Countdown to PF Playtest/PF 2, Part I – Skills and Traps

Dear readers,

 

this series of articles was made possible by the following list of amazing people:

-Jason Nelson

-BJ Hensley

-Chad Middleton

-Randy Price

-Christen Sowards

-Rick Hershey

-Chris Meacham

-Paco Garcia Jaen

-Justin Andrew Mason

-Stephen Rowe

-Jonathan Figliomeni

-Paul Fields

-Lucus Palosaari

-Anonymous

 

Now: I don’t have PF Playtest yet; analysis will commence once it arrives, but I figured I’d talk a bit about my hopes!

 

 

So yeah, I will start from the ground up, and talk about my hopes for the system – hopefully also highlighting some design-niches that may make sense filling!

 

My first subject matter would be skills. In Pathfinder, skill-use has been kinda awkward, considering how ridiculously easy it was to “game” a skill – the right spell and/or item, and you could plow well past any DCs that would have made sense for the level; for some skills, like Perception or Disable Device, this meant that one had to constantly keep them at the maximum or at least, very high, to retain their usefulness. Similarly, this disqualified skills as a means to reliably supplement attack rolls and similar rolls that adhere to a more tightly-controlled scaling.

 

So yeah, my first hope for skills is:

  • Hopefully, skills scale more organically and are not as gameable as they were.

 

The second big hope I have here pertains ROLEplaying. You know, the thing between combats? 😉 Just kidding, I think Pathfinder has taken some good steps with Ultimate Intrigue towards making noncombat encounters exciting; skill challenges and the like, particularly regarding forms of social combat, would be a huge plus for me. From interrogations to negotiations, I think a smoothly-integrated social combat system would benefit the game immensely, particularly when it can be used while engaged in combat – you know, talking foes down, etc. Pathfinder’s fast Diplomacy, for example, is not exactly exciting, so yeah…Seamless integration of social combat would be a big plus.

 

While we’re on the subject matter: Research and Crafting and Ritual Magic à la incantations could make use of analogue rules-structures and greatly diversify the stories told, the encounters, and the way in which Pathfinder runs. If this aspect is integrated properly, it could enhance the game in a ridiculous amount of ways. Just think about it: Rhetoric duels in front of the senate, facing down the equivalent of Cato; crafting a mighty weapon in the fires of the volcano, while dark forces attempt to crush you; researching a doomed family’s family tree to remove a curse, all while beset by hordes of the living dead – you can already pull off many of these, but having these types of challenges integrated into the base system would be pretty amazing. This would also tie into vehicle rules…

  • More diversified skill uses in combat.
  • Smooth integration of combat and skill challenges.
  • Engaging vehicle rules.

 

A more streamlined system in that regard would also allow the system to get rid of some of the most maligned components of the game. Traps and, to a degree, haunts. I love both traps and haunts; they can tell tales, are interesting, etc. – only, in most cases, they aren’t. There’s a room for a pit trap or a scything blade, sure. There are spaces where simple traps make sense. But for most of the time, they boil down to 2 rolls the rogue (or analogue class) makes while everyone’s bored. Failure means save or atk and then, damage on a, sometimes literally, stick. Looking for traps takes too long, and the consequences of success and failure are BORING.

 

So here’s what I hope for:

  • Quick disabling and Perception of non-too-cleverly-hidden traps.

Basically, I hope for two categories of traps: The simple ones (ranger lets a bear trap fall behind him to hamper pursuers) and the complex ones. 3rd party publishers have gravitated towards the latter, much to my joy: You know, the room, where the floor starts flipping, and the fighter can attempt to jam the hinge, the wizard slow down the mechanism, the rogue actually disabling the thing…the situation where gas or sand or water starts filling the room and the whole group is engaged. These types of traps, the complex ones, should have a more prominent part – and if the skill system potential noted above is properly implemented, they’d be yet another application of exactly this type of encounter-paradigm.

  • Complex traps that engage the whole party in meaningful ways.

Appraise is bland. Spellcraft and Knowledge (Arcana) could be consolidated.

