Pathfinder 2.0 And 5th Edition D&D

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Pathfinder 2.0 comes at an interesting time. It owes a lot to 5th Edition, but how might it stand out?

If you’ve been poking around on the Internet, odds are good you know that Pathfinder is getting a second edition sometime next year. And if you’re on the internet, you probably also know that theres this little game called 5th Edition. Both are gonna have an effect on each other–both are a big deal in their own way. So I want to talk about both of them–this isn’t a PF vs 5th atticle, just sort of a look at the field as it stands. We’re in a real interesting place right now, with 5th Edition bringing more people into the gaming fold than ever. So let’s talk about these two titans.

After a decade of adventures, the somewhat affectionately termed “3.75 Edition” is getting a significant update. Although, really they’ve had several over the course of the last ten years. There was the Advanced Player’s Guide, which radically changed Pathfinder, then the Ultimate Player’s Guide, and the various campaign settings that have added up to more than 40 classes and 50 races.

And untold numbers of prepackaged meals for hungry dragons…

That’s part of what makes Pathfinder, well, Pathfinder. More than anything else–more than Golarion, more than their proprietary spells and unique magic items, more than monsters and mayhem–the thing that defines Pathfinder, for me, is how it treats characters. And it believes that characters should be customizable. No. More than that. Still within the confines of a class and level based system, but inside that ruleset is a ton of complexity.

That’s part of Pathfinder’s strength, and part of its weakness. You can make your character anything–you can be a string fighter who wields a two-handed weapon, or a duelist who is fast and agile, or a weird chain whip wielding fighter, or one who is really good at shoving people around or–well, you get the idea. But, littered throughout are false choices. Ones that can render your character nigh-unplayable because you didn’t grab the right feats, features, or combination of ex, sp, and su abilities–sole of which can be countered with magic or an anti-magic field, others are immune. And so on.

So it’s interesting to see them taking a cue from 5th Edition with their new announcement. And, for better or worse, that’s going to be made. Whether it borrows much or veryblittle, Pathfinder 2.0 is going to be held up to 5th Edition. Much like Pathfinder was held up along 3.5 and later 4th edition.

Ah. 4th Edition. A fantastic system* that executed its ideas poorly (depending on who you ask, I think modern RPG design owes a lot to this edition, and that 5th Edition is a sneaky reinterpretation of 4th Edition design philosophy, but that’s another matter entirely). Pathfinder owes a lot to this Edition especially. Without 4th, you wouldn’t have Pathfinder–the space created by 4th Edition’s lackluster performance was filled largely by Pathfinder. You can go back through and look at various data visualizations to see for yourself.

But Pathfinder 2.0 is coming out at a time when RPGs are in a 2nd (or 3rd, maybe even 4th) golden age. More people now are playing them than ever before. And 5th Edition is king. It was, as recently as the 9th of March, the #3 selling book on Amazon. It is the most popular edition of D&D ever, and it’s easy to see how its design has influenced PF2.0. This isnt a bad thing–games like both of these borrow from all over.

But it does present an interesting space for Pathfinder to step into. Streamlned rules are what people want–especially for GMs and new playets. You want to be able to put together an adventure without needing five different books and three hours to figure out what all the feats on an Archdevil do. And it sounds like that’s the direction Paizo is going, but like before, they’re carving or their own identity in this new design space. Customizability is the name of their game, and if you look at their FAQ, you’ll see that they still definitely want to keep the granularity that makes Pathfinder the game it’s been.

We can even get a look at how Pathfinder 2.0 might shape up besides just their previews–take a look at Starfinder. Much like Star Wars Saga and the Book of Nine Swords were early examples of the 4th Edition ifeals, Starfinder has a lot of the design work of 2.0 in it. Streamlined skills, customizable characters with an archetype, background, specialty, and so on… the streamlined feat trees are particularly telling if you ask me.

Also telling: laser axes and gun fights.

I don’t think they’re really going to compete. I think Pathfinder and 5th Edition have different goals and want to appeal to the same potential players for different reasons. It’s still way too early to tell, but, we are living in an exciting time. So let’s see how both games change over the coming year. Hopefully we’ll be the real winners in this matchup.

What do you think? Pathfinder? 5th? Both? Neither?

*Fight me on this one if you want, you’re still wrong.

  • euansmith

    I would like an RPG system in which all of the complexity is in the PCs, leaving the GM to get along with having fun rather than trying to keep track of which spells/feats/traits/abilities NPCs have.

    Now, I’ve got a barebones game of my own which is all about player agency with all of the detail being on the character sheet and with the players being responsible for narrating the outcomes of their characters’ actions; but it would be nice to have something similar by a professional games designer.

