Since its release at 2019 GenCon, the RPG Pathfinder Second Edition has been growing in popularity. With a character creation system that allows for immense character customization, it has won over many converts among the scores of existing fans of the game’s first edition, even with all of the difficulties involved in getting those fans together to play the game during a global pandemic.
It’s worth a quick recap of what Paizo has put out to support and expand this game in just a little over a year:
- Core Rulebook (and a Pocket Edition variant)
- Bestiary & Bestiary 2 (with separate Bestiary Battle Cards for both books, and a set of NPC Battle Cards)
- Advanced Player Guide
- Gamemastery Guide
- Adventures: The Fall of Plaguestone, The Slithering, and Troubles in Otari
- Adventure Paths: Age of Ashes, Extinction Curse, and Agents of Edgewatch
- World of Lost Omens settings supplements: World Guide, Character Guide, Gods & Magic, Legends (notable NPCs), and Pathfinder Society Guide.
- A season and a half worth of Pathfinder Society Organized Play scenarios
- Card decks: spell cards, battle cards, NPC cards, critical hit/fumble decks, chase cards, gear cards, and condition cards
- Pawns of creatures and characters from the major books
- Assorted maps of the flip-mat and flip-tile variety, usable in a variety of other tabletop RPGs
You can get the harcopies of these gaming resources through pretty much any game shop, but digital copies (as well as the hardcopies) are available directly through Paizo.com. If ordering Paizo products – including First Edition Pathfinder, Pathfinder Adventure Card, or Starfinder products – through their website, there’s a one-time promotional code of “holiday21” good through January 17, 2021.
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Since GenCon 2019, there have been a number of great resources and supplements coming from Paizo to support their Pathfinder Second Edition roleplaying game. Last November, I covered the first two setting supplements, the Lost Omens Character Guide and Lost Omens World Guide. Players and Gamemasters alike have a slew of options available already, with even more slated to come by the end of the summer.
For those who don’t have time to plan or create adventures from scratch, they have one full Adventure Path, Age of Ashes, released, with the second, Extinction Curse, releasing its final volume in the next month. Each 6-volume Adventure Path for Pathfinder Second Edition takes players from level 1 through level 20, creating a truly epic campaign. Age of Ashes (Paizo, Amazon) involves the heroes discovering the secrets of an abandoned Hellknight fortress and its connection to an ancient evil force. Extinction Curse (Paizo, Amazon) is a circus-themed adventure, where the heroes must save the show while also investigating a plot to unleash an ancient curse, with a volume entitled Siege of the Dinosaurs. The upcoming Agents of Edgewatch (Paizo) is a fantasy cop adventure, as the heroes take on the role of law enforcement officers in and around the city of Absalom.
In addition, Paizo also releases a steady stream of smaller adventure scenarios to support the extensive Pathfinder Society Organized Play organization. Those adventures, available exclusively on PDF through Paizo.com, run about 4 hours per scenario, and players who play through them gain chronicle sheets that determine the amount of XP gained, as well as Fame & Reputation with various in-game factions, and of course gold and treasure. Characters also gain a variety of boons from these chronicle sheets, providing unique in-game benefits based on the previous adventures that they have completed. The structure of Pathfinder Society means that players can take the same character across a series of adventures at local game stores and conventions, and have the feel of being part of a larger adventure campaign.
Of course, that all assumes that game stores are open and conventions are taking place … but Paizo and gamers have stepped up to make sure there are opportunities to play, even in the midst of the dreaded “new normal.”
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With the release of Pathfinder Second Edition at GenCon in August, Paizo set out to once again re-capture fire in a bottle. They’d done it once before, a decade ago, when they took the ruleset of Dungeons & Dragons 3.5e, slapped it together with a ton of house rule modifications and other changes, and then rebranded it as the Pathfinder RPG. Here they were taking that very same Pathfinder RPG, which had itself grown wildly successful, and trying to create a new and compelling variant of that.
Having played a handful of the Pathfinder Second Edition games now, I’m finding quite a lot to like about it the system. But one of the things that drew me so powerfully to Pathfinder First Edition was when I got my hands on the Inner Sea World Guide. While the rules were great, the dynamic nature of the setting, with the rich diversity of nations and storytelling options, was what really engrossed me.
And clearly I’m not alone, because one of the first releases that Paizo planned to follow-up the release of Pathfinder Second Edition was the Lost Omens World Guide (Paizo, Amazon). The default setting for Pathfinder (both editions) is the Age of Lost Omens on the world of Golarian, and thus the name of the guide. This re-introduces the core of the Pathfinder setting, while at the same time introducing a quick infusion of new character creation and advancement options to supplement the basic rules.
