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Pathfinder Second Edition—everything we know so far

Remember when I said that Starfinder felt like a half measure? It turns out this is why. Pathfinder Second Edition was announced recently, setting the tabletop gaming world abuzz with discussion, enthusiasm, and some frustration. I am not alone in feeling that we were told this wouldn’t happen, and that it recontextualizes Starfinder from a bold step forward to a means to pad time until the serious release dropped.

That said, it is certainly time for this to happen. D&D 3.5 was released in 2003, and Pathfinder dropped in 2008. We have had more than enough time with this material, and it’s felt bloated for some time now. (And that’s before we consider all of the third party material available under the OGL.) While details remain vague about Pathfinder’s trajectory, the information we have so far gives us a few hints as to where Paizo is taking the game. Consisting of an early press release, Podcast of a session, and blog posts, here is the information we can nail down so far, as well as some of my thoughts.

Streamlined, but not simplified

The overall goal of Pathfinder 2E (beyond recovering from the devastating blow to Paizo’s audience dealt by D&D 5E) is to cut down on some of the mechanical confusion while retaining a deep core of customization. At least that’s what the ad copy states. The particulars of this are somewhat vague, but the details give us some insight.

Like in Starfinder, characters get HP from both class and race, now referred to as ancestry for no obvious reason. It may be that the word “race” carries heavy weight they want to drop, or Paizo might be trying to inch away from the OGL. Classes will have specialized feats that only they can access.

Characters also have backgrounds and proficiencies, which sound to be taken out of WotC’s playbook, but details remain too vague to speculate. Paizo has stated that “after deciding on all of your choices, the only thing left to do is figure out all of your bonuses, which are now determined by one unified system of proficiency, based on your character’s level”. This seems to suggest that skill points are getting the boot for the new system.

Enemies and Exploration

The stated goal is to make enemies easier to generate and use in combat. In theory, I will finally stop complaining about Pathfinder statblocks. They will have a new, slimmed down system for generating that should save GMs time preparing. Traps and hazards are getting a larger focus, making traps and poisons more deadly concerns, but the mechanics behind these are unexplored as well so far.

Magic items will be simplified, reducing the number of simple armor or weapons with bonuses. Now weapon quality will take them from a -1 for poor to a +3 for legendary, and the magic will be left to more unusual effects.

Playtime will also be getting some more codified rules, breaking the game into Encounter, Exploration, and Downtime sections with some support to differentiate them. They will also affect one another. Initiative is gone in the typical sense; characters now roll skills appropriate to what they were doing before the battle began, whether it be stealth for skulking around or survival for tracking. Perception is still a skill, however, and is likely to come up.

Combat Maneuver bonuses and defenses are GONE. Instead, players roll Athletics against Armor Class, which is a big shakeup that I am looking to learn more about very soon.

Beating your enemy’s AC by more than 10 triggers double damage, and rolling under can trigger injury conditions or critical fumbles. This will go a long way towards making fighters and their massive bonuses more competent at higher levels.

Actions Actions Actions

So far, it seems that the entirety of combat has been reformed around the new, and simplified, action economy (taken in part from Pathfinder Unchained). Gone are the days of differing action types. Now, each character can take a total of 3 actions per turn, and do whatever they want with them. You could move multiple times, take more attacks (subsequent ones at a penalty) or break your turn up as you choose. More powerful spells take up more than one action slot, the number being equivalent to the number of components in the spell, e.g. verbal, somatic, or otherwise.

Each character also has a once per round reaction, which allow you to use special maneuvers such as raising a shield (which now reduces damage rather than raising Armor Class) or making at attack of opportunity. Enemies will have these as well, so learning their triggers will be a crucial part of combat.

Playtest release

The playtest document will be released during Gencon 2018 this August. While the PDF will be free, a limited run of physical copies will also be available for preorder and sale. I find this to be a strange decision, giving players the option to pay for something designed to be obsolete very soon, but I’m sure they will sell out regardless. The materials consist of a 400+ page rule book, a playtest adventure, and battle maps to come with the material.

My thoughts so far

This edition seems promising, though we need far more information before we can make an informed judgment. I’m not sure Paizo went about announcing this in the most fan-friendly way, but we did need an update after many years of glaring flaws. Some of the mechanics, such as having to compare plus or minus 10 to armor class, seems to be getting too granular, but that is a purpose of a playtest. The design philosophy so far seems to be towards in game complexity rather than during character generation, which may make Pathfinder’s biggest fans unhappy. For a long time they have loved this game for its obvious, fixable problems, and with stacks of books as high as I am tall, they are not interested in switching editions. However, for the podcast, the GM was adjusting on the fly from a first edition book and doing a fair job, so they may not end up as different as we might think. The new focus on action economy is the most exciting, really bringing you into the game rather than your theory-crafted build, and I am excited to see where this takes us.

For more news, stay tuned to Gaming Trend and check out more updates at Paizo. We’ll keep covering this new edition as it evolves.

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