Pathfinder 2E My Pathfinder 2e Post-Mortem

Teemu

Hero
Having recently finished a year-long 1-10 PF2 game I wanted to write down a few thoughts on the game.

TL; DR: PF2 has a great foundation that's weighed down by most everything else around the core system. The game could use a revision.

This is all coming from the perspective of a GM. I have not been a player in a PF2 game.

First off, I've run Book 1 of Agents of Edgewatch and all 3 books of Quest for the Frozen Flame. A lot of people praise Paizo's APs, and while they certainly have great art, like nearly all published adventures they're linear and leave little room for player choice and creativity. I ran the first book of Agents of Edgewatch with barely any modifications to see how well it played, and ultimately it was a disappointing experience. This was my first PF2 game, and at this point I had yet to form a clear opinion on the game itself, but the adventure was poorly structured and didn't include any truly fun or dynamic encounters.

About a year later, I started running Quest for the Frozen Flame, which I ran to its conclusion. The further we got into the AP the more changes I had to make to make the adventure a more exciting experience. There were way, way too many filler encounters whose purpose was to feed XP to the party -- these encounters had zero relevance to the overall story of the AP, and they were nothing but basic deathmatches. I began to cut these and at times replace them with more dynamic encounters where the players could choose to fight or talk, depending on their choices and rolls. I also either outright changed or adjusted many of the maps provided in the AP. There were many maps with issues: the scale, the scale and the description being at odds, or they were too boring and dull. The hex maps were pretty good, although only Book 2 actually had a hex map that the players could meaningfully explore -- Book 1 and 3 had hex maps on rails, defeating the purpose.

Quest for the Frozen Flame also had issues with the adventure structure, and I ended up changing Book 3 drastically. The default structure was comically boring and even nonsensical at times. I wanted to run a full AP to gauge how good the pre-written stuff is because I don't think you can truly review an adventure until you prep and run it. My review of the Quest for the Frozen Flame is not favorable.

Now, the Pathfinder 2e system itself.

Pros:
  • Great core system math! Maybe the best in the industry?
  • Great production values with good art.
  • Lots of monsters and creatures for the GM to choose from.
  • Easy to set DCs for tasks, hazards, and creatures.
  • Players have options galore as well.
  • The ancestry/heritage system works well and allows for fun choices.
  • Good class balance overall.
  • I like the game's take on multiclassing.
Cons:

The healing mini-game after a fight or a hazard is way too granular without giving enough in return for the complexity. In the large, large majority of situations there's no difference between 50, 60, 80, or 90 minute rests, but the default rules expect you to track this. There's no meaningful difference between a 20 minute and a 30 minute rest, but the game assumes that there is one. Before I ran PF2 I thought that the GM could use this granularity in time-sensitive scenarios, but those are exceedingly rare, and the APs I ran had none. Ultimately I ended up house ruling out-of-combat healing to make it simpler and easier, because the default experience was lacking to say the least.

Skill feats are a great concept with an atrocious execution. So many skill feats are too niche, yet some are nearly mandatory (Medicine). This con also ties to the skill system as a whole -- there are instances where skill feats should absolutely be just regular skill actions. Diplomacy and its Make an Impression is one of the biggest offenders, where by default you can only influence a single NPC at a time. Skill feats need a revision. And the worst thing? It's tough to house rule skills feats. Remove them? Ok, what about rogues and investigators? Or what do you do with Medicine and out of combat healing, or Battle Medicine? How do you rule Make an Impression and many other skill uses if you excise skill feats? What if you make all skill feat uses available by default with proficiency ranks? That's incredibly overwhelming to both the players and the GM.

Some of the general feats are horrible as well. Why is A Home in Every Port a thing? In fact, the Advanced Player's Guide as a whole has some very questionable additions to the game. It feels rushed.

Some of the lauded parts of PF2 don't work as well for the GM as they do for the players, I found. The 3 action combat economy is pretty good as a player, but it makes the GM's side take longer. Even mooks get 3 actions, which slows down resolving their turns. I also hated doing the item action economy for NPCs -- keeping track of what weapons or shield or item they had in hand, if their weapon was loaded or not, etc (not to mention shield hp and hardness...). Even the players often disliked the granularity of PF2's object handling economy.

I discovered that I prefer solo enemies to have off-turn actions like in 5e and 4e. I think off-turn actions make for a more dynamic encounter. I just don't think that PF2's approach to solo threats is the best. The players missed so often, their turns ending up doing nothing to the enemy. That's not fun, even if the encounter building math works. It's just not fun to miss all your attacks and fail your skill actions. Another aspect to dangerous solo enemies that I found negative was the power of the heal and soothe spells. A full caster with either of those spells is too good of an option to miss. Sure, you could run a party with just Battle Medicine, but it's like playing a barbarian with 14 Strength or a sorcerer with nothing but out of combat utility spells -- technically it works, but you're clearly losing out on something much more effective. A highest or second highest slot on heal/soothe is incredibly powerful in tough fights that sometimes the caster would do nothing but that for half the fight, and they weren't even built with a healer role in mind!

