Tabletop RPG Showdown: Dungeons & Dragons 5E Vs. Pathfinder

When it comes to RPGs, two titans dominate: Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition and Pathfinder RPG . They have a lot in common, but both games bring something completely different to the game. Whether you are a seasoned player or have never touched a d20 before, here’s everything you need to know to make the right choice.


If you’ve ever been to a game store, hobby shop, or even a bookstore, you’ve probably seen walls lined with colorful Dungeons & Dragons or Pathfinder books. They may seem like fierce competitors, but they have a lot in common. Let’s take a closer look at each game and their shared history:

  • Dungeons & Dragons 5E (D&D) : D&D is a fantasy-based tabletop role-playing game in which you and other players play fictional characters and go on adventures controlled by a Dungeon Master (DM). Everything that happens in the game is determined by your choices and various dice rolls, while the DM acts as judge and narrator. As you play, your characters earn experience points and become more powerful so that they can participate in more challenging adventures. The game was originally developed by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson and first published in 1974. Wizards of the Coast has owned this property since 1997. D&D is the best- known and best-selling RPG .
  • Pathfinder Roleplaying Game : Pathfinder is also a fantasy board RPG that is very similar to D&D . Why? Well, because it’s a modified and expanded version of D&D 3.5, often affectionately referred to as “D&D 3.75”. When Wizards of the Coast announced the D&D 4th Edition in 2007 (a move many were not happy with at the time), Paizo Publishing developed the Pathfinder system based on the 3.5 Open Game license, which will soon be phased out . It was supposed to be backward compatible with the huge collection of D&D 3.5 material already available and eventually divided the gaming community when it officially launched in 2009.

To better understand these games and their differences, I spoke with writer Stephen James Wardle , who has launched and played Pathfinder games for many years and also directed the D&D 5E YouTube Threshold series (where I play regularly). I also spoke with Casey Adams , a 4-star grandmaster and lieutenant in venture capital projects at the Pathfinder Society, who has also played and directed Pathfinder and D&D games for many years.

D&D 5E is focused on ease of use, Pathfinder has great mechanical complexity

Both gaming systems have the same roots, but they went their separate ways and went their own way. And that’s a good thing, because each one caters to a different type of player. Wardle explains that D&D 5E has generally simpler rules, is easier to learn for players and masters, and is best suited for those who like to play and take and play. Character creation is fast, the wizards and players need less control, and the gameplay is more forgiving for players, perfect for those new to tabletop RPGs .

However, D&D’s vagueness can be detrimental to some players. Its ruleset is simpler, but it also offers much less customization and complexity than Pathfinder . The Pathfinder system is mechanically complex, so players who are interested in precision, strategy, and advanced combat tactics will feel right at home. However, having a complex system also makes learning difficult. And because its set of rules clearly defines what players can and cannot do, some players may find it too restrictive or “playful.” However, as with most hard-to-learn skills, if you are familiar with the Pathfinder system, it can be a more rewarding experience. And from a GM’s perspective, Wardle says that launching Pathfinder usually requires a lot more preparation. Whereas D&D simplifies the DM a bit straight out of your pants if your players decide to do something – or fight something you weren’t ready for.

D&D character creation is quick and easy, but Pathfinder offers more customization

For most players, the best part of any RPG is character creation. It’s fun deciding what your character is good at and what he’s bad at and customizing his characters so you can be the fantastic character you’ve always wanted to be. D&D makes this process fairly painless, but sacrifices some levels of customization. Adams suggests that Pathfinder gives you more options to realize your character’s maximum potential, at least in terms of the characteristics and skills that define the character. You can create a Pathfinder character with incredible skill at one thing if you like, which would make your character a valuable asset in some of the high-level Pathfinder games. In D&D , however, it is usually better to create a more versatile character that does some things well enough.

Basically, Pathfinder places very few restrictions on player characters as long as they stay within the rules, while D&D has less variety and tries to keep player characters within certain parameters. If you want to spend time building, tweaking, and tweaking stats until you have exactly the character you want, you’ll love Pathfinder, especially if you’re a min-max player . If you’re more interested in building a story around who your character is, rather than what he can do, D&D will make it a lot easier.

