After the release of Pathfinder in 2009, Paizo made the decision to release an updated edition to make game easier, more streamlined, while still keeping the customization Pathfinder players knew and loved. Paizo released Pathfinder Second Edition on August 1, 2019 on the opening day of Gen Con 2019. The game was a huge hit with Pathfinder fans with huge lines at their booth waiting to buy their copy while getting great reviews from gaming websites.
So for those wondering what is Pathfinder, the Second Edition book on page 7 describes it as “a fantasy tabletop roleplaying game (RPG) where you and a group of friends gather to tell a tale of brave heroes and cunning villains in a world filled with terrifying monsters and amazing treasures. More importantly, Pathfinder is a game where your character’s choices determine how the story unfolds.” For those who don’t know what a tabletop roleplaying game is, it’s where a Game Master (GM) runs a group of people through a story presenting them with challenges and choices to allow them to decide how the story unfolds. The players make the decisions for their characters in determining how they overcome those challenges. Two things the players and Game Masters need in order to run a roleplaying game are a set of polyhedral dice and a rulebook(s). Pathfinder Second Edition is a rulebook that provides all the information a player and Game Master needs to run a Pathfinder game.
Though I’ve played and run my fair share of Dungeons and Dragons games throughout the years, I’ve never had the opportunity to run or play Pathfinder, so I was quite eager to read my way through the game. First off, this wasn’t by any means light reading. The book itself is a whopping 638 pages including the Appendix and that book is heavy. It is packed with rules on character creation, equipment, magic, combat, Game Mastering, and crafting and treasure. And most importantly, a section on the world of Pathfinder, which is where I’d like to start this review, in the section titled The Age of Lost Omens.
The Age of Lost Omens
The world of Pathfinder focuses on the world of Golarion. Very much like our own Earth, Golarion has 24 hour days, 7 days in a week, and 52 weeks in a year. Paizo even goes as far to provide players with the names of the months and days in Golarion. They go even briefly touch upon there are other planets in the solar system where Golarion resides. In the history of the world, a near extinction like event known as Earthfall pummeled Golarion with showers of falling stars, devasting the lands and destroying civilizations. As society began to rebuild, an immortal named Aroden, a survivor of Earthfall, founds the city of Absalom on the Isle of Kortos, whereupon the isle resided a fragment of Earthfall known as Starstone. Contact with the stone turned him into a god and Absalom thrived. As time passed, Aroden left to focus on other matters and prophecy spoke upon his return. When that time came, people learned Aroden died, the prophecy was broken, Golarion was shrouded in devastation and war bringing about the Age of Lost Omens.
The focus of Golarion takes place in an area known as the Inner Sea. Inside the Inner Sea is, of course, Absalom, the Broken Lands, Eye of Dread, Golden Road, the High Seas and many more. Each of these sections provides good overviews of those areas of the Inner Sea including the landscape and notable people from the area. Following is a description of the human cultures of Golarion with pictures to give players an idea of what people look like from different areas. It follows up with an overview of the different races including the Dwarves, Elves (who are from another planet….seriously!), Gnomes, Goblins, and Halflings. The sections also provide an overview of creatures. What I really liked is seeing is the inclusion of various nation factions such as the mercenary Hellknights, the assassin Red Mantis, and the explorers and adventurers known as the Pathfinder Society. And the end of the section is a number of the world’s deities for players to worship if they chose to do so.
But, a world filled with adventure needs adventurers to explore it!
Who Are You?
One of my favorite parts of roleplaying games is the character creation process. I can always tell if a system is solid by glancing at the character sheet provided. Pathfinder follows the standard character sheet format like Dungeons and Dragons with 6 ability scores, skills, feats, equipment, and more. I was always used to rolling dice to determine your ability scores. And while Pathfinder states you can still follow this process, they take a different approach.
Character concepts are usually the first step to give yourself an idea about what you’d like to play. Once you have that in mind, it’s time to get into the nitty-gritty of character creation. First, pick your Ancestry. So are you a human, dwarf, elf, etc… Next comes the character Background of what they did before turning to a life of adventure. Were they an artist? A barkeep? Maybe a mighty gladiator? Or even a merchant? Finally, choose your Class. This determines what type of adventurer you became. Are you a sword-wielding Fighter? Are you the scholarly Wizard? Or maybe a hand-to-hand combative Monk? There are 12 classes to choose from and each has its benefits to allow them to shine.
