Tag Archives: playtest

Pathfinder 2e Playtest First Impressions

I was in my FLGS (Friendly Local Gaming Store) the other day and saw the printed copy of the Pathfinder 2e playtest.  Paul had been talking about running a one-shot for us so I decided to go ahead and pick it up.

I’m a long time Pathfinder player (as long as you can get, I migrated from Dragon/Dungeon to Paizo APs in 3.5 to Pathfinder Beta to Pathfinder as it happened).  I’ve been a superscriber for all that time so I have every Player’s Companion and rulebook and everything.

As a result I wasn’t chomping at the bit to look at 2e – I have more Pathfinder stuff than I can probably use in my lifetime, and my gaming group is mainly playing other games nowadays, but this prompted me to pick it up and read through it.

Overall it’s good. It’s different than Pathfinder/3.5e.  I’m not sure how many of the changes are really better or worse instead of just being different, however.  More on that after the details.

The book is beautiful, it’s full color and pro layout and no typos; better than most non-playtest RPGs (and definitely levelled up over the initial printed Pathfinder Beta I still have a copy of).



It starts with the usual RPG intro, which is fine.  They go a little overboard on the nearly page worth of SJW-speak in the beginning.  I want gaming to be inclusive and fun for all too, but they drone on about “safe space” and how GMs should be “pay[ing] careful attention to players’ body language” to police anyone being “uncomfortable.” Yes, job #1 of a GM is to carefully monitor everyone’s emotional state and make sure everything’s light and non-challenging in 2018 I guess. But, whatever, the book’s 432 pages long already why not pad it out.

Basic Concepts

The basic concepts are the usual, and you’ll generally get AC, HP, and so on. You get 3 actions (and a reaction) per round from general inflation, I wish it was more like 1e/2e – do one thing and the action will get back to you quickly, instead of doing 4 things and then waiting an hour for your next turn. Though there’s one real problem I had  – the new icons to indicate action types.  It smacks of trying to IP-protect your trade dress for the sake of it, and they are not more concise than just using a letter or whatever.  For 2 actions I need two little baseball diamonds instead of a 2?  Making a character sheet or spell cards gets to be a non-plaintext exercise now?  Boo.

Anyway, then important concept, Proficiency Modifier!  Like D&D, you have a proficiency modifier that applies to everything (weapons, skills, etc.) that is based on your level. It can be slightly less than your level or slightly more than your level if you are untrained or master or legendary.

In the book, untrained is level-2 and legendary is level+3.  That is terrible and let me explain why.  It means there’s only a 5 point spread, on a d20 roll, between the most hapless and the most skilled of a given level.  This means that when faced with the nearly ubiquitous adventure option of “do some skill challenge, or fight them,” it’s a sucker bet to try to beat them at the skill challenge because a 5 point spread on d20 is very, very failable, where if you differ enough levels you’re basically guaranteed to beat them in the fight because of how many things stack onto making you better and it’s effectively a complex skill check of many many rolls and not just one.

But all is not lost!  Paizo listens to their playtesters, and in the current rule update, they change this so unskilled is level -4.  It still means “trained” and “legendary” is only a 3 point spread though, which isn’t great, but it’s nice to see it iterating in the right direction.  It does mean “mommy taught me the guitar” can beat Robert Johnson 34% of the time in a straight roll-off, which kinda sucks. At least untrained at -4 only beats him… 20% of the time?  That’s not excellent.

Character Creation

Then you get a summary of character creation. It’s straightforward, though they hide how you determine hit points in the middle of a long “Apply Your Class” section and I went past it and it took me a while to find it – I’d think that would at least merit some bold or a header or a sidebar or something; it’s more complicated than previous because you have an ancestry set of hit points and then a class set of hit points you add together.  (And it’s here instead of in the definition of Hit Points with a header in the previous section why?) There’s a lot of formulas like that that are only explained in this section (AC calculation too) that really should be set out to look like

AC = 10 + Dex modifier (up to armor cap) + armor proficiency modifier + armor item bonus to AC + other bonuses/penalties

instead of just being text inline which is what they are.  You’re Mathfinder, own it.

Alignment is skimmed over pretty much in passing.

