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Pathfinder Playtest Review, Part 3

Pathfinder PlaytestThis is part 3 of my review of the Pathfinder Playtest from Paizo. You can see part 1 here [1] and part 2 here [2]. In this part of the review, I’ll comment on Advancement and Options, and Playing the Game. The fourth segment will contain my thoughts on Game Mastering through Appendices.

If you’re interested in reading along with me during the review, you can pick up the free PDF of the playtest rulebook at Paizo’s site: http://paizo.com/pathfinderplaytest [3]

Advancement and Options

Advancement

When I hit the advancement section, I was expecting a long and involved process, which is the nature of the crunchier games like Pathfinder. I was pleasantly surprised to find the advancement instructions to be only a single page. It’s straightforward and simple. I like this quite a bit.

One thing I made a strong note of is that each level is 1,000 XP. The increasing experience point requirements for higher levels has gone the way of the past for Pathfinder. This means gaining levels is a linear process, not an increasing barrier. I find this incredibly interesting on how higher-powered obstacles will turn in experience points for the characters. I’m assuming the XP award information will be found in the GM section, so I’m looking forward to getting the other side of the coin for this process.

Archetypes

There are seven archetypes offered in the playtest book, and they mention that this is a sample. The seven they have are just enough to give a taste of how things work, but still provide some options for characters during the playtest process. Based on this taste, I can’t wait to see the full buffet of choices for the archetypes.

Archetypes appear to be replacements for prestige classes. Like with prestige classes, some of the archetypes can be taken at lower levels, which others have higher requirements, including some events that must happen with the character before the archetype can be chosen.

There are two types of archetypes: multiclass and prestige.

Multiclass archetypes allow a character of one class to tap into the powers of another class, but in a limited fashion. This allows for a fighter to gain some healing ability or maybe some rogue skills. Like with the rest of the power-gain systems, these are based on feats. One thing to note here is that a character cannot multiclass into a class they already have. In other words, you can’t be a cleric and gain extra cleric goodies by multiclassing as a cleric also.

Prestige archetypes are, as the name implies, more like prestige classes. These archetypes can focus in a character’s abilities and add some new options for their class. While the text in the playtest book is limited, I can see some expansion happening not only with the choices available, but more in-depth descriptions of the archetypes as well.

I like that the archetypes are placed in the “options” section of the book because they are far from required to call out a character as being special or unique, but there is extra flavor and style that can be gained by leveraging an archetype. One thing to note, is that an archetype does not directly deliver extra “class abilities or powers” like prestige classes did. Choosing an archetype just opens up more options for feats that a player can choose from for her character.

Animal Companions

Building an animal companion is much like building a character in that you have stats, feats, actions, and types of companions. There are some sample builds of animal companions, but they are base stats, not final stats. I’ve read through the animal companion section three times so far, and I have to admit that I’m still fairly well confused about how to stat out an animal companion. Seeing a “final stat block” of one of the examples would have helped me piece things together to see how it all works. My advice to Paizo for this segment is to look at the descriptive and rules text in this section an clarify things quite a bit.

Having said this, I think there are some slick options and actions for animal companions. I like them quite a bit, but I also didn’t see a limitation on which actions which types of animals could use or have. Maybe there were some things taken out of the final text to make the playtest book shorter that could have clarified everything in here.

There is also a section on familiars, and this section is pretty brief, but does explain familiar abilities and how they interact with the spellcaster. Somehow, this section is very clear to me on familiar stats and abilities, unlike the main animal companion section. The only thing I see that’s missing, which will probably land in the final product, is what happens when a familiar dies. This has always been key to this genre of RPGs, so I’m kind of surprised at the oversight in this area.

Deities

There are two pages of brief summaries for the deities found within Golarion. There are 20 of the world’s deities summarized here, and these summaries include alignment, edicts, anathema, and favored weapon. If you note that domains are missing here, that’s because they are included with the cleric class information earlier in the book. This is what I was talking about in my “part 1” of the Pathfinder playtest review. The deity information is split across two sections and hundreds of pages, which makes finding all of the details about a single deity cumbersome and slow. The domain listing should be combined with this section for ease of use.

Playing The Game

Now for the meat of the game mechanics themselves. There are 35 pages of rules. I’m hesitant to dive into the details of all 35 pages of the rules because that would make this portion of the review extremely lengthy. Instead, I’m going to gloss over repeating the rules, and just give my impressions and the highlights.

