5 Red Flags in Pathfinder's 2nd Edition Playtest (And What They're Pointing At)
Anyone who knows me know that I'm a die-hard Pathfinder fan. I've been playing it since the end of the 3.5 era, when so many of us jumped ship from Wizards as a refusal to move on to their 4th edition. I've been quite happy with it, on the whole, and I even went on record back in the end of 2016 to explain Why Pathfinder is My Game of Choice.
With that said, Pathfinder isn't a perfect game by any stretch of the imagination. So when I heard that Paizo was working on a 2.0 update, I was tentative, but interested. And now that the playtest rules have been released I can say without equivocation that I am the furthest possible thing from interested in this new iteration of what has long been my go-to game.
Why? Well, I'll give you some of the major reasons, and the conclusions I drew after my read through.
1) The Feats Are A Mess
Feats were your bread and butted in any Pathfinder Classic game. Whether you wanted to be a knight riding his destrier into battle, a master of metamagic, or someone whose unique bloodline had allowed them to awaken sorcerous power without having to take sorcerer levels, feats made all sorts of stuff possible. And which feats you took was entirely up to you. If you wanted to have nothing but combat feats (the equivalent of going to the buffet and loading your entire plate up with pork roast), you were more than welcome to do that. If you wanted to dedicate your feats to becoming a master of certain skills, that was also an option. If you wanted to bolster your class features by gaining extra rounds of rage, more uses of lay on hands, or bonus arcana points, you could do that too.
You can't do that in 2.0.
Oh there are still feats, don't get me wrong. But now we have class feats, we have ancestry feats (race feats for those not up on the new terminology), and we have general feats, along with a few other classifications. And rather than letting you pick whichever feat you qualify for every other level, you now get different types of feats at different levels. So it doesn't matter if you don't actually want to take any of the ancestry feats you have access to, or that you find your class feats useless until you hit level seven; you're stuck with them.
This limits your ability to customize your character, and puts you on very specific tracks of advancement. Not good for folks who like the ability to load their plate however they want to in order to achieve specific results.
2) Where The Hell Are My Combat Maneuvers?
One of the things I was most grateful for as a player was the invention of Combat Maneuver Bonus and Combat Maneuver Defense. Nothing was more nightmarish (or prone to cause arguments), than constant roll-offs between a player and the DM whenever the player wanted to do something other than hit the big bad with his sword, or cast a spell at him.
So I was disappointed (but not surprised) to see that those things are absent from version 2.0.
The maneuvers still exist, but they're buried in the skills section. Why are they in the skills section, you ask? Well, because now instead of making attack rolls, you make skill rolls for many of the combat maneuvers. Even stranger than that decision, though, is that when you make these rolls, you're going against your enemy's saving throws. Why? Hell if I know.
There's another issue, though. Because in this version, you don't have skill points. Instead, your skills (and a lot of other stuff, but we'll get to that) are influenced by your proficiency level. There are five of them; untrained, trained, expert, master, legendary. These determine what bonuses you get on skill checks, but they also determine when you can or can't use them for certain things.
And if you're not trained in Athletics, then you can't make a disarm attempt. Or feint in combat, if you're not trained in Deception.
This is a very specific example, but it shows up throughout the game. Things that everyone used to be able to do (attempt a combat maneuver check, make attacks of opportunity, etc.) are now limited to very specific classes. So much like feats putting you on a certain track, there are options that were available to anyone regardless of class in Classic that are now kept behind glass unless you have the right proficiency level.
3) What's The Big Deal With Proficiency?
In the Classic edition, proficiency simply means you can do something without penalty. If you're proficient in heavy armor, you can wear heavy armor. If you're proficient with martial weapons, then you can wield martial weapons. It did nothing, unless you didn't have it, which meant you were dealing with a non-proficiency penalty.
In the playtest, this word does not mean what you think it means.
Those levels of proficiency literally control all major aspects of your character. If you're untrained, you have a proficiency bonus of your character level -2. If you're legendary, it's your character level +3. Each level between changes that number by one.
I'm not exaggerating here, either. Proficiency determines everything from your attack bonus with a weapon, to your bonuses on spells, to what your skill checks are, to your saving throws, to your goddamn armor class. It is the central mechanic that this entire playtest is built around, and it only comes in one of five varieties.
This means that huge parts of your character just get automatic progression along your track. A 10th level character gets a +8 bonus on untrained checks from their proficiency. Doesn't matter if Hrothgar Bloodbeard had never attempted diplomacy in his life, he'll still be pretty okay at it. Call me a cantankerous grognard if you must, but I am not a fan of the idea that you just automatically get better at everything as you go up in level. Especially stuff that you've never invested time, resources, or effort in mastering.
4) No More A La Carte Options
Another thing that I adored when Paizo brought out Pathfinder back in the early post-3.5 days was what I call a la carte options. Barbarians had a list of Rage powers, rogues had a slew of talents, ninjas got a list of tricks, alchemists got discoveries, and so on and so forth. This gave you a lot more control over the powers your character gained as you leveled, and you could use those powers in combination with feats to produce exactly the effects you wanted.
As with anything else on this list I was a fan of, that's gone too.
