Thursday, March 8, 2018

Pathfinder Playtest

So the big news this week is that we’re going to be getting a new edition of the Pathfinder RPG from the wonder workers at Paizo. This is exciting news in our hobby for a couple of different reasons which i’ll get into in just a minute. With an expected playtest to start in August of this year, and if i read the announcement correctly a full launch to hit in Summer of 2019, this is a fairly tight release window for the playtest period. This means a couple of things to me, and i’ll get into those a little further down. Let’s dig into what this means to our hobby, and then i’ll toss out some speculative flights of fancy, and maybe we’ll ask a couple of questions to go along with it.

New Edition, New Rules?

Pathfinder’s original launch in 2008 took the gaming world by storm and it has had a lengthy run of producing interesting adventures and building the world of Golarion for players to explore. Pathfinder Society’s organized play campaign has allowed players from all over the world to share that game with each other in wonderful events and conventions. Pathfinder is an expansion and in some cases a reimagining of the 3.5 edition of Dungeons and Dragons, but it diverges from its source material and does a lot of things very differently.

Now we fast forward ten years and Pathfinder is big. With dozens of companion books detailing specific regions of Golarion, a series of core rules expansions called Ultimates, and a host of adventure paths (and we’re really just scratching the surface), Pathfinder has a book for just about any situation, and rules that cover a lot of the things that come up in a game (or after a game, or between sessions). That’s a lot of complexity stacked up on top of itself and it can be a lot to keep track of.

What we can see from the FAQ for the new edition playtest is “Streamlining.” It looks like we’re going to see a simplified action system and a simplification of the number crunching aspects of the system. I personally think that both of these changes are good, especially for new players. Making the math of the game easy enough that it becomes second nature lets the players focus on the story aspects and narrative elements of the game.

I am sure that there are some sections of the internet that are currently on fire because of this announcement, and i really don’t know what to say to those folks. Yes, pathfinder is releasing a 2nd edition, featuring a simpler system and easier mechanics. That means that somewhere, someone in the design team may have thought “You know, i don’t like how this rule works, but changing it would change everything about the way the system works, and that’d be a nightmare to fix.” I suspect enough of those folks finally had that conversation and decided it was time.

Ten years in the terminology of a Role-playing game is an eternity. That’s a massive lifespan that anyone should be proud of and i hope the Paizo team is proud of what they’ve done. I also respect that they decided it was time to make some changes. I’m honestly not sure how deep the changes are going to be and i don’t think any of us are going to get a feel for them until August (I plan on picking up a set at Gencon, so there’s that).

New Edition, New Fans?

I have personally been very reluctant to put a lot of time and articles in on Pathfinder for one key reason. There are a bajillion* (Statistically accurate count) different books for the game. Some of them add a lot of depth and choice, and others are more adventure focused. There’s just so much to try and teach a new gamer, and Pathfinder is a richly complex ecosystem of choices. It’s too big for a blog like this one to try and dive into. We wouldn’t get anything else done. This new edition with the promise of more streamlined, easier to play mechanics is a horse of a different color.

Easy to get, fun to play games are always going to draw new players. I have been playing RPGs for going on thirty years now, and Pathfinder is a game i’m always hesitant to join into because the existing system is so complex. Easing that system and making it more accessible to the player base could grow that player base. I think that’s always a good idea, to try and expand the player base when and where you can. There are naturally going to be some growing pains in the system. Organized play is going to change, the fans who’ve been in since the beginning are going to be upset about having to buy all new books, and there are a host of other questions and concerns, and i am sure that we are going to have those addressed as we get closer to the playtest and the release. 

My Questions

I have two main questions that are coming to mind about this game. Firstly, with the playtest window starting in august of this year and a scheduled release of the following summer, this is a very tight, very narrow beta window to test the game. This leads me to think that the design team has mostly crafted the rules that they think are going to work for the game but are going to let the fans take a swing at them and take them apart to see how they work. That playtest window is so narrow that i am not sure how much feedback is going to make it in, in order to affect the final product, simply because of the amount of time that’s available.

My second question is what does this mean for Starfinder? The Scifi adventures that use the Pathfinder core mechanics are about a year old at this point. Is it going to get an upgrade as well and use the new mechanics or is it going to use the first edition Pathfinder rules? I would hope that they don’t abandon Starfinder, as it looks like a fun experience.

(Yes, i know this is answered in the FAQ, but it was a pressing question at the time)

Conclusionary Thoughts

I am honestly curious about this new edition, because i enjoy Pathfinder and the rules set it was built on. I like the world of Golarion and i think it has some truly unique elements compared to other campaign settings we experience as gamers. I hope that the new system is easier to integrate new players into and that the rules support the narrative elements of the game. We’ll be picking up playtest copies at Gencon, and i’ll be providing more updates and thoughts as we get closer. Game On, Game Fans.

If you have any questions, be sure to check out the FAQ at the Paizo site here

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