Pathfinder Second Edition Core Rulebook (PF2)
The core rules for the second edition of Pathfinder clock in at 642 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 2 pages ToC, ¾ of a page SRD, 2 pages advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 634 ¼ pages of content, so let’s take a look!
So, Pathfinder Second Edition. I believe I should first specify where I’m coming from: I’m a huge fan of the first edition. Heck, I’ve reviewed literally thousands of PF1-books. I’ve also spent a lot of time with Pathfinder Playtest, and had complaints regarding that book that rendered me rather conflicted about the second edition.
Opening the second edition’s covers, we notice something good from the get-go: The book explains, in a concise and easy to grasp manner, with bolding of key components, the basics of the game. This is very much welcome, and in contrast to PF Playtest, which beat you over the head with complex concepts without explaining key-terms – so we’re off to a promising start. Indeed, the most crucial improvement on a formal level over PF Playtest is easily organization, something I loudly complained about back then – for example, we get tables that list ancestries and classes and their key ability scores, flaws, secondary ability scores, etc. This makes grasping the game easier for newbies. This extends to a step-by-step guide to make characters that is simpler and easier to grasp – the presentation if more concise, and we do get a spread-sheet summary of basics of races and classes, a quick reference, and step-by-step go through the filling out of the character sheet.
This being a review of the core game, I believe it is not helpful to go into the details of every bit of rules-relevant component; instead, I’ll attempt to convey what Pathfinder’s second edition is, and what it isn’t.
To make this abundantly clear from the get-go: Pathfinder’s second edition does not have much in common with the first edition, and it does not attempt to ape D&D 5th edition either. It is a game of its own. Both are mindsets I initially admittedly had – I expected either a further development of the first edition’s rules, or a 5.75 of sorts, similar to what Pathfinder’s first edition did with D&D 3.5 back in the day. If you expect either of these things, you may be somewhat flabbergasted by this game – this is not what Pathfinder second edition is all about.
There are similarities, sure – there still are feats, races are now called ancestries, and the ability score modifiers apply to the same extent as before – Strength 16 means you have a +3 modifier, for example. There are still feats that can only be taken by certain species, and indeed, these are more important now – ancestry feats are an important thing, and in Pathfinder second edition, matter more than for many races in PF1. Indeed, the ancestries have core benefits, the heritages, which actually have a significant impact on the playing experience. So that’s a plus.
While I have commented on the improved organization of the book, there is one aspect where it fails hard from a didactic point of view: It explains its combat actions etc. LONG after the ancestries, backgrounds and classes, which means that many of the rules featured in them will make no sense to you, unless you’ve read that section as well. Why not explain encounter mechanics first, and THEN let the players make informed choices? This is an unnecessary complication, one I believe was made to maintain the ABC of ancestries, background, classes in the beginning, which ultimately is a gimmick, but nothing more. In this way, the book mirrors the organizational shortcomings that annoyed me to bits in 5e.
First, you explain the game. THEN you let folks make characters. Not that hard per se, right?
While we’re on the subject matter of things that I don’t like: The new default speed, unless you’re playing an elf or dwarf, is 25 feet. This may not be an issue for people using and thinking in the imperial system, but I was born and raised with the metric system, which also makes mathematically more sense to me. That being said, I never had issues grasping the basic size relations in RPGs – 30 feet equals 9 meters. 20 feet equals 6 meters. Elegant. Simple.
Even if you think in meters, that’s something you can learn to understand pretty quickly. 25 feet…equals 7.5 meters. Utterly opaque. I am willing to bet that, no matter how much I play the game, I will NEVER have a firm mental grasp of how much 7.5 meters are. Slightly less than 9 meters. By approximately half of a small person, and less than half of an opaque average value for human sizes- …yeah, that doesn’t help me at all. I can have a rough idea, but I’ll never be able to precisely see the distance in my mind’s eye. Why am I harping on this? While I often use battle maps, I can narrate complex tactical situations in mind’s eye theater, and with this…I won’t be able to do that. It might seem petty to you, but it’s a big strike for me as a person. That being said, I will not have this influence the final verdict, because it’s not an issue for people accustomed to the imperial system, and I can’t assume that my problem here is shared with all people accustomed to the metric system. As an aside: The change of default speed also provides a basic form of incompatibility with previously released content – one that can really trip up the GM, so please be aware of that. And yes, I get why. It’s got something to do with the changed 3-action economy and the size of the average flip mat. It still is something that proved to be problematic for me.