To add to the enemy creature criticism, I don't think that PF2's skill actions, weapon traits, and spells work well on the GM's side. The skill actions are clearly written for the players, and they're not a good fit for the GM's side. The weapon traits are present in all creature stat blocks that use weapons, but they are needlessly granular for the GM. Nice for players, but too complex for the GM. Sweep, forceful, backswing, and backstabber are the worst offenders.

The same goes for many of the spells too. Many a time I would have to pause to read over spells during a fight, which is obviously not ideal. Simple damage spells are fine, but many control, buff, or utility spells are rather complex -- great for the players, poor for the GM. Also, the 4 degrees of success mean that many spells take longer to resolve as you have to check which of the 4 results apply to which creatures or player characters.

PF2 magic items are pretty boring, especially the consumables. So many small situational bonuses. And the permanent magical items aren't super interesting either. Some of the weapon runes are too good, basically -- why wouldn't you get the energy damage runes over the other property runes? Handing out magic items was kind of a chore. (And Book 2 of the Quest for the Frozen Flame omitted striking runes entirely... a massive goof to say the least, considering it's a paid product that's supposed to be ready-to-run.)

While I don't mind the amount of conditions, some of them are badly implemented. First, paralyzed/unconscious is weird since you still make Reflex saves, and at no penalty when paralyzed... odd. But the worst by far is poison. Not only do you have to track the stage, you also have to track duration. Imagine a fight where you have 2 different kinds of poison, and 3 PCs are suffering from them -- one has poison A at stage 2 with 4 rounds remaining; the second has poison A at stage 1 with 6 rounds remaining, and the third has poison A at stage 3 with 4 rounds remaining and poison B at stage 1 with 6 rounds remaining. Unbelievable.

Exploration activities are a great example of a PF2 system that sounds great on paper but is not great in practice. First, it's silly that only select characters with a feat can do meaningful sneaky scouting. If you don't have the proper feat, you cannot both remain stealthy while keeping an eye out for traps, hazards, and hidden enemies. I suppose they did it this way to preserve role identity, but in practice it felt bad. Second, as a GM I didn't really find all the extra rules and structure that beneficial, and I grew to dislike all the secret checks. Exploration activities (while traveling) are a good concept but much like skill feats the execution wasn't my cup of tea.

Downtime is boring. Even 5e with Xanathar's has a more interesting and useful downtime system! Like with many, many other systems in PF2, downtime is needlessly granular with little to no benefit for all the extra rolling and tracking.

As an aside, there's been some talk about how PF2 is similar to 4e. Maybe superficially, but in play they are very different. 4e combat encounters are much more dynamic; the monsters are both more dynamic and easier to run; and 4e skills are much more freeform and DM-dependent. Overall I have to say that I've been disappointed in PF2's combat encounters when comparing them to 4e D&D. And honestly, 5e isn't that much worse tactically, compared to PF2 -- sometimes better even. Sure, 5e breaks down after level 10-12 or so, but level 3-10 5e is a more fun game (as the GM/DM) than PF2. Maybe PF2 at levels 11+ is a better game than 5e? At least the system and encounter building math seems to keep up much better.

I'm not sure if I'll run PF2 again. I think 4e D&D does the PF2-style fantasy better -- the style with rich player options and tactical grid combat. I really think that PF2 could be an amazing game if it had a revision, or maybe Pathfinder 3rd edition could be the better iteration. I wanted to love PF2 (and I've spent hundreds of $$$ on it) but at the end of the day I found it lacking.
 
Last edited:

log in or register to remove this ad

Great, lengthy report!

Cons:

The healing mini-game after a fight or a hazard is way too granular without giving enough in return for the complexity. In the large, large majority of situations there's no difference between 50, 60, 80, or 90 minute rests, but the default rules expect you to track this. There's no meaningful difference between a 20 minute and a 30 minute rest, but the game assumes that there is one. Before I ran PF2 I thought that the GM could use this granularity in time-sensitive scenarios, but those are exceedingly rare, and the APs I ran had none. Ultimately I ended up house ruling out-of-combat healing to make it simpler and easier, because the default experience was lacking to say the least.

I think this is part of the problem with most d20 systems and perhaps one of the hidden surprises of 4E: while I've never played it, having something of a hard limit on how much you can heal actually helps move things along rather than slow things down. It's like long rest/short rest problems in 5E: if you allow players to regain all their resources, they will try to every time. I think it was @kenada who mentioned WWN's way of limiting healing, and I managed to integrate it into this game pretty well, and I would do the same in 5E if I were to run it again.

