Welcome to Guidance! I’m Alex Augunas, the Everyman Gamer, and we’ve got a PLAYTEST, folks! We haven’t had one of those since August 2018 (which I guess is only a year ago…). Yes folks, the Advanced Player’s Guide playtest is upon us, and I know that other people in the Know Direction Network family are eager to talk about it. As a matter of fact, if you’re reading this article on the day I publish it (November 13th, 2019), then you can check the Know Direction Twitch TONIGHT and watch my fellow Know Directioneers Ryan Costello and Vanessa Hoskins chat about the playtest with one of the Pathfinder Design Team’s most esteemed members, Lyz Liddell! It is not going to be an episode that you’ll want to skip.
Now, of course, you’ve probably figured out what my article is about for this week—the Playtest Classes! The first dedicated Player Options book of a new edition is a super important one because it almost sets the stage for how that game is going to grow and evolve over time. Sure, we got Lost Omens Character Guide and plenty of content in the various Adventure Path volumes, but when you get down to it those products feel like they solidify existing territory rather than explore anything new. And what could be more “new” then new classes, right?
So for today’s article, I’m going to do a quick rundown of each of the four classes in the APG as they appear in the Playtest—the investigator, the oracle, the swashbuckler, and the witch. I am going to be giving my 100% opinionated opinion on each, comparing what was done by the design team to my initial predictions earlier in the year while also providing some thoughts and commentary as appropriate. So sit back, relax, and get ready to read!
The investigator is literally one of my favorite classes in PF1; it’s tied with the bloodrager for me. As a result, I had a TON of feelings going into this one. Observe:
The investigator in PF1 is a very strange class. It’s parents are the alchemist and the rogue, and yet somehow the investigator developed into this very distinct class that sort of transcended both of them. In PF1, the investigator is the BEST at skills, and it truly does a good job of feeling like the “smart” fighter. In PF2, the rogue is awesome at skills and is very clearly the agility fighter. As a result, I think that there’s room for the investigator to simply be an awesome skill-focused class. Drop the alchemy and the spellcasting, focus on expertise and studied combatant, and have feat options give you new ways to use your inspiration and skills. Want to be a standard investigator? Grab the alchemist multiclass archetype. I think an emphasis on what makes the investigator unique could see it developed into the perfect detective / skill-emphasizing class for PF2.
- Fact vs. Fiction: A LOT of my initial predictions ended up being right. Alchemy is just one facet of the investigator; a single choice you can take instead of one of several different “flavors” of investigator. In it’s place are a ton of different ways to use the investigator’s “expertise” mechanic, which is now called Take the Case. Sadly the randomized component is gone, but this simple +1 bonus DOES make the investigator good at skills when they’re doing their namesake (investigating). The investigator also gets as many skill feats as the rogue, but the bonus ones they gain have to either be mentally focused or based on your methodology’s key skill (like Crafting for the alchemy-focused one or Medicine for the forensic-focused one).
- Pros: The investigator class is extremely recognizable here. The designers did an excellent job at picking what feels the most like the “investigator” and making sure we saw it here first. There are a ton of cool feats that mess around with how Take the Case works, and I really like that about this class. Compared to other PF2 classes that feel almost hobbled together around a class identity rather than game mechanics, the investigator has a core mechanic that supports its theme and runs with it. In my opinion, this makes the investigator better designed then a class like the fighter, which is basically just an assortment of random weapon-focused feats.
- Cons: There’s a lot of weird stuff in the investigator right now. One of the big ones is that Study Suspect’s success and critical success effects seem to do the same exact things, but worded a little bit differently. I don’t care for the fact that the rogue is allowed to take whatever bonus skill feats they want but the investigator isn’t. I think it’s an arbitrary distinction. I also think that the usage limitations on Take the Case are wonky; the rogue is already mathematically better than the investigator in damage. Yes, I know studied strike is a thing. I also know that it basically takes an action and a successful skill check to “set up” studied strike, whereas the rogue merely needs to attack someone who’s flat-footed.
- Alex’s Suggestions
- Bonus Skill Feats: Just give the investigator bonus skill feats like a rogue. The limiters are pointless and if a criminal can be an absolute master of skills, so can an investigator.
