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Complexity vs. Depth -- A Look Inside Pathfinder 2nd Edition

One of the biggest tabletop RPG releases of the decade, Pathfinder 2nd Edition launches today at Gen Con. Many of us have playtested it, others have watched streams and podcasts, but this is the big day. Here are my thoughts on the new iteration of this classic game. I'm assuming here that you're basically familiar with either Pathfinder 1E or D&D 5E.

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Background
Before I start this look at the Pathfinder 2nd Edition core rulebook, let me explain my background so that you can contextualize it. I was a big fan of D&D 3E and 3.5 back in the early 2000s and ran two multi-year campaigns with that ruleset (one being Age of Worms from Paizo). When the D&D 4E/Pathfinder edition war happened, I ran one long 4E campaign (our own War of the Burning Sky adventure path). After that, I played through the Kingmaker AP for Pathfinder as a player, ran a couple of D&D 5E storylines (loved Strahd!), and I've run about half the Pathfinder 2E playtest but having received my pre-ordered copy of the materials after they were on store shelves, struggled to keep up with the pace and eventually bowed out.

Going in to this: I was a fan of the 3.x ruleset, but felt a little left behind after a while with PF1 in terms of system mastery, rules boat, and setting lore. I didn't get on super-well with the playtest, so I was slightly wary as I opened this book. On the other hand, I do enjoy a bit of crunch in my games. A new jumping on point, you say? Let's take a look!

Overview
There are two important concepts to keep in mind when looking at this game: the difference between complexity and depth. I'd like to quickly define them as I use them, just in case your definitions are different. To me, complexity arises from multiple subsystems or different rules, or complicated rules. Depth, on the other hand, resides in the options and available customization. These two things can exist independently, and for me a game works best when it has low complexity but high depth.

The short version of this review: I think Paizo have pulled that off. Compared to PF1, they have reduced complexity. Compared to, say, D&D 5E, they have more depth. I would say that this game is about as complex as D&D 5E, but with more depth. The rules are more standardized than they used to be, but you have important choices at all stages of character development. If you don't want read this big wall of text of a review -- I like it, and it scratches an itch for me. I'm pretty sure I'll run it soon.

I find it amusing that Pathfinder 2nd Edition has the exact same page count as D&D 5th Edition. I don't know if that's a coincidence, some artifact of printing scales, or an inside joke at Paizo, but the Pathfinder 2E core rulebook is 640 pages, while the equivalent content, D&D's PHB plus DMG, is 639 pages. Basically, if you take the PHB and the DMG and smoosh them into one hardcover, it's the exact same size as the Pathfinder 2E core rulebook. Like, uncannily so.

Sticking with format, the edge of every right-hand page has a useful 'bar' which shows you where in the book you are. It's a big book, and this really helps with navigation (though I feel maybe adding each section's page number would help? Or maybe that would look too cluttered. Not sure!)

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The game now formally codifies some things which were not explicit in the original: the mechanics are divided into three "modes", namely encounter (rounds), exploration (freeform), and downtime (daily). And Golarion is officially the core, default setting and baked into the core rulebook, although under the pen-name of Age of Lost Omens. I don't know much about Golarion or the Forgotten Realms myself (I know FR has a Drizzt in it), and I'm not really a settings guy, but all of Paizo's adventure paths take place in that setting, so the chapter is useful.

Characters
So, let's look at the rules, starting with character creation. A character is built out of feats, which are chosen from lists granted by ancestry (what was once 'race'), background, and class.

At each stage you get a choice of from two to about six feats -- for example, if you choose the dwarf ancestry, you choose one of six feats at first level, then one at 5th, 9th, 13th, and 17th. The effect of this is that any two dwarves are not the same; ignoring the heritages (basically 'sub-races') which grant minor tweaks like fire or poison resistance, a dwarf is going to choose between the familiar stonecunning, or something like dwarven ore, rock runner, unburdened iron, and so on. And this is what I mean by depth v. complexity: it's easy (you are just choosing one of six feats) but it's deeper (you have more customization to your race); plus you become more like your race as you go up in levels and get more of those race feats. Your ancestry keeps being important. You become more and more dwarfy.


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The races are the standard list you'd expect; plus a goblin. Each race has a handful of heritages (sub-races), and half-orc and half-elf are now human heritages.

Moving on to classes, again we're looking at a fairly typical list. The Paladin is now a "Champion", and each class has some sample builds such as the Rogue Scoundrel, or the Ranger Archer. Like with race, you have a free choice of class feats from a list presented in that class -- the Alchemist, for example, has a choice of three at 1st level, three at 2nd level, and again at 4th, 6th, etc. This means that your Alchemist will differ from your friend's Alchemist. Low complexity (you're just choosing from a short list of feats again) but high depth (two characters of the same class can be customized by a choice of three options every other level).

