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Pathfinder Second Edition Playtest Breakdown, Part Two

Okay, sure, I should be sleeping to recover from a very sleep-deprived weekend of LARPing. Such is my devotion to you, dear readers, that I am instead diving into the next chapter of the Pathfinder Playtest rules: Classes. We’ll be in this chapter for… probably a few weeks. If this is the first article in this series that you’ve read, I strongly encourage you to read my Disclaimer at the start of Part One.

Part One | Part Two


Chapter 3: Classes

The first two pages discuss the general form of classes. There are a few interesting pieces here: each class entry includes a half-page summarizing their gameplay and stereotypical roleplaying traits. It’s a bullet-point version of the flavor text in the 5e PH, which means it’s boiled down to something you can digest in thirty seconds. Strong marks for presentation here, balanced by arguable oversimplification. (That’s literally the first time I’ve accused PF of that.) On the whole, very good.

I glossed over the skill-training degrees in the first article, but it needs more discussion now. Skill proficiency comes in five grades: untrained, trained, expert, master, and legendary. Untrained gets you a modifier of level – 2. At trained, your level is your modifier, and every level above that grants one more point of bonus. As a result, a legendary proficiency is only as good as an untrained character five levels higher. It’s not a common use case, though, because you generally can’t become legendary at a skill until 15th level – so only a 20th-level character using an untrained skill matches you.

Their strongest resemblance here is – follow me through this irony – 4e. 4e understood, as PF does here, that if DCs scale up, untrained characters have to have that baseline level of bonus, or they’ll fall out of the d20 range of outcomes and there won’t be any tension in the scene. They even came to the same bonus range of +5 between untrained and fully-trained, though it takes awhile to get there. Here in PF – and we’ll dive still deeper into this when we get to skills – the bonuses matter a bit more because beating the DC by 10 nets you a crit success. There are also a lot of skill tasks that are trained only.

Weapon and armor proficiency operate on the same dynamic. What we see, then, is the radical rejection of bounded accuracy, to what we could call banded accuracy. There’s tension in the dice outcomes within a fixed number of levels (CRs, whatever) above and below your level. PF absolutely wants you to outgrow opponents. As we’ve seen in 5e, this approach also protects the viability of solo opponents by heavily thumbing the scales of hit frequency.



Introducing the alchemist as a core class is one of the big moves of PF, and I’m glad there’s a second Int-based class. (Or: why I’m so eager to see the mystic/psion enter official use in 5e.) The theme here is a bomb-throwing experimental madman. Let’s see what that means at base.

  • 8 + Con modifier hit points. Classic middle-of-the-pack – a wizard who does more dangerous and explosive things.
  • Trained in Perception
  • Expert in Fort and Reflex, Trained in Will
  • Skills equal to 2 + Int modifier. Since you definitely have a good Int, you can easily cover your three signature (class) skills and have several picks left over.
  • Trained in simple weapons, alchemical bombs, and light armor.
  • Arcana, Crafting, and Medicine are their signature skills.
  • Advanced Alchemy is the core feature that turns alchemical crafting into the class’s version of daily spellcasting. This feature is hard to understand on its own, because it references the Crafting Trained Activities system while negating parts of it. This costs Resonance, but see below. This further grants the Quick Alchemy action.
    • Quick Alchemy lets you spend RP to create one-round-duration alchemy, for free, as an action. Basically, this action means you want to use very few magic items as an alchemist, so that you retain your versatility.
  • The Formula Book is very much like a wizard’s spellbook – you learn formulas when you gain levels, and can research, capture, or trade for more – but you start with just four 1st-level formulas.
  • Studied Resonance lets you use Int rather than Cha to calculate your Resonance Points, so at least your RP-hog class is more generous with its budget.
  • You also gain an alchemist class feat at 1st level, and every even-numbered level. You’re getting a feat of one kind or another at every level. Your other feats are skill feats, general feats, or ancestry feats. So. Many. Feats.
  • Empower Bomb at 3rd level does what it says on the tin – your 1st-level bomb formulas start scaling by level, and keep scaling at 7th, 11th, 15th, and 19th level.
  • You also get skill increases – that is, you increase one skill by one proficiency step, but not above Expert until 7th, nor above Master until 15th. Starting at 3rd level, this happens every other level.
  • Mutagen Crafting at 5th level adds to the list of formulas you can choose from when you gain a level.
  • Expanded Resonance at 9th level grants you additional RP equal to half your level, which you can only use for Quick Alchemy.
  • Double Elixir at 13th level lets you make twice as much Quick Alchemy for twice the price, but still just one action. It doesn’t extend their duration, so you’ve still gotta use them immediately.
  • Alchemical Alacrity at 17th level is basically Triple Elixir. At the moment, I’m missing how you use these alchemical items in the time you have left in the round before they expire.

