Monday, September 16, 2019

Pathfinder 2E Skill Feats - more depth

My prior post felt a bit like a gripe against Pathfinder 2nd edition in a way I'm not really in full alignment with. There's a bit of frustration there but it's mostly because I (being an old, crusty gamer stuck in his ways) get annoyed when a new thing pops up and demands I read it instead of relying on my old sense of familiarity. Such is the main issue with the way skills and skill feats work in Pathfinder 2nd Edition.

Here's a few examples: the first one is Perception, which they deliberately took out of the "skill ecology" of the game. Perception is now essentially a special stat, which is not actually a bad way to approach it (and is in alignment with how perception has worked --often as a houserule-- in prior editions back to 1E's Unearthed Arcana).

The problem is, Perception is still essentially tied to "skill actions." For example: if you want to discern whether an NPC is telling the truth or not (this happens plenty of times at my game table), the way to do it is to roll deception for the NPC (lie action using Deception skill) against the PC's perception score (which not only covers awareness of the senses but apparently also awareness of the character and tone of others).

A second problem is that, while the book is exceedingly well organized for the most part, it has weird moments where the procedure for an action is buried in the details. For example: lying is covered as an action you can do, but discerning lies is buried within the text of lying. So unlike other iterations of the game, you don't have a "Intuition" or "Sense Motive" or "Insight" skill or feat to go to; if you want to detect lies you need to read up not on detecting them but how to lie. This seems like a tiny oversight...even a "Sense Motive" skill action that just says "see Lie" would have helped.*

Skill feats then come in to play to allow a player to distinguish their character's abilities in more detail. Under this system, the way to get better at detecting lies is to actually get trained in deception yourself (learn how to tell lies), then pick the skill feat "Lie to Me" so you can use deception to detect lies instead of your perception score. This means that perception is really just everyone's "baseline" ability to detect lies or see/hear/detect things. The skill feats are where you can distinguish this stuff in more depth.

A really good skill example of how this granularity breaks down is the Society skill. On the surface society lets you recall knowledge, create forgeries, decipher writing and subsist (three of which are general actions; which is to say, skill actions more than one skill might deploy). You can uniquely create forgeries with this skill.

Things you can't do with Society as a skill without a skill feat: behave as a noble (Courtly Graces), build or use connections (Connections), gather information or recall knowledge (Streetwise), and a bunch of language stuff that does make more sense (and also demonstrates that the old Linguistics skill was rolled up into Society). Note that learning new languages are Society skill feats, though; there's no "Learn a Language" skill action that tells you this, though.

As a GM, you need to consider whether or not the skill check you are about to have your PC make on the Society skill might conflict with those things that you need skill feats for. A character trained in Society still can't mimic noble conduct (I think this makes sense, but it means if you play a noble you need this feat), and you can't use it to build connections with a skill check. You can't gather information or recall knowledge since you need Streetwise as a skill feat. What does that mean in the context of a skill check?

In one sense, this is all's a nice way of parsing out skill abilities and defining what they can and cannot do. But in doing so, it becomes an interesting game of tracking two sets of data: the skills you are trained in, and the skill feats that let you do different things with them.

I am personally of the view that having a skill called "streetwise" or "Etiquette" would be easier then having to track skill feats....but that's just me. Heck, even just making these specializations of the Society skill that a "skill feat" slot lets you pick would at least organizationally help out as I see it. The PF2E devs did not go in this direction, though.

I'm ultimately fine with this; it's not a Big Deal after all, and in the end at least you can define a character by his focus through the skill feats this way. feels a little clunky if you don't get extremely familiar with the system. Luckily for both myself and the game I am sufficiently interested in it that I feel the desire to do so. I'm enjoying the overall extra level of depth that Pathfinder brings back to the games, something I have been missing with D&D 5E for quite a while now.


I'm trying to talk my players into running a few weeks with a level 12 mini campaign in Pathfinder 2E. I'd like to see how the higher levels play without waiting for the ongoing campaigns to get there. I'll keep you all apprised if this happens.

*Speaking of things where the developers came up with a neat new thing and then buried it in the details, read up on the uncommon items rules. They are buried over multiple pages. Then, consider that spells have uncommon varieties, and other things may be so restricted. Then read on the classes to discern how that applies to class advancement. Then read through the GM's section to see if you can find clarification on how you, as GM, should adjudicate uncommon spells and features. It's a great idea, but apparently no one thought that it deserved an entire special chapter addressing to the GM what this means and how to handle it, insetad leaving lots of little clues to you and the players to try and figure it out. GAAAAAAAHHHH!!!!