There are other bits -- archetypes (used to pseudo-multiclass) and backgrounds (each gives ability adjustments, skills, and a feat) which customize your character a little more.

Feats & Skills
As with previous editions of both Pathfinder and D&D, this game features the expected skill list. It's familiar ground; each iteration of the d20 engine has a similar list, with some tweaking. In this case we have a list of 17. PF1 and D&D 3.x had skill ranks which went from 0 upwards (a bard character in my Age of Worms D&D 3E campaign was rolling something like +40 on Use Magic Device by the end of the campaign). D&D 5E simplified that to a binary skill proficiency - you're proficient, or you're not. Pathfinder 2E takes a middle ground - there are five skill levels called untrained, trained, expert, master, legendary. Some skill uses require a certain skill level, and can give access to certain skill feats (there's feats again!)

I keep talking about feats. There's a reason for that. Feats are the core of the game's depth: everything is a feat. Race feats, class feats, archetype feats, skill feats, general feats. You can very much customize your character with your choice of feats. At each level you'll be choosing one or more feats. These are literally on the character sheet, so you can see them, and simply fill in the box. That character sheet isn't pretty, but its very functional. You can see them below -- the character sheet tells you what feats you are choosing at any given level and - more importantly - while the game has a lot of feats in it, at any given time you're choosing from a short list. At 5th level, you get an ancestry feat, but you're only choosing from a small handful for your race at that level.


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It's easy to think that a game with a thousand feats is too complex. It's not. You never have to choose from a thousand feats; you're always choosing from a short list for that level of ancestry, class, skill, or what-have-you. Low complexity. High depth.

Equipment
Like all games of its ilk, PF2 has an equipment chapter. Pathfinder delves into equipment in more detail than its main competitor, but it's not onerous -- about 25 pages of the book. It's mainly familiar ground, with some structural differences -- equipment has a level which defines how hard it is to make, and encumbrance is measured in an abstract value called 'bulk' which takes into account size and weight. Then we have the usual lists of armor, shields, weapons, and gear, including alchemical stuff, animals, services, and so on. When I ran the playtest last year, I struggled with the sheer volume of keywords in the game - especially when they sounded similar, like a weapon that was deadly or fatal (aren't they all?), finesse or agile, and this hasn't changed; it's something which will come naturally with familiarity, I'm sure. Overall, though, this chapter is pretty much what you'd expect.

Magic
So, spells. Magic is a BIG part D&D and Pathfinder, and this book is no exception. You know when you buy a D&D descendant what you're getting into: a big 120-page chapter full of spells. Many you'll be familiar with -- your magic missiles and fireballs and walls of stone and so on. We have lists of spells for four magical traditions -- arcane and divine, plus primal and occult. These four big lists tell you which classes get access to them (wizards cast arcane spells, bards cast occult spells, druids cast primal spells, and so on), and each of the many, many spells listed in the book is tagged with one or more of those four lists.

The schools of magic are familiar, and Vancian magic is still king. Vancian magic has been D&D's core 'fire and forget' spell slot system since the 1970s, based on the books of Jack Vance. So what's changed?

For a start, we now have 10 spell levels (plus cantrips) rather than the traditional 9. All four lists go up to 10, and that top level contains the heavy hitters like wish, gate, time stop, and cataclysm. Generally speaking, you'll only ever have one 10th level spell slot, although there is a way to get a second. You can 'heighten' spells by putting them in a higher level spell slot, and each spell has a little list of what benefits that gives you - usually it's a numerical or damage increase, but other times it's an upgrade in functionality - a 1st level detect alignment, for example, indicates the presence of but not location or strength of aligned auras. If you heighten it to 2nd level, however, you get each aura's location and strength, too.

Most spells take between 1-3 actions to cast (more on the 'three-action economy' later), and this is depicted by a nifty little icon in the spell description. 2 actions seems to be the default, some like guidance take a quick single action, and some vary depending how you use the spell - magic missile is one action per missile, heal increases its range and area depending on how many actions you use, and so on. Others take minutes or longer. Here's magic missile and heal, as an example:

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The Core Rules
Pathfinder has a reputation for having a lot of rules. This is where a lot of work has been done. Rather than many subsystems, or weird ways of doing different things, Paizo has streamlined the game here; going back to my theme of reduced complexity, this is the obvious area you'll see the effects. Anybody familiar with d20-based games knows that a check or attack is a d20 plus modifiers to beat a target number, and this hasn't changed, though the actual numbers are slightly different (skills have a limited tier of modifiers rather than running from 0 to infinity).