While a lot of these choices have made it to version 2.0 as options you can take, you aren't allowed to freely choose from the list like you were earlier. Barbarians, for example, are now locked into a choice of totem (which was completely optional in the previous edition if you never wanted to take a totem-style power). Rogues receive a number of options to choose from, but they are only available at certain levels. Alchemists... don't even get me started. While they're now a base class, their progression gives me a headache every time I try to read through it.
It is the same for feats. What was once a wide open menu of choice where you could pick whatever you wanted as long as you qualified for it has been narrowed down to a bare handful of options, and a lot of them are arbitrarily shut behind a certain amount of level progression.
And to those of your clearing your throats and asking if I'm comparing a single book to the huge morass of a decade or more of Classic publications, no, I'm not. Core book versus core book, you had more freedom in the older edition than you do now. All the stuff that's come out since the core book was published is just frosting on top.
5) There is No Multiclassing (Not As We Know It, Anyway)
Real talk here. In the decade and a half since I got my first set of dice, I've played between one and three single-class characters. Every other character I have ever brought to the table has been multiclassed. So when I finally got to the section on leveling up, I noticed right away that this playtest assumes you are never going to deviate from the class you started in.
But what if you really want to? Well, you can take an archetype.
What does that mean? Well, it means you're technically still taking levels of your original class. But now you're replacing your class feats with the class feats that belong to your archetype. And let me tell you, this method is an out-and-out dealbreaker from where I'm sitting. It's messy, overly complicated, and sends a very loud, very clear message that if you start off as a fighter, barbarian, or wizard, then you'd better get comfy, because acquiring the specialties of another class is going to be a headache for you and your DM alike.
… And Then It Hit Me
There came a moment, around page 390 or so, where I realized something. In addition to all the red flags I've mentioned, there were a dozen little tweaks that felt familiar in their annoyance. Rage that lasts for an arbitrary amount of time, instead of increasing with you as you level? Sneak attack that requires you to use a ranged, agile, or finesse weapon? Three or four different levels of dying, fear, or fatigue rather than specific conditions that you are or are not in?
This is not Pathfinder... this is Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition.
As I've said time and time again, the Classic edition was what we got when Paizo put Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 on the table, and gave it some juice. It came out bigger, tougher, and just as flexible and customizable as it's ever been. It was also just as complex, and required just as much investment. The second edition, though, has nothing to do with 3.5 at all. It's Paizo giving Wizards of The Coast's 5th Edition property the exact same treatment and hoping that the lightning will strike twice.
Why? No clue. Because when the lightning struck the first time there was a big audience clambering for support for a system that Wizards had dropped... but 5th Edition is riding high right now. It is, though it galls me to say it, probably the RPG of choice for the current tabletop renaissance. However, it holds that title because it is basic, it is clean, and it is literally something you could teach a person who has never gamed in their life with maybe a 15-minute run down.
Reading through this playtest, it has all of the complexity and confusion of Pathfinder's elaborate rules, but none of the simplicity and ease of learning that 5th Edition has. The mechanics have different names, and many of them have been split into three or four parts, but this is just 5th Edition with a bunch of gears glued on it to make it feel different.
Maybe I missed something in the lead-up to all this, but no one mentioned to me that the company was changing out the engine that ran the game, and which formed the core of what made everything else run. Because no matter what edition you're playing, if you want a 3.5 engine, you are not going to get those results running a 5E motor.
Folks who read my last post, 5 Things I Hate About Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition, will know exactly how damning this next statement will be; I would never play this game over 5E.
For more of Neal Litherland's work, check out his gaming blog Improved Initiative, or take a look at his archive over at Gamers!
Picture Reference: https://geekdad.com/2018/03/pathfinder-version-2-0-playtest-anounced/
16/8/2018 10:35:16 am
I don't always (probably not often, for that matter) agree with you, Neal, but I agree 100% with your assessment of the playtest.
16/8/2018 10:56:31 am
I agree with many of your comments. Regarding feats, I like that you get more, but most of them are lackluster and I can't pick and choose the way I'd like. CMB/CMD was one of the best new things they added in PF...and now they're tossing it out for P2...and the replacement is skills that i don't get...especially since I don't get skill points so I can't be better or worse at skills except that my class might make me eventually be legendary...but beyond that I have little control. I don't want all characters who aren't trained in all skills be be only 5 points worse than someone that's legendary at a skill at a given level...that's just dumb.
After the revised action economy, ancestry is probably my favorite change from Pathfinder 1e. No surprise as I started to homebrew a similar system for 3.5 back in the day. Have a look, I think it would make for an easier adaption to Pathfinder 1e than ancestry: http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showthread.php?120331-(d20)-Racial-Feature-Progression-(PEACH)
16/8/2018 12:18:54 pm
As long as you post this to the Playtest forum where the developers can see this. You feel strongly about this, and they should know. Well, once the Paizo site is working again, of course ><
Most of the Pathfinder Second Edition changes have their roots in Pathfinder Unchained. Which was released long enough after the start of the Fifth Edition playtest to have been influenced by it... So perhaps there is some design bleedthrough there.
11/7/2019 10:47:10 pm
An interesting read! I had been wondering about PF2 but as I've never really been interested in D&D 3.5 or PF1 I didn't care to take the time and actually take a look. Thanks for the condensed info!
12/7/2021 12:44:48 pm
It's interesting to stumble across this blog after I've been playing the P2e Playtest and the final version since their releases (and playing P1e before that). It turns out that most of the reactionary fears voiced here either didn't come to fruition or were over-hyped:
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