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Contrasting Pathfinder 2E against Dungeons & Dragons 5E

We're approximately 8 games in to Pathfinder 2nd edition between two groups now. Both games have inched along to 3rd level and I think (depending on whether or not I'm interpreting the XP rules correctly) it seems safe to say that a fairly active group of players accomplishing a lot will advance at least 1 level every two sessions or so.

After last night's game I think, at least for the low level experience I am getting a similar vibe to my initial exploration of D&D 5E at low level: the experience feels very consistent, the combats can be quite dangerous, and risk/reward is quite noticeable. There are some distinct differences, though, which I'll point out about combat, skills and GM resources.


Right now combat in Pathfinder feels tight, intuitive, and the action point system lets you do things you can't accomplish in PF 1E or any version of D&D; you can make iterative attacks as long as you are willing to accept the penalty to hit, and the increased change of a fumble on your successive tries. There's a more strategic element to it even if you aren't using a map and minis (which we have not used except for basic map reference). Combats don't last long, and thanks to the 10-point differential which allows for normal attacks to convert to fumbles and crits combat often has some interesting and swingy results. It's interesting and I like it.

D&D 5E's main issue by contrast is that while combat flows well from level 1-4, as you advance it often feels more and more like "big bags of hit points try to deal enormous amounts of damage." Players and creatures alike in 5E have too many abilities that boil down to damage dealing without enough distinctly interesting effects (PF2E has lots of interesting effects at the low levels for contrast).  Despite this, D&D 5E combat isn't bad by any stretch.....if I ranked it vs. PF2E I'd call it a "good combat system contrasted with a great combat system."

If 5E had mor interesting effects and wasn't so obsessed with Hit Points as the catch-all I think it would hold well in this comparison. But so far: Pathfinder is a clear winner when it comes to the feel and flow of combat.

Skill Systems

As I see it, there are three modes of thought on skills: you love them and no game is sufficient unless it allows for maximum granularity; you hate them and want to know why any skills are really needed; or you recognize that there are "things you need to do" in any given game that can best be handled by skills and so try to find a modest compromise for handling this.

PF2E and D&D 5E both seem to fall in to this middle camp on the surface. 5E gives you a list of skills that I would call "the minimum decent list of skill thingies you will probably do in a D&D session." Pathfinder 2E technically also takes this approach, but then ultimately makes it enormously granular and complex....which should in theory make the "guy #1 who loves skills" happier, right? But it doesn''s actually making a skill system for "guy who recognizes a compromise mechanic but also wants tons of detail on what the compromise skill system does."

On the one hand, I like how specific the skill actions in Pathfinder can get, but on the other hand as I have delved deep into the skill feats I have sort of grown to dislike it. The problem is best described like this, starting with a D&D 5E skill challenge:

1. Player wants to do action X.
2. GM looks at the 5E skill list and thinks skill Y is a good choice.
3. Roll and resolve!

In Pathfinder 2E so far it goes like this:

1. Player wants to do skill action X.
2. GM suggests rolling on Skill Y.
3. Someone points out you can't really do that the way the player wants unless you have Skill Feat Z. GM reminds himself he needs to memorize in great detail all the skill feats because they are lots of "special exception rules" that are in reality hard limiters on the "what you can and can't do without this feat" take which PF and 3E are known for taking to insane extremes.
4. GM manages a compromise on the action, but then realizes he's not asking for the right skill because it turns out that by trying to reduce the skill list as much as it did (while also not looking too much like a copy/paste of the D&D 5E skill system) has led to Pathfinder making some really strange and counter-intuitive choices in skill consolidation. Do they work? They will, once you accept that this is how they are meant to work. Or you could go play another game with a more intuitive skill system, and that is a problem for PF2E.

Now, Pathfinder does some stuff incredibly well with the skill system as provided. Key items of note include: a better and more consistent approach to how to identify and figure out the use of magic items; a simpler crafting mechanic that, while losing granularity, is still easier to use as written; and the perception mechanic no longer being a skill but an ability. Most significant is how initiative is a skill-based thing now which can play off of perception or a relevant skill (e.g. stealth) as suits the moment. That's the most innovative thing I've seen in a game in a long time, so simple yet so logical.

