How Pathfinder Reignited My Tabletop Passion

Folks, I’ve got a confession to make: when it comes to tabletop RPGs, I’ve been burning out pretty hard.

“But Ethan,” I’m pretending you’re saying, “What about What Kind of Monster Are You?!, your more-or-less weekly column about cool D&D monsters? You’ve kept up with that! And what about a few weeks ago, when your Screen Time article for the Star-Gazette was gushing about Rime of the Frostmaiden? You seem pretty excited about tabletop games to me!”

That’s fair. I suppose it’s not entirely true to say I’ve been burning out on gaming in general, but I’ve definitely been burning out on DMing. I’m almost always the Dungeon Master for my group, you see, and while it’s a role I’m happy to serve in, I’ve gradually grown disenchanted with my current campaign. There are a few reasons for that.

The first is just good ol’ depression. I haven’t been coping the best with the whole pandemic situation, and there have been a lot of weeks where I’m just not up to running a game for people. Unfortunately, that has been a major contributing factor to another issue I’ve started to have with this game. The campaign itself is a heavily-modified version of Waterdeep: Dragon Heist, so there’s a lot of intrigue to keep track of, and going a month between sessions is not conducive to my players remembering what’s going on.

Which brings me to the last draining aspect of my campaign–it’s a module. It’s the first time I’ve ever run a module; in my decade of DMing, I’ve always run my own plots, often in homebrewed worlds. At first, running out of a book was an exciting novelty, but the longer it’s gone, the less I’ve enjoyed it. I just feel… shackled to the narrative in a way I don’t enjoy. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not doing a direct translation of the text–I added in a ton of stuff from the Acquisitions Incorporated book, I’ve created a group of rivals that framed my players and forced them on the run for awhile, all kinds of stuff. But at the end of the day, things come back to this Stone of Golorr plot that simply doesn’t appeal to me anymore.

I’ve been grinding out sessions when I can, because I love my players, I love their characters, and I love the zany stuff that’s happened when I left the module behind. But to be frank, most weekly game nights I’m either feeling eager to get the session over with or guilty for not running things after all.

Luckily, last weekend, something happened that totally recharged my dice-rolling battery: I found out about Humble Bundle’s Pathfinder 2nd Edition deal.

Although I’ve largely posted about D&D 5E here, Pathfinder is the game I cut my teeth on. The first tabletop game I ever played was D&D 4E, yes, but my group very quickly moved on to Pathfinder, and that’s where we stayed for years. It wasn’t until Pathfinder 2E was entering playtest that we switched over to D&D 5E–in part because we were skeptical about aspects of that playtest, and in part because I had to buy the D&D 5E books for a work project and ended up enjoying the system.

Thus, I never looked at PF2E‘s final version until this Humble Bundle came along, and boy do I feel foolish for waiting so long!

There’s so much to love about this system. I don’t want to do a formal review here because I haven’t finished reading the Core Rulebook yet, nor have I had a chance to actually run a session (though that’s in the works!). However, I do want to highlight a few things that have me extremely excited to try this system out.

First of all, let’s talk about how PF2E handles what most games would call ‘race.’ You know, are you a human, an elf, a dwarf? This has been a subject of much conversation in the tabletop space lately, as D&D has been reckoning with a history of problematic racial stereotypes baked into their orcs and drow. So, how does PF2E deal with it? Well, first of all, they don’t call it ‘race’–they call it ‘Ancestry.’ I like this terminology. On top of that, your Ancestry can have many different kinds of heritage–the equivalent of D&D‘s sub-races, except there are a lot more of them per Ancestry here! Each Ancestry also grants access to a bunch of interesting and flavorful Ancestry Feats. Admittedly, D&D 5E has a few of these as well, but again–there’s so many more options in PF2E. That’s largely because of the way the system handles feats, which brings me to my next point.

In D&D 5E, feats are optional. They’re a very small part of the system; there aren’t a ton of them, and you don’t get very many of them as you level up even if you do use them. In PF2E, feats are the cornerstone of the system! They were important in 1E as well, but unfortunately, that game developed feat bloat–there were so many feats to deal with, it was overwhelming. Even though 2E puts even more emphasis on feats, though, there’s less risk of feat bloat because of how feats are divided up. There are Ancestry Feats, Class Feats, Skill Feats, and General Feats, and you get different feat types at different levels. I love this because it adds so much customization to every character! If you build two Human Fighters in D&D 5E, the main way to differentiate them will be through your subclass, but outside of those few subclass levels, they’re going to have more-or-less the same abilities. In PF2E, there’s a lot more room for two Human Fighters to play much differently, because they could have much different feats. And these feats are meaty, too–they often give access to completely new combat actions or abilities.

Related to feats: let’s talk about Archetypes! In PF1E, Archetypes were sort of like sub-classes–they would replace certain aspects of a given class. There were also Prestige Classes: special advanced classes you could multiclass into. In PF2E, Archetypes are instead feat trees you can take that grant access to additional, specialized Class Feats. This makes them a nice middle ground between old-school Archetypes (by offering additional feats that might ‘replace’ Class Feats in a player’s build) and Prestige Classes (by offering unique abilities not found in regular classes), while also simplifying both. It’s brilliant!

That’s far from the only smart design choice I could go on about. Attack of Opportunity has been turned into a Fighter class feature (though some other classes can pick it up as a feat), which will make combat much more fluid because the map won’t get ‘locked down’ once everyone has engaged in melee combat. The traditional ‘move, minor, standard’ action convention has been broken; now everyone gets three actions per turn, which can be used for a huge variety of stuff, making turns much more strategic and interesting. Animal companions have been revamped, spellcasting has been tinkered with a bit–and I’ve yet to see a change that I don’t like.

Seeing a new system–one filled with fresh design choices and an incredible amount of flexibility and customization–has got me excited to run games again. Not so much my D&D 5E game, admittedly, but that’s okay; that game is approaching its end anyway, and now I have something new to look forward to when its done. Tabletop games have been a huge part of my life for the last ten years, and it was really getting me down that my enthusiasm for them was starting to falter. Thankfully, Pathfinder 2E has pulled me out of those doldrums, and now I’m more excited than ever to start gaming again!

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