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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.

pf_cover.jpg



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!)

Screenshot 2019-08-02 at 00.06.39.png

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.


Screenshot 2019-08-02 at 00.08.17.png



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 fets 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.


Screenshot 2019-07-30 at 23.22.09.png



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:

mmhe.jpg


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.

Screenshot 2019-08-02 at 00.26.39.png

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.

Screenshot 2019-08-02 at 00.28.10.png

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.
 
Russ Morrissey

Comments

CapnZapp

Adventurer
That being said I don't like the idea of gaining ancestry feats as I level. I don't want to continue to get more "dwarfy" as I level, I want to be dwarfy to begin with.
I would have thought the 19th level ancestry feat choices would give you "epic dwarfiness", while at 1st level every Dwarf is dwarfy, except with slight variations.

Example (making up as I go): all dwarves get to see in the dark, so that's a static part of your choice of ancestry. Not all dwarves are known to have +4 vs Giants, so that's a 1st level feat you can choose. Not choosing it, however, doesn't make you less "dwarfy" though.

And maybe at level 12 you can gain the ability to eat stone, effectively meaning you need no food. This ability would not be appropriate at level 1, where supplies and encumbrance and survival still matters.

But you're saying that even at level 19 I'm choosing among the level 1 Dwarf feats? And worse, I'm stuck with whatever leftovers I haven't already picked?

If so, I definitely see your point.
 

qstor

Adventurer
My feeling on complexity level is that PF2 is much less complex/fiddly than PF1 and a bit more complex/fiddly than 5e. However, for that modest increase in complexity over 5e, it offers a lot of additional depth and customization. For some, that trade off will be worth it, for others it won't be.
I'm not a big 5e fan, more 3.5/PF1. I agree with this 100%. It's simpler than PF1 with more options that 5e. I've only played and run PF2 twice so it will take some reading of the CRB to really "wrap" my mind around the rules.
 

CapnZapp

Adventurer
Two questions I couldn't immediately find answers for in the review:

1) the martial-caster balance in 3.x (and Pathfinder) was atrocious. Casters reigned supreme. What is the situation in PF2…?

2) the thing that made me quit 3.x was NPC creation. You could spend an hour to craft a high-level NPC, choose its spells, magic items and other features... only to see the PCs kill it in less than a minute. What is the situation in PF2…?
 

techno

Villager
[MENTION=695]techno[/MENTION] i was just checking out the dragons in the SRD and it didn't seem to list there attack actions anywhere. Just special reactions. Are they not included in the SRD or is there a table of dragon abilities somewhere I'm missing?
Good question. I don't see them in the SRD either. Looks like an error. Messaged the site owner to ask.

Received the following response from someone on Reddit:

Most of the monsters aren't completed yet. If you look in the monster index tables, you'll see that most monsters have nothing listed in the creature type column, This is one of the last areas to be completed, so it's a good guide as to if the monster is completed. For most creatures, the traits are done but the actions are not.
 

billd91

Earl of Cornbread
Looking over this site... http://2e.aonprd.com/Default.aspx at parts of the SRD... it looks alot more complex than 5e. I'm also not thrilled with the direction of some of the feats, an example being Group Coercion... does this mean without this feat I can only coerce a single target at a time?? If so I am really not a fan of that type of customization design...
It's not very different from PF1 in that sense. Intimidate was written there as if it were dealing with one target as well.
 

CapnZapp

Adventurer
My ideal (made-up) replies to the above questions:

1) "It's clear Paizo has learned from how 5E kept the look and feel of 3.x while essentially removed the issue - at all levels, you feel appreciated and highly useful even as a non-magical Fighter."

2) "As in 5E, you do not need to follow the rules for player character creation, massively speeding up creation time.

As in 5E, the math doesn't require you to deck NPCs out with magic items. This also removes the headache that is excessive loot. Finally PF2 does one better than 5E by supplying self-contained monster caster stat-blocks, with simplified faux spells you don't need lookup to use". (Sadly, this last bit has already been disproved. A missed opportunity...)
 

techno

Villager
Two questions I couldn't immediately find answers for in the review:

1) the martial-caster balance in 3.x (and Pathfinder) was atrocious. Casters reigned supreme. What is the situation in PF2…?

2) the thing that made me quit 3.x was NPC creation. You could spend an hour to craft a high-level NPC, choose its spells, magic items and other features... only to see the PCs kill it in less than a minute. What is the situation in PF2…?
1. Time will tell for sure, but Paizo consciously tried to eliminate the huge power disparities between PF1 martials and spellcasters with PF2. Many who play spellcasters have been complaining they have been "nerfed" in PF2 (which is a good thing in my view). Martials seem much stronger. I doubt everything is perfectly balanced, but the class balance situation is much improved from PF1.

