Sunday, October 14, 2018

My Final Thoughts on The Pathfinder 2nd Edition Playtest

As most everyone knows, Paizo put out a playtest for their second edition of Pathfinder a while back. When I first heard it was coming out, I made some predictions in What Pathfinder 2.0 Means For Me Personally, and Professionally. Then after I downloaded my own copy of the playtest rules, I gave my thoughts on them over at High Level Games in the post 5 Red Flags in Pathfinder's 2nd Edition Playtest (And What They're Pointing At). Now that I've played through as many of the modules as I and my group could stomach, I wanted to give you my final autopsy on what's going on here, and why this Frankenstein's creature is a flawed, barely-functional attempt that Paizo should be ashamed of.

Let's get started, shall we?

Part One: What This Playtest Is

I said this in my High Level Games review, but this playtest is pretty nakedly an attempt to give 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons the same treatment Paizo gave 3.5 when it was dropped in favor of 4th Edition. And while it is true that the two are not the same game, it is quite clear what popular game Paizo had its sights set on with this playtest. Everything from switching to a proficiency-based system, to altering the way death saves work, to adopting things like weapon attributes shows that the base component of this smoothie is Wizards' extremely popular RPG.

It's not the only thing, but it's the biggest thing.
What Paizo added to that base was an attempt to mix in some of their signature flair and complication. For example, you still have a flat-footed status condition, which is something 5th Ed lacks. In this playtest, your proficiency also adds to your armor class, allowing you to maintain scaling defenses as you level rather than arbitrarily sticking you with lower numbers the way 5th Ed does. They altered the basic actions in combat so that instead of Action, Bonus Action, and Movement, you now just have three Actions to do with as you please. They even tied that to spellcasting so that different spells would have different effects the more Actions you dedicated to them.

Now, before we move onto the next section, I'd like to point out some things that I believe were good ideas, that were not directly lifted from Wizards, or from Pathfinder Classic.

- Racial Hit Points: Depending on your creature's ancestry, you gain a number of bonus hit points at creation. This allows you to avoid accidentally TPKing the whole party at level one, and is generally smart.

- Anathema: Laying out specific things your god does not allow you to do makes for fewer arguments over whether or not your broke a tenet, and should be punished.

- Scaling Paladin Code: Paladins are still LG, and their code explicitly scales now. So if a DM tries to put a player in a Catch-22, the paladin simply upholds the most important tenet, allowing that to guide them. If protecting the innocent is above obeying legal authorities, then you are completely within your right to kick the crap out of that slave owner to stop him from beating his slave, even if that breaks the legitimate slavery laws of the country you're in.

And that's about it.

Part Two: Why It Doesn't Work

The basic idea behind a second edition, if you believe the hype, was that Pathfinder Classic had grown too complex. There were dozens of base classes and prestige classes, hundreds of archetypes, and just so much stuff that it was easy to get overwhelmed by it all. Not only that, but the 3.5+ rule set needed to be slimmed down and adjusted to get rid of some of the unnecessary complication.

I don't buy it, but that was what the claims were.

It ain't broke, but we're gonna fix it anyway!
This wasn't an inherently bad idea. After all, the whole reason behind 5th Edition's much-touted success is its sheer simplicity. To paraphrase a fellow at my table, it's a beer-and-pretzels RPG. The rules are there, but they're so simplified that you can teach anyone to play this game in maybe half an hour or so. That kind of broad appeal, and its pick-up-and-play simplicity, is why 5th Edition is riding high when it comes to market share. Period, full stop, end of story.

The problem with this playtest is that it doesn't simplify Pathfinder in any meaningful way. It's not even the same game, any more than 5th Edition is the same game as DND 3.5. Worse, it only adds complication that has no actual meaning, and which doesn't offer you tools to create additional character depth or customization.

