

The materials are free, and there are so many ways to contribute, I recommend getting the playtest core rulebook and checking it out, I’m loving what I’m seeing so far!

First Impressions

As is typical from Paizo, the look and format of the book is superb. The Pathfinder Playtest has a beautiful and interesting page design with borders by Taylor Fischer (Twitter, Tumblr). The pages have a parchment paper look, but don’t hamper the readability of the text. Learning from their years of experience and taking lessons already demonstrated in Starfinder, the border has easy to thumb through tabs, letting you find and get to the section you need. To top it all off the book is full of wonderful art by Wayne Reynolds (Website, Facebook). The art in the playtest is mostly sketches of art that will likely be finalized for the final version.

Tabbed pages
These tabs on the side of the page make it easy to quickly find and get to the section you’re looking for. Photo by Ryan Hiller.

I’ve been following the Paizo blog where they’ve been discussing the Pathfinder Playtest rules, listened to all episodes of the Glass Cannon Podcast where they played through Crypt of the Everflame using the rules with lead designer Jason Bulmahn as the gamemaster, and played a playtest session at PaizoCon 2018 with Paizo’s Managing Developer Amanda Hamon Kunz, and even though I have a pretty good idea on many aspects of the game, there were still so many details I needed to delve in.

As I stated in my prior playtest post, one of the main reasons I love Pathfinder is for the huge amount of character customization that it allows for. The more choices in my build the better, and one of my top concerns with the new system is still being able to create the characters I envision, complete with the mechanics to back up my ideas. My other two primary desires are a system that encourages more movement during combat, and eliminates the need for specific stat boosting magical items (the Big Six), instead allowing for characters to have fewer and more interesting magic items.

I’ve read much of the book at this and I feel Paizo has hit this one out of the park– exceeding my hopes in all of these areas.

There’s so much I want to say, and mostly it’s a ramble at this point. This is the first time I’ve really wanted to be doing a podcast rather than a blog– this would be so much easier to ramble on about without the structure writing! I’ll do a much more in-depth and detailed post soon, but for now, just some quick observations.

I Created a Magus!

As just stated, customizable characters are key. Also, I love the Magus, a melee wizard, and given the magus is not one of the core playtest character classes, I was curious how close I could get to the character concept. While very different than a first edition magus, what I made was interesting, and something I’d love to try out in the playtest.

To explain how he’s built, I need to explain how multiclassing is handled in the Pathfinder Playtest. Multiclassing is handled through feat selection instead of taking levels of another class. Instead of dipping into fighter (taking a level of fighter) you just take the same class at every level– so in my case wizard. To gain the abilities of another class you take a Multiclass Feat that gives you many of the benefits of the other class as well as access to more related feats.

My magus uses wizard as its class, then at second level in lieu of a Wizard Class feat like most wizards would take, he took the Fighter Dedication Multiclass feat giving the wizard access to light, medium, and heavy armor as well as simple and martial weapons. At this point, given the nature of the three action economy of the Pathfinder Playtest, the character can cast or strike, as well as do both in the same round. Last, to make him even more magus-like, at fourth level when he can take his next Wizard feat, he’s take the Magical Striker Wizard feat. “You siphon residual spell energy into one weapon you’re wielding. If the weapon is nonmagical, it becomes a +1 magic weapon, and one that’s already a magic weapon increases its bonus by 1.” This effect applies only to the next strike, but if you’ve been following along with any of the playtest information that’s been coming out, you’ll know that the +1 on the magic weapon means that we get to add an entire damage dice to our damage roll! A longsword that does 1d8 damage will now do 2d8 damage. My magus, as designed at 4th level can spend two actions to blast someone with magic missile for instance, and then siphoning power from his spell, strike a foe with the sword he’s proficient in, dealing extra damage!

I like this design (over dipping into other classes) as you don’t lose any wizard progression and can still reach 20th level as a wizard, while still getting the other classes features. It also seems like Paizo will be able to keep better control over min-maxing surprises. The results will be more balanced, no more ninja-oracle-paladin-sorcerer-bard combinations that result in something the designers could have never considered.

I believe this results in just as much character customization as Pathfinder 1.0 with the ability to easily add much more as it just takes adding a few feats which we’ll likely get in many more books and much more often than we see additional classes being added (though it’s still possible we’ll see a dedicated magus for instance.)

Now that the digital character sheets are available I’ll fill out and post my magus build.