Skill feats are a great concept with an atrocious execution. So many skill feats are too niche, yet some are nearly mandatory (Medicine). This con also ties to the skill system as a whole -- there are instances where skill feats should absolutely be just regular skill actions. Diplomacy and its Make an Impression is one of the biggest offenders, where by default you can only influence a single NPC at a time. Skill feats need a revision. And the worst thing? It's tough to house rule skills feats. Remove them? Ok, what about rogues and investigators? Or what do you do with Medicine and out of combat healing, or Battle Medicine? How do you rule Make an Impression and many other skill uses if you excise skill feats? What if you make all skill feat uses available by default with proficiency ranks? That's incredibly overwhelming to both the players and the GM.

Some of the general feats are horrible as well. Why is A Home in Every Port a thing? In fact, the Advanced Player's Guide as a whole has some very questionable additions to the game. It feels rushed.

I'm going to disagree here slightly: I do think there is a decent amount of variance in the usefulness of Skill Feats and there are definitely some weird feats that are largely flavor. I've always found Dubious Knowledge to be one of those, and A Home in Every Port is another one that could probably use a rework. For the most part, I actually like a lot of them, though.

Your choice of Make an Impression is one of those things that I think people take a bit too mechanically. Not on the "Only influence one person" part, but more the amount of time and how you integrate that in a more flowing manner. To me, I like the distinctions between people who can quickly do some spot influence on people versus people who can do better on groups and such. It's little distinctions that I think can help distinguish how different people actually talk and influence: Someone who has Group Impression isn't about making speeches (which I wouldn't really consider what the action is about since it refers to being "in conversation") but someone who can manage a large talking circle all at once and directly influence people on a topic in a way others just couldn't, while someone who has something like Quick Impression can just get that "You son of a b****, I'm in" reaction in an instant. Plus forcing people to spend a bit more time to influence individuals is a pretty good penalty in and of itself and feels completely proper for the style of fiction.

But I think you also have to be a bit more lenient on how you do such things; to me, the 1 minute part is more a guideline for the table. Obviously they probably need a hard limit for society play, but I try to allow a bit of flex in there. Also, when people want to influence multiple people, I ask them their targets, give them a minimum amount of time, and after we've found the grove of the conversation I have them make all their rolls at once and see the results. They could probably give better instruction of how to integrate it more organically, but I like the rules there more than most. And remember, Make an Impression is largely meant for quick, temporary improvements in attitude and not a guide to all diplomacy.

Some of the lauded parts of PF2 don't work as well for the GM as they do for the players, I found. The 3 action combat economy is pretty good as a player, but it makes the GM's side take longer. Even mooks get 3 actions, which slows down resolving their turns. I also hated doing the item action economy for NPCs -- keeping track of what weapons or shield or item they had in hand, if their weapon was loaded or not, etc (not to mention shield hp and hardness...). Even the players often disliked the granularity of PF2's object handling economy.

Hm. Interesting. Maybe this is where having a VTT really helps me.

I discovered that I prefer solo enemies to have off-turn actions like in 5e and 4e. I think off-turn actions make for a more dynamic encounter. I just don't think that PF2's approach to solo threats is the best. The players missed so often, their turns ending up doing nothing to the enemy. That's not fun, even if the encounter building math works. It's just not fun to miss all your attacks and fail your skill actions. Another aspect to dangerous solo enemies that I found negative was the power of the heal and soothe spells. A full caster with either of those spells is too good of an option to miss. Sure, you could run a party with just Battle Medicine, but it's like playing a barbarian with 14 Strength or a sorcerer with nothing but out of combat utility spells -- technically it works, but you're clearly losing out on something much more effective. A highest or second highest slot on heal/soothe is incredibly powerful in tough fights that sometimes the caster would do nothing but that for half the fight, and they weren't even built with a healer role in mind!

Not going to disagree too much here: I do think giving off-turn stuff can help really create a more dynamic encounter. Legendary Actions are one of the things where 5E really nailed it, but they were extremely dumb to largely use it for creatures who got 3 of them. I loved taking away the multiple attacks of giants and giving them legendary actions to make up for it.

To add to the enemy creature criticism, I don't think that PF2's skill actions, weapon traits, and spells work well on the GM's side. The skill actions are clearly written for the players, and they're not a good fit for the GM's side. The weapon traits are present in all creature stat blocks that use weapons, but they are needlessly granular for the GM. Nice for players, but too complex for the GM. Sweep, forceful, backswing, and backstabber are the worst offenders.

This is one of those prep things; I find I'm not as good at remembering this stuff if I'm just pulling it out, but when I prep for this stuff I'm really good. Was it 4E that had a basic SOP for each creature? Those were useful and could help you see the underlying advantages of each creature that you might miss if you weren't looking. That's easier to do in PF2, even if I enjoy what the system does.

The same goes for many of the spells too. Many a time I would have to pause to read over spells during a fight, which is obviously not ideal. Simple damage spells are fine, but many control, buff, or utility spells are rather complex -- great for the players, poor for the GM. Also, the 4 degrees of success mean that many spells take longer to resolve as you have to check which of the 4 results apply to which creatures or player characters.