Anyhow, some more notes on ancestries, and namely, how they work: There are feats, and heritages. Heritages require that you choose one, and in a way, I don’t get why they’re the way they are. Let’s take the death warden dwarf. That heritage makes successes on saving throws versus necromancy critical successes instead. Umbral gnomes or cavern elves get darkvision as their heritage benefit. Notice something? You do choose, but the choices per se seem like there will be a ton of redundancy in the future. How many races will have a heritage that nets darkvision? How many will have a heritage that transforms a success into a critical success? The answer is, to spoil that for you: A TON. And I’m already bored by seeing them, because, you know, you get ONE heritage. Contrast those with e.g. the Whisper elf, who gets a 60-foot cone instead of a 30-foot cone when using Seek. That is…kinda more interesting. But, again, it is something we’re bound to see from other ancestries. In a way, heritages feel a bit like arbitrarily-restricted ancestry feats. In a way, these heritages don’t feel too tied to the species. Humans, in case you were wondering, still are very potent – their heritages include becoming trained in a skill, or get a bonus general feat. Oh, and a level 1 human feat can net you a 1st level class feat, which is a HUGE advantage for any character. So yeah, humans are very potent.
But I’m getting lost in the details, so let’s once more return to the big picture, shall we? Pathfinder’s second edition
Pathfinder’s second edition is a game that has a very tightly-wound math. This may not be evident at first glance, but upon delving deeper, it becomes readily apparent. This is at once one of the greatest strengths of the system, and one of its greatest weakness – which of the two apply to you and yours ultimately is contingent on personal preference. Let me elaborate: From the very core of the game, we have critical successes and failures contingent on beating or failing to beat a DC by +10 or -10, respectively. This degrees of success or failure paradigm is something I very much enjoy, However, it also makes a few things clear: There is a bounded accuracy paradigm at play here – and this is very prominently by the proficiency system: Untrained characters get +0, trained characters +2, expert +4, master +6, and legendary +8. Additionally, the character’s level is added to all but the untrained proficiency in respective checks. These proficiency ranks feature as a deeply ingrained component of the game in pretty much everything. It should become apparent that, at +8, the proficiency bonus alone can’t elevate a success to a decisive success. That being said, my math tests resulted in a general notion that legendary will make you only fail on 1s on relevant skills. Oh, take 10 is gone, so a degree of reliability is gone – which, I assume, will in the long run help in the regard of making proficiency rank matter more.
This brings me to a core design component I enjoyed in a way, but also somewhat bemoaned: In Pathfinder’s first edition, starting at mid levels, the specialization chasm began, at the very latest, to loom very widely. The rogue would have ridiculous amounts of Stealth, while the other characters wouldn’t; you’d be either excellent at something, or suck to the point where rolling the check was a waste of time. Pathfinder’s second edition gets rid of this issue by emphasizing two things: With a smaller range for the math to work in, ability score modifiers become more important. So does the level. If you’re a level 10 character, the difference between being trained and an expert in something becomes much less important. +2 difference vs. +10 gained by levels. Even a legendary proficiency would offer less of a boost than the full character level. Being trained, however, is very important, because it unlocks the level boost – in the example above, being untrained vs. trained means a difference of a whopping +12. This system allows for the creation of more streamlined adventure writing and means that high-level characters will be more universally useful, instead of being specialists. I don’t yet have enough playing experience to discern whether I prefer this take, or the first edition’s hyper-specialization. That being said, there are more ways to become better than in the Playtest, so there is a bit more difference between being sucky and being good. Still, one can’t expect the same range of different skillsets in Pathfinder 2nd edition.
On the plus-side, this mechanic extends to basically everything, replacing BAB, saves, etc. – which makes explaining the game quicker and provides a sense of unification of previously disparate concepts. E.g. the highest two proficiency ranks are restricted to the higher levels, while you can potentially start with up to third rank. This means that levels and ability scores are more important than the proficiency, but I do like that you can now be bad at something.
