Pathfinder 2 – Review Follow Up

Paizo now has a few splat books and an errata released for their second edition of Pathfinder, so I thought it was time to follow up on the vanilla campaign I’ve been running since I dropped the initial review of Pathfinder 2 last year. I’ll also be going over some things in the released errata, and rating some splat by its cover—I know I know, but read to the end there’s a method to this madness.

Let’s start with a few basics. I have a complete newbie to role-playing running around as a wizard with fighter archetype and 3 very experienced people giving other classes a go. The alchemist has gone with a wizard archetype splash because he feels the class options for enhancing his mutagen focus are lackluster at most levels and completely missing from others and I have to agree with his observation overall. The way the class reads to us, you always go a bit of explosion no matter what your focus is and that seemed kinda lame. Wizard splash helps his overall utility when doing awful things to himself isn’t the answer. Oh, yeah, before I get farther with this, these are not numerical arguments, these are how play feels. Don’t achtually me with some ridiculous 2e version of punpun that only alchemist can do—and that all DMs should just veto.

The rogue, feels very eh, at least early on. It might be my style as a GM, but I feel I’ve set this player up deliberately to succeed a few times and those successes weren’t great. She’s an experienced player, but I don’t think this is the class she thinks it is. Probably someone who could benefit trying to play a support style character in a GURPS game. I think she’s having a hard time escaping the box various forms of ‘hide in plain sight’ has left a lot of sneaky players in. They don’t care about cover or concealment they rely just on what their stealth score is, because sneaking “in the shadows”—she uses that phrase directly, day or night, rain or shine—is something they’ve become accustomed to doing. Finally, a session ago, she identified somewhere she wanted to be in order to turn it over for information, and then actually waited for an opportune time to do so. That went much better for her. You may have noticed up until now I’ve been focusing on what the player is ‘doing incorrectly’ and not on what the rogue does, but I think it’s important to talk about what rogues largely used to do and habits you might encounter with rogue players. The class itself runs afoul this in a major way, it’s no longer the “roll this whole thing of dice” damage dealer it once was. Yes, it deals damage, yes it has ways to deal bonus damage consistently, no it no longer feels as powerful in play and it seems like too much damage was traded for the consistency. In the early game, the rogue player has yet to perform a task that a ranger of her level wouldn’t be doing strictly better. In a game where everyone and their dog (literally their dog) has striking runes on something by level 4, getting far fewer bonus damage dice leaves the rogue feeling a bit too different from its old role to make smooth transitions for players familiar with other systems, including pathfinder 1. The old rogue was great at spot removal, just sneak up, deal a whole lot of damage dice to an unaware opponent and instagib it. This worked from pretty early levels. That’s just no longer the case anymore and you should warn any Rogue player that typically plays this way about this. About level 10 things can start picking up on the damage front with debilitations, but until that time they have an inferior striker role to most Rangers—an amusing aside, it is possible to build a Ranger as a dedicated but inferior skill support version of a Rogue.

The wizard on the other hand feels great, as wizards often do, but he feels great from the word go and the multi-class is helping rather than hurting—that’s something we’ll be discussing later because it’s a pretty big deal. The Champion is okay, the errata helps the companion option in a lot of ways and I like the base mechanics, which I had already tackled as GM but were nice to see in the errata none the less. I actually went farther than the errata did, because my Champion Druid hybrid should be able to mount his spider companion like a horse without gotcha penalties if he wants to, it’s clearly inside acceptable bounds of allowances. Anyway, I guess this brings me to archetypes as a whole.

I don’t like archetypes at all and it’s the wrong solution for interesting multi-classing. It benefits casting classes too much and martial classes too little, especially fighters and rangers, and there’s little reason for them to take on an archetype. The reason for that is pretty simple as archetypes do not pause the progression built in to classes, they only interrupt class feat progression. You still get all your skill feats, you still get all of your general feats, and you still get all of your other built-in progression. For vancian system casters this is obviously a world of advantage, for classes that have a great deal of their power locked behind class feats, this is frequently a trade-off at best. Fighter’s progression is basically just ‘more feats’ and the progression gained by an archetype is minimal, especially casting archetypes. You’re not even getting half or a quarter progression on the spell slots. You’ll hit level 1 spells at level 4 at the earliest, but you’ll have one spell slot, and it will likely stay one spell slot as you have to keep taking feats to get progression into higher level spells. Meanwhile, you’re making no progression on your class feats, which for Fighter or a Ranger, is a substantial hit. That’s why the party alchemist went wizard though, since his class options for mutagenist weren’t really there in the first place his opportunity cost was low to begin with. It would take some real effort to fix that, but I think I’m going to make an attempt after this campaign is over.