I can see this, though I haven't had the problem yet. Or, at least, I haven't recognized where I have gotten it wrong.

PF2 magic items are pretty boring, especially the consumables. So many small situational bonuses. And the permanent magical items aren't super interesting either. Some of the weapon runes are too good, basically -- why wouldn't you get the energy damage runes over the other property runes? Handing out magic items was kind of a chore. (And Book 2 of the Quest for the Frozen Flame omitted striking runes entirely... a massive goof to say the least, considering it's a paid product that's supposed to be ready-to-run.)

Striking Runes are an okay fix, the true fix is just Automatic Bonus Progression. Still disappointed they didn't just go with that and do away with half the tracking you need to do with upgrading equipment. Other than that, I find magic items to be generally good.

While I don't mind the amount of conditions, some of them are badly implemented. First, paralyzed/unconscious is weird since you still make Reflex saves, and at no penalty when paralyzed... odd. But the worst by far is poison. Not only do you have to track the stage, you also have to track duration. Imagine a fight where you have 2 different kinds of poison, and 3 PCs are suffering from them -- one has poison A at stage 2 with 4 rounds remaining; the second has poison A at stage 1 with 6 rounds remaining, and the third has poison A at stage 3 with 4 rounds remaining and poison B at stage 1 with 6 rounds remaining. Unbelievable.

Yeah, poison is way too complicated. It's interesting and in-depth, but the amount of tracking it needs is a bit much for what it delivers on. Conceptually I like it, in play it can be a real hassle if you have a bunch of them you need to track. Other conditions I'm pretty fine with.

Exploration activities are a great example of a PF2 system that sounds great on paper but is not great in practice. First, it's silly that only select characters with a feat can do meaningful sneaky scouting. If you don't have the proper feat, you cannot both remain stealthy while keeping an eye out for traps, hazards, and hidden enemies. I suppose they did it this way to preserve role identity, but in practice it felt bad. Second, as a GM I didn't really find all the extra rules and structure that beneficial, and I grew to dislike all the secret checks. Exploration activities (while traveling) are a good concept but much like skill feats the execution wasn't my cup of tea.

Wait, which feat is that? I seem to remember something like that, but it's not coming to mind nor can I find it on a quick search. But I like the structure because it allows me to modify the game while having a clue as to how the game writers wanted to integrate such stuff. It's probably why...

Downtime is boring. Even 5e with Xanathar's has a more interesting and useful downtime system! Like with many, many other systems in PF2, downtime is needlessly granular with little to no benefit for all the extra rolling and tracking.

... we can agree to disagree here. I like the downtime stuff, especially the difference VP systems in the GMG for this stuff compared to XGtE, which comes off as kind of half-baked. I have my problems with crafting, but just having a system to work off of crafting is a huge help for myself.

As an aside, there's been some talk about how PF2 is similar to 4e. Maybe superficially, but in play they are very different. 4e combat encounters are much more dynamic; the monsters are both more dynamic and easier to run; and 4e skills are much more freeform and DM-dependent. Overall I have to say that I've been disappointed in PF2's combat encounters when comparing them to 4e D&D. And honestly, 5e isn't that much worse tactically, compared to PF2 -- sometimes better even. Sure, 5e breaks down after level 10-12 or so, but level 3-10 5e is a more fun game (as the GM/DM) than PF2. Maybe PF2 at levels 11+ is a better game than 5e? At least the system and encounter building math seems to keep up much better.

I'm not sure if I'll run PF2 again. I think 4e D&D does the PF2-style fantasy better -- the style with rich player options and tactical grid combat. I really think that PF2 could be an amazing game if it had a revision, or maybe Pathfinder 3rd edition could be the better iteration. I wanted to love PF2 (and I've spent hundreds of $$$ on it) but at the end of the day I found it lacking.

4E is just a very different thing. I think this system hits a bit better if you want the classic feel of D&D where you can have some quick, meaningless chance encounters and not completely bog things down. 4E just doesn't do that because it wants every combat to be a Pirates of the Caribbean-style epic set piece. That seems like a great way to play (and I wish I could get my friends to invest in such things), but not sure if that's all I want to run.
 

!DWolf

Adventurer
I have had a very different experience.

I am currently running Legacy of Fire (converted from 3.5) with Broken Chains as a supplemental adventure and Abomination Vaults/Troubles in Otari. Both of these have dungeons with intelligent groups of enemies and when running them the healing system works well. Each turn in the dungeon is dangerous and the characters have to make a choice of whether to refocus/heal (and risk a “random” encounter), press on (and risk entering the next encounter weakened), or retreat (and let the enemies prepare). Having choices like that really makes dungeon crawling fun in a sort of “press your luck way”.
I have also run urban exploration and wilderness crawls and the healing system also worked well for those. If there is no danger or pressing time, I just let the characters heal to full in a watch (or sooner depending on what their method of healing is).

