Pathfinder Core Rulebook 2nd Edition

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3 out of 5 rating for Pathfinder Core Rulebook 2nd Edition

Unlike the playtest for 5th Edition D&D, which was more of a series of concept tests, the Pathfinder 2 playtest was very much about testing the game, and was intended to balance of the new edition. The final product of Pathfinder 2 is very much like the playtest product; while there are numerous changes, the overall foundation of the game and its classes are largely the same.
If you didn't like the playtest, you probably won't like the final product. And if you loved the playtest product, this is largely the same thing with tighter balance, refined rules, and better presentation.

Pathfinder 2nd Edition is almost retro. If there was a term for 3e OSR style play, Pathfinder 2 would be that style of game. It’s Labyrinth Lord for d20. (d20SR?) It streamlines and cleans up the rules while improving balance but doesn’t really innovate much.

Pathfinder 2 reduces the number of skills while removing skill ranks; it adds Encounter powers; classes are designed around lengthy chains of feats/ powers; powers with keywords and tags; monsters that don’t follow PC rules; bonuses that increase based on your level; treasure is awarded by handing out magic items of set levels. To say nothing of the heavy combat focus and tactical play that requires a battlemap. It’s all very 4th Edition… but 4e arguably done in a way that retains a lot of classic elements and curiously kills fewer sacred cows than 4e despite being far more able to make hamburger.
The game is a direct evolution of 3rd Edition and Pathfinder. But it evolves the d20 game system in a lot of the same directions as 4th Edition and Star Wars Saga Edition. Games that ironically predate Pathfinder 2e. It’s an evolution of the game, but an evolution that could have taken place almost a decade ago. It feels designed in a vacuum, ignoring innovations of its competitors and rivals. Which would be problematic at the best of times, but is even more curious at a time when 5th Edition D&D has become the best selling RPG ever.

It’s also a dense system that requires a lot of system mastery. You need to know what keywords do, and memorize conditions, and keep track of specific jargon like “Step” and “Stride”, which are different things despite starting with “S” and relating to movement. This is not an easy game to learn. While arguably simpler (or at least more streamlined) than Pathfinder 1, it’s still one of the more complicated RPG rulesets currently being published. If not the most complicated in-print RPG. We’re currently in a time when most other roleplaying games have been moving towards narrative play (or even the emotional play of Nordic RPGs), when theater-of-the-mind gameplay is a major focus as it enables & supports the live stream games that have become so essential for new player acquisition.

All of the above is a pretty big feature/ bug. If you like complexity, everything I just said is probably a selling point. If you don’t, then Pathfinder 2 is probably not your jam. And that’s okay. Because so many other games are drifting towards the narrative end of the spectrum, it’s probably a good thing to have a big name game providing an alternative.

Pathfinder 2 evolves Pathfinder in a direction I have very little interest in playing. It doesn’t fix or resolve any of the issues that caused me to burn out hard and drove me away from the game. It’s still complex with a lot of work to build character and ridiculous amounts of magical items without even an optional inherent bonuses system. And it encourages roleplaying and acting in character largely as much as Battletech or Warhammer 40k. In a world where 5e didn’t exist, I could probably hammer Pathfinder 2 into something playable with a barrage of house rules… but 5e does exist, so I don’t need to do all that work.

But that’s just me. I’m sure there are lots of people who want a heavier game than 5th Edition and are unsatisfied with its character building. It should also appeal to D&D fans who are unhappy with 5e’s “rulings not rules” attitude and want a game with less arbitration and firmer rules. It should also appeal to many fans of 4th Edition who might be in the market for a new game. To say nothing of Pathfinder 1 fans who just want a little more balance, or desire a version of the rules that has a clean slate and far less bloat (at least for a year or so). Pathfinder 2 might easily appeal to all the above. And it’s certainly the go-to game I will recommend to people who want that kind of experience.

Read my full review here.
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