Now, on those Ability scores, each of the 6 ability scores begins at a score of 10. As you select your Ancestry, Background, and Class, you receive boosts to specific ability scores. So an Elf, Bounty Hunter, Ranger would receive ability boosts to Dexterity, Intelligence, and free choice and an ability flaw to Constitution from their Elf Ancestry, Strength or Wisdom and free choice from the Bounty Hunter Background, and Strength or Dexterity from the Ranger class. Each ability boost is +2 while each ability Flaw is -2. Then you round off your abilities with 4 additional free ability boots to wherever you choose. What I immediately love is the customization options available to players between the selections of the Ancestry, Background, and Class. And there’s even more customization.
Each character receives Feats for their Ancestry, Background, and Class as well. Feats are abilities received that may provide bonuses to skills, unique abilities, or special modifiers in certain circumstances. Feats are usually provided when an Ancestry is selected and a Class. And there are multiple options when a Feat needs to be selected. So two Elf Champions could be built differently. The Core Rulebook even provides sample character templates so in case a player didn’t have their own concept, they could see if one of the templates interests them.
Skills are selected based on primarily Background and Class. Skills are specific knowledge or ability your character has such as Athletics, Diplomacy, or Stealth. Each Skill is ranked by Trained, Expert, Master, or Legendary. One cannot attain Master in a skill until level 7 minimum and one cannot obtain Legendary until level 15. Bonuses for each rank is +2, +4, +6, and +8. This has hugely simplified worrying about individual Skill points (at least back in older versions of Dungeons and Dragons) and possibly even half points. Some Skills can be used Untrained which means they get no Skill bonus to their roll.
And let’s not forget about your character’s overall motivation through Alignment. Is your character honorable? Selfish? Alignment helps you to determine your character’s overall perspective and motivation about themselves. It’s made up of two selections between Lawful, Neutral, Chaotic and Good, Neutral, and Evil. Alignment is also important for Clerics and Champions in determining the deity they worship who provides them their spells. Lawful characters value consistency and law-abiding over Chaotic who are more carefree and spontaneous. Neutral characters sit somewhere in between.
Characters all start at 1st level and can progress up to level 20. Characters record their Hit Points (how much damage they can survive), Speed (how fast they move), and as characters adventure in Pathfinder, they receive Experience Points (XP). As characters gain levels they receive more access to Skill points, Feats, and Ability boosts. Characters level every 1,000 XP.
Character creation is a solid process providing the flexibility and ease Paizo promised. So now that your character is ready for play, let’s talk about gear and money.
Once you have your character made, players need to get their character equipment for adventuring. But, before we talk about gear, we need to understand the currency in Golarion. Money is broken down into 4 different coins: copper, silver, gold, and platinum. Copper is the least valuable coin where 10 copper pieces equal 1 silver piece. 10 silver pieces equal 1 gold piece. And 10 gold pieces equal 1 platinum piece. The silver piece is the currency of commoners in Golarion while the platinum piece is used by the nobles to show off their wealth. Characters start off with 15 gold pieces to purchase their equipment. Most characters will equip themselves with a weapon, some type of armor (maybe a shield), a backpack, and various miscellaneous equipment.
One of the things I truly love in Pathfinder is the concept of Bulk. When your character starts buying all of these various pieces of equipment, you sometimes need an abacus to calculate the weight of all the items you are carrying. Instead, Pathfinder assigns a Bulk rating to an item. Bulk accounts for both the weight and awkwardness of the item. Your character can then carry Bulk equal to 5 + Strength modifier without penalty. The maximum carry of Bulk is 10 + Strength modifier. Money is accounted for as well as 1,000 coins count as 1 Bulk. Some items are so small they just get marked as light (L). 10 L items account for 1 Bulk. It’s a great way to quickly determine if your character is carrying too much stuff. So, what should your character purchase?
Armor is almost always a given. Armor is what your character wears to protect themselves from being hit in combat. There are various materials armor can be made of from leather to chain mail to plate mail. Each piece of armor has a bonus to their Armor Class (the target number to be hit), a Dexterity Cap (maximum bonus for that armor worn), Check Penalty (modifier to making certain Skill checks in that armor), and Speed Penalty (how much a character’s speed is reduced while wearing the armor). Armor also has a minimum Strength required for wearing it and a Bulk rating. In most cases, the better the armor, the heavier it is, the slower and less agile your character becomes.
Shields is an additional armor option that is worn on the arm for additional protection. Shields have Armor Class bonuses and Speed Penalties depending on the size of the shield. They also have a Bulk rating. But, shields also have a Hardness rating (how much damage it reduces for your character) and a Hit Point (HP) total (the amount of damage it can take before it breaks). So while shields can defend you, they over time can break down and possibly be destroyed.
