Pathfinder is known in the market for three things: For having a very complex, mathematical, rules-heavy system; secondly, for being the system to play if you want the deepest character customisation available, and lastly; for having a very complex, mathematical, rules-heavy system.
Yep, ask just about anyone about Pathfinder, and they’ll eventually circle back to the complexity of the rules. Rewarding? Yes. Tactical? Yes. Easy to get into the fledging dungeon-crawlers? Not at all.
Pathfinder became the last bastion for players chasing a more old school, munchkin-friendly, min-maxing experience where crawling the dungeon was just a step to seeing the numbers on your sheet go up.
Pathfinder 2nd edition breaks its own mold by delivering an easy to digest, accessible, and more streamlined ruleset that just might be the best version of a fantasy-themed, class-based, dungeon-crawling tabletop RPG on the market.
Pathfinder 2nd Edition (commonly known as ‘Pathfinder 2’), will shed the ‘Mathfinder’ moniker that had been bestowed upon its predecessor. While there are still plenty of numbers in Pathfinder 2 (and yes, they do get big!), the stats and derivatives have been rolled into a redesign of the core system that means you’ll spend less time adding and subtracting, and more time killing skeletons for the king.
An all-new layout makes the Core Rulebook, -an otherwise monstrous tomb at over 600 pages-, more easy to navigate than ever.
The graphic design and layout team have outdone themselves. The class sections in particular are visually striking, meaning that you’re very easily able to narrow down the wealth of information at hand to the few bits and pieces you need to know for your current level.
The classes in Pathfinder, just like they are in many other similar RPG’s, are the bread and butter of your character. And only in Pathfinder will you find the deep level of customisation that means three players at the table can all be the same class but feel, play and look completely different.
Pathfinder 1 veterans will be familiar with the concept of a character or class ‘build’, which generally reffered to a specific selection of feats and abilities within a class that allowed you to do a specific type of thing very well- and ultimately make your character unique.
The problem with the concept of character builds was that it was never inherently supported by the books. All the information and mechanics were there to make it happen, but the onus was on the player to navigate the feats and ‘discover’ the builds.
While there is a sense of mystery and achievement in that process, not everyone has the time or desire to chase that goal. Ultimately, while it’s extremely cool, it’s one of the factors that caused Pathfinder 1 to remain inaccessible to new players, regardless of their experience level with RPG’s.
Pathfinder 2 leans into the idea of character builds by giving each class a few sample builds, complete with recommended feats, weapons, options, and a nice evocative piece of art showcasing just how unique each type of character- even ones within the same class-, can be.
This doesn’t mean that there isn’t plenty to discover. The feats and abilities are so varied that there will be plenty of combos that dedicated players will be able to find buried within the pages of the Core Rulebook.
The mechanics of the game have shifted a fair bit as well. While PAthfinder 1 was commonly referred to as “3.75”, Pathfinder 2 feels like an amalgam of the things players like about the older editions, with a splash of 5e and perhaps one or two very cool things that slipped under the radar of most people in 4th edition.
Some stark differences help Pathfinder 2 stand out from the crowd:
- Each player has 3 Actions and 1 Reaction each turn.
- Coherent symbols represent actions and reactions.
- Each spell/feat/ability will indicate the kind of action it requires.
Being able to move 3 times, or attack 3 times, or cast a spell, attack, and move (or any of the many thousands of combinations available), will seem like a very hectic notion- especially for first level characters!
At its core, Pathfinder stands apart from other, similar games, in one aspect: Pathfinder is a heroic game, and it wants you to feel heroic.
Part of this is due to -as I mentioned-, the fact that yes, numbers in Pathfinder continue to go up. Most all of your character’s checks will include a modifier, part of which will be your character’s level.
As such, as you get to mid- and high-tier levels, even your smallest rolls are still likely to get over 20. This also means that it’s going to be near impossible for you to not hit a 1st level skeleton- and the subsequent damage will almost certainly destroy it.
Pathfinder wants to give you a sense of growth on an epic scale. You’re not about to be swarmed and potentially killed by a bunch of monsters a bunch of levels lower than you. Pathfinder wants you to punch up. It teaches you tactics and skills about how to navigate your characters, and indeed your party, right from the get-go.
So when you get to 18th level and you’re doing battle with an Ancient Red Dragon, you know what’s on the line. If you want risk, heroics and stakes, then you’re encouraged to always dive deeper into the dungeon.
This combination of an updated and streamlined core rule set, as well as super deep character customisation means that Pathfinder 2 is just as tactically satisfying at 1st level as it is through the rest of the game.
While, of course, as you level you gain access to more abilities, those abilities only really become useful against higher tier opponents- and indeed some of you lower level abilities because maybe not quite as useful (a +2 bonus to AC from the Rogue’s Nimble Dodge might not make as big a difference at 17th level, when your opponent is rolling +23 to hit as it does at 1st level when they’re rolling +7.)
The team at Paizo have taken steps to assure that everyone is welcome to play Pathfinder. Entire sections of the Gamemaster portion of the book are dedicated to approaches for safe and considerate play, to ensure everyone at the table is comfortable at all times.
The art in the book depicts a diverse range of characters, regardless of ancestry (formerly "race"), or class. When flipping through the Pathfinder 2 Core Book, more people than ever will see themselves represented on the page.
My personal favourite aspect of this push for inclusivity is the space on your sheet for your character's Gender and Pronouns, as well as the passage from the character creation section of the book that reads: "Characters of all genders are equally likely to become adventurers. Record your character's gender, if applicable, and their pronouns on the third page of your character sheet."
To many of us, the inclusion of a passage like this is something we wouldn't even notice- but for the icnreasingly diverse community of tabletop roleplayers, this attention to detail and thoughtful inclusivity means the world, and I'm so happy and proud of the team at Paizo for taking the time to make these small, yet impactful decisions.
At its core, Pathfinder 2 is extremely rewarding. It’s the kind of game that encourages it’s players to think out of the box, create a character that is unique and special to them- perhaps even create something uncouth, the likes of which Tolkienesque fantasy hasn’t seen before-, and it’s gives you the tools to do it.
The satisfaction you get from building a unique and interesting character, only to then have that character’s abilities come to the fore in epic and tactical combat is currently unparalleled in the world of tabletop roleplaying.
Pathfinder 2 is a world where you’re only limited by your imagination, and the skill and support of your fellow players.