Now, backgrounds deserve some applause, in that they very much matter in contrast to the traits of PF1, and they provide very tangible benefits – but on the other hand, I fail to see the difference between many heritages and backgrounds. It may just be me being somewhat anal-retentive – I think that heritages should reflect biological components, and the other stuff should be ancestry feats and/or backgrounds, but that may be me. That being said, there are MANY more backgrounds than in the playtest, which is a GOOD thing.
Speaking of good things: Beyond feats, there are some serious decisions at first level; this is a huge advantage over 5th edition, where the choices , for many classes, start mattering at 3rd level. So yeah, good thing. Speaking of things that this does well: In contrast to Pathfinder Playtest, each of them comes with a sidebar that lists suitable choices for you – want to play chirurgeon alchemist? Check the sidebar. Want to play an animal rager barbarian? Check the sidebar. This is an excellent way for new players to prevent choice-paralysis. That being said, layout is not 100% as efficient as I’d expect it here – each of the classes has its cool icon, and there is necessarily some overlap between the classes and their presentation; if a class feat exists for two classes, it’ll be there multiple times. That being said, I once again understand the choice, and for a core book, this is smart: Each class chapter contains all the rules for each class, which means you can print out everything for one class, be done.
On the downside, you will be rereading the same paragraph over and over. If I have to read “In addition to the abilities provided by your class at 1st level, you have the benefits of your selected ancestry and background, as described in Chapter 2.” One more time…These feel like filler. On the other hand, the class tables are condensed to a point where they lose any ability to parse them efficiently. They have a whopping 2 (!!) columns: One for the level, and the rest is a frickin’ wall of text. WHY? My eyes glaze over whenever I try reading one of them. How hard would it have been to have a column for ancestry feat, one for skill feats, one for class feats, one for ability boosts and one for class features? Not hard. And it’d allow for swift and simple parsing of information.
On the plus-side: Each class offers a TON of choice, including e.g. monks and wizards. Wizards of different arcane theses (a super-important 1st level choice) will feel radically different from each other. Monks and fighters, on the other hand, do not get such a choice and instead relegate the customization to a combination of fixed class features and class feats – there is a lot of diversity here, but unlike most of the classes, these two do not have the same subclasses. The fighter is pretty novel, in that it clearly has had some fans of a certain OotS-fighter among the design team – the class now clearly rewards playing smart and knowing when to use what class feat. It is no longer a grab bag and a “hit it”-class – meaningful choices abound. This is good.
Not so good: Let’s talk about the druid – it has been nerfed, but the primal list now includes spells such as lightning bolt…and the class has a choice between orders: Shapechanger, blaster, leshy familiar + healing, or animal companion – you must choose one. You can get the stuff later, but you’ll have to spend class feats on those if you don’t get the order. Oh, and the class feat shows up at 2nd level, not at first. So you can quickly, potentially, have more than one order’s abilities, but it’ll cost you. I like the druid class per se, but compared to the ranger, the companion option is much better when taking the entire package into account. Still, less overpowered than in Pathfinder’s 1st edition. The cleric wasn’t changed too much, but THANKFULLY, we can now decide between being an old-school cleric, or being essentially a white mage. This is another decision I very much applaud. While we’re on the subject of divine classes: Paladins are now a subset of the champion class, which is essentially the defensive tank martial. So yeah, we have a functional defense class. As an aside on defense: Shields now actually NEGATE hits. Shields matter. Big time.
Sorcerers have drastically different feeling as well, with the bloodline influencing the magic tradition from which you draw your spells – divine, primal or occult sorcerers? Very much possible. In case you’re new to the tradition concept: Spell-access is now by tradition – arcane, divine, occult, primal. Smart future-proofing. As an aside: if you were like me and hated the Playtest sorcerer, it has grown tremendously – for the first time, they feel like a class of their own, with flexibility being tantamount. No longer late spells gained, and in fact, they get more castings per day and spells. Oh, and the barbarian? We are no longer locked into totems. That’s a very good thing – instead, we choose instincts for the barbarian – a good piece of advice here: Please do read the entire class here. This class, ironically, rewards planning more than others, as there is much building on instincts. Love it to bits.
