Pathfinder 2nd Edition Playtest: The First Gimpse

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The First Glimpse Of Pathfinder's Second Edition

A few days ago, Paizo released the playtest for incoming second edition of their widely popular Pathfinder RPG. The >full package< contains the rulebook, the bestiary, "Doomsday Dawn"—a set of seven test adventures, tracking sheet to makes notes for the incoming playtest survey, and four pages of flip maps, that someone with really good printer could print for the sessions... Printing them on a cheap, character sheet-grade printer (like the one I have) would be probably a waste of ink/toner, however.

The files present publishing-grade quality, with the rulebook and the adventure book containing illustrations typical for Paizo (and most if not all of them new). Regretfully, bestiary lacks those and is more concise than the typical Pathfinder monsters books. Monster entries are designed for the playtest and not an actual game, providing mechanics with only two to three sentence description for each monster.

Note that there is still almost year until the game is published, so everything is flux, and what I write here is what is presented now. It might be changed later because of feedback and testing.

Basic Rules
Second edition is not so much a rework, as the case of the system being disassembled into component parts and rebuild from scratch using a similar frame, keeping some of the core ideas, discarding others, and reinventing a lot. We still have races (renamed "ancestries"), classes, levels, ability scores, spells, skills, feats (a lot of feats in fact), checks, saving throws, attack rolls, AC, and check DCs. All of that seen changes and adjustments, sometimes quite significant.

For starters, the game drops base attack bonus, base saving throws, and skill ranks, instead introducing proficiency ranks. Basically anything that is related to a d20 roll involves a proficiency rank, ranging from untrained (–2), trained (+0), expert (+1), master (+2), and legendary (+3), with the numbers I listed in parentheses added to the character's level to get a proficiency modifier. Whenever you make a check (except flat checks), you make a d20 roll and add your ability score and the appropriate proficiency modifier, so a 10th level fighter with expert rank in Medicine skill and Wisdom score of 16 adds +14 to his Medicine check, plus any other bonuses and penalties that might affect him at the moment. This inflates numbers quite fast, but the Difficult Class of challenges raises at similar rate. The same method is used to determine AC and DC of spells and abilities, except they add 10 instead of roll, so the same 10th level fighter with master proficiency in Perception will offer DC of 25 to a pick pocket trying to steal his purse. Other modifiers tend to be lower than in the first edition, so while the numbers rolled escalate quickly, there is no such wild spread among them as in the first edition where DCs of challenges were reaching the point where characters competent in them were passing them easily while other characters of the same level had no practical chance of succeeding. On the other hand it leads to ridiculous situations where high level character that should be completely incompetent in some field still easily beats an expert of much lower level. For example, a 20th level crude barbarian with Charisma 8, has +17 total bonus to Deception checks, easily fooling fifth level noble diplomat with her DC of 19. Some of the activities and skill uses require having certain proficiency rank (for example you can lie while untrained in Deception, but you need trained rank to use Feint in combat).

Another novelty (for a Pathfinder that is), is introduction of grades of success. If the d20 check beats the DC by 10, or when the natural 20 was rolled and the check succeeded, the result if a critical success. If the roll failed by 10, or a natural 1 was rolled while result would be a failure, a critical failure occurs. Many activities offer additional effect when critical success or critical failure occurs, such as extra damage inflicted, worse condition suffered, etc.

Races ancestries still adjust ability scores, give starting languages, starting hit points, land speed, and in some cases either low-light vision or darkvision, but now, all the former racial abilities were relegated to the role of ancestry feats. I have mixed feeling about that... On one hand, it means you don't have to have racial traits you don't care for, but also means you might have to wait until high level to gather all the abilities you considered signature for the race. You get your first ancestry feat at 1st level, and then one every four levels thereafter (5th, 9th, 13th, 17th).

The core ancestries include humans, dwarves, elves, gnomes, halflings, and goblins... Yes, the goblins are becoming a core PC race. Wait... Where are half-elves and half-orcs?! Well, now they are heritage feats for humans. You have to sacrifice your first ancestry feat (instead of using it to pick that juice extra class feat at 1st level) to become one. In return you get to select two out of four minor benefits and further access to feats of your other ancestry and some that are specific to your half-race.

A completely new element involved in the character creation (or not so new for those who played Starfinder), is "background", telling us where your character was raised or what he did before becoming an adventurer. Each background gives you ability score bonuses, a you a feat (often of rather limited use), and a lore skill linked to your job.