    • Xodis

      Try FFGs GENESYS/Star Wars RPG. Its extremely simple and allows for all the “neat” things for players and GMs to do, with little more than dice rolls.

    • Jay Arr

      Yeah any of the Powered by the Apocalypse games will probably do you. 5th Edition is definitely the easiest of the D&D’s for GMs to run–it all breaks down once there are spells to keep track of, but it’s very straightforward otherwise.

      If you haven’t tried Torchbearer it might be worth a shot.

      • euansmith

        Torchbearer sounds too grim for me and my players. 😉

        • Matthew Pomeroy

          lone wolf (the old joe dever books) has an rpg too, its kinda fun in its own way 😀 especially for old nostalgia monkeys who did all the books 😀

      • Aurion Shidhe

        While 5th ed is very easy to run, from a DM standpoint, I will argue that 4th ed was MORE FUN for me to run as a DM. I loved the minion (which I’ve carried into 5th) and “saving throw armor class” rules. I like how 4th scaled the baddies with the characters. I like the tiers. And forcing the mages to do something other than spam fireballs and lightning bolts.

        My group has pretty much always used minis. This goes all the way back to AD&D and it’s rules presented in inches. That’s something the grognards always seemed to forget when complaining about ranges expressed in squares.

        Sorry…got off on a rant there…

        Anywho, 5th ed works and I will probably continue to ignore PF as much as I do with the current incarnation. I ran a few of the adventure paths, and I REALLY looked forward to the Iron Gods and its Cthonic themes, but PF is ultimately a GMs nightmare for me (DEER GAWD the feats!). I will play it, but I will never run it again.


    • Matthew Pomeroy

      you tried savage worlds? or 1 Ring by C7?

      • euansmith

        We tried Savage Worlds, but it didn’t suit us unfortunately.

  • I gave pathfinder a fair shake, and 20 year old me would have loved it but 40 year old me cannot have fun with the absurd detailed complexity any longer.

    D&D 5th is not perfect either, I think it swings the pendulum far too much the other way though it is the system that I use because it works the best for what I’m trying to do.

    That being said – why in the hell these days can no one make a product that kind of sits in the middle and isn’t extreme simple or extreme complex?

    • Luca Lacchini

      I was pretty much on the same boat, probably because of age similarities.
      Try systems that don’t rely on a single dice (d20, d100, d71, whatever) roll, but rather on a discrete and finite dice pool. They are less… bloated, even with a good amount of options and variety.

      I found that small dice pool based games such as the 3d6 DragonAGE/FantasyAGE system, or the 2d12 12° system of Thousand Suns, or even some different dice combinations such as those seen in Cortex Classic or Blood and Bone, work wonders.
      There are many other great games such as Blades in the Dark, Insight, and the A Games of Thrones RPG, that work on small dice pools and that offer a great to excellent (personal opinions do the difference) degree of complexity.

      Even systems that rely on single dice rolls are to be kept in consideration as great gateway rulesets, Index Card RPG and Barebones Fantasy are my favorites (d20 and d100 based respectively).

      I was one of few that liked the special dice and card rules of Warhammer Fantasy 3rd ed., and I have great expectations for the new Genesys framework that FFG developed out of it and the Star Wars games.

      But to stay IT: PF 2.0 or D&D 5th Ed? Neither, thank you.

      • euansmith

        I’m still waiting for the Blade in the Dark dungeon crawler variant to come out before I give it a go with my players. Has the “not-Firefly” variant been released yet?

        • Luca Lacchini

          Nope, AFAIK. But I’m looking forward to it too.

          • euansmith

            By the way, thanks for the pointer towards Barebones Fantasy; that sounds right down by dark alley.

          • Luca Lacchini

            It’s a nice, tight ruleset that I highly recommend. Consider buying the race supplement too, it’ useful for extra detail for NPCs and baddies.
            Take a look at RPGNow! or DriveThru, they offer cheap POD options (which I used).

          • Matthew Pomeroy

            see and even strangers with candy in windowless vans can have good ideas 😀

        • Jay Arr

          The Cyberpunk one is coming out soon though.

    • Xodis

      Thats where I find the GENESYS/Star Wars system by FFG to fall. It can be REALLY complex if you want it to be, and can be really simple if you want that. Thankfully the complexity falls on the laps of whoever’s “turn” it is so everyone can play it like they want it.

  • Xodis

    4th edition D&D wasnt bad, it just wasnt what people wanted…in an RPG. The success of the D&D Adventure Board Games shows that it works quite well.

    • euansmith

      I found that spending an evening and a half on a fight rather killed our enthusiasm for 4th Ed. It wasn’t Phoenix Command levels of minute detail, but everything just seemed to take forever.

      • Precisely.

      • Xodis

        Yeah, last campaign in 4e we removed healing from Enemies and it made things a lot better.

