Pathfinder 2.0 comes at an interesting time. It owes a lot to 5th Edition, but how might it stand out?
If you’ve been poking around on the Internet, odds are good you know that Pathfinder is getting a second edition sometime next year. And if you’re on the internet, you probably also know that theres this little game called 5th Edition. Both are gonna have an effect on each other–both are a big deal in their own way. So I want to talk about both of them–this isn’t a PF vs 5th atticle, just sort of a look at the field as it stands. We’re in a real interesting place right now, with 5th Edition bringing more people into the gaming fold than ever. So let’s talk about these two titans.
After a decade of adventures, the somewhat affectionately termed “3.75 Edition” is getting a significant update. Although, really they’ve had several over the course of the last ten years. There was the Advanced Player’s Guide, which radically changed Pathfinder, then the Ultimate Player’s Guide, and the various campaign settings that have added up to more than 40 classes and 50 races.
And untold numbers of prepackaged meals for hungry dragons…
That’s part of what makes Pathfinder, well, Pathfinder. More than anything else–more than Golarion, more than their proprietary spells and unique magic items, more than monsters and mayhem–the thing that defines Pathfinder, for me, is how it treats characters. And it believes that characters should be customizable. No. More than that. Still within the confines of a class and level based system, but inside that ruleset is a ton of complexity.
That’s part of Pathfinder’s strength, and part of its weakness. You can make your character anything–you can be a string fighter who wields a two-handed weapon, or a duelist who is fast and agile, or a weird chain whip wielding fighter, or one who is really good at shoving people around or–well, you get the idea. But, littered throughout are false choices. Ones that can render your character nigh-unplayable because you didn’t grab the right feats, features, or combination of ex, sp, and su abilities–sole of which can be countered with magic or an anti-magic field, others are immune. And so on.
So it’s interesting to see them taking a cue from 5th Edition with their new announcement. And, for better or worse, that’s going to be made. Whether it borrows much or veryblittle, Pathfinder 2.0 is going to be held up to 5th Edition. Much like Pathfinder was held up along 3.5 and later 4th edition.
Ah. 4th Edition. A fantastic system* that executed its ideas poorly (depending on who you ask, I think modern RPG design owes a lot to this edition, and that 5th Edition is a sneaky reinterpretation of 4th Edition design philosophy, but that’s another matter entirely). Pathfinder owes a lot to this Edition especially. Without 4th, you wouldn’t have Pathfinder–the space created by 4th Edition’s lackluster performance was filled largely by Pathfinder. You can go back through and look at various data visualizations to see for yourself.
But Pathfinder 2.0 is coming out at a time when RPGs are in a 2nd (or 3rd, maybe even 4th) golden age. More people now are playing them than ever before. And 5th Edition is king. It was, as recently as the 9th of March, the #3 selling book on Amazon. It is the most popular edition of D&D ever, and it’s easy to see how its design has influenced PF2.0. This isnt a bad thing–games like both of these borrow from all over.
But it does present an interesting space for Pathfinder to step into. Streamlned rules are what people want–especially for GMs and new playets. You want to be able to put together an adventure without needing five different books and three hours to figure out what all the feats on an Archdevil do. And it sounds like that’s the direction Paizo is going, but like before, they’re carving or their own identity in this new design space. Customizability is the name of their game, and if you look at their FAQ, you’ll see that they still definitely want to keep the granularity that makes Pathfinder the game it’s been.
We can even get a look at how Pathfinder 2.0 might shape up besides just their previews–take a look at Starfinder. Much like Star Wars Saga and the Book of Nine Swords were early examples of the 4th Edition ifeals, Starfinder has a lot of the design work of 2.0 in it. Streamlined skills, customizable characters with an archetype, background, specialty, and so on… the streamlined feat trees are particularly telling if you ask me.
Also telling: laser axes and gun fights.
I don’t think they’re really going to compete. I think Pathfinder and 5th Edition have different goals and want to appeal to the same potential players for different reasons. It’s still way too early to tell, but, we are living in an exciting time. So let’s see how both games change over the coming year. Hopefully we’ll be the real winners in this matchup.
What do you think? Pathfinder? 5th? Both? Neither?
*Fight me on this one if you want, you’re still wrong.