Pathfinder Playtest Review – Chapter One
GenCon 2018 was quite the weekend for me. It was my first time attending, and I feel like I very much picked the right year to make it my first experience. Paizo, Inc. was releasing the Pathfinder Playtest, a 431-page rulebook for it’s Second Edition.
Those of you that know me know that I am a complete and utter Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition fanboy. That said, I am not completely opposed to other systems, and have played quite a bit of Pathfinder over the last couple of years. I decided to pick up the Pathfinder Playtest and really delve into the dungeon that is game design for this product.
However, I feel that to do justice to a product this extensive, it will have to be broken into several parts. First, a bit of a history lesson. Secondly, a short examination of Paizo’s Starfinder system. Lastly, a breakdown of the Pathfinder Playtest and how it compares to other products. This will be a multi article series focusing on different aspects of the book, as well as results of actually playtesting the product.
Let’s knock out that history lesson. Pathfinder is a direct spinoff on Dungeons and Dragons Edition 3.5. Shortly after Wizards of the Coast announced the release of 4th Edition, Paizo released Pathfinder, based on the Open Game License copyright that 3.5 had. Essentially, this type of license allows for groups and companies to release content based on the system without directly involving itself with the company. Paizo lead designer Jason Bulmahn made some slight tweaks and added some other features to the core of 3.5, and thus Pathfinder was born.
Much of Pathfinder‘s success stems from dissatisfaction with D&D 4th Edition. That is not to say that Pathfinder doesn’t have it’s own merits. Being a published game with no new editions or core changes since 2009 has allowed Pathfinder to expand as a game and allow everyone to get something out of it. There are options to please nearly everyone in the current build of the game, and a good portion of it is available for free online with no copyright issues.
Since a lot of Pathfinder’s appeal comes from the bountiful options available to characters, I was somewhat disappointed in Paizo’s 2017 release, Starfinder, a science fiction RPG set in the same universe. I felt the system overall was lackluster with narrow character builds and rather tedious and boring gameplay. Several mistakes in the book made me lose faith (charts not being on the pages it said they were on, etc.). The Starfinder Core Rulebook was a dense and confusing read for me, and it ended up not being the Sci-Fi system for me.
With D&D 5th Edition being my first real RPG, going backwards into the crunchy arithmetic of Pathfinder was a struggle for me as a player. So many similar mechanics, simplified in 5th Edition to easier rolls and less incidental +1’s and the like made me hesitant to try Pathfinder’s newest incarnation.
So, with that all out of the way, when I opened up the Pathfinder Playtest book, I was pleased by the social commentary in the opening. In this book, Paizo has driven it home that tabletop RPGs are for everyone, taking time and valuable print space for content like this. Adam Koebel sums up my thoughts on the matter in the tweet below.
Calling this stuff out specifically is so super important. People are gonna see this and be like “BUT OF COURSE, ADAM” but like, here it’s a RULE in the RULEBOOK. pic.twitter.com/CLXTgbRsu7
— adam koebel (@skinnyghost) August 7, 2018
This is great to see in an RPG and I am glad Paizo is making the necessary steps to get this point across to the types that refuse to make concessions. Paizo have always been trailblazers in this realm, being one of the only major RPGs that uses “she” as the standard pronoun. Though, I wonder if they could take it a step further by sticking with completely gender neutral pronouns such as “they” as Magic: The Gathering has recently done with the update to The Chicago Manual of Style. While this is great, it is also not what I’m here to review. I can leave that space to those who gain the most from it, which really doesn’t include guys like me (straight white men between the ages of 18-40).
The first chapter of the book goes on by breaking down the game into its basic concepts which is absolutely invaluable to a game as dense and crunchy as Pathfinder can be. The game is broken down into three main modes of play; Encounter mode, Exploration mode, and Downtime mode. These are essential pillars of RPG philosophy, but it is great to have them spelled out in general terms that can be applied to nearly any RPG. So many times I’ve played with new players who don’t grasp the scope of the game right off the bat, and this gives Game Masters a tool in which to explain the main focuses of the game.
This Playtest has also taken on a new format of different Rules elements. Spells, class features, and feats all now have a more organized layout with symbols to differentiate where they sit in an action economy.
I personally love this straight to the point formatting. It makes things much easier to find within an individual rules element. I consider this a big positive for this system and much more likely to give it a shot.
Continuing into the chapter, another property I found interesting was the Proficiency Modifier. Broken down into different levels of proficiency, the modifiers are listed as Untrained, Trained, Expert, Master and Legendary. Seemingly a parallel to 5th Edition’s proficiency bonus that increases as your character levels up, I enjoy having the names to go with those bonuses.
This new edition is in no way a completely new system, as much of the same elements that you would be familiar with will carry over. Ability scores, Armor Class, Feats, Levels and the like work largely the same as the original Pathfinder. One compelling change is that Initiative now runs off of your character’s Perception score rather than Dexterity. This gives a new flavor to initiative, rather than lightning fast reflexes, it is now based on how observant and prepared your character might be.
In the realm of character creation, I am so far pleased and intrigued in the new system. In an attempt (and a successful one at that) to shift away of the use of “race” as a common term within the game, Paizo writers and editors have opted to using the term “Ancestry” do discuss your characters genetics. I think this is a fantastic move for a discussion that has plagued TTRPGs for quite some time.
A new, fascinating mechanic is the inclusion of “Resonance Points” based off of your character’s Charisma modifier. These points are used when figuring out how well your character can interact with certain magical items. This seems like an attempt to work out a new system from 5th Edition’s magical item attunement balance measure. I can’t wait to see it in practice.
Obviously, this is just a first dive into a brand new TTRPG system, and I won’t be reviewing each chapter individually. Overall, I believe that this first chapter offers quite a bit of helpful insight into the structural pillars of the game system and I am excited to run some games with it. The next article will highlight some more details in the new system, as well as the first adventure in the playtest.