Old post is old. Original was August 22nd 2009.
I will, right now, take back what I said about 4e. It is a good game, I love the fact that it came out, and it has its benefits and perks. But I will always prefer 3e’s gritty realism and modular nature.
So when I heard about Pathfinder, I got excited. I was more than ready for a DND 3, notched up to the next level with all kinds of new features, incorporating everything that was basic and fun about DND 3 with the rules balancing of 3.5 and a bit of 4 mixed in there too, along with some crazy new setups tossed into the mix. I was not disappointed.
I was, however, mortified at the giynourmic bible that was dropped before me, and the 50$ price tag. Seriously, this thing is fucking huge. This is the RPG book that Savage Worlds or Warhammer take to high school to beat up bullies for them.
It’s huge for a reason though – this is literally the 3.5 PHB and DMG rolled into one. They cut out a few unneccesary parts from the DMG, but most of it’s all here, all of it modified to the new Pathfinder system. I will only cover areas that actually require mentioning, as this is blatantly a spinoff and improvement of 3.5 and areas that have not been changed (IE, stats and the bonuses within) don’t need mentioning. Having said thus, let us press on! (NOTE: I haven’t read this in depth. I have missed many things, but this is just what sticks out thus far. As I said, this book is fucking huge.)
The first thing I notice is that the old +2, -2 system of stat points apparently wasn’t liked very much, because now it’s a +2 +2 -2. Dwarves, for example, get +2 Wis, +2 Con, and -2 Cha. I kind of like this, as it puts a bit more favoritism on the player, but not horrendously. It also acknowledges that, much like 4e did, stat points are fun! Since 3e places so much emphasis on them they can’t be handed out like candy IE 4th, but this is a nice middle ground.
Half anythings of the -orc and -elf variety, as well as humans, get all the midway bonuses that were present, and…+2 in any stat. This, I think, is nice, as it compliments the system of humans being middle-of-the-road, but not making Humans the option. You get less stat points, albeit you can put it in Str or Dex. Half-orcs also start out with proficiency in orc weapons and some of the bigger, harder hitting ones, much like how elves are good with longblades and bows.
Classes are the ‘meat’ of the changes, which is good as they are the core of the game. I won’t go over everything but I will go over each class and cover the kind of improvements made. (NOTE: since I don’t know where to put it, I wanted to throw in that all level 0 spells, Orisons and Cantrips, are completely free and unlimited. The only change is that Cure/Inflict Minor became Stabilize/Bleed. More in the Magic section, in Part 2).
Barbarians – Holy fuck yes. Barbarians now, while raging, get rage powers starting at 2nd and every other level thereafter. These are incredibly varied, and consist of things as free intimidate check with a bonus, bonuses to jumping checks, bonuses to climb checks, a bite attack, bonus to a strength check (and only a check, not an attack) for a round, ability to instantly double-run towards a fleeing opponent, bonus hit points, bull rush plus damage, immunity to fear, bonus to armor, autoconfirm a critical hit, etc etc etc. They get two entire pages of options for these. Shit yes.
Bards – Bards were useful, but honestly, being a master of none really sucks in DND. Sure you can bust out just about anything you wanted in a pinch, but you didn’t have much keeping you going in 3.5. This got kept about, but on the bright side, as they get better, they become skillcheck masters. Such as, at 2nd 6th and every 4 levels thereafter, he can pick up his Perform skill and use it in place of a real skill check, IE, if you have Perform Act, you can instead use Bluff or Disguise with the Perform Act’s skill check. At 5th, they can take 10 on any knowledge skill they have ranks in, and 20 once per day on any skillcheck, and uses go up with level. This nicely replaces the sometimes useless Lore check. Later on, he starts to be able to use any skill check trained or no, automatically pick up any skills as Class skills, and at level 19 he can do any skill and take 10. They also get a few nice additional song capabilities, but they are plainly the skillcheck masters this time around.
Cleric - Just because they heal you doesn’t mean they like you.
They usually didn’t anyway, because they spent all their time dumping their best and most interesting spells for spontaneous Cure. Well now they don’t have to! My favorite addition to Pathfinder is the Channel Energy. They can burn this up 3+Charisma per day, and it can either be used to harm undead (Straight damage, no hit dice rolls or anything) or heal allies. It goes up an additional d6 every other level. This is perfect. It restricts their healing by another route but it does not sap up all their spontaneous healing. They can still Spont Cast, of course, but it isn’t mandatory. Hell yes. Some of the domains get bonuses, as well, and they work somewhat similar to an inbetweener of 3.5 and 4e, for example, Strength domain gives you the strength surge like in old edition, but at 8th level you also get to add your cleric level as an enhancement bonus to Str for rounds equal to cleric level but only for checks and skills.
