To Pathfinder, or to D&D?

Six months ago, I had little to no knowledge on the differences of Pathfinder, and Dungeons and Dragons. When I was about 15 years old, my brother first introduced me to D&D, and we started off on the greatest system we could have; 4th Edition. For those of you who don’t know, 4E would go down as one of the worst RPG systems of its time.

I always played some sort of tabletop role playing game throughout high school, playing D&D, GURPS, and Call of Cthulhu to name a few. I even helped my brother test a system of his own that he built. But after high school, my circle of friends moved in different directions, and I took an elongated hiatus from tabletop role playing until about six months ago, when I simultaneously joined a D&D 5E, and a Pathfinder campaign. This article is going to focus on the strengths and weaknesses of each system.



Pathfinder is often referred to as a ‘fixed’ 3.5E. 4E tried to expand combat, and create intricacies that would make what you are doing feel extremely powerful, but they ended up creating a system with so many things going on in combat, it feels slow and boring, often times making single encounters take up an entire session. Because of this, a lot of the actual RPG aspect of the game was lost, making the system just all around an awful time.

Enter Pathfinder. Pathfinder ran off of the core rule set of 3.5E, and focused a similar level of importance on combat as 4E, but didn’t remove the content that was based for use outside of combat. They also had more streamlined abilities and powers, making combat flow easier. The idea with Pathfinder is to have the complexity and depth of a fully fleshed out system, while making it as painless as possible. Now, this doesn’t mean it’s 100% painless.

The character I created for Pathfinder is a Kobold Druid, whose animal companion is a Velociraptor that is believed to be his God. Character creation for my character and his animal companion took around two hours with help from friends and video guides. Each level up takes me between 15 and 30 minutes to complete, and I’m under constant fear that I’m doing something wrong, but I have almost complete creative control over how I want my character to develop. I am working towards a build where I will be able to play a 100% support role for the animal companion and his team mates, and with how fleshed out the rule book is, I can trace out the exact path I want to take him down with each level up.

The drawback to this, is the system is very punishing if you misunderstand how your character’s abilities and weapons work, or if you just choose bad feats or skills for the particular campaign that you’re playing in. 

Major Pros: 

  • Extremely deep in depth system that allows complete creative freedom.
  • Provides the opportunity for particularly strategic game play.
  • Rewards of true satisfaction after each level up.

Major Cons:

  • Extreme complexity is brought with the extreme depth of the system.
  • Game play is generally slower due to the amount of options available.
  • Unforgiving for players who misinterpret rules or interactions.

The complexity level comes with its trade offs. On one hand, I have a near unlimited amount of options, on the other hand, it makes it a lot more difficult to build an effective character, while also requiring more time spent to understand all of your options. Overall Pathfinder is an enjoyable system that provides an amount of complexity that makes me feel smart, while also challenging me to learn and understand the game better.


Dungeons and Dragons

The one word I would use to describe Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition is ‘simplified’. The largest reason for this is the exclusion of the Skill chart. In both D&D and Pathfinder, you have an amount of Skills available to you that are each associated with an Ability Score. In Pathfinder, you can put Ranks into different Skills and get miscellaneous modifiers added to them, and each occasion where you would like to make an action (ie. Climb, Swim, Knowledge Nature) you roll for that specific Skill. In D&D5E however, you simply roll for the specific Ability that is associated with the Skill. You can still get bonuses to different Skills from various things (racial bonuses, class bonus, etc.) but not to the extent of Pathfinder. Another difference is each Skill in D&D5E is a lot more generalized and less specific, so there are fewer of them.

By doing this, it tones down the complexity required for a more in depth experience, and also frees up a lot of space on the character sheet, making it easier to look at, understand, and process. Making the character sheet easy to read is an extremely overlooked step in a lot of design teams I feel. By doing this, you make game play feel a lot quicker. Players are able to locate a specific item or ability on their sheet in no time, keeping the flow of game play at a steady pace. I understand that with time, familiarity with one’s character sheet will come, but they are still saving people a lot of brain power by making it that much easier for them.

Character creation for me took about twenty minutes with the help of my brother. Each level up takes between five and ten minutes, and it is always a breeze. When you level up, you usually get X amount of Y, or 1DX added to your Z, or you unlock a new ability for your character. It moves quickly, and there is clear character growth at the end of it. This comes at the drawback of a much smaller amount of creative freedom. You are by no means limited in your options, but they are noticeably fewer. However, this does mean that there are much fewer useless spells and feats in the game, making for a more forgiving system where your current build won’t be flipped on it’s side because you chose a bad feat.

Major Pros:

  • Simplified mechanics allow for quick game play.
  • Does not feel overwhelming with easy to process character sheets.
  • Forgiving system that provides fewer opportunities for players to pick a bad feat or spell.

Major Cons:

  • Simplified mechanics make the DM call a lot of shots via improvisation.
  • Creative freedom is somewhat stripped based on the availability of content.
  • ‘Best in Slot’ spells or weapons cause for somewhat mundane combat.

D&D5E calls for the simplification of the system, which comes at a real cost of limiting creative freedom, without making the system boring or bland. Because everything is simplified, it makes things move faster as well. Overall it provides a satisfying experience that is usually well paced.


When comparing the two, I can’t pick a favorite. They both have real strengths and weaknesses that I genuinely enjoy, and I can’t recommend one over the other due to the differences in the experiences I have had. They are two great systems that appeal to different types of people, and I believe they both are needed in the balance they provide to allow people to play and enjoy tabletop role playing games.

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