- Study Suspect: Make this a free action with the flourish trait. It would make it feel more “Sherlock Holmes”-sy (see Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows) because it happened in a split second while also preventing it from being spammed, which is clearly the intent. Also, fix up the wording on the Critical Success effect; I assume that it’s supposed to mean that if I critically succeed I get the bonus until either the start of my next turn or the end of my next turn.
- More Feats! Currently the investigator is missing all of the cool special abilities it got to take when they successfully hit a foe they were studying. Things like sickening offensive allowed an investigator to be awesome at debuffing opponents. A feat that allowed you to add your Study Suspect bonus to all skill checks that resolve against a foe’s save DC (such as Fort DC or Ref DC) would also be awesome.
- More Methodologies! We definitely need more than three flavors of investigator. I personally want an occult-themed methodology.
The oracle is a beloved fan-favorite class in PF1. Here were my thoughts on the oracle in PF2:
Oracle … is not in a great place conceptually coming into PF2. The oracle and its mystery mechanic was always presented as sort of the “sorcerer 2.0”, and now that sorcerer feats work kind of like revelations and sorcerers can kind of be oracles by picking bloodline that grant divine spellcasting, what is there even left of the oracle to salvage? The curse mechanic? That’s cool, but is that really the part of the oracle that made the oracle fun to play? I would argue that it isn’t. I don’t want to see the oracle fade away, but at the same time we need to accept that an oracle class in PF2 can’t be built the way it was in PF1; that entire design ground seems to have been consumed by the sorcerer.
Instead, I would recommend having mysteries work similarly to bloodlines but focused on natural phenomenon (the way they are in PF1) and to give the oracle a hybrid spell list that combines the divine spell list with specific, appropriate spells from either the occult or primal spell list depending upon the mystery. For example, maybe the flames mystery gave spells like fireball and produce flames as primal spells while the dark tapestry mystery might give some occult spells instead. This would transform the oracle from being a simile divine spellcaster to a hybrid spellcaster. If we further give oracle feats an emphasis on divination, harkening back to its Greecian roots, and make those divinations tied to their mystery, we could have a very unique class that wouldn’t be competing for design space against the sorcerer.
- Fact vs. Fiction: So a lot of my thoughts are kind of what we see in Paizo’s oracle class. Kind of. I mentioned the idea of hybridizing spell lists. Well, we got that; only it’s a single feat for elemental-themed mysteries only. But we didn’t get a whole lot of emphasis on divination (only one or two feats), and we did get a curse mechanic.
- Pros: One thing that I like about the new oracle class is that it’s curses don’t fall into the trope of “supernatural disabilities”, in which you have a condition that is a real-world disability, but you have magic so it doesn’t suck. I think that disabilities where the disability is magically a benefit undercuts the real-like struggles people with those disabilities have. I am glad to see that mechanic go in favor of curses that are decidedly magic and divine in nature.
- Cons: I’m just gonna go out and say it—the oracle class is SUPER underwhelming as currently written. If I had to summarize my thoughts into a single sentence, it would be this: the PF2 oracle lacks presence. In PF1, the oracle was a bombastic class. Its revelations were super-powered abilities that had effects no other class dared to dream of. Many of those revelations were too powerful, yes, but you noticed them. The identity of the oracle was a class where every power you had centered around a common theme—flames, waves, stone, and so on. This class has NONE of that. Instead, it’s filled with cherry-picked feats that it shares with every other spellcaster, the same focus spell system that every other spellcaster has, and literal scraps from the cleric. I’m speaking mostly of their ability to pick up domain spells; oracles don’t need this. Oracles need their own, interesting powers and abilities.
- Alex’s Suggestions
- Cut Back on Curses: Literally every oracle curse takes up about 1/6 of a page, or about 100 words. Across all the curses, it’s about half a page of class features whose primary purpose is to hinder you.
- Cut Out the Cleric: I honestly don’t get how this made it live. Why does the oracle get a free cleric spell? Yes, I know that paladins can also pick up domains, but all of the domains are listed in the cleric section of the book and as cleric focus spells in the focus spell chapter. You gave the oracle a cleric spell before you gave them an oracle spell. Did that never strike anybody as odd? To fix this, oracles should get their choice of a revelation spell from their mystery at 1st level.