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As has been the case for the last few years, this year’s big Gen Con release was from the folks at Paizo. Two years ago we got the release of Starfinder. Last year was the release of the Pathfinder Playtest. And this year the Pathfinder Playtest reaches its fruition with the release of Pathfinder Second Edition, released into the wild at the beginning of August.
The gamer fanatics that we are here at Black Gate, we’ve been interested in this since Pathfinder Second Edition was first announced. Last fall, I covered the Pathfinder Playtest, and most of the basic game mechanics introduced in the playtest stayed constant in the Second Edition release, even if some of the specifics changed.
The pacing is one of the best aspects of Pathfinder Second Edition. The action economy of having three actions each turn, and different tasks taking different numbers of those actions, helps keep players and the gamemaster moving smoothly through the turns. Each character can track their most common actions, based upon their character build, so that they can easily keep track of their options in the action economy.
The character design in Pathfinder Second Edition is around accumulating feats – ancestry & heritage feats, class feats, general feats, and skill feats – that allow for a wide range of diversity. Some of these feats also unlock uncommon task types, which players without those feats aren’t able to access. This keeps the distinctive customization that has really become the hallmark of the Pathfinder RPG over the last decade.
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Since Gen Con 2018, the Pathfinder Playtest has been in full swing, testing the new rule system that will form the basis for Pathfinder Second Edition, slated to release at Gen Con 2019. The game looks to streamline the system, and create a more coherent play experience across the diverse options that players of Pathfinder have available.
Participating in the Playtest
The major materials – the Pathfinder Playtest Rulebook and the Doomsday Dawn adventure book, as well as supplements like the Playtest Bestiary and pregenerated characters – are all available for free download from Paizo.com, so that anyone can participate in the playtest experience. Feedback is provided through the messageboards on the Paizo forum and also by entering survey data when you’ve run someone through an adventure or scenario.
In addition to the download of the Rulebook, you should also download the Rulebook Update sheet. This is updated regularly – every couple of weeks so far – and includes ongoing modifications to the rules, which are to be incorporated immediately. The biggest change was a pretty comprehensive revamp of the Death & Dying rules, although they’ve since gone in and modified some of the classes a bit, added an additional healing option for the Medicine skill, and made other changes as needed.
The Doomsday Dawn adventure book has a series of 7 adventures that are linked together in a campaign style, set over a period of ten years, but you don’t always play the same characters. The adventures begin at first level and then skip levels as you proceed. The characters you play at first level show up in subsequent adventures, at higher levels, but in between you play with some different characters, with some adventures focusing more on outdoor adventures or healing characters. The goal is that playing through the entire adventure, you’ll have an opportunity to test out lots of different play styles and aspects of the game.
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Earlier this week, I spoke briefly about attending my first Origins Game Fair event in Columbus, OH, over last weekend, and about the Origins Awards they handed out for best game products of the year. But I wasn’t there for the awards, of course. I was there for the games themselves.
Origins gave the one of the first real opportunities in the wild to see the upcoming Pathfinder Playtest in action. (It has previously been available at GaryCon, PaizoCon, and the UK Games Expo.) We have previously discussed the announcement by Paizo to release a public playtest at GenCon 2018 for their Second Edition, which will then release at GenCon 2019. Unfortunately for me, those events were fairly consistently sold out, and busy enough they didn’t want too many loiterers around the table to slow down the game for those actually playing. The tables were in a fairly accessible location, though, and the people playing seemed to be really enjoying themselves, but my attempt to get a glance at the character sheets were consistently thwarted. (I am signed up in one of the first Playtest slots at GenCon, though, so that I can provide feedback at that point.)
I’ve been following Paizo’s releases about the Pathfinder Playtest on their blog with interest, though, and was able to have a discussion with Paizo’s John Compton and Tonya Woldridge, to get some answers to the questions I had about how this would all play out … so to speak. John and Tonya are focused on the Pathfinder Society (and Starfinder Society) Organized Play program, so that’s where we spent the majority of our conversation. But before getting into the Organized Play questions, I wondered what to expect from a story-based perspective: Will Pathfinder Playtest (or Pathfinder 2nd Edition) come with a realm-shattering storyline?
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For years, the publisher Paizo has been one of the major presences at GenCon. I still remember years ago (2009, I believe) coming upon their booth and seeing a pile of hardcover books for their new (at the time) Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook (now available in paperback, as well). I didn’t realize at the time that it was transforming the third edition of Dungeons & Dragons into a completely new and improved system of mechanics, and how many hours I would spend in the years to come pouring over their manuals, supplements, and novels.
Though they had some new releases this year, I was really interested in getting more information about their big 2017 release, the science fantasy game Starfinder RPG. We covered this when it was originally announced back in May, but a lot of questions were left open.