Weapons are always a given. Most characters don’t adventure without something used to defend themselves. Weapons are categorized by the type of damage (Bludgeoning, Brawling, Piercing, and Slashing) and by the grouping of weapon (Axe, Club, Sword, etc…), and the type of attack (Unarmed, Melee, and Ranged. Each weapon has a damage rating (how much damage it does), a Bulk rating, and how many hands are required to wield the weapon. What I love is the tremendous amount of different weapons Pathfinder includes for characters. Want your character to use a katana? They have stats for it. How about a maul? They have it. What about alchemy bombs? Yep, Pathfinder has those too.
Characters will need to pick up miscellaneous items such as torches, backpacks, clothes, tents, etc… What Pathfinder does for characters is to provide them with some equipment ideas called Class Kits. The kits come with a set price, Bulk rating, and list of items included in the kit. It’s a quick means of equipping your character with all the basic essentials. The equipment section also accounts for some magical equipment such as potions, scrolls, talismans, and even formulas to make potions. Pathfinder even includes costs for meals at inns, hiring help, transportation, animals, spellcasting services, and even cost of living.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a fantasy game without magic. The Spells section of Pathfinder covers all the magical aspects that players can perform during games. There are four major traditions of magic: Arcane, Divine, Occult, and Primal. Arcane covers the studying of spells through tomes and scrolls and spellbooks. Divine is where the ability of spellcasting is deeply rooted in faith where a higher power is granting the spellcasting ability. Occult is where spellcasters seek the unexplainable and bizarre for their abilities. This is the tradition of the Bard class. The Primal tradition is for spellcasters who have an instinctual connection to the world around them. These traditions all have magic schools which are types of spells. The schools include Abjuration, Conjuration, Divination, Enchantment, Evocation, Illusion, Necromancy, and Transmutation.
The primary classes for spellcasters include Wizards, Clerics, Druid, Bards, and Sorcerers. Wizards, Clerics, and Druids need to prepare their spells each day and if they wish to cast the same spell more than once, they need to prepare that spell more than once. Bards and Sorcerers are spontaneous spellcasters. This allows them to pick the spell the moment they wish to cast it. Though, spontaneous spellcasters usually have fewer spells to use. Champions and Monks have the potential to also be spellcasters through Class Abilities or Feats providing them Focus Points. These points allow them to activate a select group of spells. The standard spellcasters could also have the potential to access Focus Points for their class through Abilities or Feats. Cantrip spells are special types of spells that are weaker than standard spells but have more flexibility. Unlike standard spells, cantrips can be cast unlimited times per day, as long as you have the material components.
There are some basic rules around spellcasting. Casting spells require one or more spell components. Those components include Material (a physical type of matter that’s used up during casting), Somatic (a hand gesture), Verbal (words spoken during casting), and Focus (an item that funnels the magic during casting). If a player does not have the proper component(s) for the spell, they cannot cast it. Spells also specify the range of the spell, how big of an area the spell covers or if it’s specific to one or more targets, and how long a spell lasts after it is cast, and whether or not the target can make a saving throw roll to take less or no damage from the spell. Spells are listed by schools of magic and run from levels 1 through 10. After the listing, each spell is described in detail by alphabetical order.
One of my favorite rules in the spell section is Heightening. Spells that can be Heightened are labeled as such. This means that a spellcaster can use a spell slot at a higher level to have that spell have a more potent effect. For example, Fireball allows a +1 Heightened that provides 2d6 additional damage. At the 3rd level spell slot, Fireball casts 6d6 points of damage. If a spellcaster Heightened it to a 4th level spell slot, the Fireball would do 2d6 additional points of damage for a total of 8d6. It’s a nice add on to show the power of spellcasters as the progress higher in levels. I also love the rules of Rituals. These are spells that usually require more than one spellcaster and take longer than your standard spell to cast. Pathfinder provides some examples of rituals and the rules behind them are straightforward and easy to use.
The main focus of Chapter 9 is all on how to perform actions in Pathfinder and subsequently what are the results or consequences of those actions. This is the core of playing the game. A character’s choices and decisions in Pathfinder determine where the story takes them, who they meet, what treasures they find, or treasures they miss. The game separates the GM’s adventure into 3 separate modes: encounter, exploration, and downtime. Encounter is the action-based part of the adventure involving combat or high-stakes situations that takes place in small sections of time. The characters chase down a thief, get into combat with a dragon, or trying to escape a rolling boulder from crushing them. Exploration is free-form play where the characters are performing actions that could take hours or even days. For example, traveling by boat across an ocean or even taking part in a large social event like a festival. Downtime are when characters perform actions that pose very little risk and usually spans over days. This mode can take place at any time during an adventure. Your character may be trying to craft a new weapon or trying to earn money.