Sadly, the many itty bitty modifiers are still in there (I love D&D's advantage/disadvantage system, though I recognise it's lack of granularity), but Paizo has done something interesting here: all checks, whether an attack, a save, or a skill check, have four degrees of success baked into the core. You can critically succeed (beat the target by 10+), succeed, fail, or fumble (miss the target by 10+). Many activities tell you exactly what happens in those situations. Let's look at a couple of examples:

Skill Check using Acrobatics to balance:

  • Critical Success You move up to your Speed.
  • Success You move up to your Speed, treating it as difficult terrain (every 5 feet costs 10 feet of movement).
  • Failure You must remain stationary to keep your balance (wasting the action) or you fall. If you fall, your turn ends.
  • Critical Failure You fall and your turn ends.

Saving against the 5th level banishment spell:
  • Critical Success The target resists being banished and you are stunned 1.
  • Success The target resists being banished.
  • Failure The target is banished.
  • Critical Failure The target is banished and can’t return by any means to the plane it’s banished from for 1 week.
You'll see this all throughout the book, whatever the activity.

Combat
Combat has had quite an overhaul. It's faster now, and a little more tactical. I feel like characters are making meaningful choices more often, but from our playtests, I really did feel it ran quicker. Time will tell with big convoluted encounters and high-level stat blocks, of course, the latter of which Pathfinder is famous for.

Notably, there isn't a big section called "Combat". The section is called "Encounter Mode".

Combat begins with Initiative, as always. Initiative has been tweaked here; instead of rolling d20 plus a dex modifier, instead you are making a skill check. The fun part is that it's not always the same skill check -- often it will be Perception, but a sneaky rogue might be rolling Stealth, and sometimes you might even be rolling a Diplomacy check! Even if you don't play PF2E, use this in your d20 game, whatever it is.

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Each character gets three actions, in what people are calling the new "three-action economy". This is a big change. Any given activity takes between 1-3 actions (most are one action, spells are often 2-3, and so on). You could move three times, move and attack twice, attack and then move then cast a 1-action spell, or whatever you like. Available actions are listed, and include things like Aid, Crawl, Ready, Seek, Step, Take Cover, and more. Something those who played the playtest will recall, and which is still in, is the choice to take an action to Raise A Shield in order to gain an AC bonus until your next turn; this initially sounds fiddly and extra complication where it's not needed... but it's not. It works. Everyone I played with reported that it made it feel like their shield was a thing, not just a static bonus on their character sheet, and that its use was a defensive choice (after all, you could use that action to attack or move). It's a little innovation which adds far more to the game than it has any right to do.

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What happens when you die? Well, you can't go below 0 hit points. At that stage you gain the "Dying" condition, which has four levels. Each round you roll to see if you get better or worse, and if you get to Dying 4 you're dead. If you do recover, you gain the Wounded condition, which adds to future Dying values - so you can't keep bouncing up and down; it'll catch up with you. Other than that, you have a fairly standard set of conditions - blinded, fatigued, invisible, and so on.

Game Mastering
This 40-page section of the book is part GM advice, and part collection of miscellaneous rules. Here you'll find the rules for environments, hazards, natural disasters, and traps. You'll also see mechanical advice on appropriate rewards, setting difficulty classes, and using the different modes of play. And, of course, information on how to plan a campaign, create a welcoming environment (there's a sidebar which calls out X-Cards as a veil, and a section on dealing with objectionable content, with a description of what the game's assumed "baseline" is -- PCs don't torture, rape, own slaves, harm children, and so on). It's a useful chapter, although it feels a little eclectic; a grab-bag of stuff that doesn't quite fit elsewhere.

Treasure!
No d20 game is complete without a big list of magic items, and those familiar with PF1 or D&D will recognise many of these. Interestingly, this chapter is actually called "Crafting & Treasure"; 3.x and PF always had a crafting element to magic items, and PF2 is no exception. It's one thing that 5E studiously avoids.

So, in addition to pages and pages of wands, potions, amulets, and other assorted magical items (the categories have actually changed a bit) we have a big section on crafting items. You can make things out of special materials like darkwood or cold iron, and you make them magic by etching runes on them - runes like Invisibility, Dancing, Thundering, Vorpal, and so on. There's also a section on crafting snares (simple traps).

That Character Sheet
The character sheet is not a pretty sight. It looks like a tax form, and I feel like it alone could put people off this game. But it IS functional. The feats section pretty much tells you what you need to know about the game: you start by looking at it and saying "ten million feats!" but then you realise you're just picking a couple from a different short list each time, and the character sheet tells you when you do that. It's much more manageable than you might think at first. I can see why people might balk at this sheet, but I'm sure that fans will create dozens of pretty ones within hours of the game's release.

