http://paizo.com/pathfinderplaytest

The original Pathfinder roleplaying game beta launched at Gen Con in 2008. At the time, I was one of the volunteers for the brand-new Pathfinder Society, and attended the “Future of Pathfinder” seminar held that year. Now, in 2018, I was at Gary Con, when it became clear that the “Future of Pathfinder” event being held there was going to be a seminar on the direction of the 2nd edition of the Pathfinder roleplaying game. It seemed fitting to attend.

The event was hosted by Paizo Senior Designer Stephen Radney-MacFarland and Paizo Director of Game Design Jason Bulmahn. This was a two-hour seminar, which was about half presentation, half question and answer. The summarized information on the design directions of Pathfinder 2nd Edition is organized into broad themes that developed from the discussion, rather than being presented in the chronological order in which the information was presented.

The Look of Future Products

Wayne Reynolds, the artist that worked on the original Pathfinder core rulebook, as well as many other products, will be returning to detail key images for Pathfinder 2nd Edition. Paizo has often used named iconic characters to illustrate various classes, as well as using them as the “stand in” adventurers for illustrations in adventures. There were a few details given about the iconics going forward.

  • Seoni, the iconic sorcerer character, will have a redesign that will be “less salacious,” but will highlight her signature tattoos more prominently
  • Characters like Valeros and Harsk will be given different gear to highlight how new class features work (for example, Harsk has two axes and Valeros will be carrying a shield)
  • An iconic goblin alchemist is being added to the core lineup, to highlight that both goblins and alchemists will be in the core rulebook

Playtest Schedule and Products

The playtest will start in August of 2018, at Gen Con. A PDF of the rules will be made available, as will a PDF of a playtest adventure, and a PDF with a selection of monsters available, which will not be included in the playtest rulebook. The playtest document will be similar in size to the 2008 playtest for 1st edition Pathfinder.

  • There will be pre-orders for soft-cover, hard-cover, and commemorative leather-bound copies of the rules, as well as physical copies of the adventure and map sheets specifically highlighting locations in the adventure
  • The adventure will have specific surveys asking directed questions about the parts of the game highlighted in various sections, to make feedback more directly actionable
  • There will be further playtest adventures as the playtest continues, with their own surveys
  • The playtest timeline will assume play of a specific section, and will move on to a new section approximately every two weeks
  • Each section of the starting adventure is predicted to take about 6-8 hours to complete

Guiding Principles of Design

Both presenters mentioned that it is very important to Paizo to capture the proper feel for the game, and for it to meet the expectations that players already have for the game. They mentioned cases where the game is not intuitive in its design, such as with skill points or in some sub-systems that only affect certain classes. All the classes and what were previously known as races will be in the core 2nd edition rulebook, with the addition of goblins and alchemists, due to their popularity.

They noted that many players enjoy the system mastery elements of a more complex system, so their goal is to design a game that is complex, but logical, where multiple systems work in a similar fashion, while still allowing players to enjoy building characters based on “corner cases.”

Core Rules and Resolution

The core gameplay experience of the game will still be the same, with characters taking actions and resolving those actions by rolling a d20 and adding a bonus to measure against a difficulty number, but the way actions work, as well as the range of bonuses and difficulties, will be changing.

  • Instead of having a move action or a standard action, characters will now have three actions they can take per round, to do any action they wish, although repeated attacks with have penalties
  • All characters will have a reaction, which may trigger under different circumstances and do different things, based on class
  • Some characters may have multiple reactions that they may set up by taking a specific type of action on their turn
  • Difficulties and armor classes will have their ranges shifted to a different range of numbers—it was specifically noted that a wizard with some armor bonus would still have a statistically relevant benefit from that bonus within the new range, which is not currently the state of the game at higher levels of play

Modes of Play

The game was stated to always have multiple modes of play, but the new edition with quantify those different modes of play with different rules to support them, and to give the GM more guidance in how to move between them. In addition to the modes of play, a bit more time was spent discussing structured encounters and initiative resolution.

Encounter mode will be in structured time, with rounds that take approximately six-second intervals, and characters keeping track of initiative order. Exploration mode will be any time where characters are taking more specific action, investigating, and moving, but not in a manner that requires strict turn order. It was stated that the GM has more freedom to state time intervals based on the requirements of the adventure in exploration mode. Downtime mode is the time between adventures, where adventurers state the way they spend this time and various kinds of training and crafting that they might engage with.

  • Some critical social encounters may be run in encounter mode, with an initiative order
  • Initiative is now primarily determined by perception, which is a score which all characters have and is no longer a class-specific skill
  • Depending on what the character was doing in exploration mode, they may use different skills to determine initiative (such as a rogue that is scouting using stealth as initiative, or a bard using perform when they attempt to assassinate a noble at a gala)
  • The core rulebook may give a suggested amount of downtime to award at each level, and specific adventures may call out specifically expected downtime allotments as well
  • One downtime activity will be retraining, so that characters are not permanently locked into the decisions that they have made at a particular level
  • One reason for increasing the importance of downtime is to alleviate the feeling that characters go from low-level characters to being among the most powerful adventurers in the world in a few months’ time

Classes, Ancestries, and Character Creation

At the seminar, it was stated that both the witch and the oracle nearly made it into the core book, but the alchemist was added so that the alchemy rules could be added as rules that anyone can interact with, not just members of that class. Alchemical items will scale over levels, and the alchemist will be using their own system instead of defining their abilities in terms of spells. Alchemists will still have bombs and mutagens as other abilities are added to them.

