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Pathfinder 2: Crits, Skills, Scaling, & Proficiencies!

Today's update about Pathfinder 2nd Edition! A ton of small updates covering a whole variety of topics -- critical hits, skills, spell scaling, underlying math, proficiencies and attack bonuses, and more! Dive in! All this has also been integrated into the Pathfinder 2 Compiled Information Page (which underwent some major reorganisation yesterday, as the sheer volume of information was starting to mount up!)

Today's update about Pathfinder 2nd Edition! A ton of small updates covering a whole variety of topics -- critical hits, skills, spell scaling, underlying math, proficiencies and attack bonuses, and more! Dive in! All this has also been integrated into the Pathfinder 2 Compiled Information Page (which underwent some major reorganisation yesterday, as the sheer volume of information was starting to mount up!)


Another lucky group of people playtesting Pathfinder 2 at Gary Con
(Photo by Jason Bulmahn)

  • Paizo's Jason Bulmahn posted a blog entry of commentary on the recent Glass Cannon podcast playtest. There's a few snippets of info to be found in there. Here are the relevant quotes, extracted for your reading convenience:
    • The first skill check in the game is a Society check. This skill covers knowledge about towns, people, their customs, and their history.
    • Of note, when he reads off acid splash, he mentions "somatic" and "verbal," which does not seem to be much of a spoiler, but those are actually the names of the two actions you must spend to cast the spell!
    • That's right, Perception is no longer a skill. Your class gives you an initial proficiency in Perception and might possibly increase it over time.
    • Most of the maneuvers—grabbing, disarming, tumbling, and tripping—are now associated with the Acrobatics or Athletics skills.
    • These phantom foes are created using a new spell called illusory creature. Created by a hidden wizard, these orcs are bit more difficult to hit than ordinary foes, basing their statistics on the caster. The fact that they are a spell also explains why they have only two actions each turn and hit for so little damage (all of which is halved once the illusion is revealed).
    • Flanking does not grant you a +2 bonus to hit. Instead, it now makes the target flat-footed to your attacks, causing it to take a –2 penalty to its AC. It's the same result, but the distinction is relevant.
    • The three-action casting of heal does indeed target everyone in the group, but it heals only an amount equal to the caster's spellcasting ability modifier at this level (which should be only 4).
    • The Survival skill can be used to navigate in the wild, make a shelter, and find food. In this case, instead of making shelter, the skill was used to simply find a good, defensible place to camp.
    • This really does begin to show the relationship between proficiencies and crafting that will undoubtedly be the topic of a future blog post. Suffice it to say, the higher your proficiency, the higher the quality of the items that you can craft.
    • The only way the illusion is detected is if it is lower-level than the detection spell. If it is of the same level, it is unnoticed.
    • The skeletons here are not very powerful undead, but in large numbers like this, they can be deadly. Most problematic, they have resistance 5 to weapon damage, but they still have a weakness to bludgeoning, which can cancel out that protection.
    • Skeletons also have resistance 5 against fire damage.
    • Claws are agile weapons, which is why the skeletons use them as their second attack, reducing the penalty on the attack roll to –4.
    • The Shield Block reaction is very powerful, preventing damage by forcing the foe to beat its way through your protection. It does mean that warriors tend to go through shields with some frequency.
    • The shield spell is also a cantrip, meaning that you can cast it as often as you like.
  • Over on Twitter, Jason Bulmahn confirms the existence of a "lift" action.
  • Logan Bonner notes that haste will fit into the new action economy "Quite easily!"
  • Critical hits! Bonner also comments on the implications of the new critical hit rule (a crit occurs when you roll 10 above your target number) -- "It certainly does have some major implications, and the scale and frequency of bonuses had to be adjusted accordingly. Even a +1 is really significant when you’re making three attacks per round, each of which has both an improved chance to hit and one or more have an improved chance to crit!
    • Designer Mark Seifter on criticals; seems there's more to it than we know! -- "I mean, we haven't said what happens on a 20 or a 1 yet. Details like those are probably best saved for a comprehensive blog on successes and failures."
    • He also notes that "a critical failure by default is the same as a failure on an attack roll. You don't drop the weapon or cut yourself or anything. You just miss either way."
    • Frequency of fumbles -- "Well hopefully you're not "regularly" critically failing, no. But if you're fighting a bunch of weaker foes, they don't have as good of a bonus, so they're more likely to do so. Conversely, you're more likely to see a critical failure against a nasty boss monster than anywhere else."
  • On the recent Know Direction podcast, Paizo' Erik Mona indicated his dislike for healing wands and "spam healing". Bonner clarified that "[FONT=&amp]There *are* wands of heal, there are just diminishing returns on buying the cheapest one possible and spamming it."[/FONT]
  • Heritage feats (Mark Seifter) -- "There is actually something called a "heritage feat" among ancestry feats that you pick up at 1st level. You'll have to wait for more info on those until we blog about races!"
  • Chief Technical Officer Vic Wertz comments on the amount of preview those at conventions are getting -- "That "early look" is a verbal explanation of the rules they need to play through the session. It's very much like the one that you can hear right now via the Glass Cannon Podcast (and in many cases, the convention sessions aren't that long, so they don't even get that much)."
    • Wertz also addresses how the are trying to treat the whole market fairly -- "You may have seen people in the forums saying that they want to make sure that we aren't listening only to a single segment of the audience. Allowing people who download the PDF to give us feedback long before people who buy it in stores can, or before people who play in French or German can, would prioritize one segment of the audience over others."