I have a completely different philosophy on skills, skill feats, and exploration activities and I never have had the problems with things like group impression or survey wildlife people on the internet always bring up. Like I explained to my players, both of those feats make you supernaturally fast at what they do. With group impression by the time you finish reading this sentence I have made friends with twenty-five people. With survey wildlife I have done a task that can take years and a massive amount of money in a mere ten minutes for free. To answer your rhetorical questions: think of skill actions as building blocks. Some things you want to do require a single block, some however require multiple blocks and thus multiple checks. For the latter simply think realistically on what you have to do to accomplish them and break that down into steps until they match the available skill actions. Then have the players roll for each skill action. That is skill feats don’t give you access to things anyone can do - they let you do these things very well and often to a supernatural degree.

I apply the same principle to exploration activities. I ask what the players want to do (to quote the CRB: “…allow each player to describe what their character is doing. Then, as the GM, you can determine which activity applies. This also means you determine how an activity works if the character’s actions differ from those on the list.”) and then break it down into one or more exploration activities. For example to sneakily scout ahead looking for traps, how would you realistically do it? Well you sneak up to a location (Avoid Notice) and make sure it is clear of obvious dangers (included in the Avoid Notice activity), then carefully search the location for traps (Search which is more than glancing around the room: you are doing things like waving light sources around to check for the moving shadows of tripwires and raised or dressed stones, tapping suspicious objects with ten foot poles, etc.) then repeat. Is this incredibly slow without a feat? Yes. That is the benefit of the feat: it doesn’t allow you to do it, it allows you to do it inhumanly fast.

Finally, aside from crafting (I house ruled a day by day system instead of a four day system), I like the downtime rules. I use an enforced downtime rule in Abominations Vaults (basically - one day rest per one day adventuring) and I think it really elevated the game: especially when combined with vp systems for individual characters sub-goals.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
I ran PF2 for a year or so, and every so often I consider whether I want to come back to it. I wanted to reply to a few points here, and I hope my responses will help me articulate why that is.

I think this is part of the problem with most d20 systems and perhaps one of the hidden surprises of 4E: while I've never played it, having something of a hard limit on how much you can heal actually helps move things along rather than slow things down. It's like long rest/short rest problems in 5E: if you allow players to regain all their resources, they will try to every time. I think it was @kenada who mentioned WWN's way of limiting healing, and I managed to integrate it into this game pretty well, and I would do the same in 5E if I were to run it again.
What WWN does is assume that PCs start combat at full health and provide another means of implementing attrition. Your post-combat healing is just determining what the cost in System Strain you need to pay is. My homebrew system does something similar with stress, though it also implements stress more pervasively in the system (e.g., you can gain stress to cast spells even when you are out of mp or gain stress to save versus a consequence or take the successful option when making a saving throw).

Skill feats are a great concept with an atrocious execution. So many skill feats are too niche, yet some are nearly mandatory (Medicine). This con also ties to the skill system as a whole -- there are instances where skill feats should absolutely be just regular skill actions. Diplomacy and its Make an Impression is one of the biggest offenders, where by default you can only influence a single NPC at a time. Skill feats need a revision. And the worst thing? It's tough to house rule skills feats. Remove them? Ok, what about rogues and investigators? Or what do you do with Medicine and out of combat healing, or Battle Medicine? How do you rule Make an Impression and many other skill uses if you excise skill feats? What if you make all skill feat uses available by default with proficiency ranks? That's incredibly overwhelming to both the players and the GM.
Your choice of Make an Impression is one of those things that I think people take a bit too mechanically. Not on the "Only influence one person" part, but more the amount of time and how you integrate that in a more flowing manner. To me, I like the distinctions between people who can quickly do some spot influence on people versus people who can do better on groups and such. It's little distinctions that I think can help distinguish how different people actually talk and influence: Someone who has Group Impression isn't about making speeches (which I wouldn't really consider what the action is about since it refers to being "in conversation") but someone who can manage a large talking circle all at once and directly influence people on a topic in a way others just couldn't, while someone who has something like Quick Impression can just get that "You son of a b****, I'm in" reaction in an instant. Plus forcing people to spend a bit more time to influence individuals is a pretty good penalty in and of itself and feels completely proper for the style of fiction.

But I think you also have to be a bit more lenient on how you do such things; to me, the 1 minute part is more a guideline for the table. Obviously they probably need a hard limit for society play, but I try to allow a bit of flex in there. Also, when people want to influence multiple people, I ask them their targets, give them a minimum amount of time, and after we've found the grove of the conversation I have them make all their rolls at once and see the results. They could probably give better instruction of how to integrate it more organically, but I like the rules there more than most. And remember, Make an Impression is largely meant for quick, temporary improvements in attitude and not a guide to all diplomacy.
Pathfinder 2e has a problem of being afraid to diverge from the traditional play loop even though it provides tools in the GMG to do so effectively. The VP subsystem should have been core. It would have made the value of these things immediately apparent. In that case, trying to make a Group Impression would be a clock VP subsystem, and so would the scenarios @!DWolf outlines in his response. The benefit of the skill feat becomes immediately obvious: you skip the clock and do it in one check. I think it would have also obviated the need to specify all the degrees of success for every skill action and would have allowed for more flexibility in using skills. The normal would be clocks, and skill feats allow you to short circuit that.