Races will now be referred to as ancestries, and goblins will be added to the list of core ancestries. It is noted that player character goblins will most likely be outcasts from goblin society, so that the core concepts of goblins as monsters do not change.

Character creation was stated as following ABC, picking ancestry, background, and class. Backgrounds will be replacing the trait system that was previously introduced in Pathfinder products, and in addition to backgrounds in the core rulebook, there may be adventure path specific backgrounds available to tie a character more closely to a storyline.

  • Archetypes will still be part of the game, and there will be archetypes introduced from the start
  • When asked about multi-classing, the response indicated that you would be able to get “things” from other classes—the importance of sticking to a theme instead of cherry picking rules elements was mentioned
  • Background will grant a specific Lore, which is similar to a specialized knowledge skill, such as Lore—Alcohol being granted to a character with barkeep as a background
  • Classes will have abilities that highlight what they do—specific examples given were that spellcasters will be impressive on their own turn when casting spells, rogues will have surges of damage dealing, and fighters will be able to “lock down” opponents

Gear

When discussing gear, a “dent system” was brought up. Shields are specifically being designed to take damage and to be more disposable, but also more functional. The dent system is not likely to interact with all gear, but only gear that might have specific rules interactions outside of a single purpose. The encumbrance system is also going to be reworked to measure bulk, and to be more directly based on the strength score, rather than a separate chart.

  • One of the previously mentioned actions that might “load” a specific kind of reaction is readying a shield to absorb damage as part of a reaction
  • The encumbrance system was mentioned as being similar in concept to how the topic is handled in Starfinder
  • The terms “light bulk” and “heavy bulk” were used, but not further examined
  • In some circumstances, a character may have “signature gear” that they choose which can level up with them
  • Some downtime activity may relate to repairing “dented” items

Skills

Skill point calculation was stated as being one of the most complex aspects of the game, and one of the least intuitive to process. A future blog post on Paizo’s site will be dealing with the skill system in more detail, but skill points are “kind of” gone.

  • Still a limited range of skills to pick for starting characters
  • Characters will likely pick some skills to have access to them, and pick other skills that they want to improve over time

Spells and Spellcasting

There was a broad discussion of some aspects of spellcasting, and the role that spellcasters play in the campaign. Questions were asked about whether the game addresses the usefulness of spellcasters versus non-spellcasting classes, as well as how spellcasting will specifically work.

  • Cantrips will be more broadly useful across the life of the character
  • Shield is a cantrip, and can be “loaded” for a reaction in a manner like physical shields, and can react to magic missiles
  • Most spells will cost two actions to cast—they may get an extra boost to power if another action is added, and some will only cost one action to cast
  • Spellcasting actions are related to what is currently listed as spell components—if a spell has a verbal and somatic component, it will take a verbal action and a somatic action to cast
  • The intent is to make spellcasters “cool on their turn,” then let the spotlight move
  • Some changes will be made so that spellcasters have limited ability to encroach on the niche of other classes outside of their turn in combat

Monsters

The game will aim to make monsters easier to create on the fly, and to make the underlying math simpler. Examples of what a monster should have for stats at various levels will be given, as well as adjustments based on the creature’s role (for example, making a monster that is hard to hit, but goes down quickly, and how those stats should be adjusted).

Monsters will have unique reactions native to them. For example, if fire magic is used near a red dragon, they may use a reaction to control the fire magic. Jason Bulmahn also stated that he created a reaction on the fly in a game where a serpent creature received a reaction to strike anyone moving next to it regardless of turn order, because it felt appropriate to the creature. The goal is to create monster reactions that will be logical for the monsters, but will make them fresh and surprising to use in a game.

Influences
 It will be interesting to see what problems are isolated as the most important to address, and what the solutions to those problems might be. 

During the question and answer portion of the presentation, a question was asked about games that may have been an influence on the design direction of the new game rules. It was stated that the team looked at many games, not just roleplaying games, to help develop their direction. They also did not look at any game for rules inspirations, but for ideas on what problems they were addressing and how they handled elements like narrative structure or rules presentation.

Some specific games were mentioned, including the following:

  • Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition was not an influence, beyond seeing what problems were being addressed in that game and where similar problems overlap with Pathfinder, but they are aware of the game and interested in solving those problems in their own way
  • Stephen Radney-MacFarland mentioned being a fan of Shadow of the Demon Lord and friends with Robert Schwalb
  • The original white box edition of Dungeons and Dragons was mentioned as a source that the team consulted as they developed design goals
  • Magic the Gathering was stated as a game to look at for how to present rules and rules interactions
  • Historical miniatures games were also cited as something the team looked at, analyzing rules and how the various games resolved combat and movement
  • Tales from the Loop and Star Trek Adventures were both mentioned as games that the team looked at to see how they utilized narrative structures

In the next year, there should be ample opportunity to participate in the playtest and have the chance to shape the game going forward. It will be interesting to see what problems are isolated as the most important to address, and what the solutions to those problems might be.

Now that you’ve seen the roadmap that Paizo is following in this new edition of Pathfinder, what do you think? I’d love to hear from you, and if you are going to follow along with the playtest, participate, or wait for more news. If you left the game, are you going to come back? Looking to check it out for the first time? Let me know in the comments below, and thanks!