    • Vic Wertz on the length of the playtest -- "The plan involves some iterative feedback, and we aren't going to know how long those iterations will take until we're into it." He also says "We have a structured plan that will allow us to get us the answers we need from a huge number of people in a focused way. We'll talk more specifically about what that means a bit later, but August 6 is the day it begins."
  • Designer Mark Seifter on the new bulk system and Starfinder -- "Starfinder uses an offshoot of an earlier version of the bulk system that Logan had been designing for PF2. If I recall, one of your problem cases had to do with a very big character having trouble moving a smaller character around; there's a chart to help with bigger and smaller creatures in the playtest doc (that you can totally probably use in Starfinder for unusual-size creatures and bulk too if it would help!)"
  • Seifter talks about using PC rules to create NPCs -- "You can use PC rules for bad guys too, and it works just fine if you want to put the time into it. But even then, your PCs probably don't often beat up a bunch of random no-combat-threat bookbinders, and if they do, they can use the monster rules for a really weak leveled foe."
  • Save or suck (Seifter) -- "Figuring out a way to handle save or lose effects that was more fun to play with than "Your monster/PC either wastes the turn or instantly wins" is what initially led me to formulate the design doc for the four degrees of success in the first place. That way, you can do something that's still somewhat useful even if they make the save (though not if they critically succeed) and then something powerful but not instawin if they fail and something more extreme on a critical fail. This also has the added benefit of dealing double damage from spells like fireball when the enemies get a critical failure!"
  • Skills -- on Perception no longer being a skill -- "It's everyone's "favorite" (at the very least most powerful) skill. That's a big part of why we give it to you for free (the other part is that it interacts with the game world a bit unlike any other skill). That way you can spend all your skill rank increases on other things that are more of a choice."
    • Seifter indicates that -1 is not necessarily the penalty for using an untrained skill -- "Stat - 1 is certainly what the total bonus worked out to for the playtest podcast, with those characters. That doesn't mean it's always true."
    • On playing weaker characters -- "We're also increasing the accessibility to play, for instance, deaf characters. But as with Starfinder, this is a choice you (and possibly your group/GM) make for RP reasons."
  • And on converting 1E to 2E -- "I have been directly running Shattered Star in PF2 out of the PF1 AP volumes for a while and am nearing the end of Book 3. I can do the whole thing on the fly, even including converting monsters and NPCs that hadn't been converted yet on the fly, but I suspect for most people there will be a little time beforehand converting those monsters and NPCs (and that probably in Part 4 I will run into an NPC too complicated to convert on the fly)."
    • On converting from 2E back to 1E -- "Honestly, the main barrier to doing that, and the reason it's harder than vice versa, is simply PF1 itself. By which I mean, If you have an appropriate PF1 monster or NPC handy already (like if you're fighting a troll and you have the B1 troll handy from PF1), it shouldn't be too hard, with the main task being treasure adjustment. If not, then just the fact that making a monster/NPC is always inherently complicated in PF1 is going to slow you down in that direction."
  • Seifter talks about legendary martial prowess -- "It's a fundamental design goal that someone with enough martial prowess, especially if they're legendary (but not precluding those who are not) can do unbelievable and completely unrealistic-in-the-real-world things. So much so that down the line we've gotten questions back about some of the more powerful skill feats "Can you really do Extreme-Thing-X just because you're that good at the skill?" Yes. Yes you can."
  • Spell scaling (Mark Seifter) -- "Here's an interesting thought exercise to think about. Suppose I was running a home game of PF1 and decided that blasting spells weren't doing enough damage, so I made a new rule that fireball started at 10d6 damage at 5th level and cone of cold started at 15d6 at 9th level. The spells are now non-scaling, but I've also buffed those spells. Now I'm not saying we did exactly that (in fact, we did something similar for the new math, but it doesn't work out to exactly the old cast cap, but the spell damage of a fireball is still usually looking at ~1.5x a martial attack to a big area). Not only that, there's actually one thing that does scale in the new game but not in the original, and I think maybe the interview gave the wrong idea by saying spells don't scale at all: spell DC! Having a low DC spell that the enemy is super likely to succeed (or critically succeed in the new game) is really really bad. It's potentially worse than having fewer damage dice, depending on the starting dice and the save bonus (for example say you're 13th level and have cone of cold; doing 10d6 that the enemy needs a 13 to save for no damage is actually better than 13d6 that the enemy needs an 11 to save, due to not only the increased fail chance but also the chance to critically fail and take double damage). So spells have a fixed effect that is appropriate for their level, and their DC scales to be equal to your highest level spell."
    • Sefiter also reiterates that "Logan and Erik were correct that the spell system's genesis came without reading 5e. This is because we actually had that part in place before 5e came out (we've really been working on this a long time!)"
    • On how having non-scaling spells makes low level control spells better than damage spells -- "I mean, that would be true if we just made all the control spells the same as each other, yes. Admittedly, in PF1, there were "you have lost the fight already if you fail" spells as low as 1st-level on some of the lists, so I do see why you might get that impression. But I don't think you're going to find charm as useful as dominate, or color spray as useful as scintillating pattern in the new game. You'll just have a legitimate chance to use any of those choices without wasting your turn. It is true that my personal tactics shift a bit with the new system, which is something of a feature: since blasting spells can devastate a fight against numbers at your highest level slots if used appropriately, I'm more likely to pack them in those top levels, and since utility spells are just doing what they're doing, I like to prepare those at my lower levels."

