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.

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