No, we are not putting a scoop of ice cream on top of every copy of the Pathfinder Playtest Rulebook, but we are adding flavor to the different parts of the game. You've probably heard a lot about it in the blogs and podcasts, but today we are dishing out a big scoop of news on the different modes of play in the next evolution of Pathfinder!
Every moment in the game can be categorized into encounter mode, exploration more, or downtime mode. The modes of play are governed by the needs of the adventure, and the transition between them is ultimately up to the Game Master to decide. You might be traveling through the woods, following the trail of the bandit queen, which would be exploration mode, only to have the group thrust into encounter mode as a combat breaks out with a pack of bloodthirsty wolves. Later, after defeating the bandit queen, you might take your treasure back to town and take a week off, entering downtime mode to craft a better suit of armor with your newfound wealth.
Without a doubt, this is the most talked about part of the game up to this point. Combat takes place exclusively in encounter mode, when characters, villains, and monsters are locked in a life-or-death struggle, wielding blades, claws, and spells to win the day. As we've mentioned elsewhere, encounter mode functions much like it did in Pathfinder First Edition, with each round of play taking 6 seconds of game time. You roll initiative at the start, putting all of the combatants in order; each one takes a turn in initiative order, and then you cycle through the combatants repeatedly until one side is victorious.
The changes we made to this system are intended to make play a little easier to learn, while also giving you a wider array of choices as to how you can take your turn. To start with, each character gets 3 actions on their turn. While everyone has access to a list of basic actions, like stride (which lets you move your speed), step (which lets you move just 5 feet, but without provoking any reactions), and strike (which lets you make an attack), all characters have special actions that they can take, derived from their ancestry, class, feat, and gear choices.
For example, if you're playing a barbarian, you can take a feat called Raging Courage that allows you to spend actions to shake off being afraid, letting you get back into the fight. If you're playing a fighter, you instead pick a feat called Intimidating Strike, which lets you spend 2 actions to make an attack against a foe. If it hits, your enemy is frightened and flat-footed until the end of your next turn! (Just don't use it on that barbarian.)
In addition to the 3 actions on your turn, you also get 1 reaction to use anytime before the start of your next turn. The fighter blog on Monday mentioned the reaction attack of opportunity, which allows you to take a free swing at foes that try to move around you or attempt to cast spells adjacent to you, but fighters are not the only class to have fun things to do with their reactions. The druid can gain a feat called Storm Retribution. If you are a druid of the storm order and a foe critically hits you, this feat allows you to unleash a powerful tempest on them in return, dealing 3d12 damage and possibly pushing them away. Wizards, meanwhile, can get the ability to counterspell with their reaction, canceling out enemy magic before it can even take effect.
The choices you make when building your character greatly influence what you can do during combat. You can build a simpler character with a narrow field of powerful choices, just as easily as a more complex character with a vast array of options in a fight. As with the other modes of play, it's all up to you!
If you are not in a combat, chances are you are in exploration mode. This free-form part of the game allows characters to take actions as needed to accomplish tasks, investigate problems, and interact with other characters and the world around them. Travelling from place to place, talking to a merchant lord, and swimming across a river to a mysterious island are all part of exploration mode. Exploration mode is measured in minutes and hours, depending on the task at hand and the flow of the game.
Skills and skill feats govern a lot of what you can do in this part of the game, along with your roleplaying and character backstory (as related to your background). These options are available to all characters, and while some get more options than others (like rogues), you can always focus on a few ways in which you can shine.
Let's say you really want your sorcerer to be in tune with nature. Not only could you put some of your proficiencies into the Nature skill, giving you knowledge of the natural world, including plants and beasts, but you could take skill feats that let you use Nature to heal people or even train an animal, which can then help you on your journey. These opportunities are not unique to any particular character. Anyone with the right proficiencies can select them.
For long periods of exploration, characters focus on one task at a time so it's easy for the GM to determine what rolls they make and how they're set up for any challenges they face. This lets the game move quickly through long journeys, then resume a more fine-grained pace when the party finds something to investigate or encounters monsters or hazards.
What you do in exploration mode can also influence how you enter combat. As you go on your adventures, the Game Master will periodically ask you what you are doing, how you are traveling, and what precautions you are taking as you venture into the unknown. These choices influence what you roll when it's time to roll initiative. For most characters it will be a Perception check, indicating how alert you were to the danger. If instead you were trying to hide, you might roll Stealth, possibly allowing you to start the combat unseen. If the fight is breaking out in the middle of a crowded tavern, you might roll Diplomacy or Intimidation to get the upper hand, using charm or a brutish manner to give you an edge. The GM makes the final determination of what everyone rolls for initiative, and might allow you to choose between multiple choices (one of which is typically Perception) if several options would make sense.
Up to this point, we haven't talked much about the downtime mode of play, where time passes quickly, allowing characters to retrain, work at a profession, craft items, and more. Downtime mode is always measured in days, allowing you to accomplish large tasks quickly in terms of time at the table.
Just as with exploration mode, how you interact during downtime mode is mostly up to you and the choices you make with your character. If you are playing a bard with expert proficiency in Performance, you might spend your downtime putting on shows in local taverns and for nearby nobles, earning money to help fund your next adventure. With a few days and a decent roll, you could easily afford an extra potion or two.
Let's say instead you are playing a dwarven fighter who wants to make his own weapons. With the Craft skill, you can make weapons of a quality up to your proficiency. Better yet, if you pick up the Magical Crafter skill feat, your dwarven fighter could even make magic weapons! This feat is available to anyone who is an expert crafter, making the creation of magic items available to all. I should note that some items, like scrolls and wands, do require you to be able to cast certain spells to create them, though.
Finally, we have made retraining a core part of the game, allowing you to trade out a feat, skill, or even class choice for another equal option. Retraining occurs during downtime, and can take as little as a week, giving you the flexibility to go on your next adventures with the right tools to succeed.
Well, that's the scoop on this blog. I wish I could tell you a bit about the Monday blog, but it succeeded at its Stealth check. You'll just have to stop by then to find out what it is!
Director of Game Design