What does that mean in layman's terms? Well, let's look at feats. In Pathfinder Classic there are hundreds of feats for you to choose from, but the point is that feat is a category that means something very specific. In this playtest you have ancestry feats, you have class feats, and you have... uh... feat feats? In Classic you get a feat every odd level. In the playtest you get different feats of different types at different levels. Why? What does this add other than giving you three different lists of stuff to remember when you could previously just pick what you wanted when you qualified for it?

This kind of needless complication happens all over the place in this playtest. You now have a bulk system instead of carrying capacity. So now you have to figure out your total item bulk, and run that through a formula to figure out how much bulk you can carry. In the Classic edition you just look at your Strength score, and that tells you how many pounds of stuff you can haul. Simple, straightforward, no problems. The playtest gives you resonance points that you now have to use in order to activate and use magic items, potions, etc. All this does is limit your ability to use magic items you find or buy, and give you yet another pool of points to keep track of for no reason. In the Classic edition your race gives you certain inherent characteristics (half-orcs can see in the dark, elves are immune to magical sleep, etc., etc.). These are things you are born with, and are an inherent part of you. In the playtest these abilities are parceled out to you as you gain levels... because I guess it takes a certain amount of combat before your half-orc's eyes spontaneously function in pitch blackness?

Also, half-elves and half-orcs are directly connected to humans in this playtest, which makes it clear in this edition those are the only possible races your parentage could have come from. Another limiting of your options and creativity for seemingly no real reason.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not shy about rules complexity... but those rules need to add an aspect to the game that is worth pursuing, or which adds to your options as a player. Practically every decision in this playtest is to take a simple system, chop it up into multiple pieces, and then present those pieces as if they are somehow easier, or more useful, than the single, functional, unified whole it was before. Or, even worse, new systems and point pools are introduced to limit your options.

Part Three: What Was The Goal?

The question that kept recurring to me as I read the book, built characters, and played through the modules was simple. What is this game trying to do?

The stated goal of the playtest in many corners was to simplify Pathfinder as a game. But when you compare the two editions core book to core book, the Classic edition is just a lot simpler to understand and explain. It gives you more options, things are less restricted, and there is just more you can do. Not saying it's a simple game, but compared to the playtest it's at least sensical, and easy to follow. Some of that is likely due to the playtest being a rough draft, but that can't explain all of it.

So the next question is did this playtest simply get carried away and fail in its goal to be a simpler, easier-to-play game? Personally, I don't think so.

I don't think the problem was, "Our game needs to be simplified." Paizo built their entire following on gamers who like 3.5, and who refused to pick up 4th Edition DND (and 4th Edition was super simple to play). Rather, I have a sneaking suspicion that the question was either, "How do we steal some of 5th Edition's thunder?" or, "How do we sell a whole crap ton of books?"

Wait, I've got it!
It's true that you could just download the free PDF of the playtest, read it, and play from your phone or tablet. But Paizo put up both softcover and hardcover copies of the Pathfinder Playtest Rulebook for sale. I'm going to repeat that. Paizo put out for-sale copies of a book that will never be used in official game play, and which is guaranteed to be obsolete as soon as the playtest is over and the actual edition rules come out.

That is not a good look for a company. It makes you look less like you're trying to provide your player base with the best product you can, and more like you're trying to make a quick buck off of their good faith effort to test your game. And I get it, publishing isn't cheap and there are costs involved... but game books are already a big investment. Selling a version that's going to be obsolete in less than a year? Why?

But let's talk about that other question. Because for a while there, Paizo was king of the heap while 4th Edition was a screaming garbage fire, numbers and popularity wise. But then Wizards regrouped, and they made a game that had broad appeal to a specific base. Their genuinely simplified game allows anyone to play, and it appeals more to players who want bare bones rules, ease of use, and who are more focused on the other aspects of the game. If you're a Pathfinder player, and you are one of those folks who genuinely prefers it over simpler systems, that isn't going to sell you! Because chances are good that you, like me, love the wealth of options and creative potential the 3.5+ engine offers you.