The one thing all of these modes have in common is the action check. The die roll that determines whether or not the action the character attempts succeeds or fails. All checks use a d20 (a die with 20 sides) to determine success or failure. All checks follow this formula:
Die roll + Ability Modifier + Proficiency/Circumstance/Status/Item Bonus + Proficiency/Circumstance/Status/Item Penalty = Result.
The Result is compared to the Difficulty Class (DC), which is set by the GM. If the Result is equal to or higher than the DC it is a success. If the Result is 10 or more higher than the DC it is a critical success. If the Result is lower than the DC it is a failure and 10 or more lower than the DC is a critical failure. If the player rolls a natural 20 on the d20 it is usually considered a critical success (depending on the DC) while a natural 1 on the d20 is usually a critical failure.
The bonuses and penalties on the check come from the following. Proficiency is the bonus or penalty associated with your skill. Circumstance is the bonus or penalty the GM provides you depending on the situation. Item bonuses or penalties are the ones that come from weapons, armor, or equipment. Status bonus or penalties usually comes from spells or other magical effects. Each of these factors adds to the check to determine the Result.
The Combat check follows the same principle as the other checks. A melee attack is one using bare hands or a weapon in a hand usually striking within a 5 foot distance. A ranged attack is using a weapon that launches a projectile at the opponent (such as a bow or thrown weapon). A spell attack is specifically using magic to cause damage to an opponent. The formula to these attacks are as follows:
d20 roll + Strength modifier (or Dexterity for a finesse weapon) + Proficiency bonus + other bonuses or penalties = Melee attack Result
d20 roll + Dexterity modifier + Proficiency bonus + other bonuses or penalties = Ranged attack Result
d20 roll + Ability modifier used for spellcasting + Proficiency bonus + other bonuses or penalties = Spell attack Result
The difference with these checks is they are all trying to achieve a roll higher or equal to a target’s Armor Class (AC). The AC indicates how difficult it is to hit the opponent. When an opponent is trying to attack a character they roll against the character’s AC. The formula for determining AC is as follows:
10 + Dexterity modifier (up to your Armor’s Dexterity cap) + proficiency bonus + Armor’s item bonus to AC + other bonuses + penalties = Armor Class
If a character hits they roll for damage. Damage is calculated by the weapon being used + Strength modifier and other bonuses. Each weapon has a designated damage listing and the number of dice plus the dice type to be rolled. A longsword for example does 1d8 damage. So the damage roll would be 1d8 + Strength modifier + any other bonuses. That total is then subtracted from the target’s Hit Points (HP). Damage comes in many forms and weapon damage is classified into Slashing (S), Piercing (P), and Bludgeoning (B). A longsword is listed as 1d8 S, which means 1d8 of Slashing damage. Some armor is resistant to some weapon types.
Characters are given the chance to sometimes avoid damage or conditions (such as Blinded or Petrified) via a Saving Throw. These are broken down into 3 categories of Fortitude, Reflex, and Will. Fortitude is specifically against effects that debilitate the body, Reflex shows whether you react quickly enough to a situation, and Will measures how you resist against your mind and spirit being attacked. All of these follow the same check roll with the ability modifier being Strength for Fortitude, Dexterity for Reflex, and Wisdom for Will. Critical successes and failures do play a role in these checks.
During combat damaged is tracked by Hit Points (HP). When a player brings their target down to 0 HP it dies. But, when a monster of NPC brings a player down to 0 HP they go unconscious and are dying. Pathfinder provides rules to determine whether or not a player’s character truly dies. One of the way players can save themselves from death is by spending all of their banked Hero Points.
Hero Points are awarded by the GM for performing heroic acts and deeds that go beyond normal expectations. Each player starts with 1 Hero Point and can hold up to a maximum of 3 Hero Points per gaming session. Hero Points can be used in two ways: 1) spend 1 Hero Point for a re-roll of a check and must keep the second roll and 2) spend all your Hero Points to avoid death. Any Hero Points that remain at the end of a gaming session do not carry over to the next gaming session and are lost.