Ability Scores

Next we do ability score generation.  It’s the usual 6 D&D stats, but the generation is a little tricky. You start with 10 and then do a bunch of iterations of adding ancestry ability boosts (boost = +2), two background ability boosts, four free ones, a class one…  But you can’t double up in a given iteration, but you can stack them across iterations. OK, fair enough, though I suspect we’ll always be seeing the same Backgrounds for the same classes since it’s the only way to min-max your stats to 18. Or you can roll if you’re a real man.

Ancestries and Backgrounds

Next we do the races, except it’s racist to call them races so they’re Ancestries I guess?  You get the venerable Dwarf/Elf/Gnome/Halfling/Human and can do half-orcs and half-elves as variant humans. All pretty cool, and instead of a standard set of abilities there’s “ancestry feats” you can choose from both at start and then you get more every 4 levels. Not sure how you explain “suddenly I can do that thing that I learned growing up I guess” story wise, but eh, everyone likes more powers.

Only humans have ethnicities, which is weird because in Golarion there’s elf ethnicities and stuff.

And the big bad in this chapter is goblins as a playable race.

Look man, I’ve played all the goblin modules too and I love them.  The goblins are some of Pathfinder’s most recognizable IP. But in Golarion, goblins are crazed spazzes that are in no way compatible with other people.  And people already use gnomes and sometimes halflings if they want to play a little spaz.  By them being a core race instead of just in some later race guide, that means 1/6 of characters, especially in Pathfinder Society play, get to be disruptive illiterate arsonists.  Great. Needs to be pulled and put into some later more optional thing, even if it’s the first AP, with some warning text.


Then we have two pages of Backgrounds, which give ability boosts and skills usually. Acolyte, Criminal, Warrior, and so on.  (I wonder which map to which classes?) There’s not that many but I assume they’ll get the shit splatbooked out of them eventually.


The next chapter is Languages, which generally works like you’d expect except for a weirdly complicated full half page on sign language (every language you choose normal or signed and if signed you get the Read Lips feat for free and blah blah see page 301)…  It also weirdly assumes that every language/race has sign language and that they’re tied to languages?  So gnoll sign language is different from celestial sign language?  Plus IRL sign language wasn’t developed until post-Renaissance so it’s all just kind of weird and overwrought. Like, the sign language section is larger than the entire alignment section.


Classes.  The first class is Alchemist because they’re alphabetical and it really threw me, I started reading it and my reaction was “what the hell is this?!?”  I had to start looking up bunches of other game concepts (“Resonance?”) and it was super confusing. I punted and went forward to Fighter to figure out the game.  Turns out they published a massive revision to the Alchemist in the errata because I guess that was a common reaction.

Anyway, the classes go to a pick-and-choose set of feats, you know, like every video game skill tree. I approve.  So many archetypes in 1e were just to basically move around things you didn’t really want for things you did, so going to “pick a class feat” is more elegant.

But I speak too soon.  While most items are turned into class feats, there is still a level advancement table with some things built in (Barbarian gets rage and totem at level 1, “juggernaut” at level 7, and so on). It’s not clear why these aren’t just class feats with that level as their level restriction, so you could take some other thing at 7 and then juggernaut at 8 if that floated your boat.

It’s the normal core classes plus alchemist, a solid list with no surprises.  Without actually playtesting them it’s hard to tell, but they seem to generally do what they did in previous editions.


They combined skills into a semi short list of 17 skills. They are still complicated because they basically pasted the rules for each more granular skill under them, so in Acrobatics you get a long ass thing about Balance, Escape, and the 5 other uses each of which has its own ruleset.

You don’t have skill points any more, it’s just those untrained/trained/expert/master/legendary levels. Everyone gets skill advances that boost your skill ranks pretty frequently.  Even the wizard, which starts with 2 + INT skills, gets one skill every 2 levels so can have 11/17 of the skills (barring mastery, but each level of mastery only gets you +1, so they’re a poor investment).

Each skill, like many of the feats in the class section, have these little “Traits” associated with them.  Some are defined here, like Secret.  Some are off in Appendix 1 in the back; I’m not sure how you’re supposed to know that.

The organization of this book starts to fall down about this point.  There’s a lot of inconsistency.  Take classes and their class feats.  OK, those are described under the class entries, not lumped into the general feats chapter.  But then “powers”, like the monk’s ki strike, aren’t in the class section, they are lumped into the Spells section!

I know in a complex game you can’t always have it where you read the definition of something before you have rules using that something, but at least have a consistent design philosophy of where you’re going to squirrel things away.  Do class things go under the class or sorted into other categories? Do traits and such get defined in the relevant section or in the back?  On p.144 it explains what a Secret skill check is.  Secret is in the traits section in the back but there it just says see p.293. Where it has the exact same text as on p.144 duplicated.  What?!?