But see, I’m totally rambling– I will likely dedicate a post to character creation. The key point here though is the fact that I can build the concept I want, on day one, with the incomplete core rules. What concepts do you want to be able to build? I’m excited to hear what others can and cannot do with character creation.

Maybe I should start a podcast so I can ramble.

Reducing Complexity While Keeping Depth

The second observation I’ll share in this post is in terms of the complexity vs depth.

One of the goals with Pathfinder Second Edition is to remove complexity while maintaining depth. Comments readers posted on my prior article were bemoaning that “removing complexity” was synonymous with “dumbing down,” and from what I’ve seen so far, that is far, far from the case.

Our aim is to make the game easier to learn and simpler to play, while maintaining the depth of character and adventure options that has always defined Pathfinder. – Pathfinder Playtest design team

Depth is, “the number of emergent, experientially different possibilities or meaningful choices that come out of one ruleset” (Make Them Play, 2017), while complexity is how difficult it is to learn and understand the game. The more different rules systems in a game and the more things a player has to keep track of knowing how to do, the more difficult it is to learn and enjoy playing. Complexity for the sake of complexity is not a good thing. If you can achieve the same level, or deeper, depth, with less complexity, this is a good thing.

As an example of removing complexity while maintaining or improving depth, in Pathfinder First Edition, Skills, Spell DCs, Melee/Ranged Attacks, Saving throws, are all a little different. Skills are based off your relevant ability modifier, plus the number of points you’ve put into it, plus a bonus if it’s a class skill, while saving throws are derived from a table, plus an ability modifier (or knowing fast, vs slow progression and at what levels each of those change), and the others also have their differences, all are explained in different areas as they’re all different sub-systems.

In the Pathfinder Playtest, all of these use the same proficiency system mechanic. You can be Untrained, Trained, Expert, Master, or of Legendary proficiency in a Saving Throw, Attack with a type of weapon, use of armor, Skill, Spell DC, or the like. To calculate any of these values you simply add in a value for your degree of proficiency (-2 for Untrained, 0 for Trained, up to +3 for Legendary), plus your relevant ability modifier, plus your level. I’d say this system is actually a little more complex than first edition saving throws for instance, but since they’ve made it one consistent mechanic over many different areas, overall complexity is much less. When the player that’s been playing a fighter switches to a wizard and asks, “how do I calculate my Spell DC?” the answer is, “oh, it’s just like saving throws, it uses the proficiency system.”

The area of the character sheet controlled with the proficiency system
Everything in green on page one of the character sheet as well as spell DC’s on the caster character sheet, is controlled by the same logic. This is how you reduce complexity while maintaining depth. Just look at how much of the information on that sheet is controlled by the same mechanic! Character sheet from Paizo, highlighting by Ryan Hiller (the green isn’t typically there!)

This is a reduction in complexity by replacing numerous disparate rules, with one rule that can be applied instead. No depth is lost as we still have Saving Throws, Skills, Armor Class, Melee and Ranged to-hit rolls, Spell DCs and more. Further, there are now feats than enhance skills, or can be applied to your use of armor for instance, that are based off of this proficiency system. So, really, the new system is less complex, while having more depth– more that we can do with it.

The magus example above is another example of this. Adding numerous classes that all behave differently is more complex. Allowing us to make just as many class concepts utilizing a system that is the same for all of them (base class plus feats), is less complex while maintaining depth. Admittedly, to get a magus with a similar amount of features as the first edition magus, we’ll need to see more feats– but that’s the point, all it would take is some feats. Something that is a single system that we know, as opposed to many different systems.

There are more examples of this, maybe that’s a whole other post (sigh) but, in short, Pathfinder Second Edition appears to be achieving the result of reducing complexity while maintaining, or even increasing complexity!

More to Come

There’s so much more I want to talk about, my thoughts on generating ability scores, the changes to minion casters like necromancers and summoners, the dying rules implications, a much, much more– but I want to get this out on release day to encourage you all to playtest the system.

The more people we get playtesting, the better results we’ll get, and this is your one chance to get your feedback and preferences presented to the design staff. So, go grab the books, and get to it!

From me there’s more to come. When I’m not creating characters, GMing Doomsday Dawn, or trying to progress in our First Edition Carrion Crown game, I’ll be writing posts with my thoughts.

Disclosure: Paizo provided printed versions of the ‘Pathfinder Playtest’ materials for my review. Opinions remain my own.

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