One of the most important aspects of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game is combat. Monsters and villains are a very real threat that adventurers have to deal with on a daily basis, and quiet negotiation is rarely the answer. When talking fails, swords are drawn and combat is joined. In Pathfinder First Edition, combat could become rather bogged down just by the weight of options available. Time and time again, we heard new players talk about the complexity of the action system, how it made the game slow down as players looked to eke the most out of their turns.
Basically, the previous system was a barrier, and so it should come as no surprise that we are looking at ways that we can simplify it to make the game run more smoothly and intuitively. The hard part was making sure that the versatility of the old system was still present, while cleaning up the overall experience. We want your turn in combat to be exciting and full of interesting choices. We want you to be elated by coming up with just the right combination of actions to win the day. We just don't want those choices to be hedged in by a number of complex categories.
Before I explain the new way of doing things, it might be good to look back to find some perspective. The previous edition of Pathfinder featured seven distinct action types: free, full-round, immediate, move, standard, swift, and a nebulously defined “other” category. These helped to curb what a character could do and encouraged varied tactics to get the most out of your round. In particular, the immediate action was of interest because it was something you could do outside your turn.
This approach has served us well over the years, but we have long looked for better ways to accomplish some of the same goals with a more intuitive system.
It's your turn. You get to take three actions. That's it. You want to move three times? Done. Instead you want to move once, draw your sword, and attack? No problem. How about attack three times? Go ahead (but you'll take an increasing penalty for each additional attack). With only a few notable exceptions, most things in the game now take one action to accomplish. Opening a door, drawing a weapon, reloading a crossbow, moving up to your speed, raising your shield, taking a guarded step, swinging your greataxe—all of these and much more take just one action to perform.
There are, of course, some exceptions. A few things don't take an action at all, like talking or dropping a weapon. Conversely, most of the spells in the game take two actions to cast, although some can be cast quickly, such as a heal spell that targets yourself. Many of the classes can teach you specific activities that take two more actions to perform. The fighter, for example, has a feat that you can select called Sudden Charge, which costs two actions but lets you to move twice your speed and attack once, allowing fighters to get right into the fray!
One aspect of Pathfinder First Edition that was important to us was the ability to occasionally, if the circumstances were right, act outside your turn. While this was most often a simple attack of opportunity, we saw this as a way to add a whole new dimension to the game.
So now, all characters get one reaction they can take when the conditions are right.
Reactions always come with a trigger that must occur before the reaction can be taken. Let's say you're playing a paladin with a shield and you have spent an action to defend yourself with that shield. Not only does this boost your Armor Class; it also allows you to take a special reaction if you are hit by an attack. This shield block reduces the damage taken by an amount up to the shield's hardness!
Not everybody will have a reaction they can use during combat, but you can always ready an action that allows you prepare a special action that you can take later if the conditions you specify are met. You might ready an action to attack the first orc that walks around the corner, allowing you to make a strike if that happens before your next turn.
Finally, some monsters have reactions they can take as well. While some have simple reactions that allow them to attack those who drop their guard while adjacent to them, others have wildly different abilities. An earth elemental, for example, can spend its reaction after being hit to crumble into a pile of rocks, burrowing down into the ground for safety.
The New System in Practice
The three-action-and-a-reaction system really has done a lot for gameplay around the office. Turns are quite a bit more dynamic. The breadth of options now compete with each other, not based upon what action type they are, but instead on their merits in the current combat situation. Concentrating on a spell might be vital, but not if you need to move away, draw a potion, and drink it. Maybe you could wait to drink it until your next turn to keep the spell going, or maybe you could not move and hope the monster does not eat you.
Most importantly, taking your turn in Pathfinder is now filled with a wide variety of possibilities, allowing you to get the most out of your time in the spotlight, while still keeping the game moving and engaging.
Well, that about wraps up our in-depth look at the new action system for Pathfinder. Come back on Friday for a blog post looking into all of the spoilers from the first part of the Glass Cannon Network's podcast of their playtest of the game. In addition, if you want to see the game yourself, and maybe even get a chance to play, stop by Gary Con this weekend, where we will be running a number of Pathfinder charity games, raising money for the Wounded Warrior Project!
Director of Game Design