Anyway, organizational gripes aside – they’re skills.  They let you do the normal panoply of stuff you want to do in D&D/Pathfinder.


Feats feats feats!  Only 13 pages of them. They are almost all skill feats and then some general feats, there’s no like metamagic or combat feats, which are just in the classes I reckon.


They go to the silver standard, which I like. Gold is just for magic items and super expensive stuff, normal folks use silver for conventional expenses.

Armor is mostly like armor used to be, although with AC and touch AC (TAC) stats.  Shields are weirder and more complicated, you have to use an action to get their AC bonus.

Weapons, predictably, are like they used to be except we love traits now so every single weapon has 1-6 traits on it. Axes sweep, mauls shove, bows are deadly and propulsive… Entertainingly they define all the traits but not any of the weapons, I guess if you don’t know what a main-gauche or guisarme is, your hapless noob ass can google it? Maybe that’ll be added in the final book.

Gear is gear, but encumbrance has changed to a more abstract Bulk system instead of weight, with all the complicated junk about well this is negligible and this is Light so 10 of those become 1 Bulk and so on. Not that anyone uses encumbrance anyway.

There’s item qualities, like “masterwork” was but they can go up to +3 if you spend about x10 more money for each increment.


We’ll pick this up next time in a Part 2!  I’ll discuss spells and then the actual gameplay rules, which are hidden behind everything else. And then GMing and treasure if I reach it.


D&D Next Early Thoughts – It Works But It’s Boring

DD-Next-Image-660x499As I’m sure you know, the fifth edition of Dungeons & Dragons, branded as “D&D Next,”  is in open playtest. I brought you stunning coverage of the 4e debacle and resulting edition wars, so surely I need to chime in here! Here’s my take on Next.

I liked and have played Basic, 1e, 2e, 3e, 3.5e, and Pathfinder in their turn. I hate 4e and eschew it. I said earlier what I’d like to see in 5e – moving back to a really stripped down core more at 2e levels of complexity. And it sounds like they’re doing that.

The D&D Next rules seem fine to me. I welcome a more light approach and removing a lot of the minmax frenzy from 3e+.  When 3e came out I was really excited and migrated from 2e but now in retrospect the rule bloat, christmas tree syndrome, legalism, and min-maxing made me sad and I like what I see in the D&D Next rules per se. Not everything is how I’d design it, but it’s well within the scope of “rules that will work for D&D.”

However, they are committing the cardinal sin of game design – it’s boring.

I can barely make myself read through the playtest packets. I think they’ve miscalculated badly in having no art, no layout, no fluff in there. I’m sure they’d say that’s by design (ignoring how much of a positive impact that had with the Pathfinder playtest – to this day Paizo makes sure to put all playtest docs through layout). But even without that, the text just has no voice.  It could – Savage Worlds, for example, presents a ruleset about the same size with some flair and savoir faire – but reading the Next playtests is like reading a really boring car manual.

Maybe that’ll all be in there when it launches – maybe.  Maybe Aleena the cleric gets whacked by Bargle again and gives us a hate hard-on for him and pulls us into the action. Maybe the art will be inspired and not just aping Pathfinder or using the current “I airbrushed this on my van” art style they seem to like. But even just the writing style does not say “Adventure!” to me, it says “Technical manual!”

Part of a playtest should be to whip up enthusiasm, but like many of my friends, I downloaded and eagerly read packet #1, I downloaded and skimmed #2, I downloaded and didn’t bother opening #3, I didn’t bother downloading #4 at all… It’s not the rules’ fault, and I’m sure if I playtested it my group of good roleplayers would have a grand old time. We know how to add “zazz” on top of any system you put before us.  But if I gave it to some 12 year olds who haven’t played an RPG before? Are they going to bother to finish reading even the reasonable and short page count? Will their imaginations be fired up by what they read – because mine’s not being?

Guys – lean doesn’t have to mean boring.  Someone at WotC, please force the Next design team into a room at gunpoint and tell them they can’t come out until they can tell you the most badass D&D story ever, and then make them write the rules around that story.

Why I’m Worried About The D&D Next Playtest

I’ve been participating in the D&D Next playtest. So far, I think what I’ve seen is OK.  But I’m not sure it’s totally valid.  Here’s why.

