A First Look at Pathfinder Second Edition

Monday, June 24, 2019

The Second Edition of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game is set to launch on August 1st, and in anticipation, we thought it was time to take a look at the game and give you a sense of what you can expect from the new version of the rules! Starting with this blog and continuing every week until release, we are going to be looking at different aspects of the game, from a broad overview to some of the finer details of character generation and adventure design. Taken together, these blogs should give you a head-start on learning the game and bringing it to your table!

Illustration by Setiawan Lie

What is Pathfinder all about?

At its heart, Pathfinder Second Edition is the same type of game as first edition. You take on the role of a sword & sorcery adventurer of your own design, going on daring adventures for a chance at fame and fortune. One player takes on the role of Game Master, helping to adjudicate the actions of player characters, nonplayer characters, and monsters, weaving all of them together to form a compelling story—one that everyone at the table helped to create!

Of course, as a game, Pathfinder is a lot more than just telling stories. It is a system of rules that defines how the world works, and for Second Edition we wanted to make sure that this game “engine” was easy to understand and interpret, both for players and Game Masters! And while we made sure that creating and advancing your character was a clean and intuitive as it could be, we also ensured that the game allowed your choices—your vision for your character—to truly matter. The decisions you make in Pathfinder define your character, expressed not just in the story but in the rules as well.

Core Mechanic

Pathfinder is a narrative roleplaying game, meaning that you describe what your character is attempting to do while the Game Master describes how the story and world unfolds around you. Whenever there is doubt or uncertainty in actions, you will be called upon to make a check, which requires you to roll a d20 and add a modifier based on your character’s proficiency at that particular challenge. These checks come in many forms, from swinging a sword to climbing a cliff to dodging a roaring fireball. The result of your check, as interpreted by the GM, determines whether or not you succeed at your task, and might even decide whether or not your character survives!

In Pathfinder Second Edition, proficiency determines nearly every important statistic used by your character during play. How skilled are you with a longbow? How good are you at Stealth? What is your aptitude for casting illusion magic? All of these statistics, and many more, are defined by your proficiency in the statistic.

Proficiency is gained through the choices you make in building your character. If you are untrained, you get no bonus at all, but you can still add a modifier from a relevant ability score to represent your raw talent. If you are trained, you add your level plus 2, along with any other relevant modifiers. If you are an expert, you add 4 instead. Masters add 6, and characters with legendary proficiency add 8. This basic formula applies to nearly everything in Pathfinder Second Edition, making it easy for you to see where you stand and understand what your chances are at overcoming the challenges the game puts in front of you.

Facing Danger

The world of Pathfinder is a dangerous place. Vampires lurk in forgotten tombs, trolls prowl in the mountains, and deadly dragons await atop mounds of priceless treasure. These threats—and many more—await your character as they explore the story, and more often than not, such encounters will end with a thrilling combat.

Combat in Pathfinder is much more structured than the freeform narrative play of the rest of the game. During combat, participants take turns, during which the number of things that can be accomplished is limited. On your turn, your character will get to take three actions. Many of these will be what are called basic actions, like moving, drawing a weapon, opening a door, or making an attack. Some might be special actions that only your character can take, based on the choices you made during character creation. Casting spells, performing amazing martial stunts, or utilizing special class features like rage are all examples of special actions.

Just because your turn is over does not mean that you do not have an opportunity to participate in the combat. Some characters can take special reactions that allow them to interrupt the flow of play on other characters’ turns. You might dodge an incoming attack, block with your shield, or even attempt to counter an enemy’s spell. Each character can only take one reaction between turns though, so you have to make it count!

Combat continues until one side is defeated, gives up, or retreats, but these deadly encounters are just one way that you might resolve conflict. You might use skills or magic to sneak past foes, or you could try to talk your way out of a fight, relying on guile and charm to win the day. Ultimately, the way you approach danger in Pathfinder is up to you, and your chance at success depends on the choices you make for your character!