Speaking of love: The rogue is awesome. They can use their key ability score. Oh, and combat-relevant skill-based tricks. This may well be the best rogue that has ever been; from swashbuckler to street thugs, the new class encompasses a super wide-variety of concepts. And yes, there is a means to get Dex to damage from the get-go. Or play a Strength-based brute. This may be the coolest class herein. While we’re talking scoundrels: The bard is now the designated full-caster for the occult tradition, and as such, most builds of the bard will want to stay out of melee…unless (!!) skilled for melee and/or multiclassed. Multiclassing with Pathfinder’s second edition is a much smoother experience, and tends to generate valid builds. I have tested the system rather extensively, but it is in the nature of the game that some weaknesses may come to light there – for now, multiclassing is much more viable and generally makes the need for e.g. a magus class debatable.
The alchemist, heavily revised during playtest, and traditionally one of my favorite classes, has been improved regarding its balance…for the most part. It’s best to think about them as item-based casters now, which brings me to a pretty hefty problem for them, one that I believe should be rectified sooner, rather than later: Their equipment is heavy. Alchemist’s tools have a Bulk of 2 alone. Formula book? Bulk 1. I am not a fan of this, but yeah. While we’re on the subject of items, the book does feature starting packages by class (YEAH!) and item traits, such as being flexible, or specializations, make them matter more: Leather armor nets resistance to bludgeoning damage, plate for slashing weapons, etc. – and these can scale with magic. Weaponry similarly matters more – agile weapons will, for example, be your go-to weapon for off-hand attacks, as they reduce the penalty for multiple attacks. Deadly weapons increase their damage by the indicated die size on critical hits, etc. – in short: Weapon choice matters more. At this point, I should also mention that I welcome the implementation of a silver standard and less bloated prices – shear off a zero from most PF1 prices, and you’ll have a rough idea. Weapons have changed, btw. – striking runes increase damage dice, potency the to hit – so the system is different from the PF Playtest iteration.
Now, I have, apart from my initial observations regarding proficiencies not really touched upon skills, and this is because they are quite a bit more prescriptive and loose at the same time, if that makes any sense. Each skill lists a variety of different things you can do with, with certain skill uses, somewhat like skill unlocks, being locked behind a minimum proficiency. And then, there are the skill feats – these allow for differentiation between different users of the same skill: You’re trained in Acrobatics? Well, do you want the Cat Fall or the Steady Balance feat? You can take both, but that’ll be an additional feat slot. The skills are also relevant and require some close reading, because combat maneuvers now tend to be executed with skills, and because the skills explicitly note their actions. Skills with the Attack descriptor count as an attack, and thus forcing stuff open or grappling does mean that you incur penalties when attacking after using a skill this way. Grapple is streamlined, simple and based on Athletics, in case you were wondering. Oh, and something I loved: Medicine, Heal’s successor, is now, with the proper skill feats in tow, sufficiently efficient to make a character who invested in it the primary healer. Sans magic. That is great news. As a side-note, because it’s easy to overlook: You can take skill feats instead of general feats!
Ah, feats. As much as I generally like what Pathfinder’s second edition does, I can’t get past the fact that everything is feats now. Ancestry feats, class feats, skill feats, general feats, etc. Yes, PF1’s talent-based classes also had quasi-feats, but there was some psychological trick going on there. If you chose first feats, then talents, it felt like different tasks. Whereas now, you choose feats, and then more feats…and some more feats for good measure. I think this isn’t that clever, as using the same word to denote all of them implies a parity in power between the different groups that simply is not there. That being said, I found myself not minding the flood of feats as much as in PF Playtest, because both feats and classes have changed to allow for more diversification, and feel and play less uniform. PF Playtest had sanded off too much, and now we get more stuff that is not feats. From a design-perspective, this may be the biggest incision in Pathfinder’s second edition – before, you could relatively easily wrap complex changes to the base-engine in one massive package. Eliminate ability x here, grant z and y there. Individually, z and y may have been weaker than x, but with progression gain variance and the like, there was a lot to tinker with, also courtesy to Pathfinder 1st edition’s pretty loose math.