Playtesting a subset of a rule system is deceptive.  I thought the core mechanic in 4e was just fine, it was more all the junk they ladled on top of it that was a dealkiller.

One of the main things I want out of D&D Next is to make the core rules slimmer and simpler – more like Basic/Red Box or 2e than these 300, 400, 500+ page legal tomes we’re saddled with as Player’s Handbooks nowadays. Simplifying D&D is how you’ll get the next generation on board. The initial playtest packet *seems* nicely streamlined – but is that just because they’re only giving us a small subset?

I’m getting concerned about whether they’ll be showing enough restraint that Next won’t turn into the same bloated mess.  Already they are adding on more and more stuff to the core rules because ‘someone wanted it.’ I don’t believe we need a wizard and a sorcerer and a warlock in the core rules.  I believe we need a wizard, and the others can be added on in optional supplements later. Sure, someone wants them – someone wants everything.  That’s why design by committee is a Godawful way of doing things. “Next will be maximally inclusive” looks like it may be code for that. We have opportunity attacks back too, and fighter powers.  Nice frosting but not must haves.

I don’t mind adding things on – but not in the core rules.  Everyone feels entitled to have access to everything in the core rules. Everyone pretty much has to read and understand everything in the core rules. The core rules need to be the true core of the game – fighter, wizard, cleric, thief; dwarf, elf, halfling, human; exploration rules and some weapons and some spells, go. We had plenty of fun with just that from the Red Box. That’s Dungeons & Dragons.

Mike Mearls, pay attention – if you cannot make the Player’s Handbook no more than 128 pages long, you will have failed. Take all those two years with of “but we want this other thing too” comments and pack them the hell away for future product releases. (Naturally if you are putting DM info, magic items, monsters etc. into the book so it’s a core rulebook not just a player’s handbook you get a little slack here, but you probably shouldn’t do that.)

I already have a 500 page D&D game that works fine.  I’m not interested in another.  The only way you lure me away is with a leaner, finer machine. Do it.  Stop now and ship 5e if you can’t resist adding more junk back in.

All You Hit Points Belong To Us?

One of the most contentious topics out of the day-old D&D Next playtest is the rule that resting overnight gets you all your hit points back without fail.  There are multiple Wizards and ENWorld threads arguing about it already.

I think it’s a terrible idea.

The common arguments for it and their obvious refutations are:

1. Well, hit points are just luck and near misses and stuff! Why shouldn’t they all come back?

Because there’s no other mechanic for actually getting wounded.  If this were a game with “wound points and vitality points” or some other way of having a way to reflect persistent wounds while still regaining your “near miss points” that would be fine.  But there’s not.  And being wounded, persistently wounded, is not just realistic, it’s a major part of all fantasy fiction from Lancelot to Harry Dresden. Leaving that out is shitty from a storytelling point of view.

Besides, hit points have always been described that way and have always come back slowly, so saying it’s a necessary consequence is ignoring the mechanic’s history.

2. But it sucks to be injured when you’re headed out to adventure!

“I want my videogame character to be at max!”  I mean, I understand that from a certain gamist perspective. But this is the kind of player entitlement that leads to the kind of childproofed gaming that 4e got to with its rust monster. If you just want a big “I Win” button or have a 5 minute attention span, there’s other games to play.  RPGs allow you to be concerned about resource usage over the long haul, not just the 30 minutes.

3. In 3.x, isn’t it lame that everyone has to spend on wands of cure light wounds that just do this anyway?

No one has actually said this that I’ve seen but me, but this is the one valid argument that does occur to me.  Yes, it is lame to just pay thousands of gold to get disposables to do the same thing. But there’s probably a different fix to that problem than “here you go, heal up whenever you want!”.


Pathfinder Advanced Player’s Guide In Final Playtest

Paizo, in their traditionally open and fan-friendly way, have been offering the six new PC classes from the upcoming Advanced Player’s Guide for public playtest!  They have taken the feedback into account and have released a final playtest version, freely downloadable from paizo.com.  Comments are still open till Feb 15, when they’ll bake ’em and print ’em!

Boy, there’s a lot of great Pathfinder news this week.

