Ring Side Report- RPG Review of Pathfinder 2.0 Playtest

Product– Pathfinder Playtest

System– Pathfinder 2nd Edition

Producer– Paizo

Price– Free! here http://www.paizo.com

TL; DR– Great Crunch, Decent Fluff, Horrible Layout. 89%

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Basics-Is this the 4th edition players wanted years ago?  Pathfinder Playtest is the newest playtest from Paizo.  It is an update to the 3.5 rules Pathfinder that is based on modern design design, Starfinder, 4e DnD, and other systems to make something new the players might want and the old vanguard will love.  Let’s check out a few of the key differences.

Basics of the D20 System-Pathfinder Playtest isn’t honestly that far removed from 3.5 DnD.  It’s still just d20 + ability modifier + ranks/proficiency/attack bonus + bonuses + penalties.  Thats 90+% of the game, and that hasn’t changed. What the big differences are in how the ranks/proficiency/attack bonus is calculated.  Level is now used to determine what your bonus/ranks are. During character generation your class, race, and background will tell you what skills you are trained in.  That uses your full level for a bonus. As you advance, you can become further trained gaining up to a +3 to your ranks/proficiency. This goes for attacks as you will be trained in some weapons and not others.  You take a -2 penalty to anything you are not trained in, be it weapons or skills. Modifiers are also cleaned up with most modifiers being called “conditional modifiers”. Just like the heart of the D20 system, you apply the biggest penalty and the biggest bonus.  That’s it! Attacks, spells, and skills all fit nicely in one package to the point that when you attempt an action that requires a skill, the attempt will be against a certain level, and the GM will decide if the activity is hard or easy to check a simple DC chart. VERY SLICK!  Defences is also figured out the same way as you can be proficient to various degrees in defending yourself.

Action Economy–  The second biggest change in my opinion is the action economy.  Characters get three actions per turn. One attack is free, but you can make two more attacks at a -5 and a -10 penalty, so a level one character can swing for the fences by attacking three times!  There are no longer any full round actions. Some spells require three actions, while raising a shield uses an action instead of a swift action. Every action has a nice stat block laying out what it does.  This feels very 4e DnD, but it feels like it’s more using the better parts of layout and design and avoiding oversimplification of 4e DnD system. Again, this is a great way to get all the over complicated pieces of that grew in Pathfinder into a much more simple system.

Feats or options-Starfinder provided lots of options for characters, so no two characters, even at level one, might be quite the same.  The Pathfinder Playtest goes further with that idea. When you build your character you choose a background and then several feats.  These feats are for your race and your class. As you advance you choose more feats for race and class, so you custom build your characters as a member of the race and as a member of the class.  So, while 3.5 grognards might think of feats as a sometimes thing that provides a bit of differentiation to your character, this modern design really focuses on options. Feat really just replaces the word option in this edition.

Mixed Shenanigans-There as also several other small changes to the game.  ITEMS STILL HAVE LEVELS! That always makes me happy as I know exactly when I should give each toy to the players, and quite honestly the best thing brought over from Starfinder.  Hero Points are a fun way characters get to control the world by providing rerolls, death saves, and extra actions in combat much like edge or luck in other systems. And, the list goes on, but most of these are smaller changes that you can dig deeper into.  These are not major ways Pathfinder changes, but do reward careful digging into the rules to see new options like throwing damage into a shield instead of your face or limiting magic item usage by a new statistic. It won’t keep you from enjoying the game, but all these small things don’t really break the game you might know and love.

Alright, let’s get to my thoughts on the system and book.

Theme or Fluff-Huh, this is a playtest book for a system, why is there fluff to this book?  I’m not complaining. Honestly, I’m impressed! It uses the base Golarian world, but does include fluff on the world and its people.  It’s not a ton, but it’s enough to get a game going. I like what’s here! What does and will always piss me right off is WHY DOES EVERY NEW EDITION OF A GAME HAVE TO CHANGE NAMES FOR BASIC SPELLS!?!  The basic healing spell in Pathfinder was cure BLANK wounds. Now, it’s heal. That’s just confuses players coming from previous editions as heal was a ultra-powerful spell. Nows is level 1 necessity for a cleric.  DnD 5e called their basic spell cure wounds, just do the same. Nobody owns those words! Good fluff, but some unnecessary changes. 4.9/5