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Summary
This was always going to be a tricky launch. Somehow Paizo has to keep the fans of PF1E on board, many of whom are veterans of the D&D 3.x games, switched over when 4E was released and are naturally invested in that system by definition; but the game has reached peak bloat, the engine is 18 years old, and its cracks are really showing. Is that even possible?

For me personally, they pulled it off. They have reduced complexity AND increased depth. I know I keep saying that, but that's the thing I keep coming back to and it's the theme of this article.

Is it perfect? No. It's too keyword heavy for my tastes (requiring a lot of "what does 'deadly' mean?" at the table), and that requires time to gain mastery in. I feel that, if anything, would be the barrier to new gamers. Also, there's still lots of those little +1 or +2 modifiers or penalties which I find too finicky.

But it is good. It's a really good evolution of the d20 system. It's modern game design, with heritage. And it feels weighty in a "reliable" not a "cumbersome" way. Is it D&D 5E? No. Is it D&D 4E? No (although the monster stat blocks do remind me of that game in terms of layout). It is neither of those things. It's very much Pathfinder 2E. Of course, there are some general design principles which are found in most modern RPGs, some of which 5E and 4E created and others which they adopted from elsewhere, and you will see the edges of the Venn diagram overlap with Pathfinder 2E, but it would be a mistake to think it's not its own game.

So who's it for? If you're a new player, it may be a little intimidating as a first game, but the complexity is about on par with D&D 5E. If you're a 5E player, it has some extra depth where 5E leans more into the storytelling, and might scratch that itch for a little more mechanical heft and character customization. If you're a Pathfinder 1E player, it's more difficult -- it depends on how invested you are in that system, and I'm not yet clear on the level of backward compatibility.

Things I personally struggled with:
  • Lots of keywords. I'll be looking up the difference between deadly, dangerous, fatal, and mildly-ouchy weapons for a while (OK, I made two of those up); I'm sure the designers are thinking "What? But that's so simple!" and I am sure it is after a bit of play.
  • Lots of small +1 modifiers.
The people I think would like this game are those who, like me:
  • Like Pathfinder 1E but would like a more modern, streamlined play experience than the aging 3.x engine
  • Like D&D 5E but would like a bit more mechanical depth
  • Were intimidated by the sheer volume of Pathfinder 1E material and are looking for a jumping-on point
  • Want to customise their character more
I wasn't sure going in, but I think this is a better game than its predecessor and scratches an itch for mechanical depth. I'm going to run it.
 
Last edited:
Russ Morrissey

Comments

CapnZapp

Adventurer
The point I'm ultimately making is that when comparing sword and shield to two hander then the comparison is:

How much more damage does a two hander making 3 attack do over a 1 hander and a shield making 2 attacks?

Depending on magical weapon damage dice and stat a two handed weapons damage per hit will be about 30% higher than a 1 handed weapons. Then you have to figure out how much additional damage that 3rd attack adds. I'd say maybe 10-15%. So total damage a two hander does over a typical one hander will be around 42.5% or so, compared to the advantage of the 1 handers 25% damage reduction.

I personally rate damage reduction as more important for a melee combatant than damage in actual play as I find that melee characters take quite a few more attacks than their ranged counterparts.

So while my initial impression was that two handers are better than the shield benefit, I think it's probably much closer than it first appears and that's without any consideration given to the shield block reaction.
Yes, it boils down to "what do you want the most, less incoming damage or more outgoing damage".

In 5E D&D for instance, we've found that it is nearly impossible to build for defense (a tanking strategy). Sure, if you're lucky to find both +3 full plate and a +3 shield then maybe, but otherwise, the heavy hitters and BBEGs will still reliably punch you, and your hp will run out without help. If you could combine the fighter's armor with the barbarian's damage reduction then maybe, but there simply isn't any significant damage reduction build option in that game.

In contrast, outmaneuvering and killing the enemies is a much better strategy. Monsters simply don't have the hp to last, or the mobility to compete. If everybody in the group ruthlessly minmaxes for DPS you can simply kill off the heavy hitter and thus won't need the tank. Sure, one or two characters that receive heavy flak will have to withdraw, but can soon be back in the game. If it isn't already won by then - the secret is that as long as you have fantasic DPS the combats simply don't last long enough for your lack of a tank to be a problem.

tl;dr: the WotC devs completely underestimate damage and mobility and overestimate defense, making it too expensive to go defense, but entirely reasonable to go mobile and DPS. (Just consider the eleventy ways you can shoot people from range still with all the bells and whistles PF2 reserves for melee combatants to immediately realize 5E went too far)

Preamble over :)

AFAIK, the shield user in PF2 is asked to give up a lot. Not only the added damage from a heavier weapon (which given the way Striking Runes work) is considerable, even before we learn how the class feats can enhance that. But you also give up one third of your actions. And you give up your reaction.

