Pathfinder Playtest – First Thoughts

I’m currently on a flight from Perth to Adelaide, after spending the whole week away for work. So not only has there been no game design to speak of this week, I’m also typing this article on my phone, with no internet access. As a result, it’s not going to be chock-full of lovely pictures or interesting links. In exchange, I offer you what is no doubt a bevy of typos, poor grammar and shitty sentence structure. Sound fair? Good.

Which is a shame, because this week is also the first full week after the release of the Pathfinder Playtest. I’d love to be able to link you to the rules, the Paizo forums, and some of the Facebook discussions happening, but you’ll simply have to a) go without, or b) seek them out yourself – sorry!

Those who play Pathfinder are probably aware that after 10 years of product releases, Paizo are moving towards Pathfinder 2nd Edition. The public playtest was released in conjunction with GenCon (2nd August from memory – no internet to double check at the moment, remember?) and will be running for several months before an intended official release of the final rules at the same time in 2019.

Since the release (10:30 Thursday night local time) I’ve done very little as far as leisure time goes except read the rules, attempt to build a few characters, and familiarise myself with the provided Playtest adventure Doomsday Dawn. Because not only am I personally excited by the changes, but our local RPG group is having our first Playtest session tomorrow night. I tell you what, it’s a good thing no one else is particularly familiar with the rules, because I sure don’t feel ready to run it as GameMaster!

If you’re a Pathfinder tragic like I am, you’re probably very familiar with some of the major changes. If you’re not, then this is what this article is for – a really brief intro to some concepts, and perhaps some personal thoughts. (plus, I’m going to direct my players to this article, to save me explaining some things tomorrow night). So, onwards!


Three Action Economy

Let’s start with one of the biiig changes. The traditional Move, Standard, Free and possibly Swift action have been turned on their head. Now, characters get three Actions and one Reaction. Free actions still exist though.

A single Action can be used to move up to your speed, to take a careful 5-foot step, to swing a weapon, to open a door etc. Pretty straight forward.

Each component (Verbal, Somatic, Material) of a spell takes an action. Yes, this now means you can potentially cast multiple spells in a single round.

And if Casters can get multiple spells, I suppose it’s only fair if martial get multiple attacks. And so they do. A second attack is at a -5 penalty, and a third at -10 from memory. These negatives are a huge deal – the section below on Critical Success and Critical Failure.

A Reaction is used someone else’s turn in resonse to a trigger of some kind. The simplest example is an Attack of Opportunity, which works more-or-less in the familiar manner except that it is now only available to Fighters. There are several other examples of Reactions in the rulebook, but you’ll have to take a look at them yourself.

This is a big, big change. There are now lots of options for movement on the battlefield. You don’t need to simply move into position and hold that space to get your huge damage output with multiple attacks. I’m looking forward to seeing how this works in practice.

Races are now Ancestries

This is not a drastic change overall – the obvious Human, Elf, Dwarf etc are still present. It’s more of a terminology change. The obvious difference here is the inclusion of Goblins as a core playable race. There’s lots of scuttlebutt on the internet about how a goblin PC will destroy the integrity of the game and cause nothing but issues within the party. My personal view is this – “quit complaining and be a responsible player or GM.” Any character concept can cause issues in a party. Players ang GM’s alike need to work together to make sure your Goblin PC has a reason to work with the Longshanks and not to set fire to them on their sleep. As PCs you’re already highly unusual in the world. Find a reason for that goblin to have left her tribe. This is a game about imagination, as much as anything else.

Uh, sorry. Rant over.

Currently this is not part of the Playtest rules, but theoretically this allows a human from Cheliax to potentially have mechanical differences to one hailing from Varisia. This could sort of happen previously with Traits, but Traits are gone. Partially rolled into the Ancestry selections, and partly into…

Backgrounds

Backgrounds attempt to embed the Roleplay aspect with Mechanics. Not everyone is thrilled with this, but I think it’s a great idea. You now choose from one of approximately 20 backgrounds at character creation (think Blacksmith, Nomad, Butcher etc) which gives you some specific Attribute score bonuses as well as a specific Lore skill. Speaking of attribute bonuses…

Generating Attributes is now different, too.

If. You’ve played Starfinder, it should be pretty familiar to you. All Attributes start at 10. Your Ancestry gives you 1x +2 bonus to a specific Attribute, 1x -2 drawback, and a free choice +2 which can be used to offset your negative if you choose. Then your background gives you +2 to a specific Attribute, and another +2 free choice. Your Class gives a +2 to its key Attribute (eg, Wisdom for Clerics and either Strength of Dexterity for Fighters). Finally, you get 4x +2 free choices, which must all be spent on different Attributes.

The point-buy method is officially dead, although the rules do include optional rules for Rolling for Stats. This means there is no mechanical benefit to “dumping” a stat.