Modes

There are three modes called out in the text. Any veteran player will quickly see these and wonder why they are called out as they are “obvious.” However, to a new gamer, these are excellent call outs for them and are also top-notch reminders to the grognards in our groups.

The modes are encounter, exploration, and downtime. In short, encounter modes occur when seconds matter, detailed tactics come into play, and determining the order of PC and NPC actions really matters. Exploration modes occur between encounters. This can be creeping down a dungeon corridor, traversing overland terrain, or moving across a densely populated city. Lastly, we have downtime modes, which occur when the characters are in their home base, passage of time is measured in days or weeks, and not much dangerous action is going on.

I like these different modes because I’ve made plenty of characters that could create magic items, but never really had a chance to leverage those abilities. Calling out the fact that downtime exists would allow such a thing to take place.

Checks

The detailed descriptions of how to do a check make things clear. This is a good thing because there are subtle adjustments to the game between current Pathfinder and the new Pathfinder on what gets added into a die roll. The main change is skills are simplified. Basically, each skill add is equal to your level. Then an adjustment ranging from -2 through +3 is added based on the character’s proficiency rank.

The math formula for calculating the final result of a die roll is a little intimidating, but it’s not that bad. Of the 10 numbers involved in calculating the final result, one is the die roll, 4 are captured on the character sheet and summarized there. This leaves circumstance bonuses/penalties and conditional bonuses/penalties as well as the mysterious “untyped penalties” left to deal with. The circumstance/condition/untyped numbers don’t always exist, so it’s still basically, a d20 added to a single number that’s pre-calculated and written on the character sheet. Honestly, the diagram at the top of page 292 is great and should remain a reference.

Degree of Success

Success and failure are still the same. If you get higher than the target number, you succeed. Lower than the number, and you fail. Pretty simple. However, critical successes have changed a bit. If you get a “natural 20,” then you get a critical success. Also, if you get greater than the target number plus 10, then it’s also a critical success. I like this change to reward specialized characters and great die rolls. On the flip-side, a “natural 1” or less than the target number minus 10, then it’s a critical failure. This change makes for interesting storytelling for those times when the die rolls go extraordinarily well, or drastically poor.

Fortune and Misfortune

A new addition to Pathfinder, but not a new addition to gaming in general is the concept of “fortune” and “misfortune.” With fortune, there are two options. One is a reroll, and the other is rolling two dice and taking the better of the two. The same thing applies with misfortune where a successful roll may require a reroll, or two dice are rolled and the lower of the two are taken. This is explained in a sidebar before the actual rules of when fortune and misfortune applies, so I hope they clarify how to obtain and lose these conditions.

Dying

There’s an interesting twist and change with dying. Instead of it being based on HP or constitution, there’s a new concept here called “dying value.” If a character’s dying value reaches 4, then they die. When a character hits zero HP (you can’t go negative in this system), then you gain 1 or 2 dying value points (1 for a lethal hit, 2 if it was a critical hit). At this point, saving throws kick in to see if the character recovers. Success indicates a return to 1 HP. Failure adds 1 dying value, and a critical failure adds 2 dying value. When a dying value of 4 is reached, the character dies. Of course, these rules only apply to PCs, main villains, important NPCs, etc. The typical minion or mook should be removed from combat if it reaches zero HP, but that’s up to the GM to decide.

Honestly, I don’t think I like this system very well. It could be that I’m comfortable with the current system and it makes sense. I’m not sure how this simplifies or improves the game any, but I’m willing to give it a shot and see how it plays out.

Actions and Activities

As I talked about in part 1 of this review series, there are different actions and activities. There are free actions, reactions, and activities. Some activities consume more than 1 action in a character’s round. Each character gets 3 actions in a normal round. These can be moves, attacks, spellcasting (which usually consumes more than 1 action), reactions, and so on. These changes in how many things a character can do in a round appear to really streamline and simplify things. I think this is a beneficial thing for the overall gameplay in a system that many already complain that takes too long when encounter mode kicks in. We’ll see how actual gameplay works out when I get a chance to put rubber on the road with this system.

Areas of Effect

I just wanted to note here that with all of the changes Paizo is making to Pathfinder, they are leaving the various “areas of effect” from spells and powers untouched. This tells me they think that these portions of the rules are already clear, play well, and are dialed in. I agree.

