Monday, April 2, 2018

What Pathfinder 2.0 Means For Me Personally, and Professionally

It's been about a month since I heard the announcement that we were getting Pathfinder 2.0. I was not thrilled when I heard the announcement, particularly given that Starfinder Was My Biggest Gaming Disappointment of 2017. However, I didn't want to be one of those players who got so stuck in his ways that he won't admit there's room for improvement. So I took a deep breath, listened to some podcasts, read some blog entries from Paizo, and took steps to get the play test into my hands when it's available.

However, I need to get some stuff off my chest. These are my initial thoughts and feelings regarding this whole situation, and if something changes I will be sure to keep folks updated.

What We Know About Second Edition (And What I Suspect)

I've been playing Pathfinder since it first came out. In fact, I distinctly remember when the adventure paths were still using the DND 3.5 rules. When Paizo finally released their own, beefed-up version of the rules (which has affectionately been called DND 3.75 for years), I was quite a happy gamer. It was the same system I liked, with all the customization and detail I wanted, but with a little extra oomph. Since I was already familiar with the basic rules, it took minimal adjustment to go from 3.5 to Pathfinder's official first edition.

And my dice barely slowed down.
I will admit that familiarity was part of why I loved Pathfinder so much. It came along just as 4th edition DND had turned me off hard, and it was exactly what I had been hoping for. It allowed me to make practically any character concept I wanted, and as new material was released it provided an in-depth setting to match the intense degree of customization. It's why I wrote the post Why Pathfinder Is My Game of Choice some time ago.

After listening, reading, and watching what's happening, though, I feel I can say this with some authority. Pathfinder 2.0 is not Pathfinder.

Now, that is not an elitist, "this isn't the real game I knew," statement. What I'm saying is that, though the editions will share a name, the second edition is not going to be anything remotely like the first one. To put it bluntly, if Pathfinder picked up the 3.5 pieces and maintained the complexity and customization of 3.5, then 2.0 is doing exactly the opposite. It seems from everything I've seen that the next edition's goal is to strip down your options, simplify the game, and to make it as simple to play as possible. In short, it's chasing all the people who wouldn't play the first edition because of all the reading, math, and complexity involved in it.

There are not going to be any character conversion options here, like there was from 3.5 to Pathfinder, anymore than there was a legitimate way to convert your spirit totem barbarian into a Starfinder character. The system is not designed to do that, and that was never a goal. There may be a legacy conversion chapter in the back, but it's only there as a token formality. You're playing a different game here, and nothing you have previously is going to work if it's mechanical in nature.

My Problems Personally, and Professionally

As a player, I don't like this. I really, really hope that I'm wrong, but everything I see sends up big, red flags that tells me Paizo is going to make a game that appeals to the 5th edition DND crowd. The problem for me is that 5th edition already exists... if that was the game I wanted to play, then that is what I would play. Don't get me wrong, 5e is perfectly functional, does what it sets out to, and is fun... but to paraphrase a fellow at my table, it's a beer and pretzels RPG. You have a limited number of options, fairly minor customization, and there aren't a lot of rules to remember. I play Pathfinder because it's the game that lets me tweak every aspect of my character, and have those tweaks mean something mechanically. It's the game I stuck with because you could have a single-class party, but every character will be wildly different from one another.

In short, I don't want a game that sacrifices all that customization in the name of streamlining and simplicity.

Character customization is a feature, not a flaw.
Now, on the one hand, it is inherently true that no one will make me play 2.0 if I don't want to. All my books still exist, and I can keep playing Pathfinder as it exists if that's what makes me happy as a player.

However, that truth comes with a lot of caveats.

Because the books I have now won't vanish into thin air, but if wear and tear makes them fall apart I may not be able to buy replacements after a while. If Paizo puts their eggs into the 2.0 basket, then it also means I may not be able to acquire old adventure paths, or other books, if I can't get the money together fast enough. Even PDF options may not be in the store, depending on company decisions regarding support for those older products. It also means there will be no new material coming out for my version of Pathfinder. So while it could, theoretically, take years for me to work my way through all the adventure paths as they exist, in the event I do, I've got nowhere to go after that.