But both Pathfinder and D&D 5E fail to a degree when it comes to how much verisimilitude you want in your game systen. To 5E's credit you can use the DMG rules to add as many skills as you want in, and learning skills is a matter of time and investment and totally untethered from leveling. Both systems wisely add some sort of RP-focued background mechanic (profession/background) which helps flesh out the role-play element that your character will otherwise suffer a bit on with a less granular skill system. And both do this the way they do because they are trying to find ways to solve the mechanical issues on skills imposed by 3rd edition design.

In the end....D&D 5E wins here.

The Gamemaster's Resources

This is a tough one, because to get the full experience with D&D 5E you need three books, so you're spending a fair amount of cash. Pathfinder 2E, despite having some rules to run the game in the Core Book, has offloaded a chunk of what used to be in the core and bestiary in to the upcoming Gamemastery Guide. If you want decent NPC stat blocks, rules for making, scaling and modifying monsters, rules for lots of "GM adjudication" stuff....we have to wait until January next year. Once it's out, it will be a 3-book core system. This is on equal footing with D&D 5E so I have to call this as a draw.

But! The problem here is key items (NPC design, monster design and more depth in the GM rules) were all in two books in PF1E. It is a shame to see this drawn out. One of my players thinks they were forced to rush PF2E to release. I think maybe they just wanted to get it spread out more; but I gotta be honest, I'd have much rather had some NPC/monster design rules in the core books than the goblin ancestry and alchemist. Oh well.

Pathfinder 2E is proving a lot of fun, but it is also making me appreciate some of the design choices put in to D&D 5E. I am thinking that a perfect version of the game could be found in a system with PF2E level combat and action economy, D&D 5E level skill mechanics, and some blend of the spell systems.

Another contrast is the "gradient of success" mechanic in PF2E vs. the advantage/disadvantage mechanic in D&D 5E. I feel like both are interesting and equally innovative. I wonder if one could implement some version of both in a hybrid version of the two games.....hmmmm.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Cypher System Revised Is Out!!! - Best Game Ever

Yesterday I got my notice that Cypher System Revised was being released and my Kickstarter claim was ready, so I now have the PDF and am waiting for my physical shipment. A few comments for those interested in what this new edition brings to the game:

Same System, New Look

It's the same game system. Much like with Numenera, the revised edition is more complimentary to what has come before. Nothing about Cypher Revised will negate your current collection. I intend to keep my 1st edition book for the game table as it will still be fully functional for players who need to roll characters or rules reference. Monte Cook Games needs to be commended for this practice, it is very much appreciated.

Additional Core Content

I'm still parsing through it all (though I spent most of last night reading this monstrous tome), but so far I have noticed that some content previously reserved for expansions is incorporated into this new tome: post-apocalypse and fairy tale genres are now in the mix, existing genres such as horror get an extra boost on ideas and rules, as well as additional creatures and options. The rules on cyphers are discussed in a bit more depth and some of the "how to implement" ideas are expanded upon in interesting ways. Additional GM content on how to run games is quite welcome. Some of the new rules options which were introduced in the revised Numenera core books are now also available here. The art is a mix of classic and new. Slidikin are in the Cypher bestiary (yay! I have them as recurring major foes in one campaign). Lots of good tweaks and changes.

Clarifications Abound

This rewrite, much like the Numenera rewrite, has given MCG a chance to revise how some rules are explained, aiding in clarification on those moments when it maybe not 100% clear what the rules intent is. Anyone who has played Cypher for a while knows what I am talking about; the adjudication process is very simple so it rarely causes issues, but lots of specific exceptions occasionally give one pause for thought on deciding how best to handle a given situation mechanically; the revised rules so far seem to be cleaning up these odd spots.

So...if you are like me and love Cypher System, this purchase is a no-brainer. If you have been on the fence, I suggest you start with this book. If you own the old book and wonder if you need to upgrade.....well I am a bit biased but I feel it is worth the purchase; that said, if you're only occasionally playing Cypher System, have limited funds, or just want to know if a table using this book will let you use the old book instead, I think you'll still be just fine.

