Pathfinder 2.0 Playtest – First Look

I won’t lie, when Paizo announced Pathfinder 2.0 I was by and large very cautious.  That’s not uncommon though for a tabletop role-player.  We’ve been collectively groaning with just about every new edition of our beloved RPG’s being released since the early 80’s, the possible exception being Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition (which in my humble opinion was a definite step up over 4th Edition).

The word ‘streamlined’ was bandied about which always makes me cringe, whether it be for a tabletop RPG or video game series.  It typically infers that stuff has been stripped down, removed, simplified but… none of it in a meaningful or good way.  I like lots of skills, feats, abilities, races, classes and most importantly shenanigans.  Much like when 4th Edition was released many of us simply laughed and stuck with our 3.5, or moved over to Pathfinder.  This was going to be the same situation all over again! Right?!?

And then the Playtest was released August 2nd and I quickly learned that I was completely wrong.

This wasn’t simply a cut down version of the game to entice new players, nor was it simply an excuse to rebadge everything and grab a bunch of cash.  Paizo have done their homework and produced something that, in my opinion, actually makes sense as a logical step forward for the Pathfinder RPG.

If you haven’t already, make sure you head over to the official website and download the rules for yourself.  They’re free and well worth the read.

So before I take a more detailed look at what is in the rulebook and some of the changes I think we have to address a couple of elephant’s in the room.

Firstly, Paizo have elected to bring role-playing into the 21st century and ensure that their product is politically correct.  Most people are going to applaud this as the right thing to do.  A few people are going to roll their eyes.  I think we can all agree though that role-playing should be fun and should be inclusive.  Paizo have spent a couple of pages ensuring this message is explained loud and clear.  Although, I did find it odd that the book mentions “Your character might challenge binary gender notions” but then largely refers to the reader as ‘she’ throughout the book instead of the arguably preferred ‘they’ and ‘them’.  It’s the first time though I’ve seen this kind of message in an RPG book and see it as a positive step.  The message doesn’t permeate the entire book though and once Paizo have made their point the rest of the book reads as any other RPG rulebook.

Secondly, your Pathfinder 1.0 products are largely not going to be compatible with the new version.  While there will be guides to adapt material (much as there are for every system) there are enough changes to core systems that it would take some considerable work to convert older books to the new game. Time has passed in the world of Golarion and so any books you might have containing ‘fluff’ are now going to be considered history.  You might use your old books now and again to adapt some small part (a single character or magic item) but by and large if you’re moving over to 2.0 then your 1.0 books are going to get dusty.

Okay, with those two points out of the way lets dive into some of the key changes and improvements to the Pathfinder RPG.

The Playtest Rulebook weighs in at a meaty 434 pages.  While not quite the size of the original core rulebook it contains very little artwork at this stage and the spell lists seem a little thin. These and other extrapolations are going to likely pad out the book when it sees it’s official release in August 2019.

Standard, Movement, Swift and Free Actions are all gone. Instead your character can take three actions each turn, one reaction and any number of free actions (with some conditions).  This actually makes things a lot easier and removes the whole “Is this a Standard or Full-Round action?” debate that often crops up.  Your character sheet is going to detail everything you can do and a simple glance is going to tell you what kind of action it is and in some cases if it requires more than one action to complete.

A good example of this is with spells.  Many spells (such as Heal) can take one, two or three actions.  With one action Heal is a single target touch spell. With a second action it becomes a 30’ft range single target spell. With a third action expended the spell becomes a 30ft burst.

Combat is a little more spicy now too. While everyone has the same basic attacks we’ve been using for years, certain classes have exclusive access to a number of different special attacks (a little bit like D&D 4th Edition).  Further to that there is nothing stopping you (even at first level) from making three basic attacks in one round, other than the -5 penalty on the second attack and -10 on the third.  These added special attacks are really going to add some pep to melee based characters and help make the classes even more distinct that previously.

All rolls (not just attacks) can now achieve a critical success or critical failure.  While this was often house ruled in 1.0 it’s been incorporated into the game itself and balanced fairly well.  No doubt the critical success and failure on skill checks will result in some humorous situations.

Feats now play a much bigger role.  Feats are now a lot more diverse and the biggest inclusion is the amount of feats that impact your skills. As an example, as your character levels up you’ll have access to take a skill from Trained to Expert, Master and eventually Legendary.  An expert in Diplomacy could then take the ‘Bargain Hunter’ feat which helps them scour a city looking for the best deal on a particular item.  There are a lot of new feats to augment your skills and I think this is really going to allow players to create distinct and original characters.

