As we approach the next iteration of Dungeons & Dragons, more and more players are starting to ask themselves a very important question: Do I stick with D&D or switch to something else? Once upon a time, such a question was silly. Yes, there’s always been a number of tabletop roleplaying games to choose from. But the majority of them were either very niche or they just paled in comparison to what WotC was able to offer. These days, however, the question isn’t so simple. As the hobby continues to reach new audiences, the alternatives to D&D continue to grow. One of the first options that comes to mind when a person starts researching alternatives to D&D is Pathfinder. If you’re unfamiliar with the Pathfinder system, I’m going to tell you everything you need to know in this article.
The Pathfinder Roleplaying Game is a fantasy tabletop RPG system created by Paizo Publishing. Originally released in 2009, Pathfinder was created, in part, to provide continued support to players of D&D‘s 3rd Edition. With the release of D&D 4E, many fans were put off by changes the new edition made to their favorite game. With no new 3E or 3.5E material being produced by WotC, Paizo Publishing saw an opportunity to not only continue to release 3E-compatible material, but also use the 3rd Edition Open Game License to create a whole new game rooted the familiar mechanics of D&D 3.5. This new game, named Pathfinder, would eventually grow to become D&D’s biggest competitor.
In its early days, fans of the game would joking refer to Pathfinder as D&D 3.75. But it didn’t take long before Pathfinder carved out its own niche and become a very unique product. The first two products for the new system were released just months apart; the Core Rulebook and the Bestiary. If comparing Pathfinder to D&D, the Core Rulebook serves as a replacement for both the Player’s Handbook and the Dungeon Master’s Guide. The Bestiary is the equivalent to the Monster Manual.
The Core Rulebook provided both the players and the game master with everything they needs to run a game of Pathfinder. The rules for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game are based on the D20 system and are almost identical to D&D 3.5. The majority of the changes to the gameplay included the implementation of a number of popular house rules, some balancing changes, and changes to the skill system. Basically, anyone familiar with D&D 3.5 would be able to sit down at a Pathfinder table and fit right in. But, this didn’t last long.
As the years rolled by, the release schedule for Pathfinder products quickened. A number of new books were produced that added new classes and races to the game. Titles like the Advanced Player’s Guide and Pathfinder Unchained added new levels of complexity to the game or even completely reimagined the core ruleset. By 2018, Pathfinder had grown and changed so much, that it barely resembled D&D at all. It was at this time that a second edition of Pathfinder was announced.
Pathfinder 2E is the current version of the game and the one that is recommended to players who are interested in trying out the the system. If you’re coming from D&D 5E, there’s a few things that you should know. First of all, both games are rooted in the d20 system. So, while the two rulesets have a considerable number of differences, at the most basic level, the core rules should seem familiar. Compared to D&D, combat is Pathfinder is very action focused. For example, characters have three actions that they can take in combat. Various skills and attacks use a different number of actions. For example, simply striking with a weapon when a monster is in range is a single action. But, running up to a monster and THEN striking would take a total of two actions. Casting a simple spell is likely only going to consume a single action, but casting a complex spell may take two or three actions (depending on the spell). You get the idea. It’s a nice simplification to what was previously a very complex set of rules.
Also, Pathfinder offers players a bigger selection of options when it comes to character creation. This system has more playable classes and races than D&D. By the end of its life, the original Pathfinder game was really out of control with all of the playable races and nuanced classes. 2E scales things back considerably, but there’s still way more options that the average D&D player is probably used to.
There’s really no way to effectively list all of differences between D&D and Pathfinder 2E in a single article. At this point, they are very much two completely different games. But they are both rooted in the same ruleset. There’s no way to simply say one is better than the other. Both games are solid and polished, but they are likely to appeal to different types of players. In a nutshell, it’s safe to say that Pathfinder is the more chaotic and complex cousin to Dungeons & Dragons. So if that’s what you’re craving, you should certainly give Pathfinder a serious look.
But what if you don’t care about number crunching and rule complexity? Should you abandon D&D for Pathfinder? My answer to that question would be; it depends. If you have friends that actively play Pathfinder, then by all means join them and have fun. The rules are solid and there’s a huge community of players. The product is healthy and you’ll certainly find plenty of support if that’s the route you wish to take. But if you’ve never played a TTRPG before, it might be easier to jump into D&D. Generally speaking, D&D is still much more popular and the rules are arguably easier to master.
Personally, I find Pathfinder to be extremely interesting and I really like the direction that 2E has taken when it comes to combat. But, I just seem to feel more at home with D&D. At this time, I don’t see myself switching my main TTRPG habit to Pathfinder any time soon.
As is the case with D&D, if you’re looking to get into Pathfinder, there’s a basic boxed set that will get you started for cheap. But if you’re looking to go with the more traditional route, the classic style rulebooks are the way to go. When buying rulebooks for Pathfinder, you’ll want to be sure you’re picking up the Second Edition versions:
Core Rulebook – This is essentially your D&D Player’s Handbook.
Bestiary – Collection of monsters to use in game (ie: Monster Manual)
Gamemastery Guide – It’s like the Dungeon Master’s Guide for D&D, but expanded.
As you might expect, there’s a number of optional books on the market as well. To date, there’s actually two additional Bestiary books, an Advanced Player’s Guide (more classes, races, and options), and a handful of other supplements available.