Comparing the raise shield action to a third attack at -10 is crude and simplistic. I simply don't believe that's accurately representing the real cost. A move ("stride") is probably closer to the real truth - in other words, mobility. Giving up your mobility is a very hard sell, at least if PF2 is anything like 5E where mobility is king and that being able to outmaneuver the Monster Manual critters makes you play the game on Easy Mode. So I'd suggest we simply drop that third attack from the equation (let's just assume it's used for something fun and useful) - if the twohander needs to use it for a -10 attack in order to bring up the numbers, the swordandboarder have already won.

Instead, what about the reaction? In 5E this could (and would) be employed for an extra attack. How about PF2? Can you set up a reliable "attack generator" that employs your reaction? If that attack isn't at -10 it obviously does mean the twohander does three real attacks compared to the shielduser's two.

At higher levels, this heavy cost might be alleviated - haven't absorbed the rules completely yet.

But at the first levels, where these costs are accurate, I am having a reeeaaaal hard time believing it is anywhere close to useful. (Remember other D&D games give you the +2 for free, no action or reaction needed).

After all, you don't gain an always-on DR. I believe you can pretty much negate any one attack each round, but still - it's only one attack each round. In a game where everybody and his zombie gets at least two (twice as many as in other D&D games at low levels!).

(I don't believe for a second it's worth going shield for the +2 only, so obviously we must discuss the shield block).

So the interesting question becomes: at which level does this change and the shield becomes competitive?

Obviously at high levels, where a +3 shield does mean damage is reduced ~25% the situation is much better. If by that time you have feats that mean you don't have to spend both an action and your reaction each round, this could transform the whole equation.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
Shields do not get magical bonuses to AC. Magical shields have more hardness and hit points.

Generally speaking shield specialists are pursuing a lock down strategy. They use abilities like Aggressive Block, Attack of Opportunity, and Disruptive Stance to keep opponents where they are and move them where they want them. They also get feats that add extra reactions that can only be used for Attack of Opportunity and Shield Block. They can also use Shield Block to protect adjacent allies. They generally do not want to move that much. Generally you are more concerned with holding the line and protecting your allies than the damage your character is doing.

Speaking generally I would probably only use a shield on a Champion or Fighter built for that purpose. I case could be made for War Priests positioned in the melee clump mostly because they do not really have many other useful reactions.
 

Matrix Sorcica

Explorer
I'm really curious as to how shield use will turn out and more and more people get some experience with the system. Right now, I'm in Zapp's camp. I think shields look like a trap option.
 

CapnZapp

Adventurer
Shields do not get magical bonuses to AC. Magical shields have more hardness and hit points.

Generally speaking shield specialists are pursuing a lock down strategy. They use abilities like Aggressive Block, Attack of Opportunity, and Disruptive Stance to keep opponents where they are and move them where they want them. They also get feats that add extra reactions that can only be used for Attack of Opportunity and Shield Block. They can also use Shield Block to protect adjacent allies. They generally do not want to move that much. Generally you are more concerned with holding the line and protecting your allies than the damage your character is doing.
Thank you and sure, once you've chosen the shield build, you're no longer thinking about damage.

However, we're interested in the decision point prior to this.

You could instead be moving and damaging. That's the alternative to which the shield build is beholden.

Assuming, of course, the choice is real. In 5E it definitely is, you don't need defensive tanks.

In WoW, however, the question is moot. You simply do not survive without a defense tank. So there the comparison between incoming and outgoing damage simply isn't relevant.

I am assuming Pathfinder 2 is like all other dndish games in that regard. Should this core assumption be wrong, however, I would probably consider that a good thing, or at least an interesting thing!
 

FrogReaver

Adventurer
Thank you and sure, once you've chosen the shield build, you're no longer thinking about damage.

However, we're interested in the decision point prior to this.

You could instead be moving and damaging. That's the alternative to which the shield build is beholden.

Assuming, of course, the choice is real. In 5E it definitely is, you don't need defensive tanks.

In WoW, however, the question is moot. You simply do not survive without a defense tank. So there the comparison between incoming and outgoing damage simply isn't relevant.

I am assuming Pathfinder 2 is like all other dndish games in that regard. Should this core assumption be wrong, however, I would probably consider that a good thing, or at least an interesting thing!
In 5e some of the most effective characters I make are the more defensive ones. That’s because I’m often the only melee character and the dm does tend to focus enemies on melee characters a lot more than on ranged.