Exploration activities are a great example of a PF2 system that sounds great on paper but is not great in practice. First, it's silly that only select characters with a feat can do meaningful sneaky scouting. If you don't have the proper feat, you cannot both remain stealthy while keeping an eye out for traps, hazards, and hidden enemies. I suppose they did it this way to preserve role identity, but in practice it felt bad. Second, as a GM I didn't really find all the extra rules and structure that beneficial, and I grew to dislike all the secret checks. Exploration activities (while traveling) are a good concept but much like skill feats the execution wasn't my cup of tea.
The exploration loop in PF2 appears to be designed to add mechanics for when the GM asks, “What were you doing?” when the encounter starts. This is again an area where PF2 would have benefited from a stronger and more prescriptive exploration loop. The hexploration rules are a start, though they’re not sufficient on their own.

The way I handle this in my homebrew system is by asking what everyone is doing, and then having the navigator roll Survive. I don’t use hidden checks at all (in fact, I never roll skill checks as the referee). I found them really annoying in PF2 even though we ended up using Foundry for half the campaign, and I could ask someone to click the hidden check button. It just slows things down. Anyway, the navigation roll is just to determine if there are any consequences along the way (of which getting lost is one possibility). Otherwise, I assume you travel however many hexes your exploration MV allows, and then we transition to camp where players have a number of decisions to make that affect their journey.

Dungeoneering is still a work in progress, but it intends to follow a similar principle of tracked time and event checks while you are exploring. It makes sense in that kind of structure that you only do one thing because typically one check you make takes one turn (10 minutes). However, I use conflict resolution and not task resolution in my homebrew system. You’re only rolling when you can set the stakes. In fact, there are no knowledge skills because I view them as boring play (but characters have subjects they know and can use INT as an approach by drawing on those subjects when making a skill check). Again, this is an area where I feel PF2 inadequately systematized to make exploration interesting.

I will say I think some of these decisions were driven by PFS. After I got to play PF2 at Origins, and as I’ve gone about designing play loops for these activities for my homebrew system, I’ve gained more appreciation for how PFS-oriented Pathfinder 2e actually is. I don’t blame Paizo for doing that. PF1 had an extensive list of allowed and disallowed material while PF2 doesn’t. Everything is in play subject to how PFS uses rarity. I can respect that, though it does have consequences for non-PFS home games that I think holds the system back from what it can do.

As an aside, there's been some talk about how PF2 is similar to 4e. Maybe superficially, but in play they are very different. 4e combat encounters are much more dynamic; the monsters are both more dynamic and easier to run; and 4e skills are much more freeform and DM-dependent. Overall I have to say that I've been disappointed in PF2's combat encounters when comparing them to 4e D&D. And honestly, 5e isn't that much worse tactically, compared to PF2 -- sometimes better even. Sure, 5e breaks down after level 10-12 or so, but level 3-10 5e is a more fun game (as the GM/DM) than PF2. Maybe PF2 at levels 11+ is a better game than 5e? At least the system and encounter building math seems to keep up much better.
I’m playing in a Blades in the Dark game being run by @Manbearcat. @Campbell and I had both been talking up PF2, so he took a look at it as a possible next game for us and was like: nope, view not worth the climb. He said something pretty similar to us. 4e provides for dynamic and interesting encounter building from the GM’s side. PF2 seems to offer more from the player side via the action economy. I found the decision-making of how to use my actions very interesting, but how and which debuff I’m going to apply is a different sort of tactics compared to how I’m going to leverage position to our advantage.

Some of the lauded parts of PF2 don't work as well for the GM as they do for the players, I found. The 3 action combat economy is pretty good as a player, but it makes the GM's side take longer. Even mooks get 3 actions, which slows down resolving their turns. I also hated doing the item action economy for NPCs -- keeping track of what weapons or shield or item they had in hand, if their weapon was loaded or not, etc (not to mention shield hp and hardness...). Even the players often disliked the granularity of PF2's object handling economy.
I dislike the bulk system in PF2. It’s similar to other abstract equipment systems, but it’s still too damn fiddly. Having to tally up all the light bulk items is not much better than tallying up pounds or coins! My favorite (from the player side) is Torchbearer. You have a grid of slots by type, and you have to pick which item goes where. Every round of combat has an equip phase where you (and the GM for the opposition) decide what you have equipped that turn.