A+++! I love Cypher System, it is the first game system I have ever encountered that feels like it was specifically designed for my GM play style, and I cannot get enough of it.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Film Review: It: Chapter Two - The Funniest Thing Heard Leaving the Theater

The best part of watching It: Chapter Two wasn't the movie itself (which was fun and a fairly decent if overly long sequel to the first movie) it was these two guys leaving the theater, both maybe around 27-30 years of age if I had to guess, complaining that the cast of older actors in the movie all looked in their twenties. I could not help but exclaim, "But every adult actor in this movie is actually in their early forties..." and they looked at me like I had deliberately listening in on their conversation just to rain on their RLM-themed* gripe parade. Priceless.

Aside from that.....a fun movie! Not the most eloquent of horror films, but a far sight better than the original film, and in general on the "good" side of the evil ancient cosmic murder clown film spectrum. My son continues to be obsessed with It as a film series and a concept. He's vowed to read the novel, just as soon as he's at that reading level (he has also made me keep a copy of Pet Cemetery  on the shelf for when that time arrives.) Until then it's all Goosebumps and eventually Scary Stories to Tell in The Dark (which was apparently a thing when I was a kid and I do not recall ever reading, unfortunately).

Since this post is turning in to a mini review I suppose I'll mention that while the movie was in general quite entertaining it really could have benefited from being 20+ minutes shorter. There are a few scenes (several being gratuitous CGI scare moments) which simply served no purpose, even the --MILD SPOILER-- homage to The Thing moment (you'll know it when you see it) which as best I can tell was primarily there to give one character his "moment of overwhelming fear" sequence despite the same character rather effectively demonstrating an ability to conquer that fair just a bit earlier. Removing some gratuitous moments like this would have tightened the film and made the actually interesting scary bits more significant.

I've never read the novel, but I am now tempted to. It is interesting to note that there are definitely some common "beats" which Stephen King utilizes repeatedly in his novels, and as I have gotten in to King recently (I have spent decades considering King too popular for my tastes...yeah, yeah, old hipster in action here I guess) it has become impossible not to notice that there are some very common recurrent themes in his books (and films by proxy). It is also impossible not to be intrigued by King's weird universe and its interesting recurrent themes, locations, entities and generally eerie cosmology. He does seem to have a problem with tight endings, I have noticed....and so has the movie, which makes this notion something of a recurring joke. film, not the deepest or most profound but arguably better than a lot of other horror being produced these days (certain key exceptions do stand out), worth watching especially if you have an 8 year old Stephen King-obsessed fan in your house. Solid A-, would have been rated higher if it had tightened up the story to something closer to 2 hours.

*I love Red Letter Media but often Jay and Mike (and the rest) are profoundly skewed and biased in their perception of some films. I do think they represent the tip of the "critic culture" iceberg that permeates society today though. 

Monday, September 9, 2019

Returning to World of Warcraft Classic

I came back to Blizzard specifically for WoW Classic, I admit. I wasn't sure if I would or not....but yep, I resubbed for one month just to try it out.

I am trying to pin down what the attraction is, and it seems (for me) to be the following items:

1. the specific way the game fostered a social environment at that very specific point in its implementation resonated well for me;

2. the mechanical elements were more enjoyable than later changes made to the game (I always liked leveling weapons, saving up to buy skills from the trainer, deliberating over skill choices, and having to factor in these resource needs in level-up process);

3. and (probably most importantly) the game felt exceedingly new and different back then, and oddly enough this time capsule experience now feels unique compared to today's market.

That said.... graphically it feels less exciting now (duh), but somehow it looks way too good for the experience I remember.  I realize now that running it on max graphics with a 4K resolution wasn't helping with my nostalgia parade, but at this point I'm not going to dig up an old pentium PC with a CRT monitor and a 56kbps* connection to maximize my trip down memory lane, so I'll just keep having fun with the specific "re-enjoyment" of it and then bail as I usually do. In my defense, I bet I've played WoW in total 1/20th the amount of time everyone else pining for Classic has, and I have never raided in the game, period.

