Pathfinder 2 launched at Gen Con this weekend and I was lucky enough to play it there firsthand. The thing I liked the most about it was the action economy, which I think gives Rolemaster players (especially RMu players) a lot of food for thought. In fact, I think PF2 shows us the way towards a better solution for RMu’s ‘Walk and Chew Gum Problem’ than adding a Footwork skill. But more about that in a later post. Today, I just want to explain for you how the PF2 action economy works, because it is not only significantly different from DnD 5e and even from 3.5, but I think it is superior insofar as it is simultaneously easier to understand and richer in player choice and tactical depth.
First let me note that PF2 has so far gotten some mixed reviews overall. It seems to me that players who really liked the way DnD 5e pushed Theater of the Mind combat and went back to basics and simplicity tend not to like what PF2 is doing, while those who prefer greater depth in character customization and tactical choices are more sympathetic. One element of PF2 that has received near universal acclaim, however, is the action economy. Even negative reviews are praising the 3-action-and-a-reaction system of PF2 for being easy to pick up and fun to play.
Basically, the PF2 action economy works this way: each turn, your character gets 3 actions and a reaction, to spend in whatever order he, she, or it sees fit. Sound familiar? Yes, it’s not that different from RMu, in which characters get four action points and an instantaneous action each turn.
Nevertheless, there are some significant differences between RMu and PF2 beyond the fact that PF2 characters get 3 actions (and a reaction) while RMu characters get four action points (and an instantaneous action).
For one, PF2’s reaction is different than RMu’s instantaneous action. The PF2 reaction is a true reaction, i.e. one that you can use on another character’s turn rather than your own, whereas the RMu instantaneous action is more like what DnD 4e called a ‘minor action’, which is a quick action to be used on your own turn.
Another difference is that attacks in PF2 cost only one action. What?!?!?! Does that mean a PF2 fighter can attack three times in one turn? Yes, it does. But this is balanced by the fact that each action beyond the first suffers a cumulative -5 penalty. So if you had a +9 to hit bonus, your first attack would be at +9, second at +4, and third at -1.
Another big difference is that PF2 treats movement not like some different kind of action with its own rules, but rather just like any other action. This means that you don’t need different rules for movement; it is just a regular action. (Word, brother! Testify!) Each point you spend on movement allows you to move up to your movement rate, and you can use each of your three actions for either movement or attacks however you see fit. This is of course exactly what RMu does: give you action points that you can spend in any order on whatever you like. Unlike in earlier editions of Rolemaster, you don’t have to wait for the spell phase to cast a spell, the missile phase to fire a missile, the movement phase to move and the melee phase to melee. In PF2 terms, this means you could do a first attack at +9, a second at +4, and then move for your third action. Or instead you could move first, then do your first attack at +9, and second at +4. Or you could move twice, then finish with one attack at +9. You can even move three times if you like.
All of this makes for a very interesting action economy, because it often requires you to make some tough tactical decisions. Do you want to use your last action of the turn to move into a better position and thus set up a flank attack on the dragon for next round? Or do you feel lucky enough that you’ll connect with a last attack despite the big -10 penalty? Will you try to finish off that dragon and be the one to save your dying party member, or do you leave him to fend for yourself as you set up a your coup de grace? In practice, making these choices was a lot of fun, and added greatly to the drama at the table. I overheard two fighter-loving players saying they really liked the way this gave them more to do than just ‘one move, one attack; one move, one attack’ ad nauseam (which is essentially what 5e does to Fighters, especially at low level).
Everyone I played with at Gen Con picked up this new action economy very easily. Three of the guys I played with had no prior PF experience at all, and by the end of the session it was second nature. I will also note that no one complained that there was no pace chart to consult 🙂
This then is what Pathfinder 2 does, and by most accounts, it is great. It is an innovation that makes the game easier to play while also presenting players with interesting tactical options. The fact that RMu already has a similar economy bodes well I think for RMu, and I think has some lessons for us RMu players too. But I’ll save them for a (near) future post.