The Pathfinder Playtest: Changes to Come

We’re less than five months away from the release of Pathfinder 2nd edition. Folks who participated in the playtest saw a notably changed system, and those who kept up on the regular updates saw the game change even more due to player feedback. After all that, what will the final version look like?

Only the designers know for sure, although fans can expect previews as the hype for the new edition builds. But interviews during and after the playtest, not to mention the update documents themselves, already provide some hints as to what’s coming. Here’s a breakdown of the changes we can definitely expect from 2nd edition.

More Choices at Character Creation

While I liked the small number of choices made during character creation (ancestry feat, class feat, spells, equipment, done), it looks like the final version of the game will have more decision points during character creation. Per designer Jason Bulmahn, you’ll now choose your ancestry, heritage, background, class, and class path, then spells and equipment.

No matter what, though, goblin PCs are still going to be in the core rules.

Many of these choices found their way into the playtest updates. Heritage is basically an additional ancestry feat that reflects genetics rather than culture. Class path already showed up in the playtest for some classes, such as barbarian totems and bardic muses. Now every class gets one of those.

There’s a fine line to walk between the right number of choices and forcing players to make too many decisions. In practice, the five decision points roughly match up with the choices in Dungeons & Dragons, where you pick your race, subrace, class, and background. Is one more choice the sweet spot for Pathfinder fans, or is it one step too far? We’ll see in August.

Revised Proficiency System

One of the major differences between D&D and Pathfinder is that the former places more emphasis on raw talent while the latter places more emphasis on character skill. A D&D character with an 18 Intelligence does better on History checks than somebody with 10 Intelligence and proficiency in History well until 9th level, with the proficient character only surpassing the talented one at 13th level. By comparison, a trained character in 1st edition Pathfinder can surpass a talented but untrained one as early as 2nd level.

Doomsday Dawn Manticore
Extra incentive to grab Athletics and Acrobatics training so you can take down that damned manticore.

The Pathfinder Playtest veered closer to D&D territory on this at first, with an untrained character only having a -2 penalty to a skill check compared to somebody with training…and only -5 compared to somebody with legendary training. A later update increases the untrained penalty to -4.

Per a Twitch stream in December, the gap between ability and training is about to grow further. Somebody trained in a skill, weapon, or armor gets their level +2 to checks. Expert proficiency gives level +4, master proficiency gives level +6, and legendary training gives level +8.

A character without training in something adds just their ability modifier but not their level. This means that 2nd edition heads back to the domain of training over talent, which is probably a good way to keep it different from D&D. But hopefully your adventure doesn’t ever rely on your paladin trying to use Stealth.

I’m quite glad to see the penalty for untrained checks replaced with just the lack of a bonus. Having played a few low-level games in the playtest, I’ve noticed that my players don’t seem to want to try something if they see a negative number next to their skills. The larger gap at higher levels my be a problem, but hopefully this change will mean that lower level characters feel more empowered to take chances.

No Resonance

Resonance, a brand new system that limited the number of magic items you could wear and use, became a contentious issue even before the playtest came out. By October 2018, the design team released a revised version of resonance, but even that didn’t catch on. Now it seems that resonance will be removed entirely.

Mythic Magic Item
Resonance free is the way to be!

Resonance’s mark on the game remains in only two forms in the final edition. Characters have a limit of how many permanent magic items they can carry (presumably 10, based on the revised resonance test earlier). Also, it seems that Spell Points will be renamed Focus Points, a la the revised version.

Although I had no love for resonance, I particularly welcome the change in nomenclature to Focus Points. Explaining to newcomers that Spell Points are different from spell slots got annoying. Now if they would only rename spell levels to something that didn’t make them confusing when compared to character levels…

Death and Dying

Throughout the playtest, the designers never seemed to land on a death and dying system that they liked. When discussion what didn’t make it into the game, they mentioned that the death system they went with was the least bad version they had but still a far cry from their ideal.

Ezren Dying
Poor Ezren’s been bleeding out for months and still doesn’t know what kind of recovery save he needs to make.

The original death system had some wonkiness to it, such as allowing situations where a character could be above 0 HP but still dying. This got replaced with a system where dying character who received healing were slowed on the round they came back, thus rendering them useless for a round. Then the wounded condition popped up, meaning that you died more quickly if you repeatedly got healed and then dropped to 0 HP. Then the recovery saving throw changed from something based on the Class DC of the creature that dropped you (making it more likely that you died against a boss monster instead of a minion, but requiring all monsters to have a Class DC) to a flat number based on your dying value.

I’d put money on the final system being different from all of these, as it seems to be one of those things the designers just aren’t satisfied with. All we know for sure is that we won’t go back to negative HP values. Negative HP, introduced as an optional rule back in AD&D, had a good run, but time seems to have passed it by.

More Changes than I Can Count

The changes listed above are major highlights that have popped up in interviews and forums over the past few months, but there are many more waiting in the wings. From class redesigns to skill tweaks to a major overhaul with how wands work, the final version of Pathfinder 2nd edition looks like it has the same chassis as the playtest, but a lot of the engine has been changed over. Hopefully, all of these changes turn out to be improvements.


Images: Paizo Publishing

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