Hero Points

Each PC starts a session with 1 hero point. She can earn more through good role playing, heroic action, taking notes, running initiative, bringing food/snacks to the game, etc. The book outlines that no more than 1 hero point should be awarded for in-game actions per session. Also, no more than 1 her point should be awarded for out-of-game actions per session. All PC’s hero points reset back to 1 at the start of each session.

Hero points can be used for three different things: staving off death, rerolling a d20, or taking an extra action in a round. These cost 1, 2, and 3 hero points, respectively.

I’m conflicted on the addition of hero points. I like the meta-game currency that many games use because it allows the players to drive the narrative of their characters more. This is a good thing. However, I think that Paizo dropped the ball here. The use of hero points is so incredibly limited, and expensive in hero point cost, that they are likely to be rarely used. Because of this, I’m not sure Paizo should have wasted the ink on printing the rules. They should open up the use of hero points with more options and consider reducing the cost of rerolling a single d20 to 1 hero point.

Perception

The section on perception explains everything a new or experienced player/GM needs to know about how the difference senses work, how things are detected (or not), and how different levels of light impact vision. While it feels like second nature to “know” these things about a game, having them defined in clear terms will help remove or reduce disagreements about how perception works.

Encounter Mode

This section details how combat works. The key change here is that initiative is based on the perception skill, so make sure your fighter-types have some focus on this skill. Also of note, is that initiative is rolled once at the start of combat to determine turn order and this order stays this way (barring someone with a high roll shifting to a lower position).

The steps in encounter mode are well delineated and easy to follow. I think even a newcomer to the hobby could leverage the text to fully understand how things work. Well done here, Paizo.

Basic Actions

The basic actions are lined out in their own blocks of text. I love this layout choice. In past iterations of games within Pathfinder’s lineage, each action type was smooshed in a paragraph alongside other blocks of identical text without the breaking headers that make things easy to find and reference. The way they have things lined up here, it’s easy to read, easier to understand, and surprisingly easy to find on the page when needing to do a lookup of a detail.

The common basic actions are outlined here along with some of the less common things like burrow, fly, mount, etc. that are in their own list to prevent muddying the waters for the common actions.

Exploration Mode

The exploration mode section is divided up into areas like traveling, socializing, and resting.

The travel section of things calls out most of the common activities that go on while traveling across large swaths of land. The details are fairly high level and allow the GM and players to collaborate on how things go.

The socializing section calls out different activities that go on here, but again it is at a high level. I hope Paizo does a bit of a deeper dive into this area beyond two-thirds of a column on the socializing. Maybe this is just a taste for the playtest?

Rest and daily preparations is pretty basic and doesn’t need much detail, so they cover it well here. To call note to the HP recovery, it is now the constitution modifier (minimum 1) times the character level in HP regained for natural healing.

Downtime Mode

There is all of half a page dedicated to this mode, and I was hoping for more. Granted, the skills section covers the various rules for the skill-based activities that can occur, but I really hoped for more. Things on my “expectation list” were: managing a stronghold, running a business, overseeing a guild, and so on. Perhaps this will land on the list of things we’ll see in an expansion book down the road.

Conditions

The “Playing the Game” section wraps up with a lengthy segment on conditions. It’s a long list of the various ways a character can be changed, adjusted, boosted, and limited. The list is, in traditional Pathfinder style, very long, but it’s also necessary for the game play to run smoothly. I like what I see here. The only thing that could make this a little better would be a bullet list of all conditions with a brief summary like what would be found on a GM screen. Putting something like this up front, before the detailed descriptions, would be a handy reference for GMs and players alike.

Conclusion

Now that I’ve consumed the “meat” of the book, I’m liking what I see. I think some refinement to the rules descriptions here and there would benefit the final product. This, of course, is what playtesting is for, so I think Paizo is on the right track for getting a 2.0 of Pathfinder nailed down and running smoothly.

Am I convinced to “upgrade” to the new version yet? I’m not sure yet. I think part of this comes from the “edition inertia” that I currently have. I own 30+ Pathfinder rulebooks and Golarion books at this point. That’s not counting third party support material, adventures, campaigns, etc. that I also own. This is a lot of things to step away from and set aside in favor of investing in the new edition. It’s become clear to me that conversions between Pathfinder editions will be required, so I can’t just pull a “1.0” book off the shelf and use it on the fly.

I am liking what I see, and I think this would be a fine entry point for a new gamer (especially if Paizo does a “Beginner Box 2.0”). Overall, I like it, but we’ll wait until I finish up with the book to make a final determination on what I do with the new version of Pathfinder.