Classes and Races (Ancestry) are the same… but different.  Alchemist has now been included as a core class, Half-Elf and Half-Orc are now feats that must be taken at first level, and most notably Goblin is a playable class from the get go.  I won’t lie, I groaned when I first read this, but having read the Ancestry in the book I can see a lot of players having fun with these.  They have some hilarious feats and my mind is now filled with Goblin characters literally eating everything in sight.  Many changes have been made to the Classes, far too many for me to list here, although by and large the concept of each class is the same.  For example, the Ranger and Paladin no longer have access to spells but have an impressive suite of skills, feats and abilities.

Equipment has rarity and bulk.  But it’s not what you think, this isn’t World of Warcraft and that magic sword isn’t a purple item.  Instead it simply means that some items are harder to find in the world, irrespective of their stats.  ‘Oriental Weapons’ or ‘Exotic Herbs’ might be considered uncommon or even rare in some parts of the world.  It’s largely a guide for how hard it is to find an item and the impact on its cost.

Removing the weight system from the game, Paizo have replaced it with a ‘bulk’ system which I really dig. It reminds me of the classic ‘Basic Dungeons & Dragons‘ system of everything weighed in ‘coins’ rather than pounds or kilos.  A character can carry bulk equal to five plus their strength modifier without penalty.  1,000 coins is ‘one bulk’. Leather Armour is ‘one bulk’. Full Plate is ‘four bulk’. Padded Armour is a ‘Light Item’.  Ten light items count as one bulk.  It’s a really simplified and elegant system that removes the pounds/kilograms conversions and is going to stop players from carrying many spears and ladders about the place “because they aren’t heavy.”

Gold has more value.  Your character will begin with 150 silver pieces (15gp) which by Pathfinder 1.0 standards is pitiful.  However, a quick look at the new equipment table shows that a suit of Full Plate is only 300 silver pieces.  I suspect that the value of everything has been dialed back to coincide with coins having a more meaningful impact on how much gear a character can carry.

Four types of magic are now available.  Previously we really only ever had Divine and Arcane, and then we would kind of awkwardly push Ranger’s, Druid’s, Witches and the like into one or the other.  Well none of that any more, say hello to Occult and Primal magical forces as well.  This makes a lot of sense and I’m pleased for their inclusion in the new system.

Grappling and using magic items is now much better. Grapple is simply an Athletics move, roll Athletics against your opponents Fortitude DC, breaking grapple is an Athletics check against your opponents Athletics DC.

We also have the introduction of ‘Resonance Points’.  Each character has a daily pool of resonance points that equates to their level plus charisma modifier.  Typically ongoing effects such as a magic sword or amour don’t require the use of any resonance points.  Items like wands, scrolls and potions typically do however so you’ll need to plan out your use of magic items carefully.  Magic weapons and armour (not shields) can now be imbued with transferable runes.  It’s these runes that infer the +1, frost, flaming and other bonuses that we are familiar with and come at different levels of potency.  I could be wrong, but from what I have read so far there doesn’t appear to be any ‘Use Magic Device’, so we aren’t likely to see any Rogues reading scrolls in Pathfinder 2.0.

Downtime is now included in the core rulebook.  Downtime was something that Paizo added in great detail with Pathfinder 1.0 in expansion books and now it has been included in the core game (albeit in a simplified form).  Players can use the time to craft, gather information, practice a trade, survive the wild (or city streets), retrain and more.  No doubt this will be expanded on further.

Lastly ‘Frightful Presence’ has been nerfed.  Pathfinder 1.0 ramped up the ‘Frightful Presence’ considerably over earlier versions of Dungeons & Dragons and I never knew why.  It had the ability to wipe out even a high level party very quickly and we house-ruled the mechanic back to the old 3.5 variant.  Sure, one could argue that players should be more prepared but a couple of bad dice rolls to an arguably low to mid level enemy shouldn’t result in party wipe (if for no other reason than your character runs deeper into the dungeon and draws the attention of everything).  It’s nowhere near on the scale of the changes I’ve mentioned in this article but something that I’m personally really happy about.  Now, a character will only flee on a critical failure and even then only for one round. Hoorah!

There are many, many more changes and improvements in the Pathfinder 2.0 Playtest.  To be clear this isn’t some kind of cosmetic change, but a deeply profound re-thinking of the entire system.  Having spent the weekend reading through the rules I’m extremely keen to start playing the new system once our group finishes our 13 month long Rise of the Runelords campaign (we’re in the last chapter now).

Paizo have also released a fairly robust Bestiary as well as a lengthy scenario designed to take players from 1 to 20 (over a decade long quest), so you have everything you need to get started with the new rules.

Again, if you haven’t downloaded the package yet yourself I urge you to do over at the official website.

If you’ve got some thoughts of your own on the Pathfinder 2.0 Playtest I’d love to hear them in the comments below!

Liked it? Take a second to support ATGN on Patreon!