Also, if I want to play Pathfinder Society, then I am going to have to make the change. Unless Paizo chooses to keep the old Society mods and options available for retro tables, or something.

I can work with all of that, though. The problem is that I don't just play games for fun; RPGs are a significant portion of my income. Not only that, but Pathfinder's crunch and customization has been part of my niche for several years. It's why I have a Character Conversions page with over 50 separate guides on it, ranging from the Defenders to Game of Thrones. It's also why publishers have come to me with work offers. Because knowing Pathfinder's rule set, and being able to work within it, was a valued skill.

This second edition being so wildly different changes all of that for me. Because sure, some people are going to stick with the first edition. But how many? And with no new material coming out, that limits the things I have to talk about. Also, simplified games with broader options don't require a guide to help you find all the tricks, or to explain how you could best make a version of your favorite superhero. Because when you've only got a handful of choices, I won't be able to tell you anything you don't already know.

And, for all those asking why I don't write about a more complicated RPG that still has support instead, the simple answer is market share. If you're not writing about 5th Edition or Pathfinder, your traffic drops off pretty fast because the fan base of most other games that share the fantasy RPG niche is a lot smaller. Less people, less traffic, less return on investment.

Speaking of return on investment, my work in an older edition won't really be the foot-in-the-door it was when that was the current edition. Because while it's true there will be some publishers that want to release content for original Pathfinder to capitalize on the players who aren't biting on 2.0, that is going to be a much smaller niche than companies trying to hop onto the new product.

So whether I choose to play it or not, I literally have to look at the second edition. I have to learn it, understand it, and be able to design for it. Not only that, but I have to make the investment in getting the material for it if I want to stay competitive in my market, and that investment comes while my existing work (older blog entries, articles, etc.) is losing value since lots of it won't apply to the new edition.

I Hope I'm Wrong

Now, as I said in the intro, these are simply my thoughts, feelings, and observations based on what's happening right now with the 2.0 transition. It's entirely possible that once I get my hands on the full play test, or once the company makes changes based on feedback, that 2.0 will have plenty of things that appeal. It could be a fun game. I hope it is. Because I understand the market forces that are making Paizo change its products, games, and philosophies... however, that doesn't mean I have to like it.

I just hope the new edition goes down easy, once I get to delve deeper. And when I do, I'll have my thoughts on that, too.

That's all for this Moon Pope Monday installment. I've been thinking about this situation for a while, and I decided I had to finally get all this off my chest. If you want to help keep Improved Initiative afloat through this transition, then head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page, or Buy Me A Coffee! Either way, I'll send you some gaming swag as a thank you for your support. For more content from yours truly, check out my Vocal archive, or take a look at the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio where I get together with other local gamers to make skits, advice videos, and to present the lore of Evora. Lastly, if you want to keep up on all my latest, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter.


  1. Totally. While there are some things that I find interesting about what they have hinted at so far (the action system, in particular), the rest of it leaves a sour taste in my mouth. It sounds like the options available will be more in line with an MMO than what I expect from a tabletop RPG. We'll see, but I will likely not adopt.

  2. I can respect where you’re coming from. I absolutely love Pathfinder, but I’m equally excited to try a new version out. I hope you’re able to get some enjoyment out of it, at least.

  3. I'm (mostly) reserving judgment, but since my favorite Pathfinder classes to play are Swashbuckler, Inquisitor, and Hunter. With those not being options I'll probably be playing a lot more 5e.

  4. For PFS, they've already said that you'll be able to continue to play and report in PF1. PFS for the second edition of Pathfinder will use the background information already created for Golarion, but work within the new rules. And yes, no character conversions. Everyone is going to be starting over.

  5. Neal, you have deff articulated some of my same concerns. This will be my 7th edition change. So i already know whats coming. I'm pretty displeased with pathfinders money grab. I hope i'm wrong but that's not what experience has taught me. As far as society play goes, they have already stated that the current structure will be abandoned in place. If were lucky we will have some of the story lines continue, but mechanically we'll be playing chutes and ladders. Good luck and we'll see you on the other side..