So I actually disagree with your assertion. The most optimal strategy in a 5e game like mine is ranged dps and 1-2 defensive melee characters.
 

CapnZapp

Adventurer
So I actually disagree with your assertion.
The only assertion I've given is that defensive tanks are not required, which I'm sure you aren't disagreeing with.

Besides, my point in this context was to make the choice of build and therefore this discussion relevant and interesting.

Had a defensive tank been essential, much like it is in WoW, we wouldn't have any reason to even discuss the wisdom of choosing one or the other.
 

FrogReaver

Adventurer
The only assertion I've given is that defensive tanks are not required, which I'm sure you aren't disagreeing with.

Besides, my point in this context was to make the choice of build and therefore this discussion relevant and interesting.

Had a defensive tank been essential, much like it is in WoW, we wouldn't have any reason to even discuss the wisdom of choosing one or the other.
That’s not how your comment came across.
 

RSIxidor

Explorer
Giving up your mobility is a very hard sell, at least if PF2 is anything like 5E where mobility is king and that being able to outmaneuver the Monster Manual critters makes you play the game on Easy Mode.
It does seem that mobility here is going to be important as most enemies in the bestiary don't seem to have the ability to attack a retreating enemy as a reaction. That's going to vary by table, of course.


So the interesting question becomes: at which level does this change and the shield becomes competitive?

Obviously at high levels, where a +3 shield does mean damage is reduced ~25% the situation is much better. If by that time you have feats that mean you don't have to spend both an action and your reaction each round, this could transform the whole equation.
Champions and Fighters both can take feats at 8 to have a bonus reaction that can only be used for shield block (but shield still has to be raised).
Fighters at 12 can take a stance to keep their shield raised for the combat. Shield Ally champions can have their shield always raised without action at 20. I think those are the only things that improve the action economy in a straightforward way.

Champions with shield ally have some cool tricks they can add when defending allies (my favorite being the ability to use their champions reaction and shield block with one reaction, though it's unclear if this works with the level 8 feat). Fighters and clerics can add more things that can be reduced by the reaction than just attacks (energy, spells, damage from reflex saves, etc). These are less straightforward to calculate as far as whether they make up for the opportunity cost of giving up your action and reaction.

I'm worried that most shields will break quickly. I think at low levels even those who have boosts to their shield abilities might want to wait until they have a more durable shield. I haven't done much analysis of the DPR of low-level monsters, so it's possible that this is less true than I think. Shield Ally Champions probably are the most capable of using the shield at low levels but you're still hurting your action economy by choosing to use it.

And of course, most shield-users aren't that sticky Only fighters getting AOO means other shield-wielders can't do much about enemies just walking away from them to hit something squishier when they see a shield raised before them. At higher levels this improves, with stuff like champions getting AOO and a difficult terrain aura.

My thoughts are that shield-wielding to get tankier is a choice (and one I'll probably build out a few times), and that if you really drive the build it can be a significant damage reducer, but removing combatants from a fight with big hits and using mobility to outmaneuver enemies will generally be more effective at reducing incoming damage than shield-blocking would be.
 

FrogReaver

Adventurer
It does seem that mobility here is going to be important as most enemies in the bestiary don't seem to have the ability to attack a retreating enemy as a reaction. That's going to vary by table, of course.




Champions and Fighters both can take feats at 8 to have a bonus reaction that can only be used for shield block (but shield still has to be raised).
Fighters at 12 can take a stance to keep their shield raised for the combat. Shield Ally champions can have their shield always raised without action at 20. I think those are the only things that improve the action economy in a straightforward way.

Champions with shield ally have some cool tricks they can add when defending allies (my favorite being the ability to use their champions reaction and shield block with one reaction, though it's unclear if this works with the level 8 feat). Fighters and clerics can add more things that can be reduced by the reaction than just attacks (energy, spells, damage from reflex saves, etc). These are less straightforward to calculate as far as whether they make up for the opportunity cost of giving up your action and reaction.

I'm worried that most shields will break quickly. I think at low levels even those who have boosts to their shield abilities might want to wait until they have a more durable shield. I haven't done much analysis of the DPR of low-level monsters, so it's possible that this is less true than I think. Shield Ally Champions probably are the most capable of using the shield at low levels but you're still hurting your action economy by choosing to use it.

And of course, most shield-users aren't that sticky Only fighters getting AOO means other shield-wielders can't do much about enemies just walking away from them to hit something squishier when they see a shield raised before them. At higher levels this improves, with stuff like champions getting AOO and a difficult terrain aura.