    [*]Enemies with reactions against bad attack rolls -- "I'm not aware of any enemies who have that reaction right now other than NPCs (since the one I'm thinking of is a PC reaction, and NPCs use PC abilities of their class)."
    [*]Some math... Seifter posited a puzzle -- "Suppose you are a wizard who wanted to be a muscle wizard. You managed to keep apace with the fighter's Strength, bought magic swords at the same pace, and generally narrowed the difference between you and the fighter down to mostly the proficiency. Let's say that difference between you two was that the fighter had +3 more to hit than you did. Doesn't seem like much. Now you're fighting a monster that you hit on a 10, and the fighter hits on a 7 (since he had +3 more than you). On that attack, how much better on average, in terms of expected damage, do you think the fighter is going to do, expressed as a percentage (for instance, you might say "15% more damage")."
    • The answer turns out to be "For just one attack, 27% more or so without crits, 50% more with crits. I can see why the new crit method is being used. You’ll need to be careful with attack buffs, then."
    • Seifter discusses whether a "muscle wizard" is therefore weaker than both a normal wizard and a fighter -- "Well that depends. Certainly it will be drastically better of a percentage of a fighter's output without dropping spells and actions on buffing yourself than a sword-swinging wizard would be in PF1. But the question is: Would your group benefit from having a character that can melee a respectable but still diminished percentage of a fighter while also casting not quite as well (but still with full spell level access) as a casty wizard? That's going to depend on the group. I think that character is obviously not going to be any sort of deadweight, though, even if maybe your group composition would have worked better with a full specialist than a hybrid character."
    • He talks a little about the math behind shields -- "the bonus to AC from shields is very nifty. In a similar situation (enemy hits on an 8 without shield, on a 10 with shield), the AC alone is going to net you 25% less damage (much of which comes from avoiding big bursty crits that you really want to avoid), not even counting that you could do a shield block."