2. You can create NPCs in two ways: 1) same as PCs (takes a long time) or 2) using "simple and quick" NPC creation rules (likely similar to Starfinder, which are relatively easy) that will be outlined in the upcoming Gamemastery Guide.
 
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Jer

Explorer
The actual number of rules 4e powers were constructed from was pretty small compared to other eds, and the number of powers built up from them fairly large (though not compared to spells at the height of each edition). And, they were easier to look up and parse, requiring little if any interpretation, than spells/feats/specific-combat-rules-like-oh-grapple in any other edition. So, while I know 'analysis paralysis' became a knee jerk reflex criticism during it's run, it was never remotely valid relative to casting in other editions.
Well, I won't go quite that far. The thing about 4e is that while it pared wizards, sorcerers, clerics and other spellcasters down to a handful of options during a battle that were all good, it amped up the number of options that martial characters had by quite a bit. So if you were used to playing a character whose combat options amounted to some variation on "move towards it", "hit it", "hit it multiple times", "move away from it" (maybe with a choice in there to use power attack or whirlwind attack, or not) then analysis paralysis could be a real thing. I know a few players who play like that and they hated 4e for that very reason "too many choices" on the playing field - rather than during character creation - killed the game for them. They just want to roll a die and hit a monster, and having a list of options in front of them about how to hit the monster killed their fun.

I think this may be a concern with PF2 martial classes from looking at things I've seen - there may be far more options there at the table than some players who play martial characters actually want. But maybe not - the 3 action economy and the fighter feat list that I've glanced through seem like they would support the guy who wants to be the "charge in and hit it multiple times" guy without forcing a lot of extra choices on them at the table, so maybe they cracked that nut.

OTOH, if you want a 4e analogy to feat bloat - try /feat bloat/, which was just uncontained, a freaking cosmic nebula of chaff with enough must-haves to render choice meaningless for the first few levels of each Tier.
Yes. This. Feats in 4e give the illusion of "depth" without actually giving you any depth. They were easily the most boring thing about character advancement. (Which is part of why I consider the Gamma World 7e ruleset to be the best expression of the 4e game engine - feats are missing from the core game entirely and show up as a mild "career path" optional extension in a supplement. Getting rid of a false choice was a good move.)


That's how I've often felt about 3.5/PF1. I feel the opposite (rather run than play) about 1e/5e.

I have never liked running 1e so I'd rather play it, but I do feel that way about BECMI. And honestly my only player-side experiences with 5e have been so out of line with the way the game is meant to be played that I can't say if my boredom with them on the player side has been due to the game itself or just the experience (I've only played 5e at cons with characters between the levels 1 and 4. This is possibly the worst way I personally could experience 5e D&D for myself - IME as a DM I don't think the game gets meaningfully interesting for experienced players until level 5. For me I think 5e only gets enjoyable with longer-term campaign play if we're starting at level 1 - I've pretty much had my fill of one-shots at tables with level 1 characters at this point...)
 
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Lanefan

Hero
Can't say this is a system I'd be all that interested in overall but one aspect does stand out as good-to-excellent: I really like that various checks etc. have four possible results instead of a binary succeed-fail.
 

Tony Vargas

Adventurer
Well, I won't go quite that far. The thing about 4e is that while it pared wizards, sorcerers, clerics and other spellcasters down to a handful of options during a battle that were all good, it amped up the number of options that martial characters had by quite a bit.
Nod. If you were sitting at the table, waiting for your turn to roll around, it'd thus roll around faster if you were used to playing with a bunch of casters, or slower if you were used to playing with a bunch of fighters. Then, your turn, itself, would have more depth & take longer if you were used to playing the mundane "I attack" class, while, if, conversely, you were used to playing a caster, it'd be over quicker and seem to have had less impact (unless you angled for synergies with other characters).

I mean, to be fair, that was, well /fair/.

Of course, it still wasn't exact parity. While classes (and the implied sources) didn't follow their traditional extreme swings in table-time from Wizard (Arcane) down to Fighter (Martial), Roles /did/ play very differently. Controller turns tended to be the most time-consuming & have the most depth. While their turns might not be as complex, Leaders had to pay attention to the whole encounter, not just optimize on their turns but pay attention at all times, possibly step in with out-of-turn actions more than other roles. Defenders were less complicated than Leaders & Controllers, but still had very meaningful tactical considerations with mechanical support.

