Pathfinder 2e - 1st Edition to 2nd Edition Transition Guide
Long-time players of DnD 3.5 or Pathfinder 1st Edition will find a lot of new things in Pathfinder 2nd Edition. While many things have stayed the same, many things have changed. This guide attempts to address some of the highlights, giving you an idea of what new things you'll find in 2nd edition that you'll need to be aware of when transitioning from 1st edition to 2nd edition.
Paizo has changed a lot between editions, and while many things are improved, they kept the deep character customization which Pathfinder players love so much and they clearly learned from their own improvements in class design which crept their way into the game over time. However, this is by no means a perfect game. The core rulebook has scattered references to elements which were removed during the beta, and there are wide gaps in effectiveness between character options just as there were in 1st edition.
This guide is not a replacement for the Pathfinder 2e Conversion Guide, which is the official document for converting content and characters from 1st edition to 2nd. This page is intended to call out some major differences between editions which would otherwise require a thorough and slow reading of the entire core rulebook.
Most of Pathfinder's core mechanics are the mostly same. It's still a d20-based game, so any time you attempt something with a chance of failure you're still going to roll a d20, add modifiers, and meet or exceed a DC to succeed.
Checks and Saving Throws
d20 rolls come in two varieties: Checks and Saving Throws. Saving throws work mostly the way they did in 1st edition, and any other d20 roll (including attacks) is now a "check".
A notable new addition is the concept of "degrees of success". Success is no longer binary: now you can score a critical success, success, failure, or critical failure. For some checks success is still functionally binary, but critical successes or failures often have additional effects (double damage on an attack, etc.). Scoring a Critical Success requires rolling 10 higher than the DC, while scoring a critical failure requires rolling 10 below the DC. Natural 20's increase your degree of success by 1, while natural 1s's reduce your degree of success by 1. This applies to all d20 rolls, so scoring natural 20's and natural 1's now matters every for ability checks and skill checks.
"Basic" Saving Throws
"Save for half damage" is now called a "Basic Saving Throw". These saving throws are so common and routine that Paizo got tired of writing out the mechanics, so now it's just a universal rule. Basic saving throws are primarily used for avoiding area of effect damage, but there are some exceptions. In all cases, a critical success negates the damage (think Evasion from 1st edition), success reduces the damage by half, failure takes full damage, and critical failure takes double damage.
2nd Edition introduces the concept of "flat checks". These are a straight d20 roll against a DC. Flat checks are used for things like removing status conditions, staying alive while dying, and some other effects.
The proficiency system is much different from 1st edition, and more closely resembles DnD 5e's proficiency system. You no longer suffer a penalty for using items in which you are not proficient; instead your add your "Proficiency Bonus". However, where DnD 5e's proficiency bonus is one number across the board, there are levels of proficiency in Pathfinder 2e which add your level plus a scaling bonus from +2 to +10.
Math works in largely the same way and on the same scale that it did in 1st edition. Proficiency bonuses add your character level, so characters routinely start with bonuses of +5, and 20th-level characters will frequently have bonuses exceeding +30.
Remember 1st editions traits? They were like a half-feat that gave you some small benefit like adding a class skill or a +1 to a saving throw. Those are gone.
2nd edition's traits have nothing to do with 1st edition's traits. Instead, they're a system of "tags" used to categorize entities in the game. Actions, items, spells, and even creatures use the same system of tags. Most tags don't have specific effects on their own, but certain effects work based on tags, and some tags like the "Flourish" tag might affect how the tagged entity works.
Modifiers and Stacking
Remember how Pathfinder 1st edition has a laundry list of bonus types? Circumstantial, divine, feat, competence, luck, enhancement, etc.? I'm not listing most of them, but I think you get the point. Those are all gone, for the most part.
Pathfinder 2e features just three types of bonuses: Circumstantial for when a circumstance gives you an advantage, item for when a well-made item provides an advantage, and status for when something about your character like a buff spell gives you a bonus. Like 1st edition, two bonuses of the same type never stack. There are a handful of untyped bonuses which always stack, but they're rare.
Penalties are of the same three types (plus "untyped" penalties), though penalties always stack, just like they did in 1st edition.