Illustration by Michele Esposito

Illustration by Alexander Nanitchkov

Illustration by Andrea Tentori Montalto

Creating Your Story

Pathfinder Second Edition empowers you to tell your own story, no matter what side of the table you occupy. Players have a wide variety of choices in making their character, giving them the tools to bring their idea to life. Your choice of ancestry, background, and class define the major parts of your character, but they are just the beginning. Your choice of skills, feats, and gear say a lot about the player character you are portraying and as you gain power, the new choices you get to make speak to your hero’s journey. You can come up with a plan for your character’s growth, or you can let their adventures influence your decisions. It’s up to you!

Taking on the role of Game Master brings a whole different kind of flexibility to your role at the table. As GM, you get to shape the overall narrative, defining the actions of villains, monsters, and all of the nonplayer characters that make up the world. You provide the adversaries that the PCs must face if they hope to succeed, and your narrative forms the backdrop that allows the characters to grow and triumph. Pathfinder provides a wide range of tools to help you in this vital task, from guidelines on how to build balanced encounters to narrative advice, and guidance on how to create a welcoming play environment. Within the pages of the Core Rulebook you will also find a wealth of treasure to award to your PCs when they succeed and a bunch of devious traps to guard the treasure. Most importantly, the Bestiary contains over 400 monsters waiting to face off against your PCs, from shambling undead to fiendish demons.

Illustration by Will O'Brien

What's Next

In the coming weeks, we are going to be looking at various aspects of Pathfinder Second Edition to give you a better idea about how each part of the game works. Next week, we are going to go over the steps you take when making and leveling up a character, but make sure to come back every week as we take a deep look at the new combat system, explore creating your own adventures, and provide a bunch of tips and tricks for using Pathfinder to tell your stories!

Jason Bulmahn
Director of Game Design

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Tags: Pathfinder Second Edition
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Seisho wrote:
that would be the same as for an normal attack

Well that's not so bad, then. I was under the impression that the penalty was only for melee attacks. I'm still not a fan, but at least it's not penalizing some classes and not others.


Cyouni wrote:
Captain Morgan wrote:
Yes, and I agree with you that the iterative penalty is good for the game. My point was that removing it need not make the game "stand still and full attack." It would instead be "move around a bunch and full attack." Not that 5e has great incentive to move around with AoO for all and no flanking rules.
Maybe I'm missing something. In the context of 2E and the three-action system, when will moving be remotely equal to another attack at full bonus?

Getting into flanking for the rogue to get sneak attack, or a paladin getting into position for retributive strike are two that come to mind, though getting into a doorway to prevent fleeing is a good one for a martial character as well


TheGoofyGE3K wrote:
Cyouni wrote:
Captain Morgan wrote:
Yes, and I agree with you that the iterative penalty is good for the game. My point was that removing it need not make the game "stand still and full attack." It would instead be "move around a bunch and full attack." Not that 5e has great incentive to move around with AoO for all and no flanking rules.
Maybe I'm missing something. In the context of 2E and the three-action system, when will moving be remotely equal to another attack at full bonus?
Getting into flanking for the rogue to get sneak attack, or a paladin getting into position for retributive strike are two that come to mind, though getting into a doorway to prevent fleeing is a good one for a martial character as well

My point was that in 5e you don't sacrifice movement to attack, nor do you take penalties to attack multiple times. I am not suggesting this is good or works well with the pathfinder 3 action economy. 5e's paradigm is different for a whole lot of reasons, including not being able to attack 3 times at level 1.


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AnCap Dawg wrote:
Seisho wrote:
that would be the same as for an normal attack
Well that's not so bad, then. I was under the impression that the penalty was only for melee attacks. I'm still not a fan, but at least it's not penalizing some classes and not others.

Melee, Magic, Ranged - it hits everyone

The casters with their action economy and spells just have either not the problem (because one can't cast 2 spell with 2 actions each) or can get around it (one spell with aoe, one with an attack roll)
Interestingly enough if you combine, let's say, a cantrip (with attack roll of course) and a crossbow (I don't know why one would do that but lets just assume for this case) afaik the multiple attack penalty would also trigger for the second attack


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Seisho wrote:


Interestingly enough if you combine, let's say, a cantrip (with attack roll of course) and a crossbow (I don't know why one would do that but lets just assume for this case) afaik the multiple attack penalty would also trigger for the second attack

I mean, if you are happy where you are, it seems like an entirely valid action. I mean, the Shield cantrip might be good in that situation if you know it, but otherwise, why not?

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