Pathfinder 2nd Edition review: Across the Universe

Paizo /

Updating their rules for the first time in over a decade, Pathfinder 2nd Edition offers a broader array of options to play for newbies and seasoned players.

Title: Pathfinder 2nd Edition (Core Rulebook, Bestiary)
Publisher: Paizo Publishing
Release Date: August 1, 2019

Paizo has a reputation for creating overly complex RPG systems. When they released the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game core rulebook 10 years ago, it was quickly likened to the 3.75 version of Dungeons and Dragons, as it took those core rules and went even further into the weeds, coming up with rules for almost every scenario one could think of in a tabletop world.

After a decade of exploring the world of Golarion, establishing its lore, creating iconics and providing dozens of supplementary texts, Paizo has finally (finally) taken the next step forward in releasing Pathfinder 2nd Edition. While they remain a stickler for finding rules for every scenario, this new release simplifies the starting process yet offering a dense, dynamic series of player options.

The basics

Like all other tabletop RPG systems, Pathfinder 2nd Edition is about providing the foundation for what you should expect to see in the world around you. The core rulebook has everything you need to play within Golarion or a universe of the Game Master’s creations, but what comes standard is a lot stronger in what you can do.

There are six main ancestries to choose from, each with a multitude of backgrounds for players. Not only do these race and background options contextualize the history and in-universe standing, but allow players to get an immediate understand of the depth to which they can roleplay playing this version. Furthermore, with half-human ancestries branching into backgrounds, there’s a richer baseline for which to create your character.

It’s an excellent way for first-time RPG players to jump in and push through the complex systems and, instead, learn them over time through their natural progression.

Comparing the classic edition to Second Edition, making a goblin character standard in addition to half-orcs opens up the perspective of what it is to be an entity within your game universe. What does a reformed goblin look like in a city generally occupied by humans? You can also see the preferred class and archetype structures as you create your character, letting you visualize different types of characters you can embody based on the background and class choices.

Classes remain mostly traditional, but because of the game’s focus on creating more unique character backgrounds (allowing players to specialize better), each offers multiple sample builds. It’s an excellent way for first-time RPG players to jump in and push through the complex systems and, instead, learn them over time through their natural progression.

I will say, however, that the introduction of making an alchemist as a base character at the sacrifice of having a warlock standard (there are plenty of magic users in Pathfinder Second Edition) is a reasonably noteworthy change. It gives more of a focus on support builds. Plus, expanding paladins to champions in creating three different types of religious warriors is a compelling addition.

Pathfinder 2nd Edition classes page
Paizo /


There’s no getting around it; Pathfinder 2nd Edition is a veritable tome. There are 638 pages of text guiding players on their next tabletop adventures, which can be quite nerve-wracking for someone who has never even gone so far as to create a character before. However, what I found most exciting for learning the system was how compartmentalized everything is now, even with its added length.

Over the years, Paizo has moved away from the Wizards of the Coast font typecase, and the new books fully realize their bolder, panel-oriented approach to content layout. This works well to complement and highlight information conveyed to the reader, with pop-in panels serving as conversation points and suggestions rather than tell players and GMs how to run their games.

One thing I found to be an interesting design choice was the heavy use of stat blocks used to contextualize most player-oriented gameplay info. From character background bonuses to feats, to skill descriptions even to activities and basic gameplay maneuvers, primary gameplay functions are blocked out in a rigid formula.

Though it helped to explain and concentrate new information for experienced Pathfinder players such as myself, I fear it may be too complex and tax form-like for new players. I understand this means providing more variety, but there comes a point where information overload can provide a more bogged down first-read look for players peeking these sacred texts.

Pathfinder 2nd Edition card reading
Paizo /

Pathfinder 2nd Edition does a good job of presenting the information players need to create their characters in their required order. You have a much more visual array for ancestors (character races), classes, skills, and feats, and the book does a great job of painting a picture for what people within Golarion (the publisher-provided basic world) will perceive when it comes to character archetypes.

Roleplaying games are an escape, and seeing Pathfinder 2nd Edition provide ways to minimize conflicts as much as possible makes the game accessible in more ways than before.

There’s a lot of love for Golarion, as the core rulebook provides you a brief overview of the Age of Lost Omens. With the Game Mastering section breaking down the more nitty-gritty rules for creating worlds, a comprehensive exploration of how to play this role-playing game, and a hearty four-page character creation sheet package (which could do with a lot less brown backgrounds), there’s a lot to unpack.

