With the D&D fourth edition licensing rules in question, Paizo is hoping players will latch onto Pathfinder RPG, their revised version of D&D 3.5 which is planned to become the standard rules set for for future issues of the similarly-named Pathfinder adventure module series. Pathfinder RPG is currently in open beta, and a Pathfinder RPG beta release PDF is available. Here’s a brief overview.
Character generation: No real differences from normal D&D. There are a few extra options for rolling ability scores, such as 3d6, 4d6 drop lowest, 2d6+6, and various levels of points-buy.
Races: Although the core races are the same as usual - dwarf, halfing, elf, human, gnome, half-orc and half-elf - many racial abilities have been shaken up. All races now gain +2 to an extra ability score, such as the dwarf who now has +2 to both Constitution and Wisdom, and -2 to Charisma. A few gain bonus racial traits, such as the half-orc who can fight on for one round if brought below zero hit points. Each race can now pick from between two favoured classes.
Classes: Significant changes here. The barbarian gains powers usable while raging, such as knockback or a bonus attack. The bard uses d8 hit dice and gains knowledge skill bonuses. Fighters gain gradual bonuses to armour and weapon types, and bonuses to saves versus fear. The paladin gains new aura abilities, such as allowing allies to smite. Rangers gain d10 hit dice amd specialties in chosen terrain. Rogues can sneak attack against constructs and undead, and gain new rogue special abilities from level 2. Sorcerers gain bloodline abilities much like cleric domains. The wizard can trade his familiar for an object, like an amulet or staff.
Skills: Skills are handled slightly differently in Pathfinder RPG. Instead of 4x skill points at level 1, you gain a +3 bonus to all class skills that you have ranks in. Cross-class skills now cost one point per rank instead of two, although you’re still three points behind. A few skills have been consolidated, such as Decipher Script, Forgery and Speak language into Linguistics. There are now 36 skills including ten Knowledge skills, whereas D&D 3.5 had 44. Use Rope is gone, and winged or otherwise flight-capable characters can use a new skill called Fly.
Feats: Feats are gained at every two levels, instead of every three. Magic item creation no longer costs XP. New feats are introduced - I count 140 in the Pathfinder core book, compared to 110 in the D20 SRD. Several existing feats have different effects. Alertness now grants +2 to Perception (Spot/Listen) and Sense Motive, raising to +4 if the character has 10 or more ranks in one of those skills. Cleave, perhaps unpopularly, requires a full-round action to attempt, meaning it’s not as ubiquitous a choice as in D&D 3.5.
Equipment: Very little difference here, bar the occasional new weapon. Weapon damage and armour types are unchanged.
Description: Very little difference. The alignment system is unchanged.
Combat: A major new experimental rule is chanelling energy, formerly known as the cleric’s Turn Undead ability. Chanelling positive energy now additionally deals damage to undead, while healing allies in the same area. Negative energy bursts deal damage to living creatures. The other major change is that combat maneuvers like grapple and disarm use a unified “Combat Maneuver Bonus”, and are made against a flat DC rather than opposed roll (1d20 + your bonus, versus DC15 + opponent’s bonus).
Magic: Very little difference. However, there’s a notice in this chapter that Polymorph has been substantially changed, very important considering the problems with polymorph throughout D&D third edition. Paizo’s solution is similar to Rich Burlew’s polymorph variant in that there are separate spells for each creature type (such as low level animal form spells and higher level dragon form spells), although you gain a fixed and limited set of benefits. For example, form of the dragon iii lets you assume the form of any Huge metallic or chromatic dragon, but grants a fixed +10 bonus to your character’s normal Strength (amongst other abilities) regardless of the Strength score of a typical dragon of that type.
Spells: Clerics now gain special domain abilities at 1st and 8th level, and domain spells at 2nd, 4th, 12th, 16th and 20th level. A druid can trade his animal companion for one nature-related domain (air, water, etc). For example, the war domain grants an ability at level 8 to temporarily use any combat feat. Specialist wizards similarly gain special abilities at 1st, 8th and 20th level. Spells with XP costs are replaced with tgold piece costs at 5 gp per XP.
Running the game: Like Arcana Evolved and Iron Heroes, Pathfinder RPG uses its own experience points scale. Story XP bonuses are officially encouraged. Charts and tables are provided for calculating appropriate challenge rating of encounters, including adjustments for high-magic and low-magic campaigns. Pathfinder also expands on the guidelines for creating new monsters.
The rest: Very little difference in the additional rules and magic items, although some cool art. However, the glossary notes that permanent level drain has been replaced by negative levels, essentially -1 to all rolls and -5 hit points.
Still to come: The final release of Pathfinder RPG in 2009 promises to revisit prestige classes, cursed and intellgent items, and new disease, poison and environment rules.