Strikers were closest to the "I attack" option for players wanting the least depth to their play experience.


Yes. This. Feats in 4e give the illusion of "depth" without actually giving you any depth. They were easily the most boring thing about character advancement.
Feats got a double-whammy of perverse game design incentives. You not only had all these chaff feats with highly situational bonuses or benefits that /might/ fit some build or some concept to sift through to find the handful that might actually be worth it for your character, you had these big fat OP 'must have' Feat Taxes, that were used, instead of errata - even though 4e got constant updates - to fix class deficiencies after the fact or 'fix' perceived "math issues" or whatever. Essentials, in particular, introduced a plethora of feats that completely obviated existing ones, without having the simple courtesy of actually deprecating the things the rendered into chaff.

And, final injury added to the insult, while most of the choice-wrangling in post-E could be readily managed with the Character Builder (when you found a browser it worked with), Feats had to be unlocked with the right preqs before you could even see them, so you were right back to the 3e/PF full-career builds to actually get the most out of them. Prettymuch everything else you could approach a level at a time.

(Which is part of why I consider the Gamma World 7e ruleset to be the best expression of the 4e game engine - feats are missing from the core game entirely and show up as a mild "career path" optional extension in a supplement. Getting rid of a false choice was a good move.)
"'D&D' Gamma World" was an awfully fun little game. Not much Depth in the Morrus sense - you randomly determined your origins and that was about it, really - but very simple in return, and still had a lot going on. The community about tripled the number of origins, too. It was also much more an 'Encounter-based' game than 4e ever was, in spite of erroneously being called one.

I have never liked running 1e so I'd rather play it, but I do feel that way about BECMI. And honestly my only player-side experiences with 5e have been so out of line with the way the game is meant to be played that I can't say if my boredom with them on the player side has been due to the game itself or just the experience (I've only played 5e at cons with characters between the levels 1 and 4. This is possibly the worst way I personally could experience 5e D&D for myself - IME as a DM I don't think the game gets meaningfully interesting for experienced players until level 5. For me I think 5e only gets enjoyable with longer-term campaign play if we're starting at level 1 - I've pretty much had my fill of one-shots at tables with level 1 characters at this point...)
Hm... I've also run a lot of 5e, but played just the odd one-shot. Maybe the experience has as much to do with it as the system? But, the other good DMs I know aren't running 5e campaigns (and neither am I, ATM, when I did run 5e it was Encounters/AL and one-shot, low-level intro games), so it's Cons, AL or short adventures. ::shrug::
That seems to happen a lot in our hobby, if you're really enthused about a game, you're a lot more likely to be able to find a group willing to play it if you GM, than a group with a GM wanting to play it.
 

Melkor

Villager
So far, I am really liking everything I am seeing with one exception.

I can't quite put my finger on it, but the art seems really...simplistic.
 

Saelorn

Explorer
Except that isn't what leveling means in a D&D style fantasy game (or at least, you shouldn't try to think of it in those terms). There's no rational way for training that lets a character defeat hundreds of enemies on a battlefield. A character's level is very much a metaphysical concept; it's about the character's presence and impact on the world.
That's a bold assertion to make about the nature of a game. Personally, I've never seen anything metaphysical about the concept of character level, and I would never play a game that made such a claim.

I have enough to manage with just the rules that tell me how the world works. I don't need or want rules that operate at any other level.
 

Saelorn

Explorer
That being said I don't like the idea of gaining ancestry feats as I level. I don't want to continue to get more "dwarfy" as I level, I want to be dwarfy to begin with.
I'm not comfortable with measuring ancestry in degrees. If (for example) dwarves gain a major, character-defining option at level 5, then I'm afraid the character won't really feel like a dwarf before that. To use a 5E analog, it's like playing a druid before you gain wildshape, or a barbarian before you have reckless attack.

And it's one thing, just from a game standpoint, to feel like the mechanics aren't clicking. It's another thing, from an RP standpoint, to feel like you don't belong to your own race.
 

BobROE

Explorer
And it's one thing, just from a game standpoint, to feel like the mechanics aren't clicking. It's another thing, from an RP standpoint, to feel like you don't belong to your own race.
I guess it depends on what you feel makes you 'belong' to your race? Is being a master with dwarven weapon something that you feel all dwarves should have at 1st level? Or is it that they all have darkvision and are slower moving that others?

They've tried to separate out what would be considered biological traits and would be societal traits (not saying if they've succeeded at that), biological traits are part of the baseline of the ancestry, while societal traits are ones that are feats and can be picked up or improved upon over time.
 