I sat down with James Sutter, the Creative Director of Starfinder, and author of two Pathfinder Tales novels, Death’s Heretic and The Redemption Engine. He is also continuing his work as the editor of the Pathfinder Tales line of books. Together with the work as the new Creative Director of Starfinder, this means it may be hard to fit in the writing of a third novel, but as a fan I’ll keep my fingers crossed. For now, he’s definitely got his hands full in bringing Starfinder RPG into the world.
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Lately I’ve been reading a fair amount of Pathfinder novels. Partly this is because I want to play Pathfinder and have no one with whom to play it, because all of my adult friends who are so inclined live too far away, and my children and I just aren’t in the same frame of mind. (Roleplaying with a fourteen-year-old and a twelve-year-old is challenging, simply because logic, for all involved, works a little differently. For this audience, a straightforward dungeon crawl, like Fantasy Flight’s Descent, is a more viable option, but, with that, you don’t get enough freedom for story creation and character generation.)
Another reason I have been reading Pathfinder novels is because my oldest son has started reading them. If I read them as well, we can inhabit a shared text (and perhaps, in time, a satisfying Pathfinder gaming session).
And yet another reason why I have been reading Pathfinder novels is because they’re good.
This was announced not too long ago, at least in reference to Howard Andrew Jones’s Stalking the Beast, when Nick Ozment realized that that novel was “better than it needed to be.” I’ve read some Pathfinder novels by other writers as well, and I will say that most of them are quite good.
Nick made clear why he found Jones’s second novel for the franchise so good, but what do I mean when I say that, in general, I like the series? I will say that they are highly satisfying Sword and Sorcery novels. They are entertaining. They are escapist. They have cool things in them. And, above all, they are quite familiar. They are based on the 3.5 (or 3.75) edition of Dungeons & Dragons, after all.
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On the opening day of Gen Con 2000, Third Edition Dungeons and Dragons was unveiled. That same day, Necromancer Games released The Wizard’s Amulet, more or less the second OGL/D20 adventure (that’s another discussion).
Necromancer, working with other companies such as White Wolf, Judges Guild, and Kenzer and Company, became one of the most successful d20 companies. Their mega dungeon, Rappan Athak, is one of the best known Third Era adventures.
However, the advent of Fourth Edition spelled doom for Necromancer. Co-founder Bill Webb founded Frog God Games, a clear successor to Necromancer, and they published products for Paizo’s Pathfinder. Frog God produced new items and also updated old Necromancer goods as well, Pathfinderizing them.
With the advent of Fifth Edition D&D, Frog God is now publishing for both lines (in addition to retro-clone, Swords & Wizardry). Necromancer and Frog God adventures and supplements had loosely been connected in that they took place in Webb’s personal campaign world.
Frog God is currently putting out that campaign world under the moniker The Lost Lands. It is going to incorporate nearly everything produced by Necromancer and Frog God Games. Some products, such as their Judges Guild updates and the Hex Crawl Chronicles, belong to other folks and won’t be included. But if you look at the long list of products, there’s an awful lot, including Gary Gygax’s under-appreciated Necropolis.
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Paizo Publishing’s Pathfinder RPG has made a habit of breaking new ground. Or, in a sense, re-breaking old ground in completely new ways. They’ve revolutionized Dungeons and Dragons 3rd edition by re-imagining it into the Pathfinder RPG. Their Pathfinder Adventure Path series seems to have transformed the scope of what can be done with pre-generated gaming modules. Their Pathfinder Tales line of novels set in the Pathfinder world of Golarion are frequently praised around the Black Gate world headquarters, only a fraction of which spills over onto the website. And, last year, they transformed the deck-building game with the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game (which, I promise, I will review one of these days! – but for now you can get it on Amazon).
Now they’re moving in a similar direction with their Pathfinder Legends line of audiobooks. Instead of adapting the Pathfinder Tales novels, they’re instead focusing this series of audiobooks on adaptations of their Adventure Paths. And, instead of merely being audiobooks relating a narrative of the adventure, these are instead full audio productions with a cast of talented actors, heralding back to the glory days of the radio age… but with modern production values. You can get a hint of what to expect from this audio trailer. It introduces the first episode, “Burnt Offerings,” which is the first installment of their Rise of the Runelords Adventure Path (Amazon)
If what you hear interests you, the first installment of Pathfinder Legends is available now for order through Paizo’s website. For a limited time, they are offering the first audio production at the discounted subscription price even if you don’t subscribe. This means you can order the audio CD for $12.79 (normally $15.99) and the audio download for $10.39 (normally $12.99). It’s not exactly clear when this offer will end, but they’ve said that it will last until the Pathfinder Legends subscription plan is available online.