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D&D 3.x Officially to Die, as Paizo Pushes Pathfinder 2nd Edition

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By Nelson Schneider - 05/05/18 at 04:23 PM CT

I’ve frequently praised Paizo, the third-party tabletop RPG publishing house turned savior of tabletop gaming, for their consistency and willingness to stick with a rules set for a long time. Unfortunately, that praise must now come to an end, as over the last few months, Paizo has been sending out e-mail blasts promoting the upcoming 2nd Edition of the Pathfinder RPG which will enter active playtesting on August 2 of this year. It’s a pretty crappy birthday gift for me to have nearly 20 rulebooks in my tabletop RPG collection obsoleted in one fell swoop… but my tabletop gaming group hasn’t used Pathfinder in a couple years in favor of Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, anyway.

While D&D 5E reverted a significant portion of its mechanics to be more similar to 2nd Edition, it also decided to adopt ‘bounded accuracy’ – which is code for ‘flatter numbers’ – in order to address balance issues, it won’t be clear what Paizo intends to do to address the numerous math issues plaguing Pathfinder until we actually get to see the (free) PDF test materials, but their Playtest FAQ already seems to express a desire to streamline and simplify the overwhelming number of +/- modifiers that bog down D&D 3.x and 1E Pathfinder. I’ve been very happy with D&D 5E improvements so far, but Paizo definitely has their work cut out for them, which is one of the reasons I was willing to give D&D 5E the benefit of the doubt after the disastrous 4E.

The major problems with 1st Edition Pathfinder, as I see them, are 4-fold.

1. Melee damage doesn’t scale proportionally with enemy HP, and extra attacks are almost always guaranteed to miss against enemies with larger HP pools (and thus higher Challenge Ratings and higher armor classes). This causes high-level battles to turn into absolute slogs, since that 1d8+Strength points of damage dealt by a longsword can handily dispatch a lowly goblin in a single blow, but barely scratches a CR 10+ beastie.

2. Spell saving throw Difficulty Class doesn’t increase proportionally to enemy saving throw bonuses. As a result, any spell that allows a save for half-damage ALWAYS deals half-damage, and any spell that allows a save to negate a debuff or other penalty becomes useless as the target will ALWAYS negate the debuff or penalty.

3. The only way currently in the 1st Edition Pathfinder rules (heavily based on the Open Game License D&D 3.x D20 rules) to mitigate issues 1 and 2 is to invest heavily in Feat trees, with weapon-focused characters forced to take Power Attack, Vital Strike, Improved Vital Strike, and Greater Vital Strike and magic-focused characters forced to take Spell Focus and Greater Spell Focus just to keep up.

4. The mandatory investment in these specific Feats in order to keep damage output comparable to enemy health pools by and large negates the original purpose of the Feat system. Feats are supposed to allow players to make characters of the same class feel diverse from each other, instead of providing basic functionality that should be part of the core Class Features to begin with.

Granted, these mathematical problems could be solved quite easily by simply House Ruling that every character gets the necessary Feats for free as bonuses as they level-up, but that’s still ultimately a band-aid solution slapped on a deep, underlying issue with the system’s math.

I plan to download and read the playtest material once it becomes available in August, but whether or not my tabletop group decides to give Pathfinder 2E as second (pun intended) glance all comes down to what these new rules reveal. If they’re semi-compatible with D&D 5E, I can see my group picking-up and splicing-in a few Paizo rules to shore up 5E’s annoyances. None of us are heavily invested in 5E rulebooks either, thanks in large part to Wizards of the Coast holding a far more sedate release schedule for sourcebooks that actually contain rules, so if Pathfinder 2E turns out to be mindblowing, we might set D&D aside again in favor of the new flavor.

Regardless, this August is truly the end of an era. D&D 3rd Edition rocked the tabletop RPG world in the year 2000, was revised in 2003, and was nearly scuttled in 2007, but Pathfinder kept it alive and kicking – even flourishing – for a decade beyond its planned obsolescence. It’s not quite as good as the 1977-1999 run held by the largely-cross-compatible editions of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons under TSR, but it definitely provided a stable platform for us to geek-out on. Let’s hope that Pathfinder 2E and D&D 5E both have nice, long lives ahead of them.

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