Pathfinder and D&D

Role-playingAs you might remember from previous posts, I’m an avid Roleplayer (like Vin Diesel and Wil Wheaton). Next year, Pathfinder 2 is coming. If this doesn’t mean anything to you, read on, I’ll explain some D&D history.

Dungeons & Dragons

Dungeons & Dragons is often considered synonymous with roleplaying. This isn’t, in fact, true. Dungeons & Dragons is a roleplaying game, but not all roleplaying games are Dungeons & Dragons. In fact, there are dozens of roleplaying games, some having multiple editions of their own. For example, I reviewed Shadowrun a while back.

Dungeons & Dragons has five editions of its own. Or, well, seven editions, with weird numbering. They are in order:

  • Dungeons & Dragons, released in 1974
  • Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, released in 1977
  • Advanced Dungeons & Dragons second edition, released in 1989
  • Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition, released in 2000
  • Dungeons & Dragons 3.5, released in 2003
  • Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition, released in 2008
  • Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition, released in 2014

Confused yet? Don’t be. Just know there are seven editions of this game and check with your group which you’re going to play before buying any books.

The system has evolved over the years. The first few editions were pretty simple, with some weird math here and there. Third edition expanded the complexity considerably to allow for more player options, but eased the math. Then fourth edition tried to streamline the system to fit a computer game model, which a lot of fans didn’t like, and now fifth edition has rolled around which tries to strike a balance between simple rules and player options.

Pathfinder 1

You might be wondering where Pathfinder fits in with this. As I explained above, 2008 saw the release of Dungeons & Dragons Fourth edition. A lot of players did not like this edition. Those players stuck to edition 3.5 at first. However, this edition still had a number of flaws.

Unrelated to the above, fourth edition also had a more restrictive game license than 3.5. Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 was released under the Open Game License, allowing modifications to and republishing of the system. When the publisher Paizo saw D&D 4th edition released with a restrictive license and a non-stellar system, they decided to create their own system based on Dungeons & Dragons 3.5. They called this system Pathfinder and released it in 2009.

D&D versus Pathfinder

Pathfinder builds on top of D&D 3.5, but adds and balances some things. There are more classes than standard D&D and the classes receive more different power and bonuses as the characters gain experience levels. There’s also been some combat balancing, and a lot of extensions.

I personally haven’t played fourth edition, but did have an extended look at the rules. To me it looked more like the basis of a video game than a roleplaying game. There was a lot of emphasis on powers and combat. I’ve since heard that combat sessions in fourth edition could take forever.

D&D fifth edition did away with a lot of the complexity of the previous two editions. In some ways it went back to the ideas behind second edition: simple with complexity added by storytelling and the dungeon master.

So, where does that leave you if you have to choose an edition? I’ve played D&D second edition, third edition, 3.5, and fifth, as well as pathfinder, so I guess I have some experience in the matter.

I would say, if you’re a casual gaming group who doesn’t want complicated rules, then you should go with Dungeons & Dragons fifth edition. If you like rules that can handle many nuances and give you a lot of choice, at the cost of a steeper learning curve, well then Pathfinder is for you. I would only recommend D&D 3.5 if you wish to play a specific campaign setting such as Eberron, although even then you might want to use Pathfinder and pull some conversion rules from the internet.

Pathfinder 2

The details about Pathfinder 2 are still sketchy. A playtest is coming in August. I’m interested, but I’ll probably wait for the final product next year to have a look.

The focus seems to be on streamlining the game. Pathfinder, like D&D 3.5 has a lot of options but a steep learning curve. I like fifth edition because I’m not constantly looking up rules, where I was forced to do this in D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder. That has as much to do with me being too lazy/old/casual as it has with the system.

Pathfinder doesn’t look like it’s simplifying too much, but trying to make it more consistent. That’s a good thing. One of the Major drawbacks of Shadowrun, for example, was not just that it had a lot of rules, but that those rules were different for every situation. If the rules are versatile but consistent, play becomes smoother.

An example from the Paizo blog: you used to be able to perform seven different types of actions in combat in various combinations (for example, move and fight). In the new edition you simply get three actions and get to combine them however you like (move three times, or move once and attack twice, etc.). It looks simple enough, but still allows for a lot of options.

In short, it seems Pathfinder 2 is gearing up to be the more in-depth younger sibling of D&D fifth edition. And I think that’s a good thing.

Martin Stellinga Written by:

I'm a science fiction and fantasy writer from the Netherlands