One of the things I truly liked about combat in Pathfinder is the way they track actions in combat. Dungeons and Dragons always tracked combat actions by one move action and one attack action. Pathfinder took a different path giving all players 3 actions per round. What you did with those actions were up to the player. If you wanted to move for 3 actions, you could. If you wanted to attack for 3 actions, you could! And the ability to make multiple attacks without having to require a Feat or Skill was a breath of fresh air. This gave the fair ability to all character classes to perform multiple attacks. Also, each player gets 1 reaction per turn for those wonderful Attack of Opportunity options. Pathfinder provided a list that comprehensive list of actions for the game with how many actions each of those costs, whether it is a reactive or a free action. The game also covers the actions during exploration mode and downtime.
Running The Game
This chapter in the book discusses specifically running a Pathfinder campaign. When deciding to become a GM there are a large number of things to determine. What is the theme of your campaign? How long will your campaign last? And the most important, how will you collaborate with the players to create your campaign? One of the most important parts the book points out is that even though the GM has final say on how the world works and how the NPCs behave, it is crucial for GMs to work with their players for a successful campaign. The content of the campaign is crucial and is something that must be discussed with your players.
The GM has a number of tools they can use while creating the campaign and during play. The first is determining what is considering objectionable content for the campaign. Anything that the players don’t feel comfortable with should not be brought into your gameplay. This is crucial for having your players trust you as much as you trusting them. Second, are lines and veils. Lines indicate content that should never be crossed during the campaign. Veils are content that can be included in games but shouldn’t be described in detail. Last, is the X-Card. This is literally some type of card with a large X on it that is placed in the middle of the gaming table within reach of all players. If some topic or content comes up in a game that someone finds uncomfortable or objectionable they can tap the X to indicate that. The GM shouldn’t question why at that time just to work around making the scene comfortable for everyone and then discuss with that player in private. I love the fact Paizo included this section and tools in Pathfinder.
The chapter then goes over how to build a campaign and the associating adventures and encounters. It provides a guide on how much XP should be provided depending on the difficulty of the encounter. Paizo also offers other options for GMs who don’t want to build their own adventures and campaigns. There is the Pathfinder Adventure Path. These are volumes published monthly that usually have a large story that will lead to a conclusion before the GM starts up another Adventure Path. There is the Pathfinder Adventure which are standalone adventures that can be finished within a game session. And then the Pathfinder Society Scenarios. These are modules created by the Pathfinder Society Roleplaying Guild and act as part of a living campaign where outcome of the adventure can have a global impact on the next set of adventures.
Paizo provides players with a wealth of information just not on the encounter mode of play. They put a lot of detail into running both exploration and downtime modes to keep the players engaged in activities during those modes. They also provide for GMs in great detail around Difficulty Class (DCs) for checks during these modes. This includes actions such as earning income, crafting, and even learning new spells. This is excellent information to help GMs to understand what is fair and balanced for their players when making these checks. On top of that, they go into how to tabulate Hero Points, Treasure, and XP for the players. I like the options they provide if you want to level characters slower or faster than the average rate. And I truly love how clearly they indicate the amount of treasure characters should receive in encounters based on their level.
One of the most important parts of creating encounters is in regards to the environment. Are they traveling through mountains? What’s the weather like? What if the characters are in the middle of a blizzard or earthquake or flood? Pathfinder provides solid rules on how to handle all of these environmental situations. And lastly, the rest of the chapter dedicates to talking about hazards. These are traps the players may encounter in the dungeons. There are rules on how these hazards are triggered, how they can be disarmed, and how they can be physically destroyed. Pathfinder provides multiple examples of hazards GMs can use in their games, but some are challenging even for 20th level characters.
Loot and Making Stuff
The final chapter is completely dedicated to treasure and the creation of items. This chapter specifically covers magical items and Pathfinder gives GMs more than an abundance of items to use in their campaigns. The chapter discusses the details of each item, how the magic is activated, and the requirements if a player wanted to craft said item. The list of items is tremendous and will give GMs a lot of options of items to reward their players for defeating encounters. Everything from weapons, armor, potions, rings, a plethora of items are available. The book also talks about crafting these magical items and the use of runes. Runes are physical etchings that provide magical enhancements to those items. The rules explain how they work, what players need to do to craft them, and what’s required to make them.
The last section of the book is an appendix that covers a list of conditions a character may endure during an encounter, a glossary, and a full blank character sheet. Overall, Pathfinder is a beautifully well written, superbly organized, comprehensive role-playing game. The only thing that is missing are the monsters, which GM can find in the Pathfinder Second Edition Beastiary. Outside of that, Paizo has done a fabulous job with Pathfinder Second Edition making it feel more complete than the original release.