Friday, March 11, 2016

D&D 5e Vs Pathfinder

It's been a while since I've made a non-campaign-related blog on this page.  A few years ago I wrote a blog about D&D 4e vs Pathfinder.  I didn't have a clear winner at the time, because the two systems have such different play styles.  Sometimes you're in the mood for tactical combat, sometimes you're in the mood for simulationist roleplay.  But in retrospect, it's not that much of a contest.  Pathfinder is so obviously superior to 4e that it's not even funny.  I still remember my 4e campaigns with great fondness, but it's not a system I ever care to play again.

We're about to wrap up our current campaign, in which we are using D&D 5e to play a Pathfinder adventure path.  This has been particularly taxing on the DM, with all the enemy and item conversions.  As I write this, we're still debating on whether to make the next campaign D&D or Pathfinder, but I believe the group is leaning toward Pathfinder.  I'm torn.  I like both systems, for different reasons.

Character Creation
Winner: 5e
So in preparation for our potential Pathfinder campaign, I started looking through the PHB for character ideas.  And I swear, after playing 5e for so long, for a minute I thought I was reading one of my old Calculus books from college.  Pathfinder's like, "You can use this power 3 times a day plus your Charisma modifier minus your Strength mod unless you're left-handed or it's a Thursday after 3PM in which case you roll a d4 and subtract 5 and add your number of eyes (minimum 1), unless your grandmother owns a parakeet in which case you can use the power two extra times per day (maximum 3 per fortnight) and it also adds budgie damage except to monsters who are immune to ice cream."

Okay, I'm exaggerating.  But I can build a 5e character in less than 10 minutes, and the great part is that I can do it myself without having to use some sort of character generator program.  This was one of the first things I loved about 5e; even in 4e I had to resort to WOTC's character creator.  In my last Pathfinder campaign I used PCGen, which was helpful but tedious.  It sped things up a lot, but it's not user-friendly enough for my tastes.

Character Options
Winner: Pathfinder
Unfortunately 5e's ease-of-use comes at a price.  The system feels so basic.  People who want more interesting characters just don't have a lot of choices.  Personally I'm really into races.  The more a system has, the better.  My two favorite books in 4e were "Heroes of the Feywild" and "Heroes of Shadow."  They didn't have the most powerful options, but I loved the flavor.  Unfortunately those books came out near the end of 4e's life, and I only got to try out one of those races before I stopped playing 4e.  With 5e releasing new content at such a glacial rate, once again they'll probably start putting out fey/dark races and classes right before 6e launches.

Meanwhile, Pathfinder has a ton of options.  Being based on an earlier version of D&D, they had a big head start and have had a lot more time to get content out there.  In fact, I'm a little surprised they don't have even more to choose from, but what's out there is enough to keep me busy for years.  For those who are bored with the standard fantasy core classes, Pathfinder is the way to go.

On the other hand, if you don't mind a little homebrew, there are a ton of fan sites out there with great new 5e options. They vary in quality, but if you look hard enough there's a lot of well-balanced content with lots of new flavor.

Winner: 5e
I've said it many times before:  I hate slow healing.  People have different ideas on what hit points represent, but to me they're more about stamina than anything.  Getting "hit" doesn't mean your enemy's sword broke your skin, it means you deflected a blow and it cost you some stamina.  In most fights, the only blow that actually cuts you is the one that takes you below zero, because at that point you were too tired to block it.

Pathfinder's "1 hit point per level per night" is maddeningly slow.  It's a relic from a time when people didn't heal up after every battle, and while I have nothing against those players, it's not for me. 

Winner: 5e
And by "winner" I mean it's easier to stay alive in 5e.  For some people that's not a bonus, but I'm more interested in the story than the challenge.  I don't have anything to prove; I already know I suck at battle strategy, and it's not something that really bothers me.  To me, it's not a very interesting story if we keep rolling up new characters every few sessions.  If a campaign has an over-arcing plot, then I like there to be some continuity regarding the characters in it.  If the final sessions of a campaign have a completely different cast than the early sessions, it makes me wonder why we were following those early characters in the first place. 

Rules Specificity
Winner: Pathfinder
One of the big complaints I keep hearing about the table, is that too many of 5e's rules boil down to "ask the DM".  It can really slow things down when someone asks a question, and everyone checks three different books, only to find the information hasn't been written yet.  To be fair, the internet is full of fan-made documents that fill in the gaps, but should we really have to resort to that many houserules just to play the game?  The DM might rule one way in this session, then forget and rule the opposite way in a later session.  The more you rely on the DM to fill in the gaps on the fly, the less fair the game becomes. 

Negative Effects
Winner: 5e
I've said it before, but stat reductions and level drains suck.  I might spend hours at home doing all the math to figure out all my skills and attack rolls.  Then I get attacked by a wight or something, and suddenly I have to redo all my math right there at the table, on the fly.  I have yet to meet anyone who thinks stat drains are fun.  Let me repeat that for emphasis: STAT REDUCTIONS ARE NOT FUN.

Pathfinder is one of the world's most popular tabletop RPGs, and the makers spent a lot of time taking the best elements of D&D 3.5 and tweaking them to perfection.  And yet they intentionally put in a mechanic that absolutely everyone fracking hates.  For a game designed to be fun, it doesn't make a bit of sense.  I mean, would you keep playing Monopoly if one of the rules was that you have to shove a pencil in your eye every time you pass Go?  Frankly, this is unforgivable.

But, you don't get a Marvel No-Prize just for pointing out a problem, you also have to figure out a solution.  Our DM is fond of handing out condition cards when you get Dazed or Stunned or whatever, so how about some Stat Reduction cards?  You get hit with stat reduction, you get handed a card that says, "You Are At -2 Dex.  Your get -1 to your ranged attacks, AC (depending on your armor), and the following skills:  Acrobatics, Disable Device, etc."  That would at least leave fewer eraser marks on my character sheet.  But more importantly, I want these negative effects to go away faster. 

Overall Winner
Honestly, I really prefer 5e, I just wish there were more books out for it.  I'll happily play Pathfinder, though.  Bottom line: The fun comes from the group, not the system.

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