‘Pathfinder Second Edition,’ Another Critical Success for Paizo!

Pathfinder 2E Core Rulebook in the Redwoods
I received my review copy of the ‘Pathfinder Second Edition Core Rulebook’ shortly before heading off for my family’s annual California Redwoods camping trip, and I’ve been scouring the rules ever since– it was such a great experience, envisioning what I was reading, elves, wizards, adventure, magic, monsters all while walking through the ancient stout groves. Photo by Ryan Hiller.

Paizo has another hit on their hands with the Pathfinder Second Edition Core Rulebook! I’ll delve into some more of the nitty gritty in a later post, but here, I want to discuss Pathfinder Second Edition from the perspective of some major portions that I feel strongly about- the feel of combat, role of magic, and my love of highly customizable characters.

Want to check it out for yourself? The Pathfinder Second Edition Core Rulebook hardcover is available at Paizo for $59.99 (cheaper on Amazon, affiliate link), and you can get the PDF at Paizo for Just $14.99. Want to see it for free? Go to the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Reference Doc at Archives of Nethys (PRD). The online version is stripped of all the flavor and Golarion specific material, but the rules are all there. I have both the physical book and the PDF, and I will still use the PRD as a great quick reference.

Objectives for ‘Pathfinder Second Edition’

In interviews and other forums Paizo has said that their main goals were to streamline the game, making it easier to play and easier to learn, all while maintaining the enormous depth we loved in Pathfinder First Edition– keeping the time-honored tradition and the highly customizable nature of character creation that leads to unique and interesting adventurers that are fun to play. Paizo has more than achieved these goals with Pathfinder Second Edition. The rules are definitely more consistent, with less to have to learn, and as I discuss in more depth later, characters remain highly customizable.

In addition to these objectives, there were some goals I hoped they achieved. As a long-time player of Pathfinder, I love the game, and never felt a need for a new edition. However, while I love the characters I can create, as well as the availability of some of the best pre-generated adventures on the market– there were a couple of elements that I wished were different in how Pathfinder played.

First, for a couple of reasons, combat in Pathfinder First Edition often ended up pretty static– foes standing toe-to-toe, doing five-foot steps, and using their actions mostly for attacks rather than movement. Mechanically, the optimum choice was often to stand still.

Second, due to the inherent math of Pathfinder First Edition, characters were expected to have a certain set of magic items that did nothing other than provide a numerical bonus. Characters were expected to have six items, the Bix Six– a headband or belt to boost an ability score, ring of protection and an amulet of natural armor for an Armor Class bonus, Cloak of Resistance to boost Saving Throws, magic armor, and a magic weapon. In First Edition If characters did not have these items, they were behind the curve and had difficulty succeeding against the expected challenges for their level. Further, numerical bonus magic items are boring, and players would have to choose them over more flavorful and interesting items.

Last, when I learned that Pathfinder Second Edition was on the way I wanted to see those two changes, but more importantly, the new edition needed to keep the enormous variability and customization in character building. I often create Pathfinder characters for fun– I hope to do this for years to come with Pathfinder Second Edition!

Initial Thoughts

Having the final ruleset in my hand, I’m ecstatic to see all three of these needs are fulfilled! And while no-one is going to agree with every aspect of such an expansive set of rules, with these goals and more achieved, I’m ready to bring my family and the rest of the gaming group full-force into Pathfinder Second Edition! The hit the mark with these core pieces.

First off, Pathfinder Second Edition is an enormous tome. At 640 pages, there’s a ton of content to support all your adventuring needs. But don’t let the size of the Core Rulebook dissuade you. Given how many pages are devoted to providing more depth in choices of classes, skills, feats, spells and the like, I figure you can have an excellent understanding of the game by reading just 135 pages or less. I give a rundown of the core parts I think you need to read to understand the game in my prior article, “Pathfinder Second Edition, 640 Awesome Pages! Here’s a Quickstart Reader’s Guide.”

When you pick it up though, you’ll see the Core Rulebook is beautiful, with consistently stunning and story-provoking art, and a layout and graphic design choices that make the book physically easy to read, and easy to find and see what you’re looking for. The book uses the tabbed-content design we’ve been seeing in other Paizo books, a feature that allows you to quickly locate the chapter you’re looking for.

Core Rulebook Graphic Navigation
The ‘Pathfinder Second Edition Core Rulebook’ utilizes a navigation aid graphical element that makes it a breeze to find the chapter of the book you’re looking for. Photo by Ryan Hiller.