5th Edition already exists. It has a huge fan base. It has that fan base because it is simple, straightforward, and easy to play. It has lots of flaws and failings, but those are the strengths that make it popular. If you want to appeal to that fan base, and try to siphon off players from that game, more power to you. But that is a fundamental misunderstanding of what appeals to the audience you already have, the brand you've created, and what people playing your game expect in your product.

If I wanted to play 5th Edition, I would play 5th Edition. While I won't say that Classic is perfect and can't be improved, I can say with authority there is no reason for anyone to play this 2nd Edition as it stands over either the Pathfinder we know, or the current edition of Dungeons and Dragons. It gives you all the negatives of both, but without the strengths of either.

That's all for this Crunch installment. Apologies if I got any bile on you, but this is likely the last I'll have to say about this edition for a while and I wanted to be sure it was all out. For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, or just go to my Gamers profile to see all my tabletop stuff. Also, you should check out the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio where I work with other gamers to make content for dungeon masters and players alike. To stay on top of all my releases be sure to follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. If you'd like to support my work, consider leaving a tip by Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or becoming a patron over on The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page.

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  1. I'm going to have to agree with you on this. I believe they even admitted their shameless attempt at staying afloat as a company in one of their Paizo Blog posts. It's just funny that they once claimed that there would never be a second edition of Pathfinder, and now here we are. It's just a reason to reinvent the game and republish everything, so that people will purchase again. Mark my words, come 2029, there will be a PF3e, just so they can stuff their bank account again.

    In all reality though, they are a company and likely cannot just keep publishing Player's Companions, Campaign Settings, Chronicles, Modules and Adventure Paths forever for the same system, can they? Maybe, but not if they want to stay relevant and lucrative.

  2. My group hasn't even bothered to look at PF2e, having decided some years back that PF Classic is the last RPG we invest any real money in. We've spent so much money and time playing 3.5 and PF that we just don't want to start over with something else. I wish Paizo all the luck in the world, and from the sound of things they're going to need it.

  3. I think you're missing some of the positives here. As a longtime Pathfinder player and GM... I hate how complicated things have gotten. But I also don't want to be that GM that insists on "core rules only!" Simplifying and rebooting is a good move. Unifying various types of rules, and the language around those rules, is smart. Saying that "I stride" instead of "I move" is actually a pretty great change. The action economy is brilliant in my opinion. Bringing racial traits into the world of feats is fine. Having feats directly related to your skills is fine. But the overall feat choices really blow though. They robbed Pathfinder of the joy of The Build. My friend joked that upon leveling up, he could "now eat with a fork OR a spoon without having to make an athletics check." Also, apparently Paizo is fascinated with how often characters have to eat moldy garbage and make con saves! LOL. I think they'll get it right before the final release... but the playtest is annoyingly limited right now.

    1. I find your response interesting. Things have gotten too complex for your tastes. I can understand that completely. Not for mine, but different players, different desires. But you don't want to be the DM that says "Core Rules only" so you want the company to do it for you? So that everyone has to play by the limited set you prefer?

    2. This! Like, so you don't like the rules as-is - why not make house rules? Blowing up the entire system to serve the few people who play pathfinder but want something more simple makes no sense.

    3. Yeah. That's pretty much how I GM now. I pick and choose what material I find acceptable. I try to keep power curves fairly equal. I house rule tons of things to make the game flow faster. I don't enjoy combats that last 3+ hours, unless it's a huge boss raid. I would like a new system that still feels like the Pathfinder I love, but that unifies and updates. I don't love 5e, but it did a few things right (and certainly restored Wizards after the horror that was 4e.) I know moving to Pathfinder 2 means sacrificing a ton of time spent learning and adapting rules.

      This is my approach largely because I'd prefer to spend 90% of my time writing and role playing amazing NPCs and moral dilemmas and creative traps for my game... and 10% of my time looking up rules that have evolved over many years and use inconsistent language and have been errata'd.