- Make Curses Simpler and Mystery Agnostic: This whole “every oracle has the same curse for the same mystery” concept is boring. It actively removes a place where characters can express themselves by making every oracle with every curse exactly the same. Why is an oracle who gets their life powers from the Eldest cursed in the same way as one who gets their powers from the Tian god of medicine?
- Rework Revelations: Right now the oracle has no really new mechanics other than being cursed with suck (ie having FOUR major class features that penalize them for using them). Why not try something else instead? For example, drop the initial / advance / greater spells. Instead, every mystery gives one revelation cantrip. As the oracle levels up, they could take revelation feats that are essentially metamagic feats; they allow them to change the cantrip into a full-blown spell, spending focus points to dramatically alter the cantrip’s effects. It would be strange, different, and more in-line with an oracle is—a unique expression of divine power.
The swashbuckler is a somewhat controversial class in PF1; it was extremely front-loaded, granted one of the most powerful immediate actions in the game but completely pointless to take levels in beyond 5th level. What were my predictions for swashbuckler? Let’s check’em out:
So, I’m gonna say it—in a world where the PF2 rogue exists, why do we need a swashbuckler? The PF2 rogue hits all the high notes of the swashbuckler—awesome with finesse and agile weapons, great at acrobatic skills, great attack bonus with its favored weapons. Where does this leave the swashbuckler? Well, the first thing I would do is take the grit / panache mechanic and make it into an extraordinary variant on focus spells. Instead of spell points, you gain grit points and your deeds are basically abilities you spend grit points to activate. Like focus spells, your grit comes back when you rest. You could give grit and deeds to all nonmagical martial classes—barbarians, fighters, rangers. It would definitely fill a niche for those classes.
Now, as for the swashbuckler itself, I’d combine the gunslinger and the swashbuckler into a single class: the daredevil (or something equivalent). The daredevil would be THE best at grit points and deeds; they’d have ways for regaining grit points on the fly when they critically succeed at certain attack rolls and skill checks and have an impressive list of deeds for use in and out of combat. The class would also have a built in weapon style system sort of like how the champion has paladin / redeemer / liberator, except the daredevil’s would be based around the character’s mystique rather than their alignment. Things like braggart, craven, lionheart, lone wolf, and so on. This would take the emphasis of what is current the swashbuckler away from a small list of weapons and move it towards the character motivations, which has always been the focal point of the archetypal swashbuckler.
- Fact vs. Fiction: Heh, I got NOTHING right, eh? Panache is a state you enter like rage, no reference to deeds, no real use for Charisma aside from using Charisma skill actions to enter panache. Definitely a distinct take on the swashbuckler.
- Pros: I actually think the concept of using panache as a state you enter is a neat one, and I like the notion of entering panache based on stuff you do. It’s a very smart use of Pathfinder’s action economy. Additionally, I also think that the back-and-forth between the finisher trait and the retort trait is pretty cool. It’s one of my favorite parts of the class.
- Cons: This write-up hasn’t convinced me that the swashbuckler deserves to exist outside of being an archetype or something, and I think that’s a problem. For one, panache comes in two flavors—spam one specific action or hope that your GM fiats you into panache. Part of me really likes the idea of entering panache for using Acrobatics or Charisma-based skill for initiative … but … there’s a major problem with this mechanic. You see, the Core Rulebook says something VERY specific about initiative. This:
Basically, the rules for initiative tell the GM to have players roll Perception unless they tell their players to roll something different, and don’t give any real guidelines regarding when other skills should be used aside from Stealth. This means two things are going to happen: 1) Players are going to feel as though they’re at the GM’s mercy regarding when they can use their primary class feature, and 2) Players are going to spam the hell out of that one action their style grants them that allows them to enter panache. Additionally, you’re going to hear players say stuff like, “Instead of moving I Acrobatically twirl everywhere” in hopes that they can use that as justification regarding why they get to roll Acrobatics for initiative. To put it bluntly you cannot build a player class’s primary ability around a mechanic that you left to the GM.
