This is an exciting new development in the Pathfinder game system brought to you by Paizo and was a slight interruption before going onto my Star Wars campaign. In total this ran from the 2nd of August 2018 to the 18th of November 2018 over 18 game sessions.
The Pathfinder system is an evolution of the Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 version of the game as they had publishing adventures and supplements for their Golarion setting. Once the 4th Edition D&D came out there was a lot of upset players who wanted to continue with the D&D 3rd edition, which the announcement of the Pathfinder system coming out being more of an update of the 3.5 Edition of D&D in many ways, caught the interest of those upset players. This system also allowed their new Golarion setting to continue the 2 years of world development and fun adventure paths. The best part of this news was that it was compatible with people’s 3.5 books and they would continue to expand and evolve the game system.
There has been ten years of supplements and rule crafting on the Pathfinder setting since it got its own rules, and the ride has been enjoyable (if a little crunchy at times). The playtest has introduced a new evolution to the game, this one has levelled the field allowing for easier entry, easier management and the tactical part of the game has become easier to adjudicate. While this is only a concept of what they would like to introduce to the community, I believe it is a strong contender for my gaming groups.
Here are a list of interesting concepts in the playtest and my thoughts on each of them. As a GM I never found anything too outlandish or unfair in the rules, the differences were simply new experiences to try out and see how it worked.
Critical Success and Failure
In the playtest, rolling 10 or more past the target number becomes a critical success, missing it by 10 or more becomes a critical failure. The target number up to 10 past it is a success and less then the target number up to 10 less is considered a failure.
This applies to attack rolls, skill rolls, saving throws, well anything that uses the D20 and has a target number. The single dice roll determines the result without having to made a confirmation roll as in 1st edition. This was one of the most loved rules of the game.
An optional rule discussed in the books has a natural 1 and a natural 20 not automatically being a critical failure or a critical hit. What we used in the game was if a 20 would not hit the target then it turned into a hit, unless even a 20 with their bonus would be a critical failure then it would simply be a failure. The same with a critical fumble, a roll of 1 that would hit the target becomes a miss, where as if the roll of 1 would be a critical success by the numbers it simply becomes a success.
What was not discusses was another level added to that, a roll of 20 that would also have been a critical success by its total might have extra results, and a critical failure that would also have been a critical failure by its total would also have extra results. While this is not exactly by the rule, it does suit the spirit of the rules and a natural 20 or a natural 1 is always something to fear.
The Three Action Economy
The next most favourite part of the game was the three actions. A character can attack three times a round, every round, no matter the level of the character. Spells having a 1, 2 or 3 action casting time for combat related spells were also taken well though most spells seemed to be of a 2 action casting time sort of made this mechanic underused. Gaining an extra action a round would have allowed two spells to be cast which would have been very cool to see.
There is also a concentration action that can allow a spellcaster to maintain two spell requiring concentration and move at the same time. Following that were special actions that gave a combination of actions such as two attack, move and attack or other interesting effects. This was a welcome addition for me as it simplified what a character could do and I created a action cheat sheet for the table showing what all characters could do, and what page they were referenced from.
Characters also got a single reaction each round, and as many free actions as they can convince the GM their character is capable of doing.
Everything has traits, very much tags in terms for a data perspective where each of their traits would reflect various rules tied into that trait. Here are a couple of examples that made the game.
- Attack – This action (always associated with an action) is treated as an attack for things such as multi-attack penalty
- Class – (one for each class) This ability is only usable by the class the trait belongs to.
- Human – This can either be only used by a human, effects only a human or a person with this trait is treated as human.
- Manipulate – This action will provoke an attack of opportunity and will likely require a free hand or two.
- Metamagic – This action effects a spell as it is being cast.
- Move – This action will provoke an attack of opportunity (unless otherwise specified).
There are 100+ traits, and they make it easy to tell what effects can be targeted. This, while appearing more complicated at first, is actually a simplification of what 1st edition had spread over many different rules and concepts. This amalgamates all those concepts into a single rule and makes it easier to reference in the future. I personally think this was a major step forward in the game, and will lead to better rule management in the future.
Spells and magical items have gained a rarity. This is a fantastic addition to the game as it makes it possible to tell players what things are automatically out of reach, and what they can negotiate about. All rare items became quest items only, uncommon items became unavailable for starting characters and only available in game by negotiation with the GM.
What I did not like was the colour coding being the only indication of rarity in the spell and item entry (though the item and spell lists does indicate) and could do with better symbology as in grey scale there is not a lot of difference. This is an accessibility issue that they will hopefully address in the future.
Race is now covered by the Ancestry mechanic where race has a progression for all races in terms of feats. This is very cool and means that same race characters can have a very different racial path that suits their character advancement. Heritage updates improved this further by giving each race a feature style option that you can select to further customise your racial characteristics.
