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Pathfinder, with roots in a decades-old strain of D&D, is launching a second edition

All things old are new again


The Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, one of the most popular franchises in tabletop gaming, is getting a second edition. But that move comes with a bit of baggage, especially considering that the game originated in a massive schism within the pen-and-paper role-playing community.

Roll the clock back to late 2007. That’s when Wizards of the Coast ended development of Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 and released the game’s fourth edition. Many fans of D&D 3.5 didn’t want to make the change. Neither did game publisher Paizo, which had been developing D&D adventures and content for years. So Paizo set about transforming D&D 3.5 into its own game, Pathfinder. It retained thousands of stalwart fans of D&D 3.5, and eventually became a growing franchise in its own right.

So if Paizo’s roots are in staying the course when D&D abandoned many of its fans, why reinvent the wheel with Pathfinder Second Edition?

“The main reason is that it’s been 10 years,” publisher Erik Mona told Polygon. “We’ve always kind of wanted to avoid the kind of rapid-fire edition cycle that we’ve seen come to predominate over the last 20 years or so. When we were growing up with the games, they tended to last a little bit longer. I think that we always suspected that there’d be some point down the road where we had enough experience with Pathfinder [...] and we wanted to go in and kind of tinker with some changes.”

A mock-up of the Pathfinder Playtest cover.
A mock-up of the Pathfinder Playtest cover.

Pathfinder is known for being a sprawling system. The core book, even though it contains a combination players’ handbook and game master’s guide, weighs in at a hefty 575 pages. But, beyond that, there are dozens of additional sourcebooks that tweak the rules in many different ways. It’s high time for a refresh.

“If we’re going to open the patient, we should fix all the stuff that we know needs some changes,” Mona said. “It took awhile to get a preponderance of those changes where we could finally look at each other and say, ‘Hey, it’s been enough time.’ We now have a list of stuff that we’ve got both from ourselves and our own development of the game and from customers. We just felt we were able to look at each other and say this is about the right time to make this happen.

“The only edict that I’ve given Jason and his design team in terms of the size of the eventual core rule book is that it cannot be larger than the previous core rule book. So I’m not trying to.”

“574 pages it is!” crowed Jason Bulmahn, director of game design for Pathfinder Second Edition and the lead designer of the original Pathfinder. “In all seriousness, the physical weight of the book is one thing. But the thing that worries me a lot more is the weight of the rules themselves. [...] The new book might still be heavy but your understanding of it is a lot easier and it makes it a lot simpler for people to get into the game.”

Take, for instance, the player turn itself. Right now there are seven different kinds of actions that can be taken by the player, in multiple combinations. It’s so complex that one of the actions had to be a special category called “not an action.”

“Once you’ve been playing for six months it’s not that complicated,” Mona said. “But when someone’s trying to explain it’s like, ‘Wait, what?’ What these guys have done is they’ve put together an action economy that essentially says you have three actions and one reaction every round. You want to move twice and attack? You can do that. You want to draw your sword and move and attack? That’s three actions. If you want to cast some super awesome spell, well, that in itself might take all three actions. Or it might take two. Or it might take one. And by doing that, it both makes the game easier to teach [and] it also opens up a whole bunch of interesting opportunities.”

Bulmahn said that there are no sacred cows this time around, especially as it applies to magic items.

“We’ve taken steps away from the items that are just like, ‘Here, have a small bonus to some ability score.’” Bulmahn said. “Instead, we’ve tried to focus on items that do wondrous, cool, amazing things. But, we also realized that we probably need a system that works the opposite the way gold works. As items become more powerful they become much more expensive, which means you’re incentivized to carry a bunch of little cheap items. Well, what we needed was a system that says, ‘No. You want more expensive items because you can only carry a limited number of items, so you better get the best bang for your buck.’”

Pathfinder Playtest will be published as a physical book, available for sale during this year’s Gen Con convention in Indianapolis, Indiana. It will also be available as an ebook and a PDF, as is traditional with Paizo. The final product will be available in 2019.

Whatever form the final second edition takes, Paizo said that it is committed to diversity at the table. Pathfinder Playtest includes a diversity statement, much like the latest edition of Dungeons & Dragons.

“Pathfinder really is for everyone,” Bulmahn said. “It doesn’t matter who you are. It doesn’t matter what you want to play. Pathfinder has a home for you. That’s more true now than it’s ever been in the past. As a company, we believe very strongly in a equality and fairness. The game table itself needs to be an inviting place for everybody, and that goes beyond just who you are but also what you want to play and how you want to play. That’s what Pathfinder is all about.”

But, Pathfinder Second Edition doesn’t have to be for the grognards who loved D&D 3.5, and still love the original Pathfinder.

“We are keeping all of the rule books for first edition Pathfinder in print in the paperback pocket guide size,” Mona said, “which has been enormously popular. We’ve got most of the books out now in that format. We’ve still got about a half-dozen or so to go. We’re going to continue publishing those and as long as people keep buying them at a reasonable rate.”

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