What I do love is the active influence in creating a comfortable experience for all. Roleplaying games are an escape, and seeing Pathfinder 2nd Edition provide ways to minimize conflicts as much as possible makes the game accessible in more ways than before. I especially found a fondness for rules exceptions in creating characters with physical and mental ailments, as it will open up more world-building possibilities to those who overlooked such a thing.

Pathfinder 2nd Edition spell preparation
Paizo /

Gameplay systems

Despite still being rooted in complexity, there are marked differences in the classic system and Pathfinder 2nd Edition. Chief among them is the switch from a standard action/move action/swift action round to a three-action pool for encounters, creating a more dynamic set of actions for players.

What each player can do in combat depends on how they build their classes through the new feat-oriented gameplay system. Having several options as characters level up at each level, as well as building from distinct subclasses (or, sometimes, fields of magic) gives players an embarrassment of riches, paint a tapestry for use to build your paragon of power.

More from Reviews

Speaking of building characters, I’m a big fan of the new ability boost system. Having that basic 10 stats baseline across all abilities and upgrading them over time allows for better specialization in specific builds, especially when adapting a mastery level skill focus that sees characters improve their core skills into advanced levels of proficiency over time. Capping at 18 for level 1 and each boost afterward increasing the score by just one also prevents the most aggressive min-maxers.

How skills differ in Pathfinder 2nd Edition over the classic game is based on having trained or untrained proficiency. There’s a difference between being able to try and administer first aid and treating disease, and forcing players to be specialized in order to perform some maneuvers in any given skill means having a team has to adapt as opposed to having one skill point in a variety of skills as seen in prior versions.

Pathfinder 2nd Edition naval combat
Paizo /

All of the new Pathfinder gameplay is based on breaking a session, adventure or campaign down by its three tiers; combat, exploration, and downtime. By contextualizing activities, feat/skill functions and spells recovery down to these functions, players not only have a gaming-oriented idea of their characters but can build lore-based reasoning for what they’re doing and what their purpose is within your enjoyed world.

Spells have been given a more precise power upscaling method for those using lower-level spells at a higher level. Focus spells have their own section, ritual spells are more fleshed out, and despite having more spells, the descriptions are fairly informative and not too indirect when it comes to more dynamically-used spells.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the changes to the Monster Manual. The stat blocks and lore backing remains, but there are occasional instances of iconic monsters from other properties given new names, yet their original names remain. This helps those trying to cross-stitch or adapt their current campaigns to a new rule set, and the way that the books describe similar monsters gives GMs a better understanding in creating entertaining, logical encounters.

Pathfinder 2nd Edition zombies
Paizo /

Overall thoughts

Without going through hundreds of hours to run through a full-term campaign to its conclusion, I cannot accurately predict whether or not Pathfinder 2nd Edition will encounter metagaming problems down the line. However, I found that the game can be fairly complex with its core systems but rather simplified in others.

Each class offers something new to the table, and I cannot wait to see more than just test sessions play out across full adventures.

For example, the change to the bulk system for encumbrance (strength modifier plus five), with most items being negligible weight or ten light items equalling one bulk seems rather simple, but as you start to gather equipment such as magic items (especially with dextrous combat specialists), it seems like there are unintended consequences down the line with the amount of content you can carry.

At other times, however, the changes to make the system simpler make the choices within to become more complex. Armor and weapon selections are now dramatically varied now thanks to added bonuses such as weapon/armor traits, strength requirements to offset armor penalties, and changes to the simple gold stack of 15 gold per character.

I’m sure there will be starting builds and character archetypes, backgrounds, ancestries and more that will embody the true min-max lifestyle, but Pathfinder 2nd Edition, to me, is about getting players through to gameplay as quickly as possible. This is evident with preset build samples and Golarion worldbuilding info offered within the margins.

Pathfinder 2nd Edition goblin alchemist
Paizo /

It’s on the back end that Paizo’s density with scenario-dependent rules and gameplay customization options that Pathfinder 2nd Edition shines through, as it gives players of any experience level what they need out of the game. You can find narrative, roleplaying information out of your character build just as much as you can find gameplay molds born from how you want to roleplay your character.

I found that this version of Pathfinder marries the complexity of its 3.5-based ruleset origins with a gamey-like approach to building a potential power fantasy escapism for its players. Each class offers something new to the table, and I cannot wait to see more than just test sessions play out across full adventures.

Pathfinder 2nd Edition is a robust, ambitious tabletop RPG that streamlines the startup process for beginners yet goes into great depths for character creation and customization. The shift to a narrative-focused exploration of all facets of role-playing mechanics will help groups better understand what it means to immerse yourself in a fantasy world, and I cannot wait to see what people create on a grander scale.

Must Read. The 50 Best RPGs Of All Time. light

A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.