What was new was a Goblin racial option that is made available to players, and was taken as options by players in my games. While playable, it can be harder to incorporate into settings where goblins are the enemies.
Backgrounds are a interesting addition to the game, they provide a Lore skill (a form of Knowledge in the old system), a skill feat, attribute increases and some fun flavour text. This is the easiest way to introduce mechanics associated with own game settings or game worlds that are not race specific.
Ability Score Generation
Dropping the point buy, dice roll and set scores was a fun choice. You can re-enact those options from 1st edition but it really takes away from the experience. So what they have done now is provide boosts and flaws to your characters attributes with everything starting at 10. Only non-humans can start with a penalty unless taken for story reasons.
Each boost gives you a +2 to your attribute, and each flaw is a -2. You gain boosts from Race, Background, Class and 1st level and then at 5th, 10th, 15th and 20th. When you gain a number of boosts from one feature, such as four boosts at 1st level, they need to be added to different attributes.
What this gives is a very powerful characters which seem to feel beefier than the 1st edition counterparts, until you realise that that items don’t give attribute boosts anymore and the power increase really does work well with what 1st edition used magical items for.
The only limiting factor is that boosts added to an attribute already at 18 or higher, only add +1 instead of +2. This was definitely a favourable change for attribute generation.
Skills and Proficiency
So skills have an interesting story. They created a mechanic called Signature skills that each class had certain skills they were good at, and all other skills had a cap on how well you could advance them. Ranks have been abolished in favour of a mechanic called proficiency which is applied to Skills, Saving throws, Weapon attacks, Armour Defence, Magic attacks and senses. Because Perception is now a sense and not a skill it’s not a bad change.
Proficiency has multiple levels, Untrained a -4 to the roll (was -2, but updated), Trained provides no modifier, Expert gains a +1, Master a +2 and Legendary a +3. Now to make proficiency more interesting, you also add level to the roll.
Skills have been amalgamated to be less in number, but far more useful. Knowledge skills have been incorporated into the base skills. With the loss of Signature skills, all skills become accessible to characters, and this was a good update to the system. The downside to this is that most skills are within roughly 10 points of each other and can feel a little samey.
This made running games so much easier as I could recreate most of the encounters adhoc without having to rewrite 1st edition modules and supplements.
In most cases, initiative is perception. Though an option for the games master is that whatever the character was last doing when initiative is called can use that skill for this check. Such as Stealth if sneaking. This gives more options and helps keep the narrative of the story on what the characters are doing.
No more weight in pounds… this is great as it really was a abstraction and making it a simple matter to determine how much they can carry. This is so much easier and accessible to use in game. I usually ignored weight in 1st edition because it was much harder to calculate and check against the character that without using a tool or spreadsheet it became impossible to keep track of during play. This is similar to the FFG Star Wars system and something I want to carry back to 1st edition.
This is a limiting mechanic to stop over reliance on potions and wands by players. It gives characters a pool of points based on their level and charisma mod to bond with magical items, and activate powers of most items.
This never became a problem in my games as my players have not been reliant on magical items such as the stick of poking (cure light wounds wands) and hundreds of healing potions to keep their characters alive in 1st ed. This is a cheesy way of progressing in adventures I have seen players do, especially if they can trick a GM into letting them have a unlimited charges Wand of Cure Light Wounds.
So what it does is cause you to use this pool to bond with your armour, and certain magical items to make them usable for the day, this is much like wizards preparing spells and feels much like the character is rubbing the armour going “Who’s a good armour, you are” to his magical armour every morning. They points invested into permanent items, is also required to drink potions and use wands so they are no longer free uses and require a character to invest in activating the magic at the time of use.
This mechanic was not largely impacting on my group but was discussed. I offered to investigate options if it became an issue but no issues came up and no one ran out of resonance points.
Magical Items are now at all levels so you can find potions to be more than just 1st to 3rd level spells. I love what they have done with these, even the Investment to use mechanic can stop characters from over using things. In amusement they can have as many rings now as long as they can have Resonance points to invest them.
Another brilliant point of the changes is Runes. The ability to enchant items and transfer this enchantment is another mechanic I am loving from the playtest. You can imagine the characters when they realise that they can move that flame effect from a weapon they can’t use to their own favourite weapon. These effect runes are called property runes.
Then their is the base bonus to hit, damage or armour class also gets a nice enhancement in this version. Called potency runes, they grant a +1 to +5 to the armour or weapon. Armour bonuses also apply to saving throws, this is a good update, making another line of magical items unnecessary and another good change.
Now the weapons update had a few different possible takes on how it works, but I honestly prefer the option I went with, and if this is not as intended then maybe they should have done it this way. So it provides the usual +1 to hit and damage, but then there is this really interesting mechanic, it increases the dice pool by the bonus to hit. We first interpreted this as extra dice to the weapon, so if it was +2 on a dagger it would be 3 dice of damage on most weapons. Then after consideration we added it to each type of damage dice on the weapon. So if you had precision damage you get extra precision dice, if you have fire you get extra fire dice.