My thoughts are that shield-wielding to get tankier is a choice (and one I'll probably build out a few times), and that if you really drive the build it can be a significant damage reducer, but removing combatants from a fight with big hits and using mobility to outmaneuver enemies will generally be more effective at reducing incoming damage than shield-blocking would be.
I think that’s the other big concern with shields. Is it better front a damage reduction perspective to just move away?
Given how multiple attack penalty works I’m not sure that will pan out. Making the enemy incapable of using their -10 attack due to having to move likely isn’t as much damage reduction as a +2 bonus to ac. Though it is a tactic a 2 handed weapon user can use.
 

Jimmy Dick

Villager
Building a character in PF2 is easy if you have an idea of what you want to build. Some things are not available as of yet, but may or may not show up in the expansions as far as classes and archetypes. Please note I am referring to good character builds and not ridiculous cheesy garbage builds which I hope are never going to be possible short of home-brewed customized campaigns in which case that's fine and dandy (PFS GM here).

As for depth, this game is deep, very deep. The tactical aspect is crazy good with the three action economy. Players that support their fellow players are doing well while the self-centered players are hurting their groups. This is at the low level of play so far too, so it won't improve for the groups with self-centered players in higher levels. Encounter mode now calls for teamwork. Those that do not believe in teamwork are a liability. The lack of auto-success and over the top damage combined with more robust opponents is making Encounter mode challenging in many situations.

All in all, I am enjoying running the new edition a lot. I've had to make some adjustments and adapt to the way the monsters are laid out in order to run the scenarios, but it's been a real blast.
 

Saelorn

Adventurer
As for depth, this game is deep, very deep. The tactical aspect is crazy good with the three action economy. Players that support their fellow players are doing well while the self-centered players are hurting their groups. This is at the low level of play so far too, so it won't improve for the groups with self-centered players in higher levels. Encounter mode now calls for teamwork. Those that do not believe in teamwork are a liability. The lack of auto-success and over the top damage combined with more robust opponents is making Encounter mode challenging in many situations.
What I'm hearing is that PF2 has moved strongly away from the combat-as-war camp, and strongly toward the combat-as-sport camp, in exactly the same manner as D&D 4E.
 

FrogReaver

Adventurer
Yes, it boils down to "what do you want the most, less incoming damage or more outgoing damage".

In 5E D&D for instance, we've found that it is nearly impossible to build for defense (a tanking strategy). Sure, if you're lucky to find both +3 full plate and a +3 shield then maybe, but otherwise, the heavy hitters and BBEGs will still reliably punch you, and your hp will run out without help. If you could combine the fighter's armor with the barbarian's damage reduction then maybe, but there simply isn't any significant damage reduction build option in that game.
It almost sounds as if you believe AC isn't worth anything unless it can be stacked to absurd levels. Feel free to clarify if that isn't your real position.

In contrast, outmaneuvering and killing the enemies is a much better strategy. Monsters simply don't have the hp to last, or the mobility to compete. If everybody in the group ruthlessly minmaxes for DPS you can simply kill off the heavy hitter and thus won't need the tank. Sure, one or two characters that receive heavy flak will have to withdraw, but can soon be back in the game. If it isn't already won by then - the secret is that as long as you have fantasic DPS the combats simply don't last long enough for your lack of a tank to be a problem.
You can still outmaneuver and kill enemies while using a shield. This isn't 5e. Your not doing half the damage of a two handed weapon user... And it's not like the shield using PC is inherently less mobile. He just has a harder choice to make about when to be mobile because the +2 AC action is typically much better than the third attack action.

AFAIK, the shield user in PF2 is asked to give up a lot. Not only the added damage from a heavier weapon (which given the way Striking Runes work) is considerable, even before we learn how the class feats can enhance that. But you also give up one third of your actions. And you give up your reaction.
1. You can still use your reaction for the same thing the two hander does. Your making an assumption that isn't true. That you must use the shield block reaction for a shield to be worthwhile.

2. I looked at a level 7 barbarian and he was doing about 30% more damage with a 2 handed striking runed weapon as opposed 1 handed striking runed weapon (2d8 vs 2d12). (2 attacks with 1 handed vs 3 with 2 handed). Barbarians do get a nice flat damage boost so maybe that's not the best comparison but it's a scenario I'd already ran the numbers for.

