Pathfinder Playtest: All New Exciting Action!

[Editor’s Note: Here in The Rat Hole we love our Roleplaying Games. With our regular reviews, you may have noticed a distinct lack of big games like Pathfinder, 13th Age, Dungeons & Dragons, etc. The main reason for that has been that there is just too much out there. Starfinder gave us the opportunity to jump in on the ground floor of that game, and the advent of the Pathfinder Second Edition Playtest gives us a similar opportunity. The best part about the Pathfinder Playtest materials is that the digital editions are completely FREE to anyone wanting to download them. You can visit to get those materials and make sure you fill out a survey about the game to help Paizo make Pathfinder 2E the best it can be. -dc] 

Brent’s Thoughts

Pathfinder’s action economy, coming as it did from 3.5, has always felt like a work-in-progress for me. Their initial solution to fixing the issues with the Move/Standard actions was to add more types of actions, and so we got Free, Swift, and Immediate actions. This led to more system complexity, as you not only had to remember the different action types, but what abilities corresponded with each, and what things might change the ability from one type to another. For instance, some class abilities allowed you to take a Standard action as if it were a Move action, and so on. While this added some interesting options for characters, it greatly increased the complexity of the game’s action economy.

Come hither, Pathfinder 2.0! Gone are Standard and Move actions. Instead, characters get three Actions a turn. Attacking (referred to as ‘striking’) is an action, with growing penalties if you decide to strike on successive actions (-5 and -10, respectively). Moving (if you just move it’s called ‘striding’) is an action, and covers any type of movement; for example, the five-foot step we knew and loved (now called ‘stepping’) is an action. Casting a spell is at least one action, and can take up to three depending on the complexity (level) of the spell. Many combat maneuvers are not generic actions, but are instead housed as actions deriving from a particular skill or class ability. For example, most smashy types are likely to get some variation of a charge that allows them to move and attack with a single action.

So you can see there is quite a conceptual change from the basic Move and Attack dynamic of the previous action economy. In Pathfinder 2.0 you can move and attack…but what will you do with that third action? If nothing else you could attack a second time (at a -5 penalty), which might be the default option for many of the aforementioned smashy types. But it also opens up more variety for that third action, allowing the player to get creative with how they interact with the combat. Consider a turn where the first two actions are attack/attack. You could make a third attack at -10, but especially at low levels it might be more useful to break out a special action, like trying to intimidate your foes for a bonus later or doing something to aid another character. More than any other aspect of the proposed changes, the three action economy is going to take the most getting used to for most players, as they come to terms with the new options available to them. Just being able to move-attack-move, or attack-move-attack, is going to be a big step for many.

There are also two specialized sorts of action: Free actions are basically anything that doesn’t take an action. And Reactions cover a number of things which were previously static bonuses. For example, characters must now raise their shield as a Reaction to increase AC, instead of the shield being “always on”. In the same vein, Rogues must activate Nimble Dodge to raise AC, instead of Dodge always being active. Early in learning the new system, I can definitely see this as the steepest learning curve for players and GMs. But even then, the relative complexity is still lower than the previous edition’s action types.

One major type of Reaction you won’t see as much of in Pathfinder 2.0 is the attack of opportunity. Fighters still get them as a class ability at 1st level, but they are the only class to do so. And while there is an opportunity for other classes to gain attacks of opportunity at higher levels (the Paladin, for example), they will still be sparse on the ground. So if you’re brave your character can dash around the battlefield without impediment! Except for monsters of course; it will be a learning opportunity to discover which monsters still retain attacks of opportunity. The more reticent (cowardly) characters may simply act like all of them do, which will add another dimension to action economy decisions.

All in all I like the changes to action economy. This would be another good example of getting rid of unnecessary complexity, while retaining an enjoyable amount of depth to play. Players will have an opportunity to really play to their character’s strengths, and express the special aspects of their character’s abilities through their action choices. This also strikes me as an opportunity to add more role-playing to combat encounters, an area of the game session from which role-playing has notoriously been absent.

What are your thoughts on the new action economy? Do you like it, or do you think it still needs work? Let me know in the comments!