The reason for this was that there was no difference between a +1 Flame weapon and a +5 Flame weapon otherwise be 4 points of damage. Now a Flaming dagger does 1d4 + Str Mod + 1d6 Fire damage and on a crit does and extra 1d10 persistent fire damage. So when I made it a +2 Flaming Dagger would change to 3d4 +3 +Str Mod +3d6 Fire damage and on a crit does an extra 3d10 persistent fire damage making this weapon so much more devastating in play. Now if a rogue had Precision damage it would also benefit from the bonus. Though all the dice also doubles on a critical hit it can make a dangerous combat with just weapons.
This might be overkill but compared to 1st edition, magically enchanted bows from a 12th level character were doing about 8 to 12 damage and when fighting someone with damage resistance it was doing very little, while the simplest spell was doing a lot more.
Now, the same archer in the playtest started to outperform the spellcaster with over 60 damage from a critical hit using a +2 enchanted bow. So might have overdone it but it was fun for the players even with the large amount of damage. On the bright side combat is a lot shorter because of this. And players are truly thinking of tactics when I gave a flaming bow to one of the NPCs who almost one shot a player with a critical hit.
Fortnightly Playtest Updates
The changes dropping every fortnight to the game and the rules was a cool experiment which my groups accepted for the time of the playtest, but was something they were happy had come to a close. While gaining new abilities and levels was exciting, having to rebuild part or all of a character was not as exciting to them. Even if it turned out better, stronger or more fun. Mainly as it required taking time at the start of every session to make sure people were up to date on the rules, and those players who “forgot” their character sheet time to rebuild.
Rulebook – 432 pages of rules to absorb and understand. My spiral bound version of the book is quite nice, but has the unfortunate position of having the interior pages printed in black and white so when they used colour to distinguish rarity it was difficult to tell the difference as they were subtle shades of grey.
Bestiary – 124 pages of monster goodness. I was disappointed that this was not officially printed so it could sit on my shelf with the rest of my pathfinder books, but turned out to be the best due to being able to fold the book flat and have the page I wanted on top.
Update 1.0 (13th August 2018)
1 page of critical and other updates. These changes are only simple corrections to the printing that didn’t really impact the game greatly, but let players know I was ontop of the changes and set the precedent that I would go through them pre-game and bring those of importance to their character up and skip over those corrections that were not. I have highlighted my spiral bound printed version of the rulebook to make it easier to tell what rules have changed.
Update 1.1 (27th August 2018)
4 pages of updates with new Death and Dying rules. Doomsday Dawn also gets an update. One of the strangest aspects they corrected was that it was possible to kick a friend back to health. This was discussed in my game, and I went with rules as intended, instead of rules as written (one of the luxuries of a home campaign vs a pathfinder society game) where I can over rule a badly written bit of text and interpret it to make sense for the players. What was missed was that characters remain unconscious and have to make a recovery roll.
Because of this and the issues of wording, the whole section was replaced and redone with tighter control around the words describing how it works. The big change was that unconsciousness is brought back to the GM to determine how long and a Administer First Aid action has been replaced to suit the rule changes.
Update 1.2 (10th September 2018)
7 Pages of Updates and the loss of Signature Skills. This required a few changes, this also simplified character creation as this rule didn’t really effect anyone until 7th level and for a lot of characters was not a big thing to keep in mind, unless they were planning on taking a specific feat progression that required skills to be advanced, and which feats granted the Signature skill to the class so they could take it.
So with this change, any skill can be increased at level seven, without requiring a specific feat progression and feats that gave signature skills now give extra trained skills so taking on concepts for characters is far more achievable instead of taking things for future possible progression. There was not much love for this mechanic, though no one was upset that it was gone. Removing this limiting mechanic was a good idea.
Update 1.3 (24th September 2018)
Untrained has had its penalty doubled from -2 to -4. The DC’s titles for difficulties (and their numbers) have been changed. This seems to be a simpler style of language so easier to express in game. With the Death and Dying rules they introduce new ways to treat wounds with the medicine skill.
14 pages of updates in Proficiencies and DCs. Identification, Classes and Death and Dying rules get updates too. Other additional material to the document gets highlighted so it’s easier to see what it new.
Identification and Repair of items gain a speed boost as they had become impossible to use in most game sessions due to there being downtime durations (meaning best done in towns or away from danger) instead of while exploring (or in combat).
A Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section gives a few hints on some of the most asked advice from players that is not clear. Finally, The Doomsday Dawn adventure has its changes broken up by section. These changes impacted my players so it was good to have it all annotated in my book ready to go at the start of each session.