Comparing the raise shield action to a third attack at -10 is crude and simplistic. I simply don't believe that's accurately representing the real cost. A move ("stride") is probably closer to the real truth - in other words, mobility. Giving up your mobility is a very hard sell, at least if PF2 is anything like 5E where mobility is king and that being able to outmaneuver the Monster Manual critters makes you play the game on Easy Mode. So I'd suggest we simply drop that third attack from the equation (let's just assume it's used for something fun and useful) - if the twohander needs to use it for a -10 attack in order to bring up the numbers, the swordandboarder have already won.
You do realize the shield using PC isn't slower right? He doesn't have to use the +2 AC when the situation calls for moving. So the question is if moving is typically going to be better than +2 AC. Well it definitely is if you need to engage an enemy. But beyond that the most a move can typically be used for (except vs slow enemies) is to prevent their third attack. The third attack is maybe a 12.5% damage increase. The shield block is maybe a 25% damage decrease.

The bigger question in my mind is whether the DM will have enemies use step away tactic against a shield using pc to force them to use an action to move most turns and thus disincentivising them from using the raise a shield action. In fact, that's the exact strategy i'd employ against a shield using enemy. Attack, attack, step away. Then the most he can do is move, attack, attack. Giving up the -5 attack for a +2 ac bonus is much harder to justify IMO.

Instead, what about the reaction? In 5E this could (and would) be employed for an extra attack. How about PF2? Can you set up a reliable "attack generator" that employs your reaction? If that attack isn't at -10 it obviously does mean the twohander does three real attacks compared to the shielduser's two.
Nearly anything the 2 hander can do the shield using pc can. If there is a way to generate a reliable reaction attack then the sword and shield PC is just as capable of doing so.

At higher levels, this heavy cost might be alleviated - haven't absorbed the rules completely yet.
I actually think the reaction gets worse as you level. At least until you can make more than 1 reaction a turn (higher level fights get some abilities like that)

But at the first levels, where these costs are accurate, I am having a reeeaaaal hard time believing it is anywhere close to useful. (Remember other D&D games give you the +2 for free, no action or reaction needed).
The mechanics in this are familiar but significantly different that D&D game mechanics. HP pools are larger. You get more actions a round etc.

After all, you don't gain an always-on DR. I believe you can pretty much negate any one attack each round, but still - it's only one attack each round. In a game where everybody and his zombie gets at least two (twice as many as in other D&D games at low levels!).
If enemy damage scales at all like PC damage then that reaction block is not going to even negate an attacks worth of damage for long.

You are also overvaluing the 2nd attack at a -5 penalty. You'll be hit more often but it's not nearly like you'll be hit twice as often.


(I don't believe for a second it's worth going shield for the +2 only, so obviously we must discuss the shield block).
I don't believe the reaction is that useful. I believe the bigger benefit is being able to get the ac boost.

So the interesting question becomes: at which level does this change and the shield becomes competitive?
Level 1. Though a have discovered a possibility listed above where the DM could make the shield reaction non useful. The attack, attack, step option. But as long as that tactic isn't being employed, shield will be great - at least for some classes.[/QUOTE]
 

CapnZapp

Adventurer
Boy do you write a lot.

But none of it explains why a +2 AC bonus that D&D characters certainly don't view as mandatory even when they get it for free should suddenly be worth paying an action for...
 

FrogReaver

Adventurer
Boy do you write a lot.

But none of it explains why a +2 AC bonus that D&D characters certainly don't view as mandatory even when they get it for free should suddenly be worth paying an action for...
I explained that. You don't want to listen so no amount of me explaining that is going to do any good.
 

CapnZapp

Adventurer
I explained that. You don't want to listen so no amount of me explaining that is going to do any good.
First off, you write walls of text. Sorry if that means you feel people only respond to half your points.

I don't remember if you belong to the absurd "a +2 AC bonus means 25-30% less damage" people, but I don't hope so.

Other than that I read a "Pathfinder is different" claim that I don't see any arguments for.

Look, in D&D the cost of getting the +2 AC bonus has always been the reduced DPR from not holding a weapon in that hand.

Now Paizo asks us to also give up 1/3 of our action allowance. The argument"you're only giving up your crappiest attack" is entirely unconvincing. Of course the cost will be more expensive than that.

So I'm thinking it must be because of the shield block that extra cost was added. And so I want to discuss how much DR you need to get in order to sacrifice 1 point of DPR.

I also note you get only one block per round, so it better be a big attack. I totally expect the best use case is when each block soaks at least the shield's hardness, and that the fighter rotates through several shields.
 

Arilyn

Explorer
The shield action is a choice, and often a good one because of the diminishing chance of success with a third attack action. During combat, the 3 action economy gives you fun tactical choices about how mobile, offensive or defensive you want to be on a turn by turn basis. It makes combat more engaging and less likely to devolve into "I swing, I swing."

Shields have gone from something you just buy and forget to something you actually use. And use in an interesting fashion.
 

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