For Pathfinder’s second edition, I predict design to be more limited in scope, and harder to balance as a whole – I firmly believe that it is harder to design class options, etc. for this game, and that it will require deeper understanding, because the modularity is there, but it’s pretty much mostly in the fine-grained aspects of the game. Class hacks will require some serious checking. This tightly-wound math can also be observed in the spellcasting engine.
Pathfinder’s second edition utilizes essentially an “At Higher levels.” Option, here called “Heightened” – save that it works in two distinct ways – there are heightening effects that apply per spell level above the spell’s usual spell level, and thresholds of sort: Say, a fireball increases damage per spell level, but another spell may have a distinct an alternate/modified second use at 3 spellslots higher, but only that means of heightening it. I like this. It provides a lot of design flexibility in that regard. However, it also means that one has to carefully check the existing material, particularly the cantrips, which are now super strong and something you’ll be casting a lot – they scale automatically over the levels. There also are Focus spells, which can’t be prepared per se and instead use a Focus point pool that may be slowly replenished. These Focus Point pools are tracked by source – you can have multiple pools. I’ve already mentioned traditions. Spellcasting ties in with the action economy – as you probably know, you have three actions per round, and each aspect of casting (verbal, somatic, material) translates to one action. However, there are exceptions: Heal, for example, can be cast as one action (range touch), 2 actions (range 30 ft.) or three actions (AoE 30-foot emanation). I really like this. The spell descriptors also allow for pretty simple customization, and the formatting is quick and simple to parse. The game has a concentration-like mechanic akin to 5e, with sustained spells. Some notes: Spells don’t properly specify what material components they use. It’s just a small flavor thing, but having “material” in the component line without an actual, you know, material, makes the spells slightly less magical, slightly more sterile to me. Secondly, unless specified by the spell, touch spells no longer require an attack roll.
Now, I’ve danced around this for the longest time, so let’s come to what indubitably, at least for me, is the most important aspect of the system: The action system. Yes, I like the system of having 3 actions and the reaction. I LOVE how the encounter mode (i.e. combat) now specifies EVERYTHING. Crawl? Check. Interact? Check. Leap? Check. Release, Ready, Seek , Step? All there. The base engine has been improved in a VAST manner. No longer x different actions for x different modifications. Interact. Boom. There. Done. As an aside: Raising a shield costs one of these actions, which is an apt cost for the awesome defensive power this often maligned item-class finally grants.
This system has far-ranging implications:
It makes running combat with exciting terrain etc. easier; it allows for the combination of puzzles, versatile battle-fields, etc. with the game, and from grabbing an edge to Pointing targets out, the system is smooth as silk. I ADORE IT. It’s the best thing about the whole system. What it means? It means that there is no more excuse for boring trade-blows combats; no more excuses for not having tilting arenas, complex rituals, fights atop vast planetariums, etc. This system is both a boon for the GM and an obligation for adventure Writers – if you can’t make combat exciting with this, then you should seriously reconsider. More so than in any other system, this practically demands complex and versatile encounters. I hope we’ll get what this promises. For me, how well this is utilized will make or break the game, because no other game I know manages to blend tactical components with a concise base frame-work that still is wide open as well as this one does. This system will have to account, in a way, for the limitations that have been imposed on the character capability side of things, courtesy of the incisions in skill utility. SO yeah, the base combat action system is a thing of pure beauty. I love it.
There is one rules component that I do NOT like within the core chassis of the game. Dying. In short, Pathfinder second edition is pretty softcore. When reduced below 0 HP, you get dying 1, and then you proceed on this weird recovery roll mini-game, where you can gain or lose up to two steps of dying, plus any incurred from the wounded condition. The rules here are so convoluted and sucky in their presentation that I had to read the rules (which are per se dead simple!) 4 (!!!) frickin’ times to finally grasp it. Sequence of information, explanation – the rules are easy, but how they are explained? Totally bassackwards and as convoluted as can be to me. This is particularly annoying since the “wounded” condition is a per se good idea. It simulates being wounded in a meaningful manner and can generate some tension. The thing is that the presentation of this whole rules-complex feels odd, curiously unrefined in comparison with the rest of the book.
