Book-ish Review: Pathfinder 2nd Edition

Book-ish Review: Pathfinder 2nd Edition

We are going full nerd today, as if coming up with D-score and gabbing about the effectiveness of various fictional villians weren’t enough already. I’m warning you now, this post is full of tabletop gamer jargon, and it’s for those people. I never intended on penning my thoughts about the second edition of the Pathfinder roleplaying game but I feel like I have a lot to say about it. I wasn’t even planning on picking it up truth be told, but I received the pre-order as a birthday gift from my old players. I haven’t run a game of anything in years but when I was running, it was D&D, GURPS, and Pathfinder.

It’s been well over a decade since Pathfinder came out and the idea that there would be a second edition at all was hardly an expectation. Paizo publishing seemed pretty content with their content cycle and there didn’t seem to be any pressure to iterate from my perspective. Most things prone to having a second version usually do so before they hit a decade old, yet here we are. In the limbo period between knowing the core rulebook was coming and actually getting it I broke into a research period. Apparently there was a public play test that had been going on for quite some time and the goal of this second version was to be more streamlined and more accessible while still retaining mechanical depth.

I don’t think Paizo achieved that goal. I’ve been reading the manual every day for a week now, and there are still things I’m still learning, basic things—I’m running a game for a group in roughly another week and session zero is tomorrow. There are always rules that are more vague than they ought to be in any of these things but how much HP you gain every level shouldn’t have been one of them. Had I not stumbled on a post correcting me just today, my players would have been receiving far too much HP per level past the first. The problems don’t stop there, obvious grammatical errors and half-updates from the play test found their way into the final version. I know I know, in most circumstances complaining about grammatical accuracy would be me throwing stones from glass houses, but I’m not the one publishing a 600+ page rule book that’s entirely grammar bound. For those of you that already own it—physical copy, who knows when it will be fixed in PDF after all—if you turn to the arcane spell list short-descriptions for third level you will see Paralyze on it. The text of Paralyze will indicate that it can only target humanoids. If you go to the full text description, it is clearly all creatures. Since paralyzing creatures and humanoids were distinct spells in third edition D&D, I spent the next 15 minutes looking for the ‘creature’ version of paralyze based on the short description. It doesn’t exist. That was confusing indeed. There’s an errant comma in a Halfling weapon proficiency ancestry feat that, if you don’t ignore it, makes meeting the prerequisites impossible. Other errors and vagueness litter Pathfinder’s second edition core rule book and make an already complex system frustrating to learn. God forbid I try to teach a player new to RPGs in total through this. I’ve had the thought more than once that I should seriously consider running GURPS instead for games where Pathfinder 2 seems like a good solution.

Okay Henry I get that there are a few typos and misprints but that’s not what makes a system complicated, and you’d be right so let’s get to that. In Pathfinder 1 you start by selecting a combination of starting attributes in your main ability scores and a race. These choices underpin your character and only come up at level one. Your race never changes again and your stats don’t change very much either. From that point you select your class—normally anyway, some people figure out what class they play before they know the other bits, bear with me—and your class comes with a nice progression table that while not intuitive puts the bulk of your character progression all in one place. Every so often you take ‘feats’ to further customize your character, and there’s a giant list of them. In Pathfinder 2 you start by picking your race, this gives you some boosts to your abilities based on your choice (you no longer choose your ability scores separately by default) and also gives you access to a pool of ancestry feats, which essentially are all the racial abilities of Pathfinder 1 chopped into morsels and served slowly rather than all upfront. You acquire more of these ancestry feats as you level. You get some HP from this choice as well. Then you choose your background, this gives you more boosts to your ability scores, skill proficiencies, and a predetermined skill feat. From there, you choose your class, which gives you more HP, more boosts to your ability scores, and access to another pool of feats—we’re at three pools of feats now, ancestry, class, skill, four if you’re human, they can pick from the general pool right away if they choose too, which everyone gets access to at level 3. With me so far? Also, classes retain their list of class abilities, that are not feats, but things you just get automatically as the class levels. Finally, you get another pile of ability boosts to spread as you please. Some people have judged the former system as more complicated than the latter, and I honestly can’t understand what they mean. Just because Paizo says 2nd edition is more streamlined than 1st does not make it so. There are newbie traps galore, like multi-classing into Fighter from Wizard being strictly superior than going the other direction for the purposes of building a front line battle wizard. Don’t get me started on multi-classing itself, which would be another paragraph worth of text to explain clearly.

This is all a matter of managing expectations, something I think Paizo publishing should be more careful with. So far I’ve been very negative, but I do actually like the system so far, I love my crunch—I wouldn’t run GURPS if I didn’t—and I’m going to enjoy running game in Pathfinder 2e. We’re going to run into questions about the rules during the game, and I’m okay with that, and I’m studying hard to make sure that if I don’t know the answer I at least know where to look. Paizo however, marketed on less crunch, less fiddlyness, less complication, more ease of access. I don’t think those valuations were accurate of the new system. To be honest, based on their marketing, I was looking forward to a more meaty and mechanically deep version of D&D 5th Edition. I also don’t appreciate that there was day 1 splat in the published adventure paths(pre-made adventures designed to allow me to skip a lot of the work in coming up with an adventure on my own). Erh, I guess I should explain splat. Splat is additional rules that come to a system, and up until now, were generally contained in books that were published after launch, usually as a group of new rules. These are collectively called ‘splat books’. This time the new rules and options come in the form of adventure paths but more importantly, these ‘new’ rules were launched the same day as the new system but not included in the core rule book. This reeks of on-disc DLC in the video game industry. Add-ons should be just that, add-ons. These rule books aren’t cheap—your book wouldn’t be either if it were as big, as thick, and used as much color ink— and all the rules and character options available on day one should be in the ‘Core Rulebook’.

As for the book itself, minus the grammatical errors and misprints I pointed out above, you can look forward to the predictably awesome artwork of Pathfinder, the full color large pages with easy to read print in pleasant fonts. The paper weight is just right, and the finish of the paper is on point, though it does catch the light at shallow angles. It’s big, heavy, and imposing, a plus for me. This product is so niche I can’t give a recommendation one way or the other. If you’ve made it this far, you likely already know if this is the game system for you. Happy gaming, and don’t forget to shame bad dice!