The book does a great job providing players an overview of character generation, with a step by step guide, and then providing the many pages of content and options to actually generate a character. I was able to easily hop around to find and reference what I needed.

The process of building a character, the ABC’s– Ancestry, Background, and Class, is straightforward and allows plenty of variability in generating a character that meets your concept. While I’m coming into this with years of experience ranging from AD&D to Pathfinder First Edition, this process could not be much clearer, even for someone new to the game. The process lays it out clearly enough that someone new to the game is going to be able to generate an effective character, while allowing the flexibility for a more experienced player to deviate from the norm if they so choose.

Pathfinder Core Character Creation Steps
Character generation overview pages from ‘Pathfinder Second Edition Core Rulebook.’

So, the book meets or exceeds what we expect from Paizo in terms of its layout, and the beauty of the art, but what about my must-haves, and Paizo’s goal of making it an easier game to learn and play?

Streamlining

Pathfinder Second Edition was built from the ground up to modularize and streamline the game. As an example, rather than a bunch of different subsystems, and different rules for determining your Armor Class, To-Hit bonuses, Saving Throws, Skills, and the like, Paizo has introduced the Proficiency System which is used to determine the stats for all of these areas and more. It’s one of the core mechanics of the entire game.

In the character sheet below I highlighted all the areas that now use this same mechanic. Once you understand how Proficiency works, and how to use it to determine a Difficulty Class (DC), you understand all these portions of your character. This is one example of how removing many different ways of doing similar things, and making it one system, Paizo has done a great job at reducing complexity.

The areas highlighted in green on the ‘Pathfinder Second Edition’ character sheet all use the same Proficiency mechanic. This is an example of how Paizo reduced complexity. Character sheet from Paizo.

Similarly, with character classes, as new class concepts were added in Pathfinder First Edition (PF1), there were often features Paizo wanted to add that did not have an existing ruleset to support it. For instance, Gunslingers utilized Grit Points to perform special deeds, something that other classes didn’t have. In the end, many of the PF1 character classes contained their own little ruleset to achieve what Paizo wanted to with the class. This adds complexity as more and more subsystems are added within the game.

In Pathfinder Second Edition (PF2) Paizo was able to use their experience to design a highly modular system. All classes get Ancestry Feats, Skill Feats, and Class Feats, and all Feats have the same format and design behind them. So you build and advance your character the same, regardless of your the choices you made in the ABC’s of character creation. The depth available in feat selection as well as other character options, means characters, even of the same class, can behave and play quite differently at the table.

This scaffolding allows Paizo a huge design space to make all the classes and functionality they want, while eliminating the need for new sub-systems to support a new race or class concept.

Dynamic Combat

My top desire in a new version of Pathfinder was to see more movement on the battlefield. PF1’s action economy (what a character can do in their turn) led to players having to give up character movement in order to essentially make more attacks. The best choice mechanically in PF1 is usually to stand still, and take as many swings as possible. Two significant changes in Pathfinder Second Edition have allowed for highly dynamic, much more cinematic, combat as characters and opponents are repositioning throughout their battles.

  1. Three Action Economy: Setting aside the fact that the three-action economy of Pathfinder Second Edition is another example of removing complexity while improving the depth of possible in-combat choices– free, swift, immediate, move, standard, and full-round actions from First Edition have all been boiled down into– three actions and one reaction per turn. All possible things a character can do fall into these three actions. Starting from 1st level characters can choose multiple attacks at no penalty for the first attack, followed by -5 to hit for the second attack, and -10 for all subsequent attacks, so while a player could choose to spend all three actions on attacking, that third attack is unlikely to hit. It will often be a better tactical choice to instead use that second or third action to move, retrieve an item, interact with something, or unlimited other choices. Further, given three actions, a character can now move, make an attack, and then move again, a tactic mostly not possible in First Edition. Spell caster tactics are not heavily changed by this, with most spells taking two actions to cast, they’re mostly in the same boat they were in PF1— casting a spell and then still having the ability to move.  However, some spells in PF2 only take a single action. It’s possible to cast two, or three, spells in a round. Further, the three action economy opened up some interesting game options for Paizo. Some spells behave differently if a character spends one, two, or three actions to cast them! Want more Magic Missiles– spend more Actions! Want to heal your allies while simultaneously damaging undead foes with your healing spells– spend all three of your Actions!
  2. AOOs are not Ubiquitous: The other PF1 mechanic that contributed to locking down movement on the battlefield was the dreaded Attack of Opportunity. If your character did anything other than attack, or slide 5′, everyone within reach would get a free swing at the sad adventurer! In order to avoid getting clobbered, you didn’t move. In PF2 not everyone can perform AOOs. All characters get three Actions and one Reaction, but very few characters or creatures can perform an Attack as their Reaction. Most of the time, characters can move without fear of retribution– be sure to use your Lore skills to identify those foes that are the exception to the rule!
Amiri lunging at a frost giant.
The three-action economy results in more dynamic combat.