All things considered I am probably enjoying this most of all because it takes me back to a time when WoW and indeed the entire MMORPG genre was young, new and intriguing, especially to me. I'd never played an MMO before WoW, and this game set off a lengthy number of years exploring the genre. While I greatly enjoyed Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King, after Cataclysm the game changed too much, became a little too self-aware of itself and focused too much on a mix of "easy casuals" vs. "hardcore elite" type players, while I fell somewhere in the middle. The leveling game abruptly became too boring and unchallenging even as the endgame became too laborious and demanding, and my interest gradually died. Blizzard wanted people to power-level through to endgame content, but for players like myself the leveling experience and accompanying exploration was the sweet spot, not the endgame raids and events.

So's kind of fun getting to see the version of the game where I had the most genuine enjoyment again.

PS: There's one significant thing I realized over the weekend that's different from current WoW that I really like: when you see someone with a pet, mount or suit of gear you know it's both what they earned and what they actually "have" at that moment. No one's buying stuff in a RMT shop and accounts do not have account-bound critters and stuff, meaning that once again I can balance the weight of "accomplishment on this character and this character alone" against the convenience of "now I can share all crap on all my PCs and learn to ignore how immersion breaking that is."

I can't stress enough that when games in general went the direction of "account-wide unlockables" I was torn between liking the convenience but feeling like it destroyed the "story experience" of the actual characters in your corral. I accepted that the latter must be a distinct issue only to the subset of gamers like myself who seek verisimilitude and continuity (even in an MMO) but truthfully? Yeah, this transition for most MMOs badly damaged much of my enjoyment for the genre by degrading the accomplishments of the character's story that I could experience as the player and diluting it to the "player's experience with his account and all stuff attached" which pulled the story-feel right out of the game and turned it into a metagame experience. As a player it was nice to have those unlocks, but it also demotivated me to enjoy my alt characters as much as I wanted to....the rewards had been earned, if you will, and the desire to continue on them was lessened as a result.

*Blizzard has had enough wonky lag and a weekend DDOS attack however, so they've accurately simulated the old days of crappy latency in 2005 Seattle I experienced.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Death Bat Update!

I've been too busy to post much recently, but here's a brief update as to what all is going on in the circles of gaming I try to weave through:

1. Pathfinder 2nd Edition going strong

We're running it weekly right now for Saturday nights and every other Wednesday (it replaced the D&D 5E game I was running). The system continues to intrigue though I think some of my players are eager to see more content for them to work with for chargen purposes. As a GM I am really keen to check out the Gamemastery Guide in January, the system will feel a bit more complete once it is out. Beyond that....I continue to really like the flow of the system, so far.

2. Cypher System in the Works

I'm planning to get back to this and my ongoing weird fantasy-SF mashup campaign, once I can get the Pathfinder craze to calm down. Hopefully by the time Cypher Core Revised edition comes out!

3. Also, Savage Worlds...

Our off-Wednesday game night is a Savage Worlds supers/horror mashup with some Twin Peaks-meets-Schlock Horror influence that is proving to be a great deal of weird fun. I should be seeing my copy of the new edition of Savage Worlds soon, looking forward to the upgrade.

4. World of Warcraft Classic

I've only managed to find time for a couple sessions, but WoW Classic's return hooked me back in to the game. Part of me is all "why am I doing this??" but the other part of me is, "Ah, I am genuinely enjoying this nostalgia trip, so shut up rational side of my brain."

5. The Switch Rules

When you're on the move a lot, having a Nintendo Switch along for the ride is valuable (expecially if you are in a hotel and hate local TV surfing). Also, has anyone noticed how amazingly the Switch is dominating remasters and retro adaptations of classic games from the not-too-distant past? I'm mostly playing stuff like Assassins' Creed III, Pillars of Eternity, Saints Row III and Dragon's Dogma on the Switch these days, and just added Bulletstorm and the surprise awesomeness of Deadly Premonition: Origins to that list.

I have to be honest....if I could only hold on to one console right now, Switch would be it.

Okay, more soon, I promise/hope!!!!

Sunday, August 25, 2019

R.I.P. Rick Loomis

I just saw this, and am very sorry to hear Rick Loomis passed away. Rick will be missed.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Eberron Returns!

I'm excited for this announcement...details here.

Check this alternate cover out:

The thing about Eberron is: it's the best "modern" iteration of a D&D setting that WotC has tackled, and offers enough of the "different" from Forgotten Realms to stand out. With any luck, this portends more cool sourcebooks bringing back other key setting in the future, or alternatively it sells well enough we see some Eberron-focused adventure books in the future.

