Pathfinder 2e Conversion Guide

A Review

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The second edition of Pathfinder (P2) is out, and along with it Paizo has released a free conversion guide so you can use P1 material with P2 rules and, in theory, P1 characters in P2 games. At least, that's what you'd imagine a conversion guide would provide. But Paizo's conversion guide clarifies its own limitations very early on:

The differences between the first and second editions of Pathfinder are significant enough that you can’t convert from one to the other by changing a few numbers and updating a few terms, so a straightforward conversion formula is impossible.

So if the conversion guide itself can't tell you how to convert between P1 and P2, what hope is there for gamers who have collected over two decade's worth of 3.5 and P1 material?

Converting from Pathfinder 1e to 2e

The executive summary of the Pathfinder conversion guide is this: convert in spirit, not by math. That is, a path for direct conversion is simply not provided by Paizo. Given that a common pitch for P2 during development was how easy it was to convert an adventure path while running the game, it's surprising to find that after publication there apparently is no math to transform P1 material to P2.

Then again, nobody ever said exactly how conversion from a P1 adventure path was happening during the playtest, so maybe the idea all along was that P2 was a spiritual successor to P1. Maybe the idea from the beginning was that the GM was empowered, in second edition, to take an adventure and just feel it out until it made sense for P2 rules. Similarly, maybe the idea is for players to be able to grab a bunch of character build ideas from the core ancestries and classes in P2 and mash them together until it looked and felt like a P1 build. After all, D&D 3e and Pathfinder after it spanned almost 2 decades; how could P2 possibly have feature parity with that?

Realistically, even WotC's D&D conversion guide ultimately advises the use of art over science when porting material to a new system. Why bother converting a monster when the monster already exists in a 3rd party bestiary? Why convert a magic item when an existing modern item can be re-skinned instead? Why bother porting a character to a new system when it's more exciting and satisfying to rebuild?

Conversion by smell

The Paizo conversion guide includes one table in it (actually two, but one is just a list), which translates magic item value from P1 to P2. It doesn't intend for you to sit down with a calculator for new DCs or hit die or character attribute scores. This is a guide in the sense that it's a license to throw out the rules. Don't worry about what a rule might say about a DC, or what a DC might imply about a rule. Instead, use your instincts as a player or as a GM and figure out the modern equivalent. You know how hard a trap needs to be for your players, so find something similar in the P2 Core Rulebook and run with it. You know what you want your character to be good at, so build your new character from the P2 Core Rulebook and call her a witch even if she's actually a Sorcerer with the hag bloodline.

This is quite a shift, I think, from the P1 tradition, where rules were proscriptive and explicit. When you didn't know how to do something in P1, you looked it up. Maybe you even bought a book on the subject. I imagine that Paizo is going to continue to publish books with new options for P2, but I sense from their conversion guide that they also intend GMs to stay flexible. Not that Pathfinder has ever said otherwise, but P2 seems to be encouraging more GM improv, maybe out of necessity (after all, they have 2 decades of catching up to do), so maybe this guide is more for the players than the GM. Maybe it's an alert to let them know that the GM isn't going to have all of the answers right away, because equivalents for everything in P1 simply do not exist yet.

It's impossible to know what direction P2 is headed. With D&D 5e, the advantage and disadvantage system is a clear (and supremely elegant, even if mathematically crude) indication that WotC means for DMs to be able to fly without rules: when in doubt, give advantage. It's easy, it's quick, and it's an obvious statement about how they want the game to be played. And true to this indicator, WotC has released only minimal rule variants for 5e. I don't see that glaring beacon in P2 rules yet, so we don't know whether to anticipate additional P2 rulebooks the way we got for P1, or whether the focus will be on their always-excellent Adventure Paths with campaign-specific boons and variants.

More than likely, it's going to be a lot of fun finding out, though.

The actual end of D&D 3e

What P2 confirms for me, though, is that 2019 marks the actual end of D&D 3e. It got an impossible number of reprieves, from 3.5 to Pathfinder, lasting longer than any game system can be expected to last. I can't complain about my collection being deprecated, not only because it's printed material and is mine forever, but also because it can be adapted, if only in spirit.

Header image by Paizo.

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