Ability scores are essentially the same as they were in 1st edition. The big difference is how you generate them. Rather than purchasing them using points and a table, everyone starts from 10 and gets "Boosts" throughout character creation which raise scores by 2, and potentially "Flaws" which reduce them by 2. You will have at most 18 and at minimum 8 in any single ability score at 1st level. Having two 18's at 1st level isn't possible as it was in 1st edition, but it's also less important.
Rather than getting +1 to one ability score every 4 levels, characters get four +2 ability boosts every 5th level (5th, 10th, 15th, 20th). This means that characters who need multiple high ability scores are much more playable, but it also means that there will be a lot of wizards with 18 Constitution at high levels.
Increasing an ability score beyond 18 is hard. Each Boost only increases the score by 1 if it's 18 or above, so hitting 20 generally isn't possible until 10th level. Magic items which increase ability scores are high level, and only increase your ability score by +2 at most, so a 20th-level character likely can't exceed a total ability score of 24, and even then it's only possible with one ability score.
Ancestries / Races
Races are now called "Ancestries". Your Ancestry provides ability boosts and potentially an ability flaw, but every race gets at least one "Free" boost which can be applied to any ability, and with the "Optional Flaws" rule you can adjust a race's ability boosts and flaws to make any race work well in any class.
Characters gain "Ancestry Feats" from their Ancestry's list of options, making your character's race a much more important part of their mechanics as you gain levels. And if you don't like your ancestry's feats, you can take the Adopted Ancestry feat and take someone else's.
Ancestries grant starting hitpoints, ranging from 6 to 12, which stack with the hit points gained from your class and your Constitution modifier. This makes 1st-level characters dramatically more durable than in 1st edition.
Finally, Ancestries offer special senses like low-light vision and Darkvision.
The list of Ancestries included in the core rules notably now include goblins. Goblins were popular in much of Paizo's 1st-edition content, so they made their way into the core rules as a playable race.
Heritages / Subraces
Every race has multiple "Heritages", which are basically subraces. You must select a Heritage. Generally a Heritage will add a single addition racial trait like resistance to fire damage or Darkvision.
Half-Elves and Half-Orcs are now a Heritage option for Humans. Unlike other Heritages, Half-Elves and Half-Orcs get altered Ancestry Feat options, allowing them to take feats from either parent race, as well as a handful of unique feats.
Classes haven't changed much, at least conceptually. However, their design learned a lot from changes over the lifetime of 1st edition. Every class has a collection of "Class Feats" (think Talents from 1st edition) which allow you to customize your class features as you gain levels.
Every class has a set of "subclasses", similar to archetypes in 1st edition. Unlike 1st edition, there's no default version of the class so you're forced to select a subclass.
Alchemists are now a core class. Thematically they're basically the same, but rather than replicating spells they now craft from a library of alchemical items.
Champions / Paladins
Paladins are no longer a class. Instead, there are now "Champions", which are basically paladins with out the alignment restriction. Instead, Paladin is a subclass, and the three subclass options in the core rules cover the three Good alignments.
Gunslingers didn't make it into the core rulebook.
You can no longer take levels in multiple classes. Instead, you can spend General Feats on "Multiclass Devotion Feats" similar to DnD 4e. Devotion feats get you a handful of mechanics from the class, including the ability to select some of the class's feats. However, you're generally locked into multiclassing into one class and can't select devotion feats from an additional class until you've gained enough feats from the first class you multiclassed into.
Mutliclassing is notably the only way to get access to several options like Attack of Opportunity and Quick Draw which were available to every character in 1st edition. I don't know why these are class-specific options.
Conceptually, skills are basically the same as they were in 1st edition. Skills mostly have the same names, and do most of the same things, but their functions have been expanded and clarified in many cases, and many skills were renamed and consolidated like there were in the transition from DnD 3.5 to Pathfinder 1e. Skills also have specific listed actions, some of which require proficiency of a specific rank before you can take the action.
Pathfinder 2e introduced "Lore Skills", which are a free-form skill similar to Knowledge skills in DnD 3.5 and Pathfinder 1st Edition. Lore topics are numerous (the core rules list 37 examples and hints at several more in other bits ot text), which I find frustrating and confusing, but Lore is a sort of catch-all skill used for general knowledge of something not covered by other skills. However, Lore does not replace major Knowledge skills from 1st edition, which have been renamed to things Like Arcana, Nature, Occultism, and Religion, much like DnD 5e.