Mechanics or Crunch– This really isn’t an edition change as it is a rules clean up toward a more modern game design.  People called the previous edition of the game Mathfinder, and now I am seeing the term Featfinder thrown around. Those are fair criticisms of the game, but I don’t think those are bad by any stretch.  Paizo uses the world feat here to mean option. This game gives you a lot more options! OSR games have one path for each character. More modern design likes options, so Pathfinder 2.0 uses Starfinder ideas to really give you more options per level so you don’t have a bunch of human fighters who are basically carbon copies.   The new skill system is good as we lost the overspecialized characters being the only ones who can play in any situation. Characters can still specialize, but if I didn’t spend 10 levels working on diplomacy, I can still talk to people without sounds completely stupid or being absolutely useless when we talk to anybody. I’m just slightly worse having at most an increased 25% chance of failure compared to most other characters by skill alone.  This involves more of the party and that is always a good thing! Action economy threw me for a loop. When I first skimmed the rules I missed that you get three actions a round, so actions like readying a shield really caught me off guard. Seeing that you get three actions a turn really makes that a much better option as well as being able to multiattack at first level with increasing penalties reminiscent of full attack in Starfinder. You can see lots of lessons learned from Starfinder in this game.  Magic is still magic, but the addition of spells taking more or less actions and all spells being able to be cast at higher levels for better effects really brings in some 5e and other RPG design ideas to Pathfinder. These are great additions to the system as now players can choose to just whip a small spell quickly or to really burn a whole turn gathering eldritch might to destroy their enemies. 4.75/5

Execution-Overall, this is a well laid out book.  First, Paizo PLEASE HYPERLINK! Heck, if you send me the PDF a day early and a coupon for a 10 piece of McNuggets, I’ll hyperlink your PDF for you!  This book is hundreds of pages full of new contect, so it’s a monster PDF. A hyperlink makes that not a pain to read and move through. Second, why did you change the layout to match the DnD Essential line for character development?  Do people fondly remember those books as a giant mush table that was hard to read but kind of looked like a broken comma delimited file? DON’T DO THAT! Aside from those major issues, the book isn’t bad. It reads well, and the new layouts for spells and actions look great.  It feels like 4e design layout principles, and if you didn’t love the mechanics of 4e, you have to agree the basic layout was well done. The book could use more art, but then again, it’s free and a playtest, so the fact it’s not 400 pages of word docs means this is way above what can be expected.  I would not buy the leather bound edition of PLAYTEST RULES(!!!) with recycled art, but for a basic softcover or PDF, this works well. 3.75/5

Summary-The kids are alright!  Honestly, if this is the new system as written, I’d be happy.  I like options! If you are an OSR guy/gal, then the number of options here will be a killer.  There will be quick builds, but the point of this version is if you want to do the thing, there is a way to build the thing!  Classes, races, and backgrounds all add to the crunch and fluff mix, and the options you have will help you customize your character to your heart’s content.  The basic math feels good. I like systems where I know how hard a skill will be at each level. It’s much less hand wave-y! The mix of attack, skill, saves, and defense do make life that much easier.  And that is where the rubber will meet the road for you. That is a clear carry over from 4e DnD. I LOVED 4e DnD. It wasn’t the d20 we knew and loved, but it tried. Low level characters could not do high level things.  Your growth as a character mattered much more than your starting abilities. If you think a level 1 dude should be able to hit the Demogorgon in the eye with only slight more difficulty than a level 20 guy, then this won’t be your version of DnD/Pathfinder.  I’m honestly down for the changes! The fluff here is good. It’s WAY more than you should expect for a playtest, but it’s a fun thing that they spent some time on. What NEEDS to change is the layout of classes and abilities. Please take that from 3.5. Give me columns that say what I gain each levels, what level I gain each different feat type at, and how many spells, if any, I can cast per day.  What you have here hurts me. Its text-file vomit that is hard to read. I can do it, but it makes life hard and reading not fun. If Paizo tightens up a few things, retools the class layouts, and builds a bit more theme in to the next book, I’d be down for the leather edition of the real rules! 89%

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