    [*]Proficiencies and attack bonuses -- Seifter compares Pathfinder 1, D&D 5E, and Pathfinder 2 --
    • "OK, I think I see where you're drawing the parallels here, but I feel like by that metric, you could also claim that D&D 3.0/3.5, PF1, and D&D 4e are in the same boat, even D&D 2e and earlier to an extent even though some of the THAC0 math is backwards. Ultimately, many game systems with ability scores and levels have some sort of scaled level-based component and some ability-score based component as parts of their math. The question is, how do those apply and scale, and how do other components factor in. And in those regards, all the systems mentioned differ from each other."
    • "Each of the different systems works a little bit differently, sure. But to take your attack bonus examples, looking at the level-based component only. On one side we have PF1's BAB, where say a cleric goes from +0 to +15 for the level based-component and a fighter goes from +1 to +20. On the other side, we have 5e, where maybe the cleric stays put at +0 and the fighter goes from +1 to +6. If the new game comes in with the cleric going from something like +1 to +20 and the fighter going from something like +2 to +23, that seems an awful lot closer to PF1, were we to try to draw parallels. They're all different though!"

The playtest games at Gary Con this week, run by Jason Bulmahn, have a charity element. By donating to charity, passers-by can affect what happens at the table. Here's the list of "Charity Boons".



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I didn't like the part where he mentioned a fighter going from +2 to +23 to hit just from BAB. Currently, the more I read about PF2 the lest interested I am in it. I appreciate the ideas and discussion it is creating (really think a lot about action economy again now), but I am beginning to think that is all it will be for me.


Like: the new stuff with shields seem to add a nice new dimension to martial characters.

Dislike: "Flanking" seems to imply mandatory miniature use, which I thought PF2 was supposed to move away from. "Resistance 5" - the simple halving and doubling of 5e's resistance and vulnerability is a lot more elegant than the old 3x style.


Well, that was fun
Staff member
Pathfinder 2: Crits, Skills, Scaling, & Proficiencies!

"Flanking" seems to imply mandatory miniature use, which I thought PF2 was supposed to move away from.

Where’d you get that from? Everything I’ve seen has them saying the exact opposite. They’re not moving away from tactical combat and minis - in fact they seem to me to be generally doubling down on positioning themselves as the “advanced” choice of game, in terms of mechanical depth.



Where’d you get that from? Everything I’ve seen has them saying the exact opposite. They’re not moving away from tactical combat and minis - in fact they seem to me to be generally doubling down on positioning themselves as the “advanced” choice of game, in terms of mechanical depth.

Yeah I got that impression as well.

But IMO, Flanking doesn't require minis and a map. Saying "I move up behind the bad guy so as to flank with Bob." accomplished the same thing, no minis, no map needed.

Out of everything I'm mostly curious about what they have to say on crits and fumbles. That you are somehow more likely to crit on lesser foes and more likely to fumble on greater foes? I'm simultaneously curious and worried.

"Resistance 5" - the simple halving and doubling of 5e's resistance and vulnerability is a lot more elegant than the old 3x style.

Depends on what the goal of the game is. 5e’s streamlined mechanic is simpler, but PF’s resistance 5 opens up more design space for varying levels of resistance. In 5e, all resistance is the same, but PF has the ability to differentiate levels of resistance for stronger and weaker foes which fits PF’s goal of being a more nuanced, complex game. Plus, since “divide by 2” and “minus 5” are both easy to do on the fly (in fact, subtraction is probably easier than division, but both are pretty trivial for most of us for numbers of this size), the complexity is in monster design not gameplay. Both are elegant and useful for their purpose.

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