Then there are classes. To the old eleven, the alchemist was added as a core class. Each class now gets a lot of selective options in the form of class feats (old systems like barbarian's rage powers and rogue talents were turned into class feats), with one class feat gained on each even level (and some but not all classes also get a class feat at 1st level). Each class defines the character's starting proficiency ranks in things like perception, weapons, armor, and saving throws, as well as allowing the characters to select a number of skills in which they are trained. Additionally, each class has a list of "signature skills", skills which can be trained beyond expert rank at higher levels... This is one of the contentious areas, as, three days after the playtest was released, a lot of people are very negative toward that restriction—either in principle, or because of lack of possibility of customization forcing you to pick specific class if you want to play character that in the future is supposed to be master of certain skill. I expect it will be one of aspects of the game that will see changes.

Alchemist has an ability to create a limited number of short-duration alchemical items each day, especially bombs, such as alchemist acid, alchemist fire, and bottled lightning—thanks to abilities that significantly increase their effects.

Barbarians enter destructive rage, like they did in the past... Except now they can rage unlimited number of times each day, though each rage is limited to three rounds now, followed by short period of being exhausted when they can't rage. Each barbarian now picks a totem that gives certain additional effects to the rage and places certain restrictions on barbarians who follow them (for example barbarian with giant totem can't refuse challenges of strength).

Bards also had some significant redesign to their abilities. Now, they are primary occult caster, having access to nine levels of spells (with 10th level of spells unlocked via a 20th level class feat). Their bardic performance was reworked into a number of cantrips, renamed "compositions" and are now usable at will, though restricted to one active composition at a time, unless you pick feat that allows you to use two compositions at the same time. Despite that change, they still remain recognizable, with initial composition known to all bards being inspire courage. What they lost, though, is general bardic lore, which they now can acquire as a feat. Each bard picks a muse at 1st level, being something between inspiration and philosophy behind the bard's life and granting the initial class feat and the second 1st level known.

Clerics still cast divine spells with nine levels of spells (again, a class feat unlocks 10th level of spells at 20th level), have access to domains, though they get only one domain at 1st level now (they can select two more with class feats), and channel energy to heal or harm. Domains grant powers (spells cast with spell points instead of being cast with slots) but don't grant bonus spells, however, and channel energy absorbed the role of the old spontaneous cure/inflict casting, being the ability to cast scaling heal spell (or harm, in case of some but not all evil deities), that depending upon the number of actions spent casting can affect single touched target, single target at range, or everyone within 30 feet.

Druids are main casters for a new type of primal magic. They are divided into orders that grant them their initial special ability—animal companion for animal order, leshy familiar fo leaf order, lightning attack for storm order, and wild shape for claw order... Yes, wild shape is potentially available to druids from the first level, but it is seriously nerfed comparing to the first edition, as it now lasts for a single minute per use. *yuck* Polymorphy was redesigned again, anyway. Each druid can select abilities of other orders with class feats, so you can have wild shaping druid with animal companion and leshy familiar throwing lightning arcs around.

Fighters are still the masters of weapons, though mastery of armor is supposedly more of a paladin niche in this edition. They are the only class that starts with the ability to perform attacks of opportunity, and later can get ability to perform more than one reaction between their turns.

Monks are much less reliant on Wisdom in this edition, ki points derived from Wisdom bonus being purely optional (if you pick the right feat), they don't apply it to their AC either. They can get various stances and special attacks by picking the right class feats. If they decided to get that ki points, they have some quasi-magical options as well.

Playtest paladins are traditional lawful good guys, but the final game might have paladins for different alignments. Their two initial abilities of note, is old favorite lay on hands, and a new retributive strike that allows them to make a reactive attack when enemy strikes adjacent ally instead of them. At 3rd level they gain ability to summon spirit that will imbue their weapon, their shield, or take form of a mount. They don't cast spells in the traditional way, but can use their class feats to add various powers that are spells cast using a pool of spell points.

Rangers don't get spells either. They can select an enemy as their prey, gaining a number of advantages against that specific foe. They can select animal companion feat, and some extra combat and trapping abilities with more class feats.

Rogues still get sneak attack, though it doesn't do as many dice of damage at higher levels as in the first edition. They are definite masters of skills, getting more skill increases, more signature skills, and more skill feats than any other class. Their class feats grant them a lot of options for enhancing their sneak attacks, increase mobility, and defending oneself.

