Pathfinder 2nd Edition - A brief walk-through

Stephen Radney-MacFarland recently ran a few of the Wizards and some other heavy-hitters through a Pathfinder 2nd Edition scenario. It was a ton of fun and I will reiterate here that I do enjoy playing Pathfinder. It is precisely the amount of crunch that I want as a player to customize my character. So in this pretty long entry, we're going to do a brief walk-through of Pathfinder 2nd edition.

We have a couple of good clips from the game where SRM discusses some key updates to the game and how they were able to streamline things like combat:

There are significant additional changes to the game, some of which are outlined below. All in all, it's goodness for the game and I think Pathfinder will benefit from it. Getting people to try it and make that decision for themselves might be another story.

While you're here, be sure to check out our post on Kobold Press' Monster Codex II!

Character Creation


Race is now referred to as "Ancestry". Ancestries grant a flat number of Hit Points at character creation. Ancestries give far few abilities up-front when compared to Pathfinder 1st Edition, but, as we will see, feats allow for far more customization in the end. Ancestries also give a choice of a "Heritage" which account for things like Wood Elf, Dark Elf, Deep Gnome, Rock Gnome, etc.

Ability scores are split into mental and physical groups. Each ability score starts at a 10 and can be manipulated based upon how you develop your character. So instead of a "point buy" or rolling your stats randomly, you can create the character you want with the stats in the appropriate places.

In order to increase your stats, you apply ability boosts. Sometimes, particularly with ancestry traits, characters will also have ability flaws, which decrease the stat.

Every ability boost increases the stat by +2, while every flaw decreases it by -2. The exception to this is at an ability score of 18 or higher, the bonus for an ability boost is instead +1.


Some interesting changes here, but for the most part it will be recognizable to any fantasy RPG player. Key changes are:

1) There is no "Paladin", there are "Champions". While the name change may sound silly, it has some significant weight behind it. The biggest being that the Champion can be ANY alignment, following ANY deity. I really like this bit. One of my favorite D&D classes was the Illrigger from the old Dragon magazine - a lawful evil paladin class.

2) The alchemist is now a core class in Pathfinder 2nd Edition. While not a huge change, it is an important one. Particularly for those players who have ever been faced with a GM who wants to "stick with the core books only".

Characters also now gain a base amount of HP per level instead of a die roll. They have a "Key Ability Score" which is used with each class proficiency modifier in order to determine the DC of various class abilities.

While static hit points may seem a little cookie cutter, most classes are FAR more customizable through the use of feats. Plus, most classes have a subclass choice that further diversifies each character.

All in all, there is still plenty of crunch for players who have come to expect that from their Pathfinder games.


One of the cool things I like about Pathfinder 2 is the proficiency system. Now instead of just trained or untrained, characters have degrees of knowledge: untrained, trained, expert, master, and legendary. Untrained is a 0 modifier, while legendary provides +8. No more skill point tracking - particularly nice for rogues and bards!


Characters gain quite a bit more feats as they level up, but that is because feats are the main mechanic for customizing a character. Generally speaking, characters receive at least one feat per level. There are four different categories of feats now: Ancestry, General, Skill, and Class. Archetype feats (see below) are also a thing, but are for players who want to multi-class.

Ancestry: Ancestry feats represent things you've gotten from your ancestry.

Skill: Skill feats are feats that are related to your characters skills and proficiency. One of the cool things about this is that Skill feats add new actions you can take with the skill it enhances.

General: General feats include skill feats, but also other things such as armor and weapon training.

Class: Class feats unlock new abilities and powers for each class.


Pathfinder 2 takes an entirely different look at multi-classing. No longer do players "take another class". Instead, Pathfinder has doubled-down on feats customization, allowing players to take feats that give them other class abilities. Archetype feats allow a character to open up abilities from other classes through "feat trees". These "feat trees" allow a player to tailor their characters in a multitude of ways.

Character Advancement

New Ways of Leveling Up: one of the key components of "Old School" gaming has always been "XP" or experience points. Characters earn XP for killing monsters, they gain a level, and then they continue adding XP while the bar to make the next level increases. One of the biggest "house rules" I see today are people who instead use "benchmarks" for leveling.

Pathfinder 2nd Edition takes something of a middle ground here. Instead of an ever-increasing goal to reach, the static number is 1,000 XP per level. Creatures and challenges give XP based upon their difficulty to the group. In other words they scale as the characters gain level. Once a character reaches 1,000 XP, they level up and go back to 0 XP.

Modes of Play

While it has always been something of an unspoken thing in Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder 2nd Edition has codified three distinct play modes in the game. Abilities work differently (or may not work at all) depending upon which mode the players are in.

  • Encounter: Also known as Combat mode. This is the mode most familiar to players and is the most structured. Action economy has changed, but should still be mostly recognizable.

  • Exploration: 10 minute increments! This is the time spent exploring a dungeon or walking through the forest.

  • Downtime: This mode is spent in 1 day increments and is used for things like crafting, working, treating diseases, traveling, and the like.


In Encounter Mode, characters receive 3 actions. They can choose to use these actions in any way they see fit. This is far more simple than even Dungeons & Dragons 5e. If you want to move, it's an action. Attack, it's an action. Drink a potion, it's an action. Reactions can by used at anytime the trigger for them are met. Free actions still exist as well.


Like many other aspects of PF2, perception is now a grade or level and is no longer a skill. There are 4 different stages of detection: Unnoticed, Undetected, Hidden, Observed.

Unnoticed: Something unnoticed is completely unknown to the character.

Undetected: Something a character knows exists, but cannot find.

Hidden: Hide-and-Seek; a character knows where it is, but cannot see/detect it.

