The Advanced Player’s Guide drops an explosion of new character options on Pathfinder 2E, made all the more exciting because Paizo got the organized play legality out immediately so those of us attending Gen Con Online were able to make use of some of the material right away. While Gen Con Online has (of course) wrapped up, the Advanced Player’s Guide still provides a plethora of fantastic new characters options that no Pathfinder player will want to be without. They’re a joy just to read through.
The APG includes every category of option one could want, starting with 5 (or 10) new ancestries (plus new options for existing ancestries), new backgrounds, 4 new base classes, and 42(!) new archetypes. Added to that are dozens of new feats, new spells, and new gear, but it’s really the new ancestry/class/archetypes that make the APG so great.
They aren’t physically at the front of the book, but the biggest draw for these sorts of supplements is usually the new classes, and the returning options here are investigator, oracle, swashbuckler, and witch.
Investigators are like the mental equivalent of rogues. Not that rogues can’t go heavily social, but they tend to more often focus on the more physical side of the piles of skills and skill feats available (plus the charisma skills). Like rogues, investigators get skill increases every level, but these can only be chosen from skills associated with intelligence, wisdom, or charisma (their skill feats can also only be chosen for such skills). The main generic ability for investigators is Devise a Stratagem. As part of this action (a free action if the target is one previously selected by the investigator for pursuit), the investigator rolls a d20. If the investigator later Strikes the target that round, they use the result of that d20 roll (likely with a small bonus). This effectively lets the investigator know in advance if an attack on that target would succeed, and then decide whether or not to bother. And if they do make that attack, they inflict precision damage as well. At third level all investigators start getting bonuses to untrained Recall Knowledge checks. Investigators also have to choose a methodology – alchemical sciences (creating alchemical items), empiricism (recall knowledge is a free action and the GM can give you clues), forensic medicine (because new ways to use Battle Medicine are rather popular), and interrogation (yup, questioning people). Out of the 1st-level class feats, investigators can join rogues in being trap finders, but can also use known weakness to add free Recall Knowledge checks (and possible bonuses) to devising a stratagem. My guess is that the latter will be the most common investigator feat.
Oracles now remind me of a Starfinder class, needing to manage the severity of the curse imposed by their mystery. There are eight mysteries to choose from (ancestors, battle, bones, cosmos, flames, life, lore, and tempest), and they serve as the main power center of the class to go along with full divine spellcasting. An oracle’s mystery is a concept that fuels their divine powers. Mysteries grant focus spells (called revelation spells), but casting these focus spells increases the severity of the oracle’s curse. But with higher levels increasing the severity of the curse provides benefits as well. Early class feats tend to focus on improved spellcasting, either of the standard divine spells or the focus spells.
Swashbucklers are offensively-minded melee combatants focused around the panache class feature. At any given point in time, a swashbuckler either has panache, or does not. When the swashbuckler has panache, their speed increases, they get some skill bonuses, and they deal extra precision damage. How the swashbuckler gains panache depends on their style – battledancer (use of Fascinating Performance in combat), braggart (using Demoralize), fencer (Feinting), gymnast (use of Grapple/Shove/Trip), or wit (use of the newly-introduced Bon Mot feat). Let me take a moment to gripe that the “gymnast” title sounds like it’s going to have something to do with acrobatics, not athletically pushing people around, and so it’s confusing – thumbs down to whoever picked that label. Given how much some folks like the Raise a Shield action, I imagine that the Buckler Expertise class feat (and it’s extra AC) will be popular. The Dueling Parry class feat similarly allows for a single-action +2AC (when fighting with only a one-handed melee weapon).
Witches are intelligence-based casters who use hexes (a type of focus spell) and can do a lot with their familiars. Across the seven available patrons (curse, fate, fervor, night, rune, wild, winter), the witch can access any of the four spell lists. Like wizards, witches have a list of spells known and the must prepare spells from that list. A witches spells, however, are not found in a spellbook, but in their familiar. Witch familiars gain an extra ability to start, and gain more abilities as the witch increases in level. In addition to their normal spellcasting, witches are granted two hex spells by their patron (there is no choice to be made once the patron is selected). Notably, one of the two hex spells is a hex cantrip, which does not require the use of a focus point. Many of the witch class feats focus on enhancing spellcasting (metamagic, more spells known, etc.) or the familiar.