It feels odd to not have odd scores (see what I did there?) but I’m not sure it’s going to have a negative effect in play. Overall, I like this process. It makes character creation quite organic.

Classes

In the playtest you really only have the “traditional” classes. Which should only be expected given that there is a limit to the material that could possibly be added to a Playtest document. What is interesting though is the inclusion of the Alchemist as a core class. This class was released for OG Pathfinder in the Advanced Class Guide (maybe…? No damn internet!)

I don’t have a whole lot to comment on with regard to specific classes. Except to note that straightforward Multiclassing is no longer present. Instead you need to take a Dedication Feat to gain access to the feats of a second class (more on Feats later). On paper I like this idea. But I can’t get a good feel for how it will work on practice until 8 actually try it out.

Skills

The skill list has been compressed significantly. Along with this reduction, skill points have been thrown out. Now a character is trained in a certain number of skills based on their Intelligence and Class, with the specific bonus coming from their degree of Proficiency in said skill. More on Proficiency later. Overall this is going to be a change that feels very different, but my musings over the last week have left me pretty comfortable overall – especially as it all ties into the Critical Success and Critical Failure sections, also discussed shortly.

Feats

Oh my, there are so many feats. General Feats can be taken by anyone. Skill Feats affect the things you can actually attempt to do with your skills. Class Feats are locked behind a gate requiring yo Ito be a member of that class to take them (intended to keep classes different to each other, while allowing flexibility in how your character progresses). Ancestry Feats (I feel my terminology is wrong, but again… no damn internet!) provide bonuses based on your heritage.

I feel like there is room for some confusion here, but by making everything a Feat, it allows a much greater degree of flexibility from one character to another. Not every Rogue or Monk needs to be the same as every other Rogue or Monk.

Different types of Feats are gained at different rates for different Classes. It’s spelled out reasonably lesrly in each Class entry in the rulebook.

Proficiency

Most everything is now associated with a Proficiency level. Your ability with different types of weapons and armour, your use of skills and even your saving throws all add your Proficiency score.

Your Proficiency score is equal to your Level, plus a variable bonus:

  • -2 if you are Untrained
  • +0 for Trained characters
  • +1 for an Expert character
  • +2 as a Master
  • +3 for the rare Legendary character.

The difference in bonuses (-2 to +3) doesn’t sound huge, but I feel that the effect is going to be bigger than it seems at first glance when you consider that you also add your level, and there is something called…

Critical Success and Critical Failure

Proficiency initially seems very boring… If all characters are adding their level to most of their rolls, then why bother? Just leave it out and add just your Bonus (trained, expert etc). What this argument doesn’t consider is that it will help to keep higher level encounters challenging, and lower level encounters simple. If the characters are 3 levels lower than the opponent, then the difference in rolls is going to average out to +3 against the PCs. This should help keep rolls comparatively close together, allowing Critical Success and Critical Failures to shine.

In short, success and failure is simply a hit and a miss, respectively. But if you succeed by 10 or more, or fail by 10 or more, that’s a Critical Success or a Critical Failure.

I’m not going to go into the effects of Criticals (I can’t double check them without internet…) but if the difference between a Hit and a Critical Hit is just 10,then the difference in Level between the characters, as well as the (relatively small) Proficiency Bonuses is probably going to have a big effect.

I really like this. It still needs to be tested out in game, but it’s one of my favourite new parts of the game. In theory.

Resonance Points

From all the outrage on the internet, it’s pretty safe to say this is one of the most controversial changes.

All characters have a pool of Resonance equal to Level + CHA mod (or INT for some reason if you’re an Alchemist).

Every time (more or less – there are some exceptions) you use a consumable magic item, or once for every “permanent” magic item you put on during your daily preparations, you spend a pool of Resonance to activate that magic.

If your Resonance is reduced to zero, you can still attempt to use the item – you just need to roll a flat d20 and compare the result to 10 plus the number of Resonance Points you have “overspent” so far for the day. If you pass, you use the item with no problem. If you fail, that charge/use is wasted. If you CRITICALLY fail, you’re cut off from new magic for the rest of the day. Any “permanent” items you’ve already activated are still in effect, though.

Paizo have given two reasons for this change:

  • It reduces the spamming of wands of Cure Light Wounds.
  • It prevents Charisma being routinely used as a dump stat.

From those perspectives, it works. But I’m certainly not sold on it being a good solution, and I’m certainly not alone in that thought. However, unlike many other opinions on the internet, I’m willing to give it a go. Everything else in the rules sounds like it should more or less work, and I can’t see such a major issue making its way though to public testing if it’s utterly broken.


And that’s it – my thumbs are cramping up doing all this on my phone, so it’s all you’re getting!

If you’re one of my players tomorrow night, please make sure you’ve read through this. And if you’re not, then hopefully you’re not already sick of random people’s opinions on the Playtest rules!

Until next time,

Yours in Adventure,

Shane

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