Observed: A character sees or detects it.

There are also 3 categories of Senses

Precise: This type of sense allows a character to Observe something.

Imprecise: Senses of this type allow a character or creature to get something to the equivalent of Hidden, but not Observed.

Vague: Senses in this category allow characters to make something Undetected at most.


Perhaps one of the most oft ignored rules in any RPG is encumbrance. Pathfinder 2 attempts to tackle this with Bulk.

A character can carry an amount of Bulk equal to 5 plus their Strength modifier without penalty. Carrying more than that, they gain the encumbered condition. A character may not hold or carry more Bulk than 10 + Strength modifier.

Bulk is represented as an entry with the item or equipment. It is either a number, a "L" for light, or a - for negligible. 10 "L" items equal 1 bulk. 1,000 coins equal 1 bulk.

Interestingly enough, you do not round-up. 1,999 coins or 19 light items are still 1 bulk each.


Magic has been greatly streamlined. There are no "spell-like abilities" or "supernatural abilities". Everything is just a spell now. Spells are cast, as usual, with some type of action, but the neat thing with Pathfinder 2 is that a spellcaster often has spells that have greater effects if the put more actions to it.

For example, the Heal spell

(1 Action) The spell has a range of touch. (2 Actions) The spell has a range of 30 feet. If you're healing a living creature, increase the Hit Points restored by 8. (3 Actions) You disperse positive energy in a 30-foot emanation. This targets all living and undead creatures in the burst.



Initiative is no longer a set "score" on the character sheet. Under normal circumstances, it is a Perception check, but it can be based on other skills. For example, if a character is actively sneaking around, they could end up rolling a Stealth check for Initiative when combat breaks out.


As such, "surprise" is no longer a status in Pathfinder 2. Perception (normally) determines initiative, not whether or not a creature is surprised. There are certain abilities that allow characters to gain a "surprise" attack, but for the most part it is gone.

Touch AC

Another change that I like and that I believe streamlines the game is the removal of various types of Armor Class. There is no longer a "touch AC", for example. Targets take a penalty to their AC if they are flat-footed, or under certain conditions. For spellcasters who rely on touch attacks for spells, they now use their primary caster attribute to hit, rather than Dexterity or Strength.

Talking Critical Hits:

Degrees of Success

Instead of translating this one, I just took it direct from the Paizo explanation:

In Pathfinder Second Edition, every check is rolled against a particular DC. Your roll on the d20 + your proficiency modifier + your ability modifier + all your relevant modifiers, bonuses, and penalties make up your check result. If your check result meets or exceeds the target DC, congratulations! You succeeded, and you might have critically succeeded. Otherwise, you failed. If you exceeded the target DC by 10 or more, or if you rolled a natural 20 and met or exceeded the target DC, then you critically succeeded. If your result was 10 or more lower than the target DC, or if you rolled a natural 1 and didn't meet the target DC, then you critically failed. Collectively, success, critical success, failure, and critical failure are called the four degrees of success. You can gain special abilities that increase or decrease your degree of success, often due to having a high proficiency rank. For instance, if your class grants you evasion, you get master proficiency in Reflex saves and treat any success on a Reflex save as a critical success!


Let's start with a fireball spell. In Pathfinder First Edition, if you succeed the Reflex save, you take only half damage, and evasion allows you to take no damage on a successful save. In Pathfinder Second Edition, here are the degrees of success for fireball (and many of its old friends like lightning bolt and cone of cold) in the playtest.

Success Half damage

Critical Success No damage

Failure Full damage

Critical Failure Double damage


Skills are cleaner and, unlike Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, have some definitive abilities associated with them. There is not much in the way of ambiguity about how skills can be used. Some skills have different actions available for them based upon how proficient a character is with the skill.

Acrobatics: Now encompasses both Fly and Escape Artist, in addition to all of the nimbly-bimbly stuff it covered before.

Athletics: This skill gets a huge boost in PF2, combining Swim and Climb. However, Athletics also now combines Disarm, Shove, Trip manuevers, AND when forcing doors or opening gates.

Deception: Formerly the two separate skills of Bluff and Disguise

Knowledge: These are now Arcana, Nature, Religion and Occultism. They allow a character to identify spells of that type, learn new spells, decipher writings, and recall knowledge related to that topic.

Lore: Formerly called Profession. This is generally some type of job or knowledge of the mundane. When a character uses their Lore to practice their trade, they make their check to earn money in doing so. Additionally, since all characters have some sort of background, they all have some sort of Lore skill that gives them a trade skill.

Medicine: Formerly called Heal. Non-magical healing is now pretty viable out-of-combat. It takes 10 minutes to heal 2d8 hit points. It scales with character advancement. It is no longer a 24-hour ability either (which I'm on the fence about, honestly). Instead it can be used every hour with a Skill Feat that reduces this to just 10 minutes!

Nature: In addition to the types of things it traditionally covers, the Nature skill also includes Handle Animgal and Ride.

Society: This is a pretty interesting skill. It includes linguistics, but also also is treated basically as a Survival skill in urban environments. It can also be used to decipher the writings of various languages a character does not know.

Thievery: Covers things the name would suggest. Also includes what used to be Sleight of Hand.

...So much more

I could not even begin to cover everything that has changed in the game. However, this gives you a pretty good feel for where the developers like Stephen Radney-MacFarland were going with the game when they were working on it. Streamline some of the stuff that did not make sense, but, as Jason Buhlman told me himself, they want the game to be crunchy for those fans who play Pathfinder for the crunch.

If you want to see how the game plays, please check out our game with the dev himself, Stephen Radney-MacFarland in the vid below!

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