Aug 30 , 2022
Well, we might as well kick this hornet nest as hard as we can. This actually touches on some of the darker sides of gaming; gatekeeping and tribalism. And we might as well get this out of the way. One game is not better than the other, they’re just different. They share a lot of similarities, but there are some notable differences. Nobody is less of a gamer for liking one over the other, and everyone has a right to their opinions and a right to like one game over another for whatever reason. We’re all here to have fun.
If we are going to compare these two systems, let’s start with the basics. What is Dungeons and Dragons? DnD is a roleplaying game where you create a character and that character is set out on a journey. It’s hard to encapsulate DnD succinctly, because it really depends on the adventure you play. It can be one of the modules where the themes and experiences vary greatly, or it can be a completely unique adventure created by your Dungeon Master. At the core, it’s a storytelling vehicle where everyone participates to see how it plays out. Everyone has their set of Dungeons and Dragons dice, and fate is just a luck of the roll. Pathfinder is not much different than that. It also takes place in a fantasy world full of monsters and it plays out in the broad strokes the same as DnD. They both use the D20 system, so they both use the same kinds of dice. You and your friends create characters, roll dice, and help each other tell a unique story.
Where these two games start to differ are actually in the nuts and bolts of the game. Let’s start with the character sheets for both games. In DnD, the character sheet in 5th edition is very straight forward. On the left are all of the numbers for your stats, then there is a set of boxes for saving throws and skills, boxes for your armor class, initiative, and speed. There’s another set of boxes for a brief summary of your character’s personality for easy reference, and then a big box to write in whatever features and traits your character gains on their journey. There’s also boxes to reference for combat and equipment, but really that’s about it.
The Pathfinder character sheet is a bit more complex. It mostly starts out the same, the character stats are on the top left. Then next to it is an entire box for armor class. Where in DnD armor class is one number, Pathfinder helps you walk through the math to calculate your armor class. Then it has a box for hit points. DnD has two boxes for hit points (current and temporary), but Pathfinder includes boxes for conditions you might have and a box to reference any resistances and/or immunities.
Gameplay can vary almost as widely as the character sheets. In Pathfinder, it’s a more gritty game. Hit points regenerate slower so there’s more of a penalty for taking damage. Items with charges don’t regain those charges, so it’s much more important to use your items wisely. There are more numbers and conditions that will affect how well your character does. Pathfinder is a much meatier book so there’s more structure vs DnD. DnD has a habit of leaving a lot of rules up to interpretation from the DM, take spellcasting for instance. Spellcasting in DnD can get a little crunchy, but if the DM decides that it’s not necessary to spend money getting a supply of bat guano and keeping it on your person at all times just so you can cast that fireball, they can easily wave it away. It just costs a spell slot to cast and you have a fixed amount. Pathfinder is different. The number of spell slots a character has reflects in the character’s stats. In DnD, it is advantageous to have a high intelligence because that determines the number the enemy must beat on their roll to not get hurt by the spell. Pathfinder says if your character doesn’t have the proper level of intelligence, they don’t know how to prepare the spell. It won’t matter if you have the spell in your spellbook or not. If you only have a 16 for Intelligence, 6th level spells are all you know how to prepare.
All in all, Dungeons and Dragons is a much more simplified system whereas Pathfinder is much more nuanced and complex. For new players, DnD is a great system. Character creation is easy enough to grasp and can be done in about half an hour. Getting into a game is less challenging, and learning to run the game is fairly straightforward. Pathfinder is more detailed. It’s a system that rewards players for grasping the nuances of the game. It’s much more realistic in that players have to think smart or they might not survive.
Dungeons and Dragons has an advantage of being around longer. It’s been about 50 years since the 1st edition and because of that it has name recognition. The first game people think of when they mention role playing games is Dungeons and Dragons. But Pathfinder was designed by gamers as an act of love. People were worried about D&D 4th edition, everyone loved D&D 3.5. That’s where Pathfinder came from, and it’s been a remarkable success.
It’s really hard to offer any kind of recommendations. Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition is much more friendly to new gamers, but while a 640 page book could be very intimidating to newbies, Pathfinder is a great game for experienced gamers. It has everything DnD has, only more. It’s a greater challenge, and many will find that to be more fun. It depends on what kind of game you want. Give both a try, you might be surprised! The most important thing about role playing games transcends the system. Are you having fun with your friends? Are you enjoying the story? Do you enjoy the world all of you are building?