The errata seemed nice, slight buffs to some things, mostly clarifications, and what seemed like an unnecessary nerf to early game wizard. Even if it was a typo, a class feat at level one feels right, and it has basically no effect on high level wizard play. I like it, in our game it stays. On that note, I don’t believe it was a typo at all, there’s too much language that matches up with wizards getting a first level class feat in their class entry. Not much else for me to say about the errata, it was just mostly good housekeeping.

As for the splat there are some easy calls early on. “Advanced Players Guide” is a silly name and at this point they should be self-aware enough to just call it “Big Book of Splat”. That’s all those have been since 3rd edition D&D. I don’t mind big book of splat, I’ll probably get the PDF, but that is what they are. As for Bestiary 2, it’s real simple, I’ve already spent more than any fool should on bestiaries/monster manuals that just reprint an ever shrinking list of monsters from the previous versions, at this point I’m experienced enough just to stat my own blocks out. I will likely get future v1 Bestiary for say, Pathfinder 3, D&D 6, just for the convenience of it and to water mark power levels but I am beyond done with Bestiary 2,3,4 in any edition of anything. I also don’t like selling lore with a tiny bit of splat sprinkled in as a hook. If you aren’t as experienced as a GM, just get online and ask experienced people for guidance and build your own, or maybe they’ve done what you’re doing already and will just copy paste a stat block for you in the first place. Don’t waste money on flavor splat and reprint 8 of ‘young white dragon’. Do it yourself. Good GM screens are generally worth the money, good stuff there, and tokens and dungeon tiles is a very YMMV thing. I print my own, some people really dig getting a really professional look for a big adventure and I don’t begrudge that at all.

The big thing though is that play feels a lot smoother. Skill levels are much easier to calculate as they no longer come with point-by-point investment decisions and when someone inevitably loses their sheet or forgets to update it on the cloud it’s trivial to calculate the correction. This also applies to pesky things like attack bonus and armor class, as bonuses to each are less prevalent on items and especially less prevalent in feats. Everyone has more HP, especially at level one, and everyone has more AC unless they deliberately try to avoid having any. This prevents a lot of early game problems with scaling adversaries—so far this is also holding up in mid game. I no longer have to risk one-shotting other people to ‘challenge’ the fighter. This smoothness of play importantly doesn’t come at the cost of depth.

While it was always possible before, having downtime hard coded into the system is nice and is a good way to baseline and arbitrate player ambitions. It no longer feels like a cheat to say that a road was safe and travel went safely and you can make progress on your side-gigs because everyone was hoping they’d get waylay-ed in order to slaughter the attackers and grow their wallets. That’s a complicated way of saying that there’s less incentive to be a murder hobo and Lore skill as a baseline income was a great decision. Players who have realized their downtime money making potential behave more like GURPS players, avoiding unnecessary risk, carefully weighing a gigs risk against its payout, and I bet it’s only a matter of time before I get some player wanting to proactively seek out something related to their Lore skill in order to make it better. My players have become more cautious, even the newbie. I view that as a good thing. It’s also incentive to pack more treasure into dungeons as there’s now a clear opportunity cost versus an equivalent amount of down time. Sure, professions existed in the past and they could always be used to generate income but that was never treated like a baseline the way it is in Pathfinder 2—not in D20 systems anyway.

Adjusting to some of these nice solutions isn’t always the easiest though. As a GM I would plan out some reminders and some deliberate prompts to use the downtime systems early in a game until players get accustomed to incorporating it into their game flow. You don’t have to use this, you can ditch it and play the old way, but I recommend giving it a shot. There are adventure hooks and character growth built in to this simple change. It won’t be long before some characters are in positions of advising the ruling or business classes with their Lore skills and those opportunities practically write themselves in addition to giving some credibility to characters that are climbing the ranks of society.

In conclusion, we’re having fun with the system and the core books are worth the investment. I don’t think there’s much for the splat books to offer GMs that are very experienced across multiple systems. If this is your first rodeo you may wanna pick up the GM screen because it is super handy and then the Advanced Players Guide Big Book of Splat to liven things up later.

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