Druid – Now here’s an odd one. They can still Wild Shape, and it functions mostly the same. They also (I think?) modified Wild Empathy to being a druid-only ability similar to Diplomacy, but it isn’t a skill. They add their level and Charisma, which is a nice bonus at later levels. They also get animal companions, which I especially like because the monsters you can take are statted and listed in the Druid section, and it covers everything from apes to birds to crocodiles to sharks to wolves. The best thing though, is that these companions progress with the druid, getting bonuses to saves, BAB, natural armor, a Str and Dex boost, Tricks, and feats like Multiattack or Improved Evasion. I’m not too familiar if this is the same as 3.5, as my experience with druids is sadly lacking.
Fighter - Oh hey there Fighter, I didn’t recognize you with that gigantic pile of bonuses surrounding your head. What’s that, you got sick of bonus feats? Well, me too!
They get minor improvements, but it’s all necessary, Weapon Training giving them progression in weapon groups rather than weapon specifics. However this is the one part of the book I don’t like – you get WT at 5th, 9th, 13th, and 17th. This means that the weapon group you picked first will no doubt be the weaker one, but between 5th and 9th you are going to use one from that group, then abandon it once you get new WT. If I pick lightblades at 5th, I have a +2 bonus waiting in Axes at 9th. This is incredibly easy to fix, however, as I have just ruled that it works like Ranger’s favored enemy progression, in that as you pick new groups they get +1, whereas the old selections get an additional +1 each time. So by the time I hit 20th level, I’d have a +4 in the group I picked at 5th. Why they thought this would be a good idea is beyond me. (EDIT: This is actually what they did and I read it wrong.)
They also get Armor Training, which reduces the AC penalty and increases the dex bonuses. These notch up at 3rd level, 7th, 11th, and 15th. One of my favorite things is, at 20th level, he can pick a single weapon (not a group) and get autoconfirm critical hits and an increase of crit range (X2 to X3 for example). Shit yeah! It’s sexy as hell but A – it is 20th level, and B – not everything can be crit.
Monk - Thankfully Paizo recognized that everything revolved around Stunning Fist uses, and removed this. Stunning Fist still is governed by its own rules (And you can use it four times a day as a monk), but instead at 4th level they get a ki pool of points to draw from for their supernatural feats. If you have ki points left, your unarmed count as magic attacks (then lawful then adamantine, as in 3.5). But you can burn up points to do an additional attack at your highest bonus (Basically another Flurry attack), add +4 to AC for a round. They brought back Leap of the Clouds from 3.0 (EEEEEE!), but modified it. Instead Monks get a level bonus to jump checks and always count as having a running start. And, better yet, put a point from the ki pool and you get a +20. I can see so many uses of the ki pool for homebrew feats and abilities it makes me giddy.
Paladins – Another class who got boring real fast. Now, every 3 levels, they get a ‘Mercy,’ which is a conditions their Lay on Hands can cure, IE, at 3rd they can pick from fatigued, shaken, or sickened. These get better and better, but there will always be conditions a paladin can’t cure. They also can channel like a Cleric at 4th, replacing their crappy Turn check. They radiate the same amount of energy, so they can heal in a pinch, but it consumes Lay on Hands, which she has little of. They get a few nice perks – Divine Bond is a way to channel the power of the god into the weapon, which is cool and gives nice bonuses including straight temporary +1-5, or axiomatic, brilliant energy, flaming burst, keen, etc. when you want to whup some ass.
Ranger – Favored enemy is back, but Humanoid is no longer the only category. Instead Humanoid breaks down into human, orc, reptilian, dwarf, elf, giant, etc etc etc. Instead of the oldest bonus getting the best bonus, now you can apply the bonus wherever you want, including the one you just got. So now picking Undead at first level isn’t completely idiotic! Combat Style Feats are back, of course, and mostly unchanged. They also get Favored Terrain, which I think was in 3.5? It gives them a +2 on certain checks in that condition, and they get it multiple times. They also get a slightly modified animal companion, with the option of just making the companion your PC allies, which is actually kind of cool. When you wish, you can give your favored bonus to an ally for a few rounds. Animal companions work like druids except their effective level is the druid’s -3. One cool perk is Camouflage, where you just hit the deck and can automatically hide in a favored terrain, regardless of if there’s an area to hide. Like some classes, at 20th he becomes a master and professional, and gets tons of bonuses and the ability to slay a favored enemy outright.