Perception is no longer a skill. It looks like a skill, you use it like a skill, and in many ways it's basically a skill. But it's not a skill, so you can't use Skill Increases to improve it. Instead, your class will improve your Proficiency in Perception as you gain levels.
Feats are somehow less important and more important at the same time. You get many more feats than you did in Pathfinder 1e, but not all feats are created equal, and they are not interchangeable. Feats come in three varieties: Ancestry Feats, Class Feats (which includes Archetype feats like Multiclass Dedication feats), and General Feats (which includes Skill Feats).
As of the publishing of the Core Rulebook, there are just 17 General Feats which are not Skill Feats, so there aren't a ton of General Feat options.
Armor and Weapon Proficiency
The feats "Armor Proficiency" and "Weapon Proficiency" were only rarely useful in 1st edition, but they are truly worthless in 2nd edition. While they grant you proficiency, you never get further than Trained. Your class will improve your proficiency in the armors and weapons in which it gives you proficiency, but the extra proficiencies you get from these feats will never improve.
Racial weapon familiarity feat trees include a feat which allows your proficiency with those weapons to improve when your other weapon proficiencies improve, but Armor Proficiency and Weapon Proficiency have not such option.
Items have changed significantly from 1st edition.
Masterwork items are no longer a thing, though many items now have a level, indicating their approximate power and when characters might gain access to the item or have enough gold to acquire it.
Armor works very similarly to Pathfinder 1e, but some improvements have been made. The "Maximum Dexterity Bonus" has been renamed to "Dexterity Cap", and the "Armor Check Penalty" is simply "Check Penalty", but they mostly work the same way that they did in 1st edition. Check penalties are much less problematic, however, because if you meet a Strength threshold for a specific type of armor you simply ignore the penalty.
Armor also has special traits now, much like weapons. Different types of armor with different traits work for different characters, so you're no longer racing to purchase the most expensive type of armor in any given category.
You'll also notice that armor provides smaller bonuses to AC than 1st edition. Don't forget: you add your Proficiency Bonus to your armor's AC bonus, so at 1st level a character Trained in light armor who is wearing padded armor gets a total of +4 (+1 armor, +1 level, +2 for being Trained), not including their Dexterity bonus.
Shields are considerably different from 1st edition. You no longer gain a bonus to your AC simply by holding a shield. Instead, you need to use an action on your turn to "Raise a Shield". You then recieve a Circumstance bonus to AC based on the shield's statistics.
You can also gain access to the "Shield Block" Reaction from a feat or class feature. As a Reaction to being hit, you can use your shield to block some of the damage which you would normally take, but your shield takes damage in the process. This means that you'll need to track the state of your shield, and broken and destroyed shields may be frequent casualties of your adventuring. If you choose to use a shield, expect to trade them out or repair them after a hard fight. Magic shields and shields made of special materials like adamantine are available, though they're very expensive.
Weapons are more diverse and unique than in 1st edition. Weapons have a complex web of traits, making each weapon interesting and unique. The difference between a greataxe and a great sword is now considerably more interesting than 1d12 vs. 2d6. Different traits might make different weapons good in different situations or might be more appealing based on your character. Feats like Weapon Focus are gone, so you're no longer mechanically locked into a single weapon.
Ranged weapons and Finesse weapons still deal damage like they did in 1st edition: you add your Strength modifier for melee weapons and thrown weapons. Some ranged weapons like composite bows add half of your Strength bonus, too. Finesse weapons allow you to use Dexterity for your attacks, and you no longer need a feat to do so.
Weapons now have a "rarity". Common weapons are available to everyone, while Uncommon weapons are generally only available to members of a race which uses them or characters with certain feats.
Item weights are no longer tracked in pounds. Instead, Pathfinder 2e uses a "Bulk" system, which approximates how difficult an item is to carry based on its size, its wieght, and potentially how it is contained.
Combat still feels pretty similar. A few things have different names, and the meta is going to change based on what character options we see, but combat still feels pretty similar to 1st edition.