Pathfinder has more material available than D&D 5E

Since Pathfinder is compatible with all previously published D&D 3.5 material, as well as all existing homemade OGL 3.5, there is no shortage of things to do. Not to mention, Paizo Publishing releases new books every year that expand the Pathfinder universe. For D&D 5E , however, your sources are limited to the books that Wizards of the Coast have been publishing since late 2014 , and some small non-standard stuff that people are posting on DnDNext Reddit .

Paizo also promised that Pathfinder will never have a new revision, which means that from now on, the rule system will largely remain unchanged. Wardle says this is both good and bad: the good thing is that players can instantly know that they will continue to come from both Paizo and homebrewers. The bad news is that they’ve done so much with what they have, that they don’t have many creative directions left. And there is already so much material that it can be overwhelming for someone who just wants to get started. In addition, the fewer books and other play materials in D&D’s arsenal have left a void filled with homemade creativity. Wardle explains that 5E makes it easy to transform an existing class into something interesting and unusual, but the Pathfinder universe is so vast that there is probably already an “official” class that does what you hoped to create. This is either convenient or limiting, depending on how you look at it.

Both games give you the opportunity to find people to play with

If you don’t have a permanent group to play with, D&D and Pathfinder offer you ways to find, meet, and play with others. The D&D Adventurers League is an ongoing Wizards of the Coast campaign that uses D&D 5E rules. You create one character to play in Adventurer League sessions, where each character’s progress and experience is tracked throughout the season, and players can come or leave session after session (although it’s best to stay with the same party throughout the campaign). … It’s pretty new and still finds its way around, so it’s not perfect. But if you can find a gaming session at your local game and hobby store, conference, or online, it will surely be a lot of fun. If you’re interested, you can find out more and search for the game here .

The Pathfinder Society has been around for much longer, and it shows. It’s a little more organized, much more adventurous, and more people involved. The character you create becomes an agent of the in-game Pathfinder Society, whose job is to explore, solve riddles, fight different things, and represent one of several competing factions. Game sessions are divided into seasons, and scenarios and adventures are different each season. Your character continues to live until he dies, your progress and experience are tracked and recorded every session, and the overall story changes every season depending on how you and the other players perform. The Pathfinder community is slightly more player-friendly than the D&D Adventurers League, and it’s not uncommon to play a session or two with a group you’ll never see again. Games are usually organized at game or hobby shops and many conventions. You can find out more by downloading the free PDF guide to the Pathfinder Society Role-Playing Guild .

Play D&D 5E for storytelling and RPG focus, play Pathfinder for deeper, more challenging gameplay

As Andrew of YouTube channel DawnforgedCast eloquently explains in the video above, the similarities between the two games are enormous:

These are both fantasy RPGs. Each has magic, elves, dragons, swords. Both have many terms in common such as charisma, armor class, skill checks. Both have equal opportunities for adventure, combat, role-playing, and storytelling. Both use the same set of dice to determine checks, damage, and results. Both have character sheets and a game master. Both use improvisation as well as pre-created materials such as campaigns, maps or images … both have their own ground rules on the internet … both have a starter kit … both have a basic set of books and each of these books cost about $ 30 to $ 40. Finally, both are very popular and there is a lot of online and offline support for them.

Regardless of which system you choose, you will have a good time. You and your friends will have to explore dangerous places, fight terrifying monsters, find amazing treasures and joke a lot. So it’s not pleasure that matters, but structure, especially when it comes to combat. It all depends on what attracts you in these games in the first place.

If your past gaming experience is limited to action games and board games that aren’t super hard, you prefer good story and RPGs to a well-crafted battle, or struggle with complex rule systems: go for D&D 5E. (at least to start with). You will have all the amazing adventure and fun without having to deal with too many burdensome rules.

If your past gaming experience includes hardcore, complex board games, tactical grid-based video games, and wargames like Warhammer, you value strategy over character development or storytelling, or you tend to excel at complex mathematical rule systems: use Pathfinder . If you’re willing to invest time in a deep yet well-balanced system, this will be a truly rewarding gaming experience.


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