Either way....this is good! It's the first D&D book to tear me away from my Pathfinder 2nd edition obsession that has gripped me this August.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

First Impressions of Remnant: From the Ashes

I'm only a few hours in to the weekend pre-access of this title, so my rating is subject to change, but for those interested, here's some initial impressions of Gunfire Games' and Perfect World's Remnant: From the Ashes, a third-person perspective co-op action RPG game:

1. RftA is 25% Dark Souls, 25% Diablo III, 25% Fallout (thematics mainly) and 25% PvE standard co-op shooter style (like Borderlands 2 or Destiny). It seems (so far) to have captured all the good parts of those games with none (so far) of the bad.

2. It's Perfect World, so I keep waiting for the monetization scheme, but nothing yet.

3. This is kind of addictive so far. I haven't enjoyed a game this much since Resident Evil 2 Remake. What is going on??? I am not used to a $40 title which feels like a solid experience, isn't trying to gouge me with microtransactions (I am wondering if those will come after full release?) and is actually a nice product with tight game play. This is very confusing.

Anyway, when I compare it to other titles, this is what I mean:

RftA has a structural similarity to Dark Souls (tough bosses, dungeons which reset if you rest at a checkpoint, an artifact with limited health restoration that replenishes, and a methodical timing-based combat mechanic). It is missing bad parts, such as corpse running to recover lost stuff, repetitive experiences when areas reset, and janky, pointless accicental deaths due to losing patience with the game's rigorous, almost fetishistic focus on forcing the player to repeat actions until they get it exactly right or figure out what they are doing wrong. RftA does not do this, not like Dark Souls. It is faster paced and so far I've only run into one baffling encounter which left me wondering what the hell the correct tactic was.

It's like Diablo III in that there are intermediary checkpoints where you can clear a boss or location, you can get zerged by hordes of monsters, and you can group with other players for a good co-op experience. You have a similar approach to finding loot, or in RftA's case lots of scrap and iron to develop your loot.

It's like Fallout in that the game feels thematically --almost suspiciously-- like a spiritual relative. The grim remnants of the apocalypse have a Fallout-ish vibe, although the monsters are more alien. The RPG bits you run in to and the music are very evocative of the Fallout vibe at times.

It's "standard PvE" co-op shooter in that you can get together in a team of three to tackle these tasks. It's perfectly fun solo, too....but the co-op will appeal greatly to those who have friends with like interests. Given the low cost of the game ($40) I am tempted to grab copies for the whole family so we can play it, although I don't know if the souls-like elements will frustrate them or not.

The souls-like portion is sufficiently absent serious aggravation to me for two reasons: you don't lose progress, and when you re-enter the area you died it seems to mix up the threat a bit, so you can't reliably predict what you will run in to, but you could also get lucky and find a lesser threat waiting. However, most importantly for it is it isn't as painfully slow paced as Dark Souls and I like this fact a lot. Also, just as important, I've only encountered one mystifying bad guy encounter. I'm at the first major boss right now, and while I haven't defeated it (yet) I can see the path to victory, just need to find the time to do it.

Anyway....Remnant: from the Ashes officially releases on Steam Tuesday, but if this sounds like your cup of tea I suggest you check it out!

Monday, August 12, 2019

Pathfinder 2E Progress Report - Two Games In

Last week was insanely busy so I didn't end up getting to post anything about the ongoing Pathfinder 2nd Edition experiment, but I at last have a few minutes so I figure a follow-up is in order.

We've had two Saturday sessions now, and I am pleased to say that the experience is going well so far. Except for one moment where I spent a fair amount of time trying to establish that the Monk's Wolf Stance trip trait worked as I thought it did (which required looking in the index, the section on a trip action, the wolf stance feat and the weapons section on what it meant for a weapon (e.g. teeth) to have this trait), it was otherwise fairly smooth.

Here, so far, are the top three "things to look up" as we've been playing:

1. Spells (make sure we're doing it right) are the easiest surprisingly....the spell descriptions are very straight forward and sometimes lead to questions but the interpretation has so far proven consistent; the devil is in the wording, but no wording has tripped us up yet.

2. Feats, those devilish things, have sometimes required look up and adjudication. This is mainly for player benefit, and happens less than it should, which any GM knows means one of two things: the players either know their stuff well and are already indexing the stat blocks, or they do not know their stuff at all and are overlooking useful feats.