Multiclass 1.0 (24th September 2018)
8 pages of updates and expansions. All classes now have a multi-class option and I have quite a few NPCs who take on Bard, Rogue, Druid and Monk aspects to represent their NPC multiclass advancement from the 1st edition I was translating. This turned out quite interesting and fun to play.
Update 1.4 (8th October 2018)
19 pages of updates. Heritages have some major changes in this release, the feat to be taken at 1st level in the racial options is now a feature of the race that can be selected. This frees up an extra racial feat making it a welcome addition to the game so everyone gains something from this change.
I believe the heritage rules was the right way to go, but I would like to see it go a bit further so I made a house rule to reflect this. Half-races should be available to all the races and not just humans. Death and Dying has an update to Unconsciousness that makes more sense now but honestly has not impacted my games up until now.
Update 1.5 (22nd October 2018)
19 pages of updates covering Spell Damage and more changes to Death and Dying (#4). The only update I was not rushing to be ready for as I took a fortnight off running to attend PAX AU (Penny Arcade Expo in Australia). The changes increased the damage of a bunch of spells in the game. This was not a huge impact in my games either as the characters were high on the weapons and low on the magic use.
Update 1.6 (5th November 2018)
32 pages of updates for Hands and Casting, New Alchemical Items and Class Changes. The final update to the playtest was massive and quite an eye opener on things that they thought needed balance and changes.
First up they added rules to allow clerics and paladins to cast spells easier and more alchemical items are added. Alchemists get a class feature re-write and the fighter appears to not have any changes in this update but that is the only class to make it without changes in this release. It caused a bit of work to update NPCs and PCs for this weeks gaming, but I felt it was worthwhile as we tried out the updated work.
Jade Regent Group
Using the Paizo Jade Regent Adventure path book 1 and 2 at levels 3 to 5. I had five NPCs created to go with the characters for this game: a Human Bard multiclass Rogue, a Human Cleric of Desna, a Human Rogue, an Elven Ranger and a Human Barbarian.
Razor Coast Group
Using the Frog God Games Razor Coast setting at level 8. I had five NPCs created to go with the characters for this game: a Human Fighter multiclass Pirate, a Human Cleric of a Sea God and a Human Rogue multiclass Pirate.
Serpent’s Skull Group
Using the Paizo Serpent’s Skull Adventure path book 3 and 4 at levels 9 to 11. I had five NPCs and a PC created for this game: a Half-Elf Monk, a Human Barbarian multiclass Druid with a Raptor, a Gnome Bard, a Human Cleric of Gozreh, a Tengue Rogue and a Human Ranger with a Flying Dinosaur.
Home Brew Changes
I made a number of changes to appease my players and make the playtest more fun. As we converted over existing campaigns this required a little adjudication due to players using non-standard races and classes not in the playtest material.
Due to having not standard Races in my group I adapted the race system as follows: Aasimir, Nagaji, Samsaran, Taninin, Tengu, and Tiefling.
Once the Heritage changes came into play I made the Half-Elf, Half-Orc, Aasimir and Tiefling half races as Heritage options available to all races and not just humans as I thought this might be an interesting twist on having a Dwarf Tiefling, or a Halfling Aasimir, or a Gnome Half-Elf, or even a Goblin Half-Orc. Not having human as the only attachable race seemed to make a lot of sense. I also added that you can’t merge with the race your half of. So a Half-Elf cannot be an elven Heritage, though in this concept a Half-Human is a worthy addition to the list of half-races.
Due to having non standard Classes in my group I adapted the class system as follows:
- This is divine spell list version of Sorcerer who can spontaneously use a domain power as the bloodline powers.
- They can spontaneously heighten all their spells to any slot as if they knew the spell at that level (changed from only two spells)
- The two spells that they could spontaneously heighten, changed to those spells automatically heighten, but don’t use a higher spell slot to cast.
- Eidelon is an amalgamation of Familiar and Companion as a offshoot of Sorcerer, a few attempts at figuring out how to do it ended with granting it Summon Monster as a base power that works with 1 power point and automatically levels like cantrips and most other powers.
- Witches became another version of Sorcerer, with a familiar using the Occult spell list. I had considered it to be a offshoot of Wizard as also an option also using the Occult spell list.
What I Learned
This is what I learned from my time on the Pathfinder 2 Playtest with my groups:
- I should not have had my Pathfinder games on the week the updates came out…
- Updating the NPC’s over three different campaigns each session was time consuming, but ultimately game me a lot more information about how the character builds worked
- A spiral bound book works so much better as a rulebook than those with a spine, so much easier to use in game, as a reference and update.
I really like where they are taking the game. I intend to bring a lot of these concepts across to my Pathfinder group as an ongoing update to our 1st edition game.
- Game Management:
- Adventure Paths:
- Building Characters:
- Pathfinder 2:
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