First, let me say, I was skeptical of a second edition because I lived and suffered under the constant development of Basic, 1st Ed and 2nd Ed of Dungeon’s & Dragons. It was an arms race of hard backs and splat books seemingly for no reason other than to drain any and all ‘disposable’ income gamers in the 80s and 90s had to offer.
With the release of 3rd Ed D&D it seemed to get worse with some excellent third party sources that meshed with varying levels of balance. That was about the time pirated PDF files began circulating around the Internet saving tons of $$ and simplifying hauling libraries of expansion and rule books from game to game.
Now, digital libraries are all the rage with troves of every game imaginable available for download for those that idly run a search on the right engine.
Enter Pathfinder 2nd Ed. I purchased the Core Rulebook and Bestiary PDFs directly from Paizo on release. I perused the digital pages and discovered the fundamental differences of the fresh take on a classic system. I bought the ‘deluxe’, physical core rule book to experience the system as the publisher intended. I must say it’s a completely different experience.
From character generation to how magic and gear are presented the entire system seems like an overhaul for the sake of appealing to console and computer gamers. Then, in the second glance of the rule set, it becomes apparent that they wanted to compartmentalize everything into bite sized morsels for ease of consumption.
Character generation isn’t a matter of rolling the dice to generate the core ability scores. It’s a basic point buy system by default but you can still use the dice method if you prefer. Character creation is still a bit cumbersome as your building an alternate ego; a complete persona.
You’re supposed to begin with a character concept. Then generate the ability scores. Those base scores are modified in various ways by the character’s Ancestry, Background and Class.
Ancestry, is a more encompassing term than Race. Each Ancestry still imparts some basic details that helps your character reflect their unique racial heritage. Ancestries establish a baseline for Hit Points, Size, Speed, Ability ‘Boosts’ and ‘Flaws’, languages, traits and other special abilities. Ancestry provides Heritages to reflect variations in the racial types that impact the cosmetics of each sub-race. Finally, Ancestry Feats are earned as the character advances in level. This allows your Ancestry to influence the character’s advancement as much as their Class. No more cookie cutter elves, dwarves or even humans.
Backgrounds, if you’ve ever played 2nd Edition AD&D, are much like Secondary Proficiencies. What did your character do before becoming an adventurer? What skills did they use to earn a living? What kind of lifestyle did they live? You’ll get some bonus Feats and Skills here.
Finally, Class choices are what your character is doing now as an adventurer. Balance between all the classes has always been a hot topic but, after reviewing the system a few times I think Paizo may have managed to reach a reasonable balance.
Martial classes have been top dog since 3rd Ed D&D with access to piles of Feats through advancement and access to combat tactics that none of the other classes could really compete against.
Magic focused classes all suffered from being relegated to support ‘buff bot’ roles to keep the martial classes alive and improve their capabilities. Not playing that role was challenging and, at lower levels, really never worked.
Now, all classes have the capacity to stand on their own more reasonably providing both support and active combat capabilities. The flexibility of Class focused Feats, steady progression of Ancestry Feats and more focus on skills during play allows everyone to play their character like they want instead of being pidgin holed into a single role.
Speaking of Feats, these are not the overwhelming Feats of 3rd Ed simply rehashed. Every Feat has been ‘re-balanced’. Many of the general feats apply skill modifiers instead of arbitrarily boosting a character into nearly superhuman status. More number crunching in several ways but hopefully they keep a reign on how Feats impact game play moving forward.
The role of currency has been adjusted a bit too. Gear is no longer hundreds of coins. Starting currency is a flat 15 gold with which you can comfortably purchase starting gear. I’m guessing some one finally ran the numbers on carrying large sacks of coin and figured out how impractical it was.
Magic, as a system is always complex for a player or GM to account for effects and impact on game play. PF2E handles spell progression allowing spells to grow with the caster as appropriate. In previous editions of D&D and PF, for instance, Magic Missile projects bolt of force at an opponent for 1d4+1 damage. The caster gains an extra missile every two levels to a maximum of five missiles.
In PF2E, with their new action system you can cast one extra bolt for every action you spend for a total of 3 in a single round. In addition you can cast the 1st level spell as a 3rd level spell and gain on extra missile. This progression continues but the level of the spell increases by two for each additional missile. The only limitation being the level of spell you can cast.
A further example, Fireball, traditionally inflicts 1d6 of damage per caster level to a maximum of 10d6. Now, as a 3rd level spell, it inflicts 6d6 of damage but can be increased by 2d6 by increasing the level of the spell by one. So, a 17th level Wizard could cast a Fireball that inflicts a total of 18d6 damage as a 9th level spell.
Beyond the impact of damage from spells, D&D and PF have both been struggling with legacy spells and effects. It feels like Paizo actually walked through the list of spells and carefully considered some of the arbitrary limitations that have been propagated since 3rd Edition.
Spell duration was one of the seemingly broken things we repeatedly encountered over the last decade. Mage Armor, for example, used to be 1 hour per character level and provided a spell caster or another touched creature with a +4 bonus to armor class. PF2E took the spell, eliminated the option for use on another creature and provided scaling to keep it on par with what a Fighter might have access to at a similar level.
Now Mage Armor provides a +1 Item Bonus to AC with a maximum Dexterity modifier of +5. Heightened to a 4th level spell provides saving throws with a +1 item bonus. At 6th level the AC bonus increases to +2 and retain the +1 to saving throws. In addition, the spell remain in effect till the next day when you prepare spells.
Overall, Pathfinder 2nd Edition is not just a rehash of the overgrown 3rd Edition D&D Open Game License rules. It stands on it’s own as a definite growth and re-balance that table top gaming has been looking for since Hasbro bought WotC.
This is not going to be a simple adaptation for us older gamers. It’s a new and complex system requiring patience and some unlearning of old habits. I plan on using the new system during my next turn at the GM seat when we cycle back to Fantasy. Meanwhile, I’ve got some studying to do.