Sorcerers pick their bloodline, which in addition to powers and skills, determines what type of magic they wield: arcane, divine, occult, or primal. Angelic-blooded sorcerer casts divine spells now, and can be a decent healer, while dragon-blooded one cast arcane spells, and fey-blooded primal. They don't get as many spells per day as they did in the first edition, but they still are spontaneous casters.

Wizards feel quite familiar, with their arcane spells, selection of specialization school that even grant bonus spell slot for the specialization spell at each spell level.

Skills And Feats
Skills were cut down to sixteen specific skills (Acrobatics, Arcana, Athletics, Crafting, Deception, Diplomacy, Intimidation, Medicine, Nature, Occultism, Performance, Religion, Society, Stealth, Survival, Thievery) plus potentially infinite number of Lore skills, which cover most vocational skills and knowledge of anything not covered by main skills. Each skill has a number of skill feats associated, which are gained at every even level (except of rogue who gets one each level), that unlock extra options and benefits for that particular skill. For example a character trained in Medicine can select Battlefield Medic which allows the character to heal wounds to an ally once per day.

General feats were seriously cut down to a few, with a general feat gained at 3rd level and every four levels thereafter. Multiclassing is done by picking special multiclassing feats that grant you some abilities of class other than your own.

Spellcasting remains similar to the first edition one, retaining both prepared vancian casting (cleric, druid, wizard) and spontaneous casting using daily slots (bard, sorcerer) though many spells were redesigned and moved around. New type of spells was introduced called powers, which are spells bestowed by class features and feats, cast using spell points instead of being cast with daily slots. Cantrips are still cast at will, and now they scale somewhat with the level of the caster. Many spells can be scaled by using them with a higher level spell slot than minimum required to cast them (for example regular 3rd level fireball inflicts 6d6 points of fire damage, but when cast using higher level slot, it inflicts additional 2d6 for each level beyond 3rd).

Combat saw some big redesign when it comes to action system. Instead of having a standard action, a move action, and a quick action, or a full action with iterative attacks, the second edition gives each character three actions that can be used to move, attack, interact, or use their abilities as they please (well, mostly, many abilities have restrictions how often or when you can use them, though basic actions allow for a lot of versatility). Casting spells usually requires two actions—one verbal casting and one somatic casting, though this vary from spell to spell. Certain effects can give characters fourth action, often with strict restrictions on what kind of action can be taken, while slowed condition can take away third or even second action from affected character. Between your turns you can make single reaction, though a lot of characters probably won't get any abilities that would let them meaningfully utilize their reactions, attacks of opportunity are now ability restricted to fighters and (with selection of correct feat) paladins mostly. Free actions are still here.

Attacking itself is still the same, roll the die, add the total bonus, compare to AC, roll the damage if hit. Scoring critical hits against low AC enemies is easier, as you only need to beat their AC by 10 points, but critical multipliers are gone, with attacks dealing double damage. Some weapons have a deadly trait that lets them roll extra die of damage, while others have fatal trait, which alters their damage die on a critical hit, though.

Dying was redesigned into a series of Fortitude saving throws, with failures stacking dying condition, until the character is dead when it reaches dying 4. It's possible to die quickly if you are downed by a critical hit (you normally get dying 1 when you drop to 0 hit points, but a critical hit gives you dying 2 immediately) and then by rolling a critical failure on your recovery save, which gives you two more levels of dying.

Goodies, aka Magic Items and other treasures
The treasure section includes a number of alchemical items, particularly important for alchemists, as they can craft many of them for their use during adventures, runes that can be etched on weapons and armors to grant them various magical properties, and more classical items such as wands, staves, scrolls, and wondrous items.

The big change regarding magic items is introduction of a Resonance, a pool of points that refreshes daily, equal to the character's level plus their Charisma modifier that need to be spent to use magic items.

The game offers exploration mode rules regarding, well, exploration, as well as some minimalist downtime options allowing for a structured if abstracted activity between adventures, such as earning money through work, crafting items, gathering information, and retraining. Oh, and your super-miserly PCs can save money on living by scrounging for food in wilderness and towns, if they can make their Survival or Society rolls.

The playtest has just begun, there still might be some major changes made in the future and we'll surely see a lot of minor adjustments.

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