Considering the quasi-archaeological angle of the Pathfinder Society, it would imho also make sense to think about Languages. They work in a binary manner that feels, to me, profoundly wrong. There should be degrees of fluency, and not every rank should be assigned a language. Even as a polyglot who has an easy time with new languages, I find Pathfinder’s wealth of languages known and how they are presented, frustrating. In my homegame, I have houseruled this away, and we had a GLORIOUS time when my players attempted to learn a lost language, looking for frescoes, inscriptions, etc., puzzling together the pieces. This doesn’t have to be complex, but it would tie in with the proposed increase in skill value, allowing for checks to e.g. find a faulty clause in a devil’s contract, thus allowing the outsider to break off an altercation in combat. Once more, seamless integration of skill-based systems would work wonders here.

  • A more “realistic” Linguistics that has, at least, niche value in some encounters.

Now, both Linguistics and aforementioned social combat ideas, have one downside – skill-wise, 3 “offensive” skills (Bluff, Diplomacy and Intimidate) are faced by but one “defensive” skill (Sense Motive); this never really made sense to me. Sense Motive to notice secret messages? Yeah, sure. Still, as a whole, I think the system could benefit from more in that regard. Stubbornness, Valor etc. can all be factors, so personally, I’d love to see this aspect diversified.

  • More diverse “defensive” social tricks.

Finally, and this may be controversial: I’d very much welcome guidelines for fixed benefits for good roleplaying. When skills can’t be cheesed as easily, good roleplaying and ideas and the bonuses they grant, should matter more. They shouldn’t be the *only* thing that matters (PCs can and will have better capabilities than players), but they should be an important factor. Nothing kills off immersion faster than having an eloquently roleplayed and concise plea to the judge/crown/deities/whatever devalued by a bad roll of the dice. Sure, GMs can handle this, but I do think that, feeling-wise, the game would benefit greatly from putting more value on this aspect. Pathfinder players, in my experience, love the complexity of the system and engines, but they also enjoy actual roleplaying, not just watching their optimized engines of destruction brutalize the opposition.

  • More meaningful effects of Roleplaying on success and failure.

This also taps into my final point for today’s list – namely how traps often make no sense. Since they often are depicted as damage on a stick the disabling process is similarly abstract. This is slightly more jarring, but also less generic, regarding haunts. A few modules do this right: They tell the GM *how* the trap works; thus, the rogue can find a hinge, a trigger, etc. and work with that. Picture it: The rogue opens a panel and sees that the floor sports a pit trap that closes after being triggered. It works via a counterweight – thankfully, your burly barbarian buddy can easily hold it in place, allowing the group to cross. It’s a simple thing. It doesn’t take up a lot of words…and it allows more than one character to engage meaningfully in the game. Heck, even skill-challenged (pardon the pun) characters could engage with such encounters! That’s just one example, but you could come up with more – supplemental muscle for the rogue’s sly intimidation, arcane gobbledygook to impress decadent nobles at a séance, added gravitas provided by the divine mandate exemplified by paladins or clerics, etc. What I’m trying to say here, is that the min-maxing requirements of the old system forced specialization, devaluing the contributions other characters could make. Similarly, this meant that one character would be the “face” for social skills, one for research, etc. – once more, with a less gameable skill system, it’d be much easier to retain the viability of cross-character contributions to a problem…and thus, once more, facilitate meaningful roleplaying.

  • More meaningful “everyone (or at least, more than the designated specialist) matters” type of group interactions when it comes to encounter design.

 

Now, it should be noted that I don’t expect PF 2/Playtest to address all of these; considering the amazing 3pps out there, I think we have a good chance of seeing some or most of these happen in one way or another. Even if the system disregards all of these points, I’m still excited for it!

 

All right, that’s it for today! Do you agree with my sentiments? Do you think I’m dead wrong? What do you think of as important for PF2? Let me know in the comments below, on facebook, or patreon!

 

See you next week!

 

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Endzeitgeist out.

 

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About Endzeitgeist

Reviewer without a cause