Rogues - Oddly, rogues seem mostly unchanged. They did however give them slightly less powerful talents at earlier levels they can pick from, and these are separate from the later talents, called Rogue Talents and Advanced Talents. Rogue Talents consist of being able to cast the odd 0 level spell and then 1st level spell (which is a nice way of circumventing sor/rog combos being mandatory), disabling traps in half time, Weapon Finesse as the feat, full speed while stealthed, etc. Advanced Talents involve the same thing from 3.5′s old rogue talents. Again, at 20th level they get insane bonuses and an ability, this time the ability to put a target to sleep for 1d4 hours, paralyze for 2d6 rounds, or killed outright. Save stops, of course, but it does make Assassin prestige class less interesting.
Sorcerer – Fuck. Yes. You know how Sorcerers got to fling crazy amounts of spells but always felt a little lacking when wizards, at later levels, could fling less spells but pick from absolutely anything in the world? Paizo listened, and they responded. Sorcerers get the same amount and per day of spells, but when picking a bloodline power (Such as aberrant, abyssal, arcane, destined, elemental, or yes, Draconic, and there’s many more) the character gets skills, bonus spells, bonus feats, and unique capabilities distinct to the bloodline. Aberrant become less susceptible to critical hits (25%, then later 50%), and can stretch their limbs for touch attacks, and at 20th become completely immune to crits and sneak attacks, blindsight, and damage reduction. You might think, but I don’t want to look like I just came out of Urokotsudoji! Well that’s fine, if you’re all boring and stupid and my dad you can be Destined instead, giving you bonuses but nothing creative or weird, you stupid stupid person. And, as always, 20th level gives you insane benefits depending on your heritage.
Wizard – Since Sorcerers got so much they felt it was mean to leave wizards alone. They Bond to an object or familiar, which sounds odd but it basically ensures that a wizard is never found without his amulet, ring, staff, etc. Not having the object means you have to do Concentration to maintain the spell. They can channel a spell for you that you haven’t prepared, giving some much-needed utility to the wizard. Nicely, if you have Craft skills, you can improve the object over time. This means you can turn your staff into a progressively more powerful Staff of Defense +1 if you so choose. This means that Familiars are not inherently better, as you can easily have a special wand or ring or staff and just waive the +2 to whatever and, in exchange, spontaneously cast a spell.
Specializing benefits are similar to bloodline powers, sorta. But they couple nicely with the favored school, meaning that if you pick it as your favored you will be better than someone with a different favored school. My favorite is Illusions – at first level you can cast an illusion and, after you stop concentrating, it will endure for additional rounds equal to half your Wizard level. This means you can juggle multiple illusions and, possibly, spells. At 20th, you can turn a concentration duration illusion to ‘permanent.’ You also gain the ability to fire a ray that blinds for a round, but if they have more hit dice, are dazzled instead. At 8th – and this is my favorite part – they can become invisible at will as a swift action for rounds per day equal to Wizard levels. And this does not have to be consecutive. Holy shit this is awesome.
Again, if you’re boring you can pick Evocation and fling more devastatingly powerful spells, get a free Magic Missile, and create a Wall of (Element) for a similar duration of the Illusionist’s ability, and yes it does not have to be consecutive. These fantastic powers make Divination useless, right? Nope! Divination Wizards always act in the surprise round, grant insight bonuses to attack rolls, skill checks, ability checks, and saving throws for a round equal to half your wizard level, and at 8th always know if you’re being scried on and can scry easier. Universalists get a few abilities but they are far inferior to the others.
One thing I’m not too sure about when it comes to sorcerers and wizards – they get a d6 hit dice now. Bwuh? I’ll have to think about that one for a while. It sounds like it’s rooted in 4e’s attempt to make everyone more durable, but it really sticks out for me.
Skills are interesting. They combined Search Spot and Listen into Perception (thank god), and Tumble, Jump, etc into Acrobatics. They also added Fly as a skill, which replaces the Clumsy/Poor/Perfect/Etc flying system of 3.5. You only need it for maneuvers that are complex. This does not give the ability to fly, however it is required for anyone who wishes to fly, IE, druids who shapeshift, wiz/sors who cast Fly, etc.