- Alex’s Suggestions
- Open Up Precise Strike: Right now, it doesn’t work with ANY ranged Strikes. But swashbucklers throwing stuff at people is SUPER iconic. Why can’t I strike precisely with a dagger I toss at my enemy? That was literally a PF1 archetype. (I know because I played it to Level 5, then took 6 levels of fighter because that’s how you built an optimized swashbuckler in PF1).
- Open Up Panache: The swashbuckler needs a general list of things they can do to earn panache, and it can’t be left up to the GM’s whims. You want a swashbuckler to feel like they’re a presence on the battlefield, so using a variety of different skill feats, skill actions, and special abilities should activate panache. Give more panache triggers baseline and give more panache triggers to each of the styles.
- Parry: Where’s Parry?! This class needs a parry reaction that’s a retort, meaning you trigger the reaction when an enemy attacks you, then your panache ends. For what parry does, a recent Lost Omens World Guide has an ability that uses your Attack DC (aka 10 + your attack bonus with a weapon you’re wielding) against a foe’s attack. That, please. That would be AMAZINGLY cool and the swashbuckler needs it. You could even have a feat that was one reaction to Parry, then Opportune Riposte if your parry worked. Perfect callback to PF1.
- More Styles! Yeah, I’m gonna need more styles please. Those three are NOT enough. But I guess that’s a good problem to have.
Finally, the witch. I’d be shocked if this wasn’t the #1 most favorite not-Core class in PF1; I saw SO many witches in PFS. Let’s look at my predictions:
Witch is SUPER easy to design in PF2. A witch gets a familiar at 1st level without needing to spend a feat, and their hexes are a special type of cantrip called hex cantrips. Gone are the days of having to pick a healing hex a dozen times; its all built in and scaling with hex cantrips! Also, I think witches should be the prepared spellcasters of the occult spell list; I know we’ve gotten used to them as arcane, but if ever there was an occult spellcaster, it was the witch! Maybe part of the patron could be pulling a small themed assortment of spells from the divine, arcane, or primal lists and adding them to the witch’s occult list or something.
- Fact vs. Fiction: So witches can absolutely be occult in PF2, but they can also be arcane or primal based on what patron they chose. I guess I was kind of right there, just like I was kind of right about hexes. They’re focus spells rather than focus cantrips, which has its ups and downs. Some of the hexes do heighten though, which is cool.
- Pros: So obviously a big piece of the familiar puzzle is missing (specifically, does this book have more familiar abilities) but as-written, the fact that the witch has the best familiars out of anyone is SUPER cool. I’m all-in for that. Additionally, I like how your patron determines the type of magic you have, but I wish it was a player choice rather than an if-than thing.
- Cons: The coolness of the patrons is also a downside. The way it’s worded has some problems for current Pathfinder content. For example, lessons of snow (ie winter witch) is currently associated with primal magic. Meaning winter witches are primal spellcasters, which sort of feels wrong for all of Irrisen. I dunno, maybe it’s just me but I prefer my witch queen arcane.
- Alex’s Suggestions
- Multiple Spell Lists per Patron: Have each Patreon offer 2 or even all three spell lists. It’s a choice the player (or the GM) makes when the character becomes a witch. That way a winter witch can choose whether their power comes from primal spirits or arcane secrets.
Those are my thoughts on the new classes! Overall I think the investigator and the witch are awesome, and the oracle and swashbuckler need polish (the oracle WAY more than the swashbuckler). I hope you guys found this article informative, and I hope to revisit the topic after I get more experience with the playtest classes. Until then, see you around!
Alexander “Alex” Augunas has been playing roleplaying games since 2007, which isn’t nearly as long as 90% of his colleagues. Alexander is an active freelancer for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and is best known as the author of the Pact Magic Unbound series by Radiance House. Alex is the owner of Everyman Gaming, LLC and is often stylized as the Everyman Gamer in honor of Guidance’s original home. Alex also cohosts the Private Sanctuary Podcast, along with fellow blogger Anthony Li, and you can follow their exploits on Facebook in the 3.5 Private Sanctuary Group, or on Alex’s Twitter, @AlJAug.