My family and I had a blast with the Pathfinder Playtest, in a large part because of the three-action economy. Our experience demonstrated that these two key changes did lead to much more movement during combat, making combat more interesting, cinematic, and enjoyable.

Interesting Magic Items!

The Big Six are no longer a required or expected part of character advancement. Characters no longer need to have that magic headband/belt, ring, cloak, amulet, armor, and weapon, all providing some level-appropriate numerical bonus to their stats– boring! Instead of these lackluster stat-bonus items, characters can instead choose to use interesting magic items that provide more flavorful effects.

The changes that allow for this are the inherent math within the game, how the Difficulty Class of foes advance with character advancement. I believe a big portion of the balance comes from the Proficiency System. For their relevant skills and abilities, characters now add their level to their rolls and Difficulty Classes. Characters untrained in something get a +0, without including their level, plus any stat or item bonuses, but in the Skills and character abilities that the character is trained on they add their level, as well as a proficiency bonus, and any stat or item bonuses. The level bonus means a character’s bonuses are automatically increasing as they level. The Difficulty Classes of challenges– monster Armor Class, Skill Checks, and the like, rise such that magic bonuses are no longer necessary to be successful. The way ability scores increase– four receive a boost of +2 every five levels– also provides a non-magic means to increase the character’s stats.

When I started playing in the seventies, magic items were wondrous, and with the removal of the Big Six requirement, magic is special again in Pathfinder Second Edition.

Magic items
Pages containing some magic items from ‘Pathfinder Second Edition Core Rulebook.’

Enormous Customization of Characters

Character generation maintains its capability of generating highly customizable adventurers. There are so many choices for character generation, and while there are, of course, currently more choices in the decade old countless volumes of Pathfinder First Edition, even from the outset, Pathfinder Second Edition has enormous character customization possibilities. With six Ancestries (and more heritages), thirty-five Backgrounds, and twelve Classes, as well as Feat choices at every level, even similar characters, say three rogues, can play completely differently at the table. This is true at low levels right after creation and the variability will just increase as characters progress and make choices at every level.

Ancestry and class options. Pages from ‘Pathfinder Second Edition Core Rulebook.’

As new content comes out in Adventure Paths, and new rules books, these choices will only increase even more.

I love that at every level, for every class, there are choices to be made. Whether it’s an Ancestry Feat, a Skill Feat, or a Class Feat, you’re getting to make Feat choices at every level. In addition, depending on the character Class you’ll be making Spell choices, Ability boost, Skill increase, and Class-specific choices at various levels. Every class has more than one significant choice at every level.

I look forward to making many Pathfinder Second Edition characters for fun, when I can’t otherwise be playing!

Conclusion

Paizo has created yet another visually stunning book with Pathfinder Second Edition. They have greatly streamlined and simplified the game, making it easier to play, GM, and learn while maintaining the depth of Pathfinder First Edition. Characters, even of similar class, can easily be made unique. Thanks to the three-action economy, combat is much more dynamic with movement being a viable option on the battlefield. Last, magic items are special again.

There’s much more to talk about and I’ll be posting more in the near future, but, having delved into Pathfinder Second Edition I can say this is a game I will be playing not only in home games, but I also look forward to playing this new edition in Pathfinder Society Organized Play, online, and at conventions.

The Pathfinder Second Edition Core Rulebook hardcover is available at Paizo for $59.99 (cheaper on Amazon, affiliate link). You can also get a PDF at Paizo for Just $14.99. Paizo provided a Core Rulebook for my review, but I’ve already also purchased the PDF!

Want to see it for free before committing? Go to the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Reference Doc at Archives of Nethys to read all the mechanics. Even if you have the physical book, the PRD is a great quick reference.

Disclosure: Paizo provided the ‘Pathfinder Second Edition Core Rulebook’ for review.

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