Saelorn

Explorer
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.
The issue, as always, is balance between feats. Even if you only have five feats to choose between, it's hard to design five options that are equally powerful. More likely, one of those feats is going to be better than the rest; and when that happen, the decision point is solved, so it no longer provides depth. (Giving someone the option to make a weaker character is not really giving them a meaningful option.)

Further down the line, that leads to a disparity in balance between characters. With all of these decisions to make, same combination of options is bound to be more powerful than some other combination of options. As you add more decision points, the gap between characters will only grow wider. It was a huge problem in first edition, and I don't know how much better this is.

I'm curious, after the game has been out for a year, what fraction of decision points will be solved? (My guess is around twenty percent.) And how bad will the gap be between an optimal character and an organic one? (My guess is that it will be much worse than 5E, and almost as bad as PF1.)
 

CapnZapp

Adventurer
The issue, as always, is balance between feats. Even if you only have five feats to choose between, it's hard to design five options that are equally powerful. More likely, one of those feats is going to be better than the rest; and when that happen, the decision point is solved, so it no longer provides depth. (Giving someone the option to make a weaker character is not really giving them a meaningful option.)

Further down the line, that leads to a disparity in balance between characters. With all of these decisions to make, same combination of options is bound to be more powerful than some other combination of options. As you add more decision points, the gap between characters will only grow wider. It was a huge problem in first edition, and I don't know how much better this is.

I'm curious, after the game has been out for a year, what fraction of decision points will be solved? (My guess is around twenty percent.) And how bad will the gap be between an optimal character and an organic one? (My guess is that it will be much worse than 5E, and almost as bad as PF1.)
Well, you're not exactly wrong, but you do focus only on the problems.

You could just as well say this is the price you pay to have a lot of options. Hoping that no (or very few) decision points will be solved even after several years isn't realistic. Especially since people's perception of this is at least as influenced by local groupthink as anything the global community can agree on.

So the only option if you really think the problems are unbearable is to have fewer options. Fewer options, fewer potentially solved decision points, fewer "trap" choices.

But that brings us right back to 5E and other simple games!
 

Aldarc

Adventurer
That's where I don't buy the "same complexity" proposition myself: I am able to hold the roll formulas and DCs for 5E in my head, and do the math on the fly. Too many variables makes that more and more difficult.

I feel the game would have been better served by using different synonyms for "Feat," rather than having 4-5 different catagories of Feat.
And if it had I suspect you would be here today complaining that it didn't just use one.

Two questions I couldn't immediately find answers for in the review:

1) the martial-caster balance in 3.x (and Pathfinder) was atrocious. Casters reigned supreme. What is the situation in PF2…?
It's almost as if this pet issue of yours matters less than you think that it does. :p

But seriously, it's been ONE DAY. Give it time.
 

Nebulous

Explorer
Another example: D&D 4E had this problem with powers. At each level up you had to choose from a small list of 3-5 new powers. But during combat, players would lose a lot of time flipping through their power library, choosing the best option or checking the power description, slowing combat to a crawl. It was impossible to memorize so many specific rules.

The critical/success/failure/fumble table may have the same problem. Since the critical and fumble results are unique to each kind of action, it's may be impossible to hold them all in your head, and require even more rule checking during the game everytime a dice rolls too high or too low.

I really hope it's all baseless fears.
Hmm. That's a really good point. That's one thing that ultimately made me hate 4e, as DM anyway, the player's noses were constantly in their card decks, shuffling through them. It also stifled creativity as they wouldn't act outside what their power card told them, especially at higher levels. Low level wasn't really a problem. As for PF2, yeah, the cross referencing might slow things down considerably, or not, I guess we won't know until we see it in action.
 

Arilyn

Explorer
Except that isn't what leveling means in a D&D style fantasy game (or at least, you shouldn't try to think of it in those terms). There's no rational way for training that lets a character defeat hundreds of enemies on a battlefield. A character's level is very much a metaphysical concept; it's about the character's presence and impact on the world.
Yes, I see what you mean. Ancestry feats and getting better at being an elf or dwarf seems strange at first, but levelling is a pretty artificial construct anyway. It makes no sense to change as thoroughly and rapidly as D&D characters do. Wizards get a free spell in book, but have to pay costs for others? What's going on there? How can my trip over a pass triple my hp, and give me neat new abilities I couldn't do at all last month? How does it all happen over night? Or even in middle of day, as newer F20 games allow levelling without even an over night rest? Taken all together worrying about becoming more "elf", doesn't seem worth worrying over.
 
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