As someone who has played tabletop RPGs for years, I enjoyed seeing how the genre evolved. The idea for this article came to me recently when I was talking to a friend. It got me thinking about why I enjoy running and playing Pathfinder over D&D 5th Edition. I am not the only one. All the people I have talked to about this are split with very few in the middle. If you are new to d20 systems as a whole, you may be confused about the difference and why people tend to choose one. These two games have many things in common and yet feel different. In this article, I will explain what the difference is between Pathfinder and D&D.
While I may use just Pathfinder or D&D, the games I am referring to are Pathfinder 2 and D&D 5th edition.
The Fallout Syndrome
However, before I get into the main differences between the two, I feel like an analogy will clarify things more. Picture the Bethesda Fallout games with Fallout 3 being D&D 3.5, Fallout New Vegas as Pathfinder, and Fallout 4 as D&D 5th Edition. The reason for D&D 3.5 is that you start to see the shift in Dungeons and Dragons.
Fallout 3 was an RPG where you gained experience doing quests, and after enough experience, you got to level up. During the level up, you earned points to place into skills. The skills gave you access to weapons, harder locks, etc. as long as you met the skill requirement. You had many skills to choose from, some of which seemed spread out. For example, you had big guns and small guns. In Fallout New Vegas, big guns and small guns were combined into guns, and Fallout 4 let you use any weapon. Fallout New Vegas simplified and improved on systems that were already in place. Like D&D, Fallout 4 has been remade to accommodate new players, which is great for some players but terrible for others.
For those familiar with the Fallout games, there are plenty of other examples other than just skills.
The Two Main Parts Of Tabletop RPG
In every tabletop RPG I have played, there are two primary components, diversity and simplicity. Diversity is what the system allows you to do in relation to everyone else. I describe diversity by asking if you have a party of six fighters, roleplaying aside how different they will behave mechanically? The easier it is to distinguish the fighters, the more diverse it is. Simplicity is how hard the game is to learn and how hard it is to keep track of rules that apply to your character. An example is that wizards are more complex than barbarians because of their spells. When I talk about diversity and simplicity, many people first think it is a slider with diversity on one side and simplicity on the other. While it is true that more diverse games can be more complicated, that is not the case. For me, diversity and simplicity are two sliders that work separately from each other. There are are very simple games with many choices to choose from. On the other hand there are complex games with few rules.
Diversity In Pathfinder.
Pathfinder is a more diverse game. Every class has abilities called feats. You get feats every level attributed to your race, class, etc., which has you build your character one level at a time. The primary class abilities follow archetypes. If you want to gain abilities in that archetype, you need the ones before it. For example, to be a better fighter archer, who wants to get higher-level archery abilities, you need to have the ones that came before it. There are also abilities at higher tiers based around the fighter concept and do not require you to take any abilities before it. Also, you are not locked into your choice. If you decide that archery is excellent, but you also need to get better with a sword, you can start going up the fighter sword path.
The other feats are general feats that give you bonuses to skills or proficiency and racial, giving you an ability associated with your race.
You can choose the skills you want and are not restricted by class. These skills can be improved by giving better bonuses. Every class has skills they are better at, but you are not required to take them.
Diversity In D&D
D&D is a less diverse game. Races get a few feats associated with them but usually just give bonuses at 1st level. The classes provide the same abilities to everyone who takes them besides archetype abilities. For example, all wizards gain arcane recovery. The archetypes are specializations that your character goes down. Once you choose an archetype, you are locked into it. Also, feats are entirely optional and replace the ability to get more points to add to your ability scores.
Simplicity in Pathfinder
Pathfinder has many options in terms of character creation. As mentioned above, these abilities can be overwhelming to new players who have to keep track of them all. You do not need to roll for health because you gain a flat rate every time you level up. There are proficiencies like 5th edition except that they have four different levels that apply to different parts of your character. You have three actions that can be anything from three movements to three attacks, depending on what you want.
When spell casting, you have to prepare the spells you want to cast each morning and how many of that spell except for bards and sorcerers. Spells take multiple actions depending on the power of the spell.
Simplicity In D&D
D&D 5th edition’s purpose was for people new to the genre to be able to play without issue. Besides class abilities, all the core classes act similarly. Proficiency always stays the same and is based on character level, not class level. The skills you can get are based on your background and class with no way to choose skills that do not apply. Your turn consists of an action, a movement, and a bonus. Every ability you get falls into one of these three actions.
Every caster class uses spell slots that let you cast spells. You prepare your spells every morning and cast any spell you have prepared for as long as you have the correct spell slot.
What To Do When Not Dungeoning Or Pathfinding.
In a campaign, there will be times when you have downtime. This is where these two games differ significantly. Pathfinder has things you can do during this time, the most prominent being crafting. Pathfinder has good rules on all of these, including creating regular and magic gear. In addition to crafting, you can do other things ranging from working a job to deciphering text to stealing.
D&D does not have such a great selection of downtime activities. This is primarily due to the simplification of their system. After all, it is designed for new players to get into D&D, and removing these systems lowers the learning curve. The good news is that the homebrewing community can make up for rules and guides for activities that the rules lack if your DM wants to add them.
Wizards created 5th edition for new players. Pathfinder improves upon an old system. If you have no experience with RPGs, whether video games or tabletop, then D&D 5th edition is the game for you. However, if you have experience and want something a little more robust in terms of things you can do, Pathfinder 2 is the right choice.
If you want to learn how to DM, the 5th edition is the way to go. Pathfinder can be a little cumbersome for new DM’s, although it can be more rewarding once you get over the learning curve.