      • Aurion Shidhe

        That’s too bad. I always had the opposite experience with 4th ed. The minion rules, combined with one or two significant foes, just rolled through combats quickly.

    • Luca Lacchini

      4E is indeed an excellent ruleset… for a dungeon crawler game. But it’s lacking in the RPG department.

  • Livan

    Neither, DnD is just for the die hards at this point. I collected both 4th and a Local 3.5 clone because of the setting and gaming tradition.
    But I tired of the same game being just resold with minor changes.
    (Before someone points out I don’t do warhammer main games)

  • AnomanderRake

    The problem I keep seeing with any version of D&D is that interesting gameplay is produced by the GM trying to think like a wargamer; if you run around in flat, open spaces where your objective is to kill all the monsters it doesn’t really matter how you stack up your structure of special powers (3e, 4e, 5e, Pathfinder…), the game is going to be dull. If you take away the flat open space and start adding things like cover, bad footing, and places that are hard to get to, and start giving the players time limits, places to go, and things to do within combat encounters, the game is going to be a lot more interesting than any revision to the stack of special powers could ever make it.

    What you want is a simple, straightforward, and relevant basic system (where things like movement rules, skills, terrain rules, combat maneuvers, and ordinary attacks live), a book that teaches GMs how to think about encounter design in terms of placement, time, objectives, etc instead of just “CR = party level, good to go”, and a set of class abilities and special rules that embrace and enhance the basic system without adding too much confusion on top of it.

    3e/3.5e screwed up by making certain classes (primary casters) run on special abilities alone and not really interacting with the basics, then giving them an endless pile of stuff to sort through and balancing them so they can render the rest of the game kind of pointless if played skillfully. 4e screwed up by concluding that the basic system is boring and going all-in on the special powers, which ended up feeling not at all grounded and way too WoW/Skyrim-ish where the world is informed by the designers’ arbitrary choices of game mechanics rather than trying to achieve any kind of feel or tone.

    I haven’t played enough 5e to comment extensively, but what Pathfinder got right (for me) was the using streamlined combat maneuvers and more at-will/always-on/flex-pool abilities to make the basic interaction of first-level players more interesting and easier play and write for. I hope Pathfinder 2 will retain the extensive foundation of low-level options and emphasize interesting special abilities rather than quantity of special abilities, but we shall see.

  • Mathew G. Smith

    The lack of proofreading on this website is getting out of hand. It used to be a word here or there, but now it’s downright distracting. Your word processor should have caught half of these; even this comment box flags “veryblittle”.

  • Chardun

    Saying D&D 5e is outselling all others is sort of misleading. Pathfinder has been out for 10 years, so of course their core rulebook sales would have fallen off. As well, I’ve seen people buy D&D 5e and never use it. Heck, I’ve been tempted to buy the players guide just so I could flip through it, knowing that I’ll never use it due to my groups usage to Pathfinder or World of Darkness systems.

    I’ll give Pathfinder 2e a whirl, but the current option bloat isn’t something that bothers me. Pathfinder is crunchy, but it isn’t overly complicated either.

  • Rob brown

    As a DM and player of both Pathfinder and DnD I will say 5e is far, far easier to run as a DM, I particular adjudicate the PCs actions. The mechanics are more streamlined, but streamlined doesn’t mean simple. Instead the PCs have to think a bit more to get the edge the want.

    In Pathfinder if a player said that they wanted to flip over a table an enemy is standing to gain an advantage they would need to check half a dozen rule interactions and see what feats combat manouvers applied. Or it turns out xxx splat book there was the table flipper feat which lets you do it as a xxx action meaning without this feat it should take longer/be more difficult. In 5e you make a Str check oppose by Dex and that’s it. I’ve found. The system means players and the DM can improvise far more.

    The second major issue for Pathfinder for me is that if you haven’t picked the right combinations of feats and stats some actions become impossible because of the scaling nature of the + system and stacking bonuses. It’s great fun math hammering characters. But if you’re running a game for a 2nd level Party and a player has 25 AC because that’s where all there resources have gone that’s very frustrating. Similarly the fighter who decides to gain +17 on grapple at level 5 and shuts every fighter or the enchanter who gets DC22 spell saves at level 3. DND avoids this by using options to increase power (extra attacks for instance) rather than relying on bonuses. That is particularly important when it comes to my last point.

    The third issue with Pathfinder is that the fast bonus progression means that encounters have to fought on relatively narrow CR bands. + or – 4 CR each way is the difference between a bloodbath or a cake walk. Pathfinder often ends up as auto fail or auto success outside these boundaries. DND’s bonus system means that encounters and monsters become viable over far wider rangers. That’s great for me because I love sandbox style adventures.

    Anyway just my two pennies worth.