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Off Topic > Tabletop RPGJul 20, 2020 2:00 pm CT

What you need to know to start playing the Pathfinder 2nd Edition RPG

On the surface, learning how to play Pathfinder 2nd Edition might just be the easiest thing for people who play tabletop RPGs, especially Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition. It would not be unfair to say that PF2 is essentially D&D‘s cousin, in a way — both are descended from the open license version of D&D called 3rd Edition.

What this means is that, unlike games like Call of Cthulhu or Apocalypse World or ChampionsPF2 has a lot of the same components under the hood. You roll a d20 and add or subtract modifiers from the roll to determine success. It’s medieval fantasy themed by default. The game uses classes and many of those classes will be familiar to you if you’ve played D&D. The six Abilities — Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma — are all there and concepts like Armor Class, Saving Throws and Hit Points are all there, if sometimes expressed slightly differently. But at the same time Pathfinder 2nd Edition dares to make some changes.

What’s different from D&D?

One of the ways that PF2 differs from its ancestors is that it has abandoned the idea of Race as a core concept of character creation. Instead, the game uses Ancestry to handle the basic idea of I want to play an Elf. It’s a flexible system and a lot more versatile than its cousin handles the same basic idea, for example. So let’s talk about what you need to start playing Pathfinder 2nd Edition.

For starters, you need the PF2 rulebook. Unlike D&D 5e, this game doesn’t have a separate book for players and gamemasters, so whether you intend to play a single character or to run the game and help the other players tell their stories, you’ll get the exact same book. You can buy it online at the Paizo official site, or at most local game shops which I encourage you to check out if you can. Unlike some other companies, Paizo has pretty much every product they offer available as a PDF file, which can help make it easier for everyone at the table to have their own copy of the rules. While the Pathfinder 2nd Edition hardcover is one of the best rulebooks I’ve ever seen from a graphic design standpoint, having instant access to a PDF can be useful.

 

What you need to play Pathfinder

While the game’s systems are not identical to D&D, the dice used are — if you already have a set of dice you use for playing that game, they’ll work just as well for PF2. You can also get character sheets from Paizo, which makes that process a bit easier. PF2 is similar enough to D&D in that it can be useful to have a way to map movement and character placement during combat, and so while it’s not strictly speaking necessary you might want to get a reusable map of some kind to track grid movement. Also, because Pathfinder is an OGL release, there are stripped down versions of the game’s rules online you can use to make sure you’re on the right track without opening your rulebook. I’d still rather have a PDF, but a searchable website for when you just need that one rule is helpful.

You can also play PF2 via a virtual tabletop such as Roll20, Fantasy Grounds, or other system.

Also, if you’re planning on running PF2 for a group, you’ll want things for them to be menaced by. The Pathfinder Bestiary is just one of many books full of monsters for the system, and one of the ways Pathfinder shines (and the reason the game is even named that) is that Paizo has excellent adventures, and pioneered the Adventure Path, which are series of adventures that can be run one after the other, allowing you to play through an entire campaign. You can certainly run your own adventures, of course, but it never hurts to read through other ideas and get inspiration.

So, we’ve talked about what you need to play the game. So now, let’s talk about how to approach Pathfinder as a game. We’ve covered games like Call of Cthulhu, the HERO System, Apocalypse World and Masks which both use the same game system, even Savage Worlds and all those games are departures from D&D in great and small ways. So let me be up front about this — When I said Pathfinder 2nd Edition was D&D‘s cousin, I was not kidding. Both games trace their origins back to the original AD&D and D&D Box Set editions, and until D&D 3rd Edition/3.5, they draw from the exact same origins. The first edition of Pathfinder came out in 2009, and was in a very real way an improved version of D&D 3.5 — essentially, Pathfinder‘s first edition could be described as D&D 3.75 and it wouldn’t be inaccurate. As D&D entered its 4th Edition, it and Pathfinder differentiated, and with the current 5th Edition of D&D and Pathfinder on its 2nd, they are no longer the same game.

This is its own game – but it has the same parents

So, we’ve talked about what you need to play the game. So now, let’s talk about how to approach Pathfinder as a game. We’ve covered games like Call of Cthulhu, the HERO System, Apocalypse World and Masks which both use the same game system, even Savage Worlds and all those games are departures from D&D in great and small ways. So let me be up front about this — When I said Pathfinder 2nd Edition was D&D‘s cousin, I was not kidding. Both games trace their origins back to the original AD&D and D&D Box Set editions, and until D&D 3rd Edition/3.5, they draw from the exact same origins. The first edition of Pathfinder came out in 2009, and was in a very real way an improved version of D&D 3.5 — essentially, Pathfinder‘s first edition could be described as D&D 3.75 and it wouldn’t be inaccurate. As D&D entered its 4th Edition, it and Pathfinder differentiated, and with the current 5th Edition of D&D and Pathfinder on its 2nd, they are no longer the same game.

But at the same time, Pathfinder draws from the exact same well. It is a relatively high magic, high fantasy role playing game. It comes with its own setting — the world of Golarion — which has all the bells and whistles you’ll recognize from its parent game and the settings that exist for it. In essence, Pathfinder is D&D, but with more options. It can do anything its cousin does, but it often does it by allowing you to make more decisions and giving you more variety in how you achieve your character. I won’t pretend that it doesn’t sometimes make things more complicated — skills in PF2, for example, have different levels of ability called Proficiency Ranks, ranging from Untrained all the way up to Legendary. A Legendary Proficiency in a skill means that you can do wonders — talk the birds into lending you their songs to shackle a monster wolf, walk down a single strand of hair to escape a burning palace, all that kind of thing.

Similarly, ancestries and backgrounds work much the same as you might expect, but provide more flexibility and give you more options — for example, you can play a character of Human ancestry and take the Half-Elf or Half-Orc option, and the ability is there in the game to let a Dwarf do the same thing with Human ancestry feats and play a half Dwarf/half Human character, as an example. Pathfinder deliberately eschews some of 5e’s simplicity in order to give players and gamemasters more choices. It embraces Feats much more broadly — for an in depth look at how the game uses Class, Feats and Archetypes to help create exactly the character you want to play, we have a review from the game’s release that will help you get a sense of it all.

So why play Pathfinder?

At its core, you can do everything with Pathfinder you’d do with D&D. You can run published adventures in the base setting of the game, or you can create your own campaign world and run your own adventures, or a mix of both. It’s a flexible, in depth RPG that puts a lot more customization in your hands from the get-go. If you want to play an Orc Sorcerer or Wizard in Pathfinder, you won’t be at a mechanical disadvantage for doing so, as there are no penalties and while each ancestry does have defined Ability Boosts, each also comes with a free Ability Boost you can put anywhere you like — so while playing a Goblin will give you Dexterity and Charisma bonuses, if you want to play a Barbarian, you’ll have a free Ability Boost you can use on any Ability you like, including Strength.

Pathfinder has some changes to concepts like Magic — there are ten levels of spells instead of nine, and there are four different traditions of magic, Arcane, Divine, Occult and Primal, each focusing on a different approach to the supernatural. Again, it comes down to PF2 having simply more — more options, more variety, more means to accomplish a unique end.

It can be a bit daunting for new players, because there’s a lot here, but once you get familiar with it I suspect you’ll enjoy the flexibility the system provides. If you want to put more choice in the hands of your players, you could do a lot worse than to play Pathfinder 2nd Edition.

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