Paizo APG Playtest Continues

In true open gaming form, Paizo has put out all six new classes that are going into their Pathfinder RPG Advanced Player’s Guide for comment.  You can download them for free:

In my opinion, Paizo has knocked another one out of the park.  I was prepared to be underwhelmed – most new non-core classes in D&D 3.5e were clearly just there to be weird collections of rules and not represent meaningful iconic archetypes.  “Ooo ooo, I’ve always wanted to be a Hulking Hurler!”  “And I always wanted to be a Master of the Unseen Hand!  Or maybe a Spellwarp Sniper!”  It feels like you may as well just say “DURRRR” out loud after announcing your chosen class.

The Cavalier is the prototypical knight.  He belongs to a specific knightly order, takes oaths, challenges enemies, and has a mighty mount.  Trap avoided: making the class *too* dependent on mounted combat. Remaining weak point: the oaths are kinda lame in implementation and the knightly orders fall into that weird “made kinda generic but still hard to fit into your campaign world” area.

The Oracle is filled with divine force, but less from a specific deity and more of a powerful archetype.  Besides clerical spells, the oracle gets powers appropriate to their divine focus, and suffer from a curse like being haunted, blind, or lame – but the curse turns into powers of its own with level!  Trap avoided: when I read the class name I thought, “Ah, a lame diviner class suitable for NPCs.”  Remaining weak point: the curses are the main thing that seems different about the Oracle and her foci from a normal cleric and her domains; a focus feels just kinda like a “double strength domain.”

The Summoner is what we call a “pet class.”  He has a persistent customizable critter called an eidolon; plus he can summon monsters pretty well and toss other conjurations and enchantments off a custom spell list.  It’s the first time D&D has really been able to do the “Pokemon Master” or “WoW Warlock” thing effectively.  Trap avoided: this class already got nerfed from the playtest doc where he could cast a large number of 1 minute/level Summon Monster SLAs and could easily boost his eidolon’s AC to the 50s without breaking a sweat.  Remaining weak point: The eidolon rules are complicated and probably open to a lot of exploits.  And why the hell does he have d8 HD and decent BAB?

The Witch is the most witchy witch class in the history of D&D witch classes.  It’s brilliant.  It can cast hexes, have a cauldron, join a coven, cackle, lay the evil eye on you…  And she learns spells (off a custom spell list that has enchants, conjures, and even heals)  from her familiar.   Trap avoided: being lame.  Remaining weak point: the covens are weak and should be more interesting, but that’s a minor nit in an otherwise very nicely designed class.

The Alchemist makes potion-like extracts made from formulae, bombs, and self-transforming mutagens.  Very flavorful – taking some of the alchemist schtick (like the bomb throwing) from WoW and other computer games.  They had to cop out a little to explain the limited number of uses in a day – the concoctions are powered by the alchemist’s “magical aura,” so if you’re looking for the scientific angle here you’re out of luck.  Trap avoided: being godawful complicated like the Artificer from Eberron.  Remaining weak point: They don’t get many bombs per day and their extracts and mutagens are pretty weak otherwise – I think they’ll have trouble being useful over the adventuring day.  The mutagens do physical boosts, but it’s not going to sufficiently make up for the BAB/HD discrepancy and turn them into a useful fighter even for the limited duration.

The Inquisitor brings to mind Warhammer 40k, but upon reading it…  This class is an odd mishmash.  It has a cleric’s HD and BAB and invokes judgements upon the naughty; it has a little ranger to it in the “vampire hunter” kind of vein.  But then it gets tactical/teamwork feats.  I’m not really sure what it is trying to be – a paladin of any alignment?  A Buffy?  A marshal?  Mostly a Buffy I think.  Trap avoided:  none.  Remaining weak point: falling too close to what other classes are or can do.  I’d think you could build something like this as a cleric/ranger or pally/ranger.

Anyway, I think they’ve done a great job of taking truly iconic mythical archetypes and making them solid playable classes.  Check them out yourself!

D&D 4e Reviewed In Depth by AICN

Massawyrm, one of the reviewers on Ain’t It Cool News, the premier geek media review site, was a playtester for 4e.  Now that “D&D Experience” has happened, there’s huge amounts of 4e rules info available out there and also the playtesters are released to speak. 

The review is maniacally positive.  I hate to be negative, but I worry about the subtext in a lot of the bits he talks about.  From flavor (is it appropriate to call one of the monster roles “artillery” in a medieval fantasy game?) to too-obvious WoWisms (“elite” monsters?) to game mechanics (at epic levels you rez all the time and have powers like “once per day when you die, you…”)?  Well, I hope he’s right I reckon.