Actions in Combat
The action economy is much simpler tahan 1st edition. On your turn you get three Actions, plus one Reaction which you can take during any creature's turn which resets at the beginning of your turn. Some actions are "Free" and can be used in response to specific triggers. Some actions take more than one Action, in which case they're called "Activities".
Swift actions no longer exist. Most actions that would be a swift action are now either a single action or a free action, if they still exist at all.
Attacking Multiple Times
In 1st edition, raising your Base Attack Bonus to the point that you got extra attacks was a major milestone. In 2nd edition, you can make as many "Strikes as you have actions, so you can make three attacks at 1st level. However, you take a scaling penalty (-5 on the second attack, -10 on all attacks after that) which often makes those attacks unreliable. Agile weapons reduce these penalties somewhat, but they're still significant (-4 and -8).
Some actions like the Monk's "Flurry of Blows" allow you to make more than one "Strike" during the same action, potentially allowing you to make huge numbers of Strikes in a single turn. These Strikes still take the multiple attack penalty, so it's possible to find yourself making numerous attacks at a -10 penalty.
Attacks of Opportunity
Attacks of Opportunity were a defining part of how movement worked in 1st edition, and they were a central part of how martial characters like fighters kept enemies from racing past them to attack weaker allies like wizards.
"Attack of Opportunity" is now a class feature exclusive to certain classes, (Barbarians, Champions, and Fighers), which means that in most cases you can walk right past other creatures unhindered. The only way for other classes to get access to Attack of Opportunity is to take Fighter Multiclass Feats.
Initiative is no longer a Dexterity check. It's not a check, but your check will be based on what you were doing when combat started. Generally this will be a Perception, but you might use Stealth if you were hiding when combat started, or your GM might let you use another skill in certain circumstances.
Movement itself hasn't changed, but the implications of movement have changed. Since attacks of opportunity are no longer an option for every creature, moving past enemies is much safer.
Taking a 5-foot step (simply called "Stepping" now) takes a single actionm but with no attacks of opportunity it's rare that you'll need to do so.
Throwing weapons is much harder in 2nd edition than it was in 1st edition. Quick Draw is exclusive to Rangers and Rogues, so most classes need to use one of your three Actions on your turn to draw a weapon, and to the best of my knowledge there is no way around this without multiclass archetype feats.
Two-weapon fighting is barely a thing. There are something like four class feats in total which let you do something special with two weapons, and that's all. Beyond that, you'll do just as well attacking twice with one weapon.
Casting spells works in largely the same way as it did in 1st edition, but a few new mechanics have been added, metamagic is totally different, and cantrips are much more important.
Casting a spell is typically a 2-Action Activity, so most spellcasters will only be able to cast one spell per turn. However, the the Quickened Casting feat (available to Bards, Sorcerers, and Wizards) can reduce many spells casting time by one action, allowing you do things like casting three cantrips in one turn. If you don't want to (or can't) get Quickened Casting, you can always use your leftover single action for things like moving around or firing a bow.
Pathfinder's spells go up to 10th level. Some 9th-level spells from 1st edition remain 9th-level, while others have been bumped up to 10th, and a bunch of new spells were introduced.
Cantrips are much more important and much more effective than they were in 1st edition. Like DnD 5e, cantrips are a reusable, bottomless source of reliable magic, including in combat. Pathfinder 2e's cantrips scale at every odd-numbered level, making them perpetually useful, even in combat.
Focus spells are a totally separate system from regular spellcasting, though casting the spells works the same way. Each class has a small list of exclusive "Focus Spells" which only that spell can cast. Feats and some class features give you access to a "Focus Pool", which can contain at most three points. Casting a Focus Spell costs one Focus Point, and Focus Spells are always heightened to half your level rounded up (the highest-level spell a spellcaster can cast). You can spend 10 minutes to recover a Focus Point, making Focus Spells an easily-recharged wellspring of powerful magic.
Focus spells replaced "partial casters" like paladins and rangers from 1st edition. Spellcasters who can cast normal spells can all cast spells of 1st thorugh 10th level. Many notable class features like the Paladin's "Lay on Hands" are now Focus Spells.