TB was influential on my homebrew system when I looked at what OSR games and PF2 were doing with slot-based inventories, though I’ve opted to simplify things a bit (characters have slot-based inventory that they can expand with containers rather than a specific list of slots). Equip phase is awesome though, especially for monsters. I started from B/X, which has you declare melee or spell attacks, and took the TB approach of doing that for all equipment. Last session, when I declared the monster equipped gibbering, everyone was like, “Kill it NOW!”

Anyway, after Paizo simplified things in the second errata, they should have dropped the Interact action for most things and folded it into the action used to use the item. I don’t think tracking held versus worn is going to be very interesting most of the time. I would make an exception for weapons because of feats like Quickdraw. It would be different if there were a separate time to change your load outside the action economy, but there’s not (and I don’t think it would fit well with PF2). For the kind of play PF2 does, it’s just not worth the extra tracking (especially because this would let you almost entirely ignore it when running monsters, which should be a serious consideration to keep things manageable for GMs).

About a year later, I started running Quest for the Frozen Flame, which I ran to its conclusion. The further we got into the AP the more changes I had to make to make the adventure a more exciting experience. There were way, way too many filler encounters whose purpose was to feed XP to the party -- these encounters had zero relevance to the overall story of the AP, and they were nothing but basic deathmatches. I began to cut these and at times replace them with more dynamic encounters where the players could choose to fight or talk, depending on their choices and rolls. I also either outright changed or adjusted many of the maps provided in the AP. There were many maps with issues: the scale, the scale and the description being at odds, or they were too boring and dull. The hex maps were pretty good, although only Book 2 actually had a hex map that the players could meaningfully explore -- Book 1 and 3 had hex maps on rails, defeating the purpose.
I’ve only run PF1 APs, but the only one we really liked was Kingmaker. It’s the most exploration-oriented (or was, I don’t know how the reprint changed things to align it more with the video game and plot-oriented sensibilities), so that makes sense for us since that is what we do. I can’t imagine running any of the ones I ran (Council of Thieves through the end of book 1, Rise of the Rune Lords through the end of book 2, Shattered Star through the middle of book 3, Kingmaker completely) without making changes. However, it doesn’t sound like what those books give you was very good. The default rules assume that a good chunk of XP comes from accomplishments. Why do they pad out the APs with combat encounters instead? Really, they should just use fiat leveling when the story needs it if it’s expected that you stick to the rails and do what the AP prescribes.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
Downtime is boring. Even 5e with Xanathar's has a more interesting and useful downtime system! Like with many, many other systems in PF2, downtime is needlessly granular with little to no benefit for all the extra rolling and tracking.
Forgot to touch on this. I agree. This is another area where PF2 is afraid to have a play loop because traditionally there was not one. Other games do this pretty well, though. In Blades in the Dark, there is a downtime phase after every score (i.e., adventure). You can make some decisions, and those can be potentially very impactful for future adventures. Torchbearer has town phase where you can do some stuff to develop your character (and feel forever impoverished as your treasure is all spent on a few more pints of oil for your lantern). My homebrew system splits the difference by defining a “town activity” duration of 1 week, which allows you to recover stress and hp (depending on accommodations) and engage in various activities like crafting, gaining a level, or changing your prepared spells.

In Pathfinder 2e’s defense, structured downtime doesn’t work (or is perceived as not working) with APs. There is inevitably a sense of urgency, so how can you spend a few weeks in town doing something? Paizo would really need to commit to writing APs in support of that structure — more location-based than plot driven; but I can’t see their doing that. The plot-driven format is rather popular. I think instead you should get some prescribed downtime after each book to engage downtime activities. For example, finish book 1 and get three cycles of downtime for crafting, etc. Make it explicit what the limit is going to be, and allow the PCs spend resources to get extra activities if they want to do more.
 

Staffan

Legend
The default rules assume that a good chunk of XP comes from accomplishments. Why do they pad out the APs with combat encounters instead? Really, they should just use fiat leveling when the story needs it if it’s expected that you stick to the rails and do what the AP prescribes.
One of the devs told me over on the Paizo boards that they, at least for the early APs (this was in the context of Extinction Curse, the second PF2 AP), filled them with encounters and didn't assume milestone leveling because they didn't want people to complain about not getting their money's worth out of the adventure. You paid for an adventure that starts at level 1 and ends with you getting to level 5, you should get four levels' worth of encounters from it.

A contributing factor is the adventure path cadence which is fairly specific. The standard AP is six books long and gets you from level 1 to where 21 would be if it was supported (i.e. it supports not just ending at level 20, but playing for a significant period there). That's 3.33 levels per book, or four books covering 3 levels and two books covering 4. Each book has ~64 pages of actual adventure (96 total pages, but the last third is peripheral material like setting information, new items, and so on - good stuff, but it won't put XP on your character sheet). Non-fighting XP usually requires a lot of description and setup of a non-combat encounter, but fighting XP can be as easy as saying "2 vrocks (Moderate 9), Bestiary p. 78" and be done with it. So dungeons are very efficient at delivering XP onto character sheets, page-count-wise.