Of these four, the witch is my personal favorite. I’m not big on having a bunch of pets running around the battlefield, but familiars are my favorites, and the witch provides a wide array of spellcasting options that was previously only available to a spontaneous caster. But my experience with 1E Pathfinder was that investigators and oracles were relatively popular, and those were the two of these four classes that I ran into at Gen Con Online (although not a Life Oracle, so that was new), so their popularity may continue. Personally, I think the investigators feel more like investigators this time around, which I like. With the flat bonus only to Recall Knowledge checks (and only to untrained ones), investigators also seem like they won’t automatically repeat their PF1 ability to invalidate the knowledge skills of every other character at the table – which might have made them more attractive to play, but made them less fun to play with.
New Core Class Options
Some of the core classes gain new options, and all of them gain new feats. The most significant addition is probably evil options for the champion – tyrant (LE), desecrator (NE), and Antipaladin (CE). Sorcerer’s gain four new bloodlines – genie (with five subtypes), nymph, pychopomp, and shadow. Alchemists gain the toxicologist research field (poison use), barbarians can the superstition instinct (anti-magic), bards gain the warrior muse, rogues gain the eldritch trickster (enhanced access to spellcasting archetypes) and mastermind (play Moriarty to the investigator’s Holmes) rackets, and wizards gain the staff nexus arcane thesis. Of the new class feats, two that stood out were the bard’s hymn of healing (because healing is always good) and the monk’s monastic archer stance (flurry of arrows, anyone?).
The APG also includes a couple more pages of animal compansion options and a page of new familiar abilities. There are also rules for specific familiars. A specific familiar can be selected when the familiar has a certain minimum number of abilities available. The specific familiar will grant some standard abilities, but also have it’s own unique option(s). For example, a faerie dragon can be chosen when the familiar has 6 abilities. It has the amphibious, darkvision, flier, manual dexterity, speech, and touch telepathy abilities, but then also has a breath weapon.
The five new stand-alone ancestries are kobolds, orcs, catfolk, ratfolk (let’s just call them ysoki), and tengu (so lots of love for you anthropomorphic animal fans). Kobolds are probably the most noteworthy of these, both replacing goblins in the Free RPG Day adventure this year but already being playable in Pathfinder Society without the benefit of a boon. Kobolds get darkvision (always a big plus) and choose a draconic exemplar. That doesn’t have an inherent mechanical effect, but influences the effects of other choices. For example, one of the heritage options (dragonscaled kobold) grants damage resistance based on the draconic exemplar chosen. Notable 1st-level ancestry feats include a breath weapon and the ability to Cringe to reduce damage.
Orcs are orcs. Strong, darkvision, lots of hit points. One heritage options grants even more hit points. The 1st-level ancestry feats are a bit pedestrian (gain skill training and a skill feat, something about making better unarmed attacks, something else about making better unarmed attacks, Orc Lore).
Ysoki make the journey from Starfinder, although they’ll need to use an ancestry feat to get those iconic cheek pouches. They’re smart and agile, and their low-light vision can be upgraded to darkvision through a heritage. They can take scent as a heritage too, and have a whopping 7 other 1st-level ancestry feats to pick from (if cheek pouches aren’t your thing).
Tengu are dextrous, have low-light vision, and get a beak attack. As an ancestry feat they can choose the ability to cast electric arc (“get a cantrip” is so common these days I usually don’t find it noteworthy, but I believe electric arc is the single most efficient damage cantrip, so long as you’ve got two targets). Catfolk are charming, agile, sport low-light vision (making the APG five for five on low-light vision and dark vision) and always land on their feet. Their most notable heritage option is gaining the scent ability.
There are also give “versatile” heritages – changelings, dhampirs, aasimar, tieflings, and duskwalkers (the latter three are lumped together as planar scions, but each has a full array of options). Like half-elves and half-orcs in the core book, these heritages are selected to accompany some other base heritage. Unlike half-elf/half-orc, they are explicitly presented as being options for any other ancestry. So, not only do I now have PF2 rules for aasimar, but I can make my character an aasimar of elven ancestry, thus assembling as many of my favorites into one place as possible. Versatile heritages also have a full selection of ancestry feats. So even if I’m playing a ‘normal’ old human ancestry aasimar, I can still upgrade all the way to darkvision (have I mentioned that I adore having darkvision?). Indeed, every single one of the versatile heritages upgrade from normal to low-light vision or low-light to darkvision, depending on what the base heritage started with, and then has a 1st-level feat option that will grant darkvision. But aasimar eventually grow wings, so I’m still sticking with them.
