Experimental Feelings: We Review Pathfinder 2.0's Playtest Beta
As much as I love Dungeons & Dragons, I admit, there was a time I fell out of it with a number of players and gravitated more toward Pathfinder. It opened up a few new possibilities and played with a system that, at the time, didn't need to be changed. That was very appealing and created an entirely new audience who splintered off and soon became diehards. Over the past decade, aside from some minor changes here and there and a few additional guides to expand gameplay, the original version of Pathfinder was basically the gold standard people used to play the game for years. Until earlier this year when the company announced they were going to release Version 2.0, and would be playtested like the original was.
Paizo sent us a copy of the new rulebook, along with the adventure Doomsday Dawn to play with it, and a multi-pack of flip-mat maps. So we gathered some friends together for a few different sessions and played out the new beta to see how it plays.
Before we dive into what we have in this book, let me be very clear about something that we need to address right at the start: THIS IS A BETA! Everything, and we do mean everything we're about to discuss, from the text to the mechanics to the artwork is all subject to change. With the exception of most of the masthead, we're pretty confident in saying that if the company wishes, they can change whatever they want in here on a whim and make it final later. We're saying this now in case you read this somewhere in the future and you ask yourself "why isn't this here?" Also, we're going to stop with the comparisons to other series moving forward, because people already do that enough. Pathfinder is its own series at this point, comparing it to 3.5 should be a thing of the past.
So let's start with mechanics. Pathfinder has basically changed up a number of things that will make you excited and weep at the same time. First off, one of the funny nicknames the game has had over the years has been "Mathfinder" because a lot of this game was tied up in doing a lot of leveling and balancing and calculating, and that's before you ever left the damn tavern to go fight someone and have to roll up your hits and damage. A lot of that has been ironed out in this edition of the game, and puts you more in line for active play that isn't heavy on numbers. A good example of that would be the Feats and Skills systems, which you can trace their refinement back to Starfinder.
The Feats system basically allows you to create a character unique to that universe because much like falling snow, no two flakes are alike. So rather than bunching up a number of people who are kind of similar, you now have a way to create a person that feels almost tailor-made to you as a player. You can expand on that will the Skills system, which makes it so you can specialize your character in key areas. As a bit of an analogy, if the Feats area is helping you pick an instrument to play, the Skills system will help you fine-tune it so it sounds unique. It used to be that if you ever wanted to get anything done right, say being able to be a masterful rogue thief, you'd have to crunch to get your skills up to a specific threshold so you were competent. Now the system works to where you could try to pickpocket someone and have some success even if you're not a master thief. And that kind of planning applies across the board.
A couple of things that threw people off but were welcomed additions, in my opinion, were the Action Economy married to the Three-Action system. In most RPGs, people are used to the idea of having only two primary actions per turn: your action and your movement. Unless you've designed your character to break the mold and get multiple attacks or bonus actions, that's the standard. Pathfinder 2.0 gives every character an economy of three actions, which you end up having to use wisely. As a rouge, it was easy enough for me to move in, stab an enemy, and get away. But for other players like a wizard, there'd be points where a spell took three actions to cast. Or a fighter moving in, taking a swipe with a club, then raising a shield to prepare to get hit back.
Speaking of magic, some magic users are going to have a love/hate relationship with Resonance Points (RP). Rather than having spell slots or contributing time to spell casting, this new system simply uses points to calculate what you can use. The pool of points is based on your Charisma modifier plus your level and refreshes daily. Let's pretend for a moment you have 10 RP to your character. At the start of the day, you can plunk a few into preparing spells or taking potions or setting up something with magic. So let's say you spend 3, you now have 7 left to use on other magical items and spells for the rest of the day. So now it's on you to be very picky about how you utilize these points.
Character creation has been given the once-over, and as best we can tell, it's now faster to create a character from scratch than ever before. I can remember spending an hour or two mulling over text trying to put together something decent, like picking the perfect combination of workings and proficiencies to make playing an Android character worthwhile. For lack of a better example, a lot of that process has been simplified and cut in half. Wanna make a Sorcerer? Go ahead! Dive right in! It took about 30 minutes to complete a character creation on paper without needing any special books to add an emphasis on the character and still make them pretty awesome. There's still a few flow issues that probably need to be worked out int he book, but for the most part, I was satisfied on that end of the spectrum.
Again, while we're on magic, Pathfinder 2.0 cleaned up the spells a lot. If you're a hardcore player you'll recognize much of the text thrown at you in the book, but you'll also notice a lot of the fat has been trimmed out and they get right to the purpose of the spell without needing to explain it in depth. One of the biggest issues I had playing any character using magic in the past was that it felt like I was reading a contract for high-level spells. If I can't understand it, how the hell am I supposed to make it work properly? Right? So far, 2.0 cleared all that confusion up so I know what happens without 20 contingency plans based on my roll.
For non-magic users, you'll find all of the equipment in the game looks about the same, but it has been given what we would like to think of as a proper dusting. Stuff that didn't really serve a purpose in the game has either been simplified or removed, while other items that Paizo discovered were used more have been given a little bit of expansion. The charts have also been cleared up so that they're easier to follow and have a better understanding of what you're using.
As far as playing the game goes, I tried this out with the same group of five players over the course of a few weeks, and I can honestly say they were some of the most productive games of Pathfinder I've played in my life, period. I cannot begin to describe how many adventures I've played in the old system over the past three years that ended after day one because the entire process felt like a chore to get started. I believe a combination of players who wanted to play and a revised system that made starting a campaign much simpler made for a faster experience and allowed to GM to tell a better story with the resources given. Sure, we were playing a pre-built adventure, but it made us feel like we accomplished something instead of wasting three hours traveling to a cave just to pick it back up next week. We were fighting within 30 minutes, and it felt awesome.
Pathfinder 2.0, as it is right now, is not 100% perfect. However, it's a massive step in the right direction for the series and the game. It's clear there are a lot of good ideas in the book the fee like the best intentions were had, but that the execution may need a touch-up. I'm looking forward to when this beta is over and we're rocking a hardcover version to play the final version of the game. For now, if you're a Pathfinder fan, I recommend starting up a game and seeing how the new set of rules plays for you.