3. Skills. Yes, skills are where I spend most of my time studying the rules right now, believe it or not. The reason is simple: the skill list, while consolidated, still contains a plethora of specific trained and unique actions tied to different skills. Some of what is going on here is also learning about the subtle nuances of the system.

Have you heard about the idea of reading an RPG for its "implied setting," the concept of the world the system described through its rules? Well, Pathfinder 2E has a lot of that, stuff which you don't necessarily see spelled out in any singe spot but when taken as a whole paint an interesting picture. For two good examples of this, read up on Crafting and Alchemy skills, and look in to the magic items rules with the idea of crafting in mind. You'll quickly realize as GM that you cannot apply your experience from prior editions of D&D or pathfinder 1E to the new has different expectations.

The other one I noticed is in magic detections. Go read up on how the skills affect this, the spells that relate to this, and the feats which modify this information. It's consistent, but the different parts contain a compelling new picture of how this information should be doled out by the GM based on what method and level of expertise is at's very different from prior iterations in my experience.

So far, Pathfinder 2E is full of lots of little "surprises" like this, interesting synergies and rules mechanics which reveal a different approach or way of thinking about the fantasy RPG genre. I like it. It leads to a new way of envisioning the game.

Here's another one: the new XP mechanics are surprisingly straight forward; you earn XP, and when you get 1,000 you spend it to get a new level. That's it for the player's side. For the GM, you have a base range of XP by party composition relative to creature level, and you award it as a flat package to the PCs (so if the encounter is worth 120 XP, each PC gets 120 apiece, you don't divide it out). Simple math. In addition any encounter or progression can be worth a decent reward....usually a better reward than many fighting encounters, in fact.

Though the game isn't overt in this statement, the net result is that you can have meaningful XP-based progression without ever feeling the need to lace encounters with fights just to boost XP. This is "normal think" for non D&D RPGs, but is a fairly innovative take for D&D-likes. Yes, 5E introduced milestones (as did 13th Age) but this is slightly different; XP is a reward system, and useful for that any computer gamer knows, having a point system to track success and achievements is a nice addition to player mechanics; you feel like your progress is tied to your actions. So having such an elegantly simplified mechanic in place which still feels D&D while breaking from the tradition of murdering monsters for maximum advancement is very, very welcome.

A final note so far: I've been running without maps and minis, and using "theater of the mind" with the small but important sidebar in the book on how it advises doing this....which basically boils down to "state what you want to do, decide if it makes sense, and do it," sort of no-nonsense approach to TotM combat. It's nothing "new" but I cannot stress enough how useful it is to have it defined this way in the book, for the following reasons: first, if the rules say it's okay to do it this way and not fret as much about exact distances then it helps alleviate the unease of the rules lawyers at the table; second, by codifying the concept, however simple the approach is in the rulebook, it makes it a perfectly viable option and immediately allows for the GM to choose his flavor of the moment without feeling like something is being missed.

I have also noticed that in the combats I have run so far the various mechanics seem to play well with TotM combats. Though written so they can work on a map fine, the language translates equally well so far for most stat blocks to an equivalent effect in TotM encounters.

One thing which is puzzling me: the medicine skill allows for first aid, and goes in to length on using it and waiting an hour (with specific rules on what that means so you can tell it must have been contentious in the playtest). But can the skill be repeatedly used once it is successful? I need to read up on this, but to me it's noticeably effective at wiping out both hit points and wounds. The first aid element of medicine effectively makes most groups fine without a cleric as long as they don't mind not having access to immediate healing....but it also negates the value of gaining wounds over time. Must study more for answers.

A final item of note: lots of rules are actually now "case exceptions" tied to feats. GMs can now, for example, assume that a withdrawing foe is not going to get opportunity attacked....unless he's withdrawing from a fighter, for example. Many feats for different classes ave specific exceptions baked in. Skill feats are particularly interesting in this manner. So the next time a cleric fails a religion check, the GM should be ready in case she comes back with a "Ah, I am a Cleric of the Canon by my feat and so my failure is now a success!" moment. This "exceptions are baked in to the feats" concept is an important one for GMs to remember, and ultimately makes getting very familiar with this book a good idea. Players, meanwhile, do themselves an injustice if they aren't taking notes on what their various special feats let them do.....and you can do quite a lot.