  6. I think you have about a year and a half of play under 1.0 for PFS.

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  8. i love the customization of P1 so i am hoping that the simplificatin will be for uneccasary bloat, which we all hav eot agree is heavy with P1 ( and part of me love sit lol) but simplifying mechaincs to ahcieve outcomes with less downtime can be a good thing as long as we dont break what isnt brokwen. imsure there will changes i dont like, but thats what houese rules are for and why DMs have the final say. people should alwasy remeber that these books are an accumulation of suggestion, they are not law. eveyr game has house rules remeber what Gygax said "The secret we should never let the gamemasters know is that they don't need any rules. alway remember these words "The secret we should never let the gamemasters know, is that they don't need any rules" - Gary Gygax

  9. Agreed. Sadly it seems Paizo's idea of "fixing things in the core book" is "Make an entirely new system/ripoff 5e."

  10. "a more complicated RPG that still has support instead"
    Are you alluding to a particular RPG? I don't play PF because it's popular; I play it because it's the best, most complicated and intricate fantasy RPG on the market. If there's a better or more complicated one, please divulge the name!

  11. I dropped D & D for a while when they went to 4th edition and I had just finished spending hundreds on 3.5 books. When Pathfinder came out I honestly didn't hear about it for a while because of the bad taste in my mouth from the edition change of D & D. Doubt I will move to Pathfinder 2.

  12. I think there is room to smooth out some of Pathfinder's rougher edges and make it easier especially on the GM without dumbing it down as much as D&D 5E. Considering that they are keeping things like ancestry, I'm inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt.

    I think that Paizo is smart enough to consider not only the feelings of the fans but the oft-overlooked question of WHERE is the complexity in a game. The best outcome would be to reduce complexity at the table mid-session while maintaining roughly the same level of customization of character builds between sessions.

  13. Think of it this way. Pathfinder was the simplification of 3.5, or at least taking some complexity and bloat out of it. In the intervening years, expansions, 3rd party additions etc, have reintroduced a lot of that bloat. P2 sounds like it'll be trying to remove that bloat and reset, so they can start from a fresh slate, and most likely add back in some of the expansion info. As for concerns for a money grab, Paizo so far has put their core rules out for free, and charged for their lore content. I think they'll most likely continue to follow that model. It's working so far.

    My hope is that they'll streamline combat more, so that a 30 second fight doesn't last an hour or more.

    1. I don't view anything in the game as "bloat" the way a lot of people do.

  14. Can we see evidence supporting your claim?

    See, I passed on your concerns to the Paizo forums ( and ended up looking bad for it...

  15. I do have to say that I disagree with the major sentiment of this article. Not so much on the note of an edition change meaning potential loss of demand for your skills, that is a valid concern. At the same time, you couldn’t possibly have expected Pathfinder 1E to have new content published for it forever. As time goes on, innovations are introduced that change people’s expectations out of the games they play, so a system that does not fit new paradigms will simply not be financially feasible to continue to support after a while. This is true for TTRPGs and Video Games alike. Again, I understand the concern from you on a loss of revenue due to your skills no longer being relevant, but much like coal miners or telephone switchboard operators it’s your responsibility to adapt to changing times and technology, not the responsibility of the developers to ensure that your skills continue to be relevant.

    The thing I do disagree with and that also to me lessens a concern over the previous point is on customization. I really don’t see how you could have come to the conclusion the game has less customization than 1E. Sure, you won’t be micromanaging a dozen floating bonuses from skill ranks, passive feat bonuses, and a Christmas tree’s worth of magic items, but all that was just fiddly min-maxing. Fun fiddly min-maxing to players like you and I, but to most players probably not so much. But streamlining these little numbers out is not the same as making this 5th edition. In 5th everything is front-loaded, you choose your race and class and sub-class and then everything falls into place with few more choices to go from there. But 2E has shown lots of options and choices to be made, from Skill Feats to Ancestry Feats to class Feats to General Feats, Spells and weapons with distinct abilities you should have a lot of ways to fine-tune your character concept. If anything, I think you will have lots of future articles about how to recreate many of your character adaptations in the new system.

    I for one am very excited about 2E. It’s about time we got a rehaul that addresses issues like convoluted action types and fiddly combat maneuvers, and if they successfully streamline the character creation while maintaining customization, which it appears they are doing so far, then all the better by me!