The rest of the alchemist class content here is 47 feats, of which you gain 11 over 20 levels. Making sense of them and their relative worth is daunting, particularly because so many of them reference other rules, such as specific alchemical items. Oh, hey, Enduring Alchemy is the answer to a lot of my questions about how to get good use out of Double Elixir and Alchemcial Alacrity – it moves back the expiration from the beginning of your next turn to the end of your next turn. That does seem like it would make that the only feat worth mentioning of that level, unless you’re sure the campaign won’t reach higher levels.

Obviously, the details of the alchemical item list and the Crafting system make a huge difference to the function of this class. I’m not covering it right now, just to follow the book’s chapter order. The key thing to know is that there are bombs, elixirs, poisons, and mutagens. Bombs and poisons are obvious in their purpose. Elixirs are buffs and curatives, and mutagens are much more potent buffs that carry drawbacks as well. Bombs and mutagens in particular are here to communicate the high-risk theme of the class. Your feat options let you specialize in a lot of different ways in these four types.



Let’s move on along to the barbarian. Man, the roleplaying notes here sound incredibly unpleasant to be around. Needs more focus on gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth.

  • 12 + Constitution modifier hit points, as if there were any question.
  • Expert in Perception. It’s interesting that this is the skill-that-is-not-a-skill – you don’t spend a skill pick on it, because it’s too important for that.
  • Expert in Fort and Will saves, Trained in Reflex.
  • 3 + Int modifier trained skills.
  • Trained in all simple and martial weapons, and in light and medium armor.
  • Acrobatics, Athletics, and Intimidation are their Signature skills.
  • Rage is, of course, their central class feature. As with 3.x and 5e, Rage does a lot of things all at once, costs one action, and lasts for 3 rounds(!). Weird action economy decisions ahoy.
    • Gain your level + your Con modifier in temporary hit points.
    • +2 to melee and unarmed damage, or half that if using an agile weapon. This scales up to +7 at 19th
    • -1 AC
    • You can’t use concentration effects except for other concentration rage effects. This has to do with PF2e’s incredibly extensive trait system, which is a six-page foundation of rules language found in the back of the book.
    • So about that action economy. You get 3 rounds of rage “uptime” out of every 4 rounds, and you’re fatigued in that off-round. You might say that you get 8 actions under the rage effect out of every 12 actions you take. You can renew your rage for free after your one “down” round. You also lose all of your temporary hit points during that down round and get a new pool of them when you renew your rage. Everything about this is a strange choice to me, from its intensive bookkeeping to its go-go-go-stop rhythm. I think they’re trying for an action movie thing where the action flips back and forth between a slow-mo ultraviolent display and a moment of the hero wiping his grimy brow, leaning on his sword, and everyone else around him seeming to move too fast. Still weird.
  • Your Totem is what we could be forgiven for calling your subclass. PF2e doesn’t have subclasses, don’t @ me, but… it’s a class-specific character-defining choice that you make at 1st You choose between Animal, Dragon, Fury, Giant, Spirit, and Superstition totems. Most of those have a further choice, such as Animal choosing one of nine different animals, or Dragon choosing one of the ten main colors.
    • Each totem has an Anathema, a prohibition that gets them in trouble with their totem; a Totem Ability; and a Raging Resistance. (Fury is an exception here; this most default of all totems has no Anathema and just gains an extra barbarian feat at 1st) I’ll dig into individual totems more below.
  • Feats, feats, feats. Nothing really important to say about the number of variety hereof, and I’ll stop commenting on it in classes after this unless there’s something different going on.
  • Critical Brutality at 3rd level lets you use the special crit effects of your weapons while raging. Since there’s also a high-level barbarian class feat called “Brutal Critical,” um, maybe go back to the thesaurus.
  • Deny Advantage at 5th level is 3.x-style Uncanny Dodge – you’re just such an actiony action hero that aren’t flat-footed while flanked.
  • Juggernaut at 7th level bumps your Fortitude saves up to master proficiency and turns all of your Fort save successes into crit successes. This is generally improving a “yes-but” to a simple “yes,” I believe. Let’s call it the Evasion of Fort saves, which 3.x called Mettle.
  • Raging Resistance at 9th level grants you two resistances (reducing damage from that source by your Con modifier), based on your totem.
  • Mighty Rage at 11th level fixes action economy of that one action you use to fire up your rage, letting you use an action that has the rage trait as a free action. I’m… not sufficiently clear on PF2e’s formal rules language to be sure if you can use a 2+ action activity here.
  • Improved Juggernaut at 13th level is the Improved Evasion of Fort saves – even a critical failure is toned down to a failure, and on a failure you only take half damage.
  • Weapon Fury at 13th level improves your weapon proficiencies to expert. It’s a +1 to hit that might unlock other options. (I haven’t read that far yet.)
  • Indomitable Will at 15th level gives you master proficiency in Will saves, and you treat successful Will saves as critical successes. Too psycho to be controlled is a near-universal barbarian theme.
  • Tireless Rage at 17th level means your off-round from raging doesn’t impose the fatigued condition on you. I kinda feel like 17th level is a long damn wait for this.
  • Devastating Strikes at 19th level lets you ignore heaps of resistance to your weapon’s damage flavor.