There is another thing I consider a blemish, but to a lesser degree in the overall shape of things.
I HATE that two of the most common things you’ll be doing are called “Strike” and “Stride” – they sound too much alike. What did you do? “I stri.*mumbles/eats chips/drinks Dew, etc..” “What?” “I attack!” – just dumb. Additionally, to me, “Stride” does not elicit a notion of walking in battle.
Know what “stride” evokes for me?
The image that inevitably pops up in my head, including soundtrack?
Some model guy or gal, totally over the top and pseudo-aesthetic, striding and strutting along on the catwalk in a hilarious manner. Whenever someone says “I Stride…” I picture them Zoolander-ing towards the enemy, hips swaying, weaponry whipping to-and-fro, potentially including a duck-face.
This, to me, breaks all immersion and heroic momentum. To the point where I will BAN the use of “Stride” as a designation of the movement in combat in my game. I Move. Done. I get why this was done. “Move” can mean more things, but why not “March”? It’s still ridiculous, but at least it’s got the martial component. Unlike “Stride” – which also just now reminded me of an asinine, bubbly poprock-song. Blergh. The justification for using a word exclusively for the action also falls flat when doing a quick search of the book and realizing that there are instances where “Strike”, for example, is used in a capacity where it does not pertain to the action.
Exploration mode’s explanation mode could have been a bit tighter in how it’s explained – but THANKFULLY it’s no longer as annoying as PF Playtest – it’s more free-form, and same goes for Downtime mode.
The second system I like would to highlight as an improvement over PF Playtest would be the magic items – resonance is gone, and while I was one the guys who liked the notion, if not the implementation of resonance – this is, in a way, handled with invest an Item – a limited action, and activation is similarly well covered. Magic items are pretty much what you’d expect. Hero points are now core, and net a reroll, and can automatically make you get back up from dying. Good call. The streamlining and how things work also extends to magic items – once you’ve understood how spells work, you get how items work. You get how everything works. The entry barrier to understand the system is low, to master it? Higher! (And this is good!) This also extends to GMs – flip open pages 503-504, and there you have the sample DCs by level. The condition list is also comprehensive (though staggered is gone!), and I like the doomed condition, which a clever GM can use to get rid of the dying-rules stuff. The game also provides a massive glossary.
Editing and formatting are top-notch. Layout adheres to a gorgeous two-column full-color standard and the book features a lot of cool full-color artwork. For the most-part, I love the information presentation, with the asinine class tables text-walls and the dying condition explanation being two of the few examples where the presentation isn’t as good as it should be. Usability and accessibility of the material has improved in HUGE steps. I can’t comment on the physical book, since I don’t own it yet. The book’s pdf-version comes fully bookmarked and with a version where each of the chapters comes as a separate pdf as well. Most importantly: This reads like a GAME. Not like a programming manual. Even with my background in IT, I had no fun with PF Playtest’s book; I very much enjoyed this one. So yeah, on a formal level, this succeeds at things where I had pegged it for abject failure after the Playtest core rules.
Let me reiterate: This work of game designers Logan Bonner, Jason Bulmahn, Stephen Radney-MacFarland and Mark Seifter, with additional writing by James Jacobs, and Adam Daigle, Lyz Liddell and Erik Mona as developers, is more than I had hoped it’d be. MUCH MORE.
Pathfinder Playtest did not work for me; this does.
There are plenty of reasons for that: From the classes feeling less uniform to the presentation being less sterile to a ton of small choices throughout, this is a far superior book, and I certainly wished I had this on my shelf instead of the Playtest manual. 😉 That’s a good thing.
That being said, there is one thing you need to know: Pathfinder second edition is very much a game of choices and builds, but compared to Pathfinder’s first edition, the choices happen on the individual level. With the exception of a couple of class feat trees, all relevant choices happen on the small scale. In a way, the design space to make characters seems both more varied in the small tidbits and via multiclassing, but also less open than in Pathfinder’s 1st edition. I could rattle off a whole array of builds I can’t realize with the game, at least not yet. And as a designer, I can see design space as being less open. Take a look at polymorph spells and their options, and you’ll realize what I mean. The math is tight…and some of the leeway that the previous system granted is simply not there anymore. The result is a more streamlined experience, which probably is a good thing for most tables and for organized play in particular. At the same time, it does make me slightly sad.