None of these things is likely to change because of business realities: 6 books means 2 APs per year, and 64 pages is about what you can get out of the freelancers who write these, as well as what the assigned artists, editors, layout folks, and other staff can handle. Changing these things would require significant alterations to the business of APs, and APs are the core of what Paizo does. They're very conservative with changing those. The most they've done have been introducing half-APs that are either 1-10 or 11-20 in 3 books, but those don't really change the overall structure of delivering 3.33 levels of adventure per book.

I understand that they've gotten somewhat more generous with non-combat XP in later APs, so I'd be interested in checking those out. However, my group's experience with Agents of Edgewatch has soured us somewhat on the game.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
One of the devs told me over on the Paizo boards that they, at least for the early APs (this was in the context of Extinction Curse, the second PF2 AP), filled them with encounters and didn't assume milestone leveling because they didn't want people to complain about not getting their money's worth out of the adventure. You paid for an adventure that starts at level 1 and ends with you getting to level 5, you should get four levels' worth of encounters from it.

A contributing factor is the adventure path cadence which is fairly specific. The standard AP is six books long and gets you from level 1 to where 21 would be if it was supported (i.e. it supports not just ending at level 20, but playing for a significant period there). That's 3.33 levels per book, or four books covering 3 levels and two books covering 4. Each book has ~64 pages of actual adventure (96 total pages, but the last third is peripheral material like setting information, new items, and so on - good stuff, but it won't put XP on your character sheet). Non-fighting XP usually requires a lot of description and setup of a non-combat encounter, but fighting XP can be as easy as saying "2 vrocks (Moderate 9), Bestiary p. 78" and be done with it. So dungeons are very efficient at delivering XP onto character sheets, page-count-wise.

None of these things is likely to change because of business realities: 6 books means 2 APs per year, and 64 pages is about what you can get out of the freelancers who write these, as well as what the assigned artists, editors, layout folks, and other staff can handle. Changing these things would require significant alterations to the business of APs, and APs are the core of what Paizo does. They're very conservative with changing those. The most they've done have been introducing half-APs that are either 1-10 or 11-20 in 3 books, but those don't really change the overall structure of delivering 3.33 levels of adventure per book.

I understand that they've gotten somewhat more generous with non-combat XP in later APs, so I'd be interested in checking those out. However, my group's experience with Agents of Edgewatch has soured us somewhat on the game.
There is more to RPGs other than combat, especially in a game like PF2 that tries to support different modes of play and provides a variety of subsystems. It’s astounding they think (or would think) they need a ton of combat encounters to provide enough “value” in an adventure.
 

The-Magic-Sword

Small Ball Archmage
Personally for healing, we figure out our healing resources early on and then choose whether we need the definition situationally-- if time is sensitive they track it, but if its not, we're aware of how much healing we can do per 10 minutes and are just like "yeah you get everyone back up to full over the course of however long" but its mediated by whether they can or not, like we know its a series of lay on hands, reliable treat wounds and whatever so we can reliably eyeball the results-- if my witch can focus restore 16 HP every 10 minutes at this level, and the champion can do something similar also deterministically, the exact actions are pretty academic. Obviously the GM could audit their capability to make sure it worked that way, but there usually isnt a need.
 

The-Magic-Sword

Small Ball Archmage
There is more to RPGs other than combat, especially in a game like PF2 that tries to support different modes of play and provides a variety of subsystems. It’s astounding they think (or would think) they need a ton of combat encounters to provide enough “value” in an adventure.

The PF1e community certainly had people who would see things that way, so its not too shocking. Groups that spend a lot of time on those other things tend to be able to do it anyway (like spending way more time chatting up the provided NPCs), but i think the GM who 'has to' make encounters would be more annoyed than the GM who just ignores some of the provided ones. So I think they were playing it safe, from their perspective. There have always been people who bounce through APs super fast via a more cutscene and combat oriented approach.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
The PF1e community certainly had people who would see things that way, so its not too shocking. Groups that spend a lot of time on those other things tend to be able to do it anyway (like spending way more time chatting up the provided NPCs), but i think the GM who 'has to' make encounters would be more annoyed than the GM who just ignores some of the provided ones. So I think they were playing it safe, from their perspective. There have always been people who bounce through APs super fast via a more cutscene and combat oriented approach.
Paizo’s obviously making money doing it, so there’s obviously an audience fir it, but I think it’s a shame. The system can obviously do more, but designing to accommodate that particular audience feeds a perception that they system is just for that kind of play. Recall the conversations we had several years ago when PF2 was released, and the official adventures were put forth as the way the game was intended to be played. 🫤
 

Remove ads

AD6_gamerati_skyscraper

Remove ads

Upcoming Releases

Top