The core of the class is recognizable as the descendant of the 3.x/PF barbarian. Many of these features tell a story only to the person playing the character, because they do little more than modify the math. They don’t change the action or what it looks like in the narrative. The class relies on totems and feats to offer those kinds of changes.



The Animal totem is a shapeshifting rage machine. The animals you can choose from include some really strange choices alongside the more expected ones. Ape (Tarzan!), Bear (‘Etymology of Berserker” for $1000, Alex), Bull, Shark, and Wolf, sure. Cat… okay, you’re probably talking about great cats. Most people would have said Lion, Tiger, or Panther here, but sure. Deer and Frog? Um. Anyway, they’re resistant to the tooth and claw (piercing and slashing), which you’ve probably heard are red in nature.

The Dragon totem is a mightily Eberron-friendly idea, what with the barbarians of Argonessen. You qualify for a feat to use your dragon’s breath weapon, and you have no chill when insulted. Your rage damage becomes energy damage of your dragon’s type. I like this and would be fine with seeing it lifted for 5e.

The Fury totem is about not needing any external source for your power. Your Raging Resistance applies to all weapon damage. It’s bland, but sure, whatever.

The Giant totem is for people who love the Buster Sword and every other ultra-massive weapon out there. It’s still sluggish in your hands, so you’re trading 1 point of AC, Reflex save, and a bunch of other things for its extra damage.

The Spirit totem is either creepy or shamanic, with one foot in the land of the dead. You’re good at beating up ghostly things and your weapon deals positive or negative energy damage. Moreover, you’re resistant to negative energy damage and damage dealt by undead, so if you want to smash undead stuff, this is the place to be.

The Superstition totem is all about hating spellcasters. It’s a major barbarian theme, going back to 1e, and oh man do I hate it right to death. It’s here to justify being a jerk to other characters in your party. Their Anathema is accepting spells from allies. Like healing. They really need to just let you die and start a character with the very most basic survival instinct. Honestly, I would probably quit a game I was enjoying if the GM approved a new character with this totem.


The barbarian class feats are much more about offering new actions than the alchemist’s were, and there are a ton of feats locked to each totem. I already mentioned the dragon breath; there’s also dragon wings and full dragon transformation in that progression. I mean, that’s definitely rad, but only the Giant totem gets to match them for flashy awesomeness. Now we see that the Fury totem is about settling for all of the feats that don’t require a specific totem, not that there aren’t plenty of those.

My favorite thing in the whole class writeup is the actions unlocked by feats. I’m happy that barbarians get special, highly cinematic actions to support their style. Here again, there’s the unbelievable irony of a striking resemblance to 4e’s attack power structure and information presentation. Paizo adopting elements of 4e, the game that PF fans so roundly rejected, is just mind-boggling to me. Even so, I’m pleased that some of the right lessons from 4e are still getting learned.

That’s it for this week. Next time, we’ll continue into the bard, cleric, and (one hopes) the druid!