On the character side, this game does, at least so far, not exactly blow me away. It’s not a train-wreck, and it certainly provides more options than e.g. D&D 5e does, but I’m not sure it will have the same excessive character-building staying power as Pathfinder 1st edition. Particularly regarding the skill-section, which takes a lot of things that were previously widely available and locks them up behind skill feats, which, combined with the limited benefits bestowed by proficiency and the comparable importance of ability score modifiers, makes this part of the system feel the most underwhelming to me. If you expect this grand strength of Pathfinder’s first edition to resurface, you might be disappointed. This is a very different game, and I can see groups playing both systems and telling vastly different stories with them. Do not expect any backwards compatibility regarding the type of story you tell, or their flow.
On the plus-side, the streamlined combat action system and the universally applied chassis that tightly codifies spells and items, and PF2’s tightly-codified encounter mode array also mean that I dare to hope for the most exciting modules ever penned for a d20-based game. Scratch that. I expect to see them. This system leaves no excuse for lazy “you walk into an invisible damage line”-traps, no excuse for boring “fight two orcs in a corridor” standard-BS. I very much want to complete rituals while holding off hordes of foes, seal portals, activate complex mechanisms while in a gigantic clockwork of whirling gears, and I want to interact with a ton of weird features, hazards and traps. PF2’s mighty core encounter engine demands being used. And I really, really want to see it, because, if handled properly, the engine can account for things that no other RPG does this well. In this component, Pathfinder second edition is king.
Pathfinder’s second edition, much to my surprise, turned out to be the game I had hoped for, but did not expect to get. In a way, I am glad that Paizo went through this tome after the disillusioning playtest, and changed language and as much as they did. This is a vastly superior game, and one that makes me confident once more for the future of this new, radically different Pathfinder.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I *still* don’t like the goblin as a core race. I am *still* not sold on the ranger’s viability in long-term play. I’m *still* not happy with the “everything is feats”-angle.
But, in spite of all my complaints and nitpicking, I do consider this to be an exceedingly well-designed, and more importantly, fun, game. It is a different game than I expected, with different strengths and weaknesses. But its massive strengths do shine rather brightly. One could say, it Strides, with swaying hips, into the limelight, and it’s beautiful to look at.
Whether it can retain its longevity will be contingent on how player options evolve, and the quality of the adventures and how well they manage to realize the game’s strengths. The one thing for certain at this point, is that it will evolve in a different manner than Pathfinder’s first edition did.
This is a completely distinct game, and just because you liked Pathfinder’s first edition does not means you’ll like this one – and vice versa: If you hated Pathfinder’s first edition, you might well love the second edition!
Final verdict. Oh, so, this is difficult for me. I can see this system excel, and there are components of it that I indubitably consider superior to all of its competitors. At the same time, it does have a couple of aspects that rub me the wrong way, from the aforementioned to the lack of a global reaction (why not make Aid Another that?), which results in Attack of Opportunity being used to explain reactions. Why is this problematic? Only very few characters have even the option to execute attacks of opportunity anymore, when they previously were globally available! Unless I botched big time, the book does not feature a single reaction that everyone can use, so something had to be chosen…but why this one? Anyways, slinking too far back down into the murk of details.
As a whole, I consider Pathfinder’s second edition to be a success. In some aspects, it shines like a radiant gem, while in others, it has some blemishes, at least to my sensibilities. Still, in many of its components, it is a success, and more of a success than Pathfinder’s first edition core book ever was. So, my final verdict will be 4.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo – at least for now, as I watch it Stride boldly forward into a new age… and try not to giggle.
Snark aside, great game, I’m looking forward to seeing how Paizo and the 3pps out there will polish and evolve it further down the line. Particularly in the adventure/terrain/hazard-department, I expect great things indeed!
You can get this massive game here on Paizo!
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