Many spells can be "heightened", increasing their effective level and improving their effects similar to how spells work in DnD 5e. However, unlike DnD 5e, heightened versions of spells are treated as different spells for the purposes of learning them. For example: Fireball is a 3rd-level spell, and can be heightened for an additional 2d6 damage per spell level. If your class needs to learn spells (either adding them to a Spellbook or adding them to your "Repertoire"), you add each level of the spell as though it were a different spell.
Metamagic is much more flexible than 1st edition. Now, you use a metamagic feat as an action immediately before casting a spell, allowing you to apply the feat to the spell on the fly. However, metamagic feats generally have requirements on which spells can benefit, and you can generally only apply one metamagic feat at a time.
There are now exactly four spell lists: arcane, divine, primal, and occult. Each spellcasting class gets its own spell list, except for the Sorcerer, who gets to choose one of those four options depending on their bloodline. I imagine that future supplements will both expand those spell lists and add additional classes which will use those spell lists.
Magic items work similarly to how they did in 1st edition. You can still purchase them using gold like any other item, but many of the boring numerical items which dominated 1st edition have been simplified. 2nd edition notably did away with the rigid slot system, much like DnD 5e. Instead, you're limited to "investing" 10 magic items (including your armor, but not weapons) per day to enable you to use their magic properties.
Armor and Weapons
Armor and Weapons now use a system of "Runes" to enhance their capabilities.
Weapon runes come in three varieties: Weapon Potency, Striking Weapon, and Weapon Property. Weapon Potency runes grant an item bonus to attacks and add capacity for Weapon Property runes. Sriking Weapon runes multiply your weapon's damage dice, not only adding extra damage per Strike, but improving many feats and actions which work based on the number of damage dice dealt by your weapon. Weapon Property runes as special abilities like Flaming.
Armor runes also come in three varieties: Armor Potency, Resilient Armor, and Armor Property. Armor Potency increases the armor's AC bonus and add capacity for Armor Property runes. Resiliant Armor adds an item bonus to saving throws, replacing a Cloak of Protection from 1st edition. Armor Property runes add special properties like Erergy-Resistent.
Magic shields don't count as "Armor" for this purpose. If you add a Shield Boss or Shield Spikes to a shield, and they can use weapon runes, but the shield itself can't accept armor runes.
Runes can be transfered between items of the same type (weapon to weapon, armor to armor) or onto a Runestone (basically a temporary container for a magic Rune). Gone are the days of finding a +3 longsword and selling it so you can get a +2 shortsword which you can use effectively.
Beyond mechanical stuff, Paizo made other changes to the gamw and the way in which it's presented.
The core rules include a detailed Downtime system. This includes options for working, crafting, and retraining character options during downtime.
Experience points are no longer "additive", meaning that you no longer add your experience to a perpetually growing number. Now, each character gains a level when they hit 1,000 experience points, at which point they reset to 0.
Planning encounters now follows a similar method to DnD 5e: The GM has a budget based on the level of the party and the number of player characters, and spends it on threats to fill the encounter. The cost per creature is based on the creature's level relative to the level of the players, so lower-level creatures are worth less xp. This naturally adjusts the experience awards so that you never need to hit a point where characters are recieving tens or hundreds of thousands of points of xp per session.
Tabletop RPGs have long been a welcoming and safe space for people who felt ostracized or uncomfortable in their own skin, but historically the art and language used in source materials catered heavily to male players, and did little to acknowledge diversity. The RPG industry as a whole has gone a long way in recent years to use inclusive language in source materials and to portray gender and ethnic diversity in their materials. The 2nd edition core rulebook includes a few concise, but extremely well-worded sections of gender identity, inclusion, and how to politely portray characters of other ethnicities and gender identities than yourself.
Level / CR
Monsters no longer use a "Challenge Rating". Instead, they have a level. The level scale starts at -1, and there are no longer fractional challenge ratings like there were in 1st edition.
Monster Stat Blocks
Monsters no longer list their raw ability scores, instead listing just their ability modifiers. The difference between even- and odd-numbered ability scores rarely mattered in 1st edition, and effects which adjusted ability scores have gone away in favor of status conditions like Enfeebled.
Status Conditions have changed a lot since 1st edition. They are more numerous, and many conditions use a numeric scale like "Enfeebled 1" or "Frightened 2". Status conditions often have different effects, too, like Dazzled making enemies Concealed to you.