  4. I was looking forward to PF2 as being cleaned up and simplified, because that's pretty much what was promised. The initial DDs seemed to follow that premise. But later ones showed it was actually not that at all, and the actual PT doc pretty much confirmed it.

    While there are a lot of cool things in the PT, they've made a lot of other things - stuff you GOTTA know if you expect to play - a lot more needlessly confusing and immersion-breaking.

    PF definitely needs cleaning up. It's very hard to find people willing to learn how to play it because it's overly complex, and unless you're playing it all the freaking time you quickly forget how to play. How about we just go ahead and clean it up and fix what wasn't working instead of trying to make it into a game we didn't want to play?

    1. I have had zero issues getting people to play PF1.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. As a DM/player from the "ancient golden age of gaming" IE 1973-1985, I see what all games are doing. They are trying to stay relevant. They need to make money to stay alive. I get that. But you cant just do a grab-n-go, hash it out like its something new, when you KNOW its not, is a sham job for money. Im really disappointed in Piazo right now. I felt like I was playing a mash up of 4/5th ED!!! EEEWWW!!!

  6. I won't be spending a dime on PPF2. I predict they lose much of the audience they did have and fall apart in the next few years.

  7. Sadly, I agree with nearly everything in this article.

    My only caveat is that I think Paizo hamstringed themselves by the surveys that they are using - the questions that most needed to be asked were never on the surveys:

    Does This Change Make The Game Easier/More Fun/More Accessible?

    Does This Change Make Pathfinder A Better Game?

    Of the changes, the only one seized with enthusiasm among my players was the action economy. (Three Actions and a Reaction.)

    Everything else was measurably WORSE than in PF1.

    Character generation that takes longer to create a less competent character.

    Magic that is LESS magical. (Resonance Points for the Loss!)

    Monsters that are MORE complex to run.

    Skills that are LESS useful.

    On, and on, and on....

    The Auld Grump

    1. They introduced the revised action economy (3 actions and 1 reaction) in Pathfinder Unchained so if you like the old mechanics and the revised action system, you could play an unchained game built around that action economy already.

      I haven't looked closely at Pathfinder 2E--I am not participating in the playtest--but I wonder if there are other aspects of 2E that might be found in Pathfinder Unchained.

    2. Yep - we just hadn't paid much attention to it until PF2.

      We knew it was there, but had never experimented with it.

      At the time we thought we were adopting elements of the new edition early, in preparation for what was no doubt going to be an excellent game....

      Hoo, boy! So much for that expectation!

      I am pretty sure that we won't be adopting the rest of the system - but the action economy is pretty good.

      My wife went so far as to give me an ultimatum - no more PF2 Playtest.

      In the entire time, we had managed to make it through two (2) entire sessions, with numerous half sessions that were given up in frustration and turned into board game/Kings of War nights.

      The Auld Grump - not a good sign.

  8. I agree with a lot of this, but there is one comment above that caught my eye.

    "It's just funny that they once claimed that there would never be a second edition of Pathfinder, and now here we are."

    Paizo never claimed this. They said about ten years was a good time between editions and now, ten years later, we are getting Paizo's version of 4th edition. :(

  9. I think Paizo could sell tons of books straightaway: just adapt them to 5e. All those monsters, classes, spells, subgenres... And since Wizards is doing nothing substantial with Faerun (or any other D&D world), they could make a 5e Golarion range of supplements and it would sell. Really don't understand why they don't go that route.

    1. Agreed. They could release adventure path hard books of the ones they have after so long would be better. Focus on filling in the blank spots in on the golarian map with things like their tian area expansion they did. Make another world setting or three with different more focused styles unlike golarian's kitchen sink approach. Heck expand the star traveling stuff like spelljammer but not like they did starfinder. Compile the little player companion booklets into a large hardcover book. So many options other than this poor excuse for a second edition. Even just going back to just writing adventures like they did in the 3.5 days for pathfinder and dnd 5e.