But I hear tieflings are awful popular these days (well, at least in D&D world). They have two ancestry feats I like – Nimble Hooves for +5 speed (which sadly cannot be combined with Nimble Elf) or Pitborn for Athletics training and your choice of any 1st-level Athletics skill feat. Duskborn (descendants of psychopomps) can never become undead, although they have a pretty narrow set of ancestry feats to choose from. For the Changelings, most of their 1st-level ancestry feat options relate to what kind of hag their mother was. Dhampirs have negative healing (healed by negative energy and damaged by positive). There are lots of the usual sorts of ancestry options in here – lore, some other skill/skill feat pair, a natural weapon, etc.
There are new ancestry feats for dwarves, elves, gnomes, goblins, and humans, but no new heritages. A couple I liked were Ancestral Linguistics, which lets an elf swap between languages known every day; Extra Squishy, which lets a goblin super-Squeeze. Halflings also pick up a single new heritage (the jinxed halfling).
I know that more base classes is supposed to be the big highlight of something like the APG, but in PF2 I have found that archetypes produce just an explosion of character options. With 16 base classes, adding 42 new archetype options means over 650 new combinations. Now, I will grant that many of those combinations aren’t terribly relevant (there probably aren’t going to be a lot of barbarian scroll tricksters), but that is just a ton of options.
And 42 new archetypes is enough that I can’t try to even summarize all of them. Most of them get the usual full page, although some (like the beastmaster and dragon disciple) get two. Of course, there are the multiclass options for the four new base classes. There’s the celebrity, if you want to be popular, or the dandy, if you just want to be fancy. There’s an archetype for some fighting styles – armored defense (the bastion) dual-weapon fighting (the dual weapon warrior), and ranged combat (the archer). Old concepts take new form with archetypes like the horizon walker, loremaster, and eldritch archer. Also present is the vigilante, which seems like it would make it unlikely for that to appear as a base class in the future. I imagine that pirates and vikings will have some popularity. Blessed ones get extra magical healing and condition removal, while medics can go wild with the every-popular Battle Medicine. Two that I happen to like are the familiar master and the linguist, although I’ll admit that the latter may have something to do with PFS adventures taking you all across Golarion.
One aspect of many of these archetypes is that, in addition to the new feats, they incorporate existing feats (usually class feats) as additional options to fulfill the dedication requirements. So if you don’t like one of the particular feats on offer in an archetype, you might be able to, for example, grab a fighter class feat to round out that combat-focused dedication. Further, there are now alchemical archetypes to go along with the spellcasting ones.
I have to admit that I tend to be torn between the flavor and the mechanics of backgrounds, and the mechanics tend to win – sure, I would like to think of my character as an a woodsy scout, but I know that I will basically never be able to use the Forager feat in PFS play, so maybe we’ll be a martial disciple. So, to some extent, the main thing is that there are 17 ‘normal’ backgrounds to improve the chances that you can find a stat/skill/feat combination that you like.
There are also eight rare backgrounds that change up the formula. You can be an amnesiac, getting an extra ability boost (chosen by the GM) but no idea who you are. On the flip-side, the feral child loses an ability boost, but gets an extra skill, scent, and a vision upgrade. Others grant specific abilities instead of a skill feat. There’s a reason these are stashed in an area that needs GM approval.
If this was some other book then 75 pages of new feats, spells, and equipment would probably feel like a bonanza, but sadly for those 50+ new feats they feel like more of a light refresher after a heavy meal in the APG. Medicine and Society seem to be the winners, at least as far as quantity of skill feats goes. There are also a few feats that require training in one of those lore skills your background handed out. The sexiest feat is probably True Perception, which grants a constant true seeing spell (you just have to get to level 19 and be legendary in perception first). I like water sprint, which does indeed let you walk on water (or at least run across it for a round).
The spells include a lot of rituals (there’s a ritual master archetype in the APG as well), and almost as many focus spells as normal ones (in part to support the witch and oracle).
The new generic equipment is limited, and focused on thematic options for tengu, investigators, and swashbucklers. On the magical front, lover’s gloves are adorable. They glow when you’re in the presence of someone you have strong positive feelings for. You can also use them once a day on such a person to grant temporary hit points and a bonus to saving throws (and if they love you back, you get the bonuses too). I’m happy to see the rope of climbing appear. And I’m guessing that he more obnoxious rogues and bards will have fun with the predicable silver piece (heads I win, tails you lose).
And, because Paizo is great, there’s the usual highly useful index at the back.
The Advanced Player’s Guide serves up a feat of new character options – 4 new base classes, effectively 10 new ancestries, a surprisingly impactful 42 new archetypes, and a potpourri of backgrounds, feats, spells, and items. It should undoubtedly the second book (after the core book) picked up by any Pathfinder player. It hasn’t even been out a week and it’s already hard to imagine going without.
Promotional consideration was provided in the form of a review copy.