8 Reasons D&D 5th Edition Is Better Than Pathfinder
Posted by: Xaryon -- October 15, 2014
By: David N. Scott
A new version of D&D is dawning that intends to unite the fractured fan base, as currently D&D is playing underdog to Pathfinder, a game which itself was based on D&D 3rd edition rules. Imagine if the legal vagaries allowed an older partner of Microsoft to make a Windows 7 variant which then beat Windows 8 in sales, and youíre pretty close to the situation with D&D and Pathfinder at this point.
The makers of D&D have long had a problem with gamers finding it easy to ignore their releases of new editions. The old editions are still available, as well as the aforementioned Pathfinder, and any one of these has enough adventures, class variations, and settings that anybody with a normal life as well as a gaming life would not be able to completely devour them in a lifetime. D&D 5th edition aims to fix that by appealing the fans of all versions of the D&D experience and thus get them to start buying books again. I was able to get the new Playerís Handbook thanks to an early limited release, and despite being pretty firmly in the Pathfinder camp I was really impressed with it Ė enough to switch our home game over to the new system. Here are eight reasons whyÖ
1) D&D 3rd edition is old.Iíve been playing this game since 2000. I had just reached drinking age and people were trying to convince me all the computers in the world were going to go belly up because of the year change. Apparently, toasters had a secret calendar inside them that was going to go bad. They called it ďY2KĒ and it got popular enough that in a crowning moment of triumph/shame Steve Jackson Games actually published a supplement for it. Which I own, by the way.
The point is, it was a long time ago. Iíve been playing some version or another of this game system for almost 15 years. Even the Pathfinder iteration came out in 2008. Iíll still play Pathfinder here and there, even buying the books as they are released. However, itís getting to be more of a niche thing for me because Iíve played it so much that itís become more nostalgic than exciting. Thereís nothing wrong with older games or even old versions of D&D: 2nd edition AD&D from 1989 is still my favorite. Still, I canít deny my urge for something new and exciting thatís slightly more social than a video game but doesnít involve leaving my house.
2) A Better Approach to ArchetypesBoth D&D and Pathfinder use classes as one of the primary identifiers of your character and what he or she can do, i.e. Fighter, Rogue, Wizard, etc. The prime gaming party is supposed to be one sneaky person who finds traps and hurts things real bad, one who is tough, one who heals everyone (or ďleadsĒ them when they got a concept facelift for D&D 4th) and one who blows up your enemies. So you have this team of people who run around murdering things and stealing stuff. It works great!
It is a little limited, though. Itís not like everyone who steals for a living is the same. So, Archetypes come in to make your Rogue a Scout. This is a good thing, but Pathfinder has an awkward way of doing it where you replace little pieces of your character one at a time. You can have more than one Archetype, but only if they donít replace the same class feature. So get ready to put them side by side and read line by line for overlap. More dangerously, they require you to trade character abilities you shouldnít trade. A Poison Master Rogue might not be able to find traps any more in exchange for learning how to poison stuff. So now no one can find traps. This is a bad thing, especially since poison sucks in Pathfinder. D&D 5thís solution? Well, everyone gets a single free Archetype and no one can trade away their essential class features. Much, much easier.
3) Less Magic ItemsIn the Ď80s and Ď90s, youíd roll randomly for treasure on a chart and if you got really lucky youíd get some kind of really awesome magic sword that could pretty much carry you along for the rest of your adventuring life. This could be a problem for people who took their gaming a little more seriously, as the lucky guy could end up being way more powerful than people who hadnít gotten that one good roll. The solution in D&D 3rd edition was to decide which items could be combined with each other and to assume that every level you had a certain amount of magical swag in hand.
This was logical but also resulted in gear being a big part of the game, causing arguments with Dungeon Masters who didnít understand the math and just spending a bunch of time writing your stuff down and figuring out bonuses. Not to mention the occasional feeling that your items did the heavy lifting and wondering why your character went everywhere festooned in magic gear. Who wears a cloak, a belt, gauntlets, two rings, armor and a hat to the beach? Well, your character should or heís gonna die (or worse, youíll have to recalculate him on the fly for the fight).
D&D 5th has substantially reduced the amount of gear you need at any given time. This is a huge benefit for your sanity and you look a little less like a SWAT team member who is lost in Fantasytopia. It also lets your character use her fatherís sword instead of throwing it away as soon as she helps ice a dragon as her old sword wonít do anyone any good anymore. This is a great thing, as there really arenít many source materials that load people down with items like D&D does. Itís strange that way.
4) Less Exponential GrowthIn the really old days, Armor Class had an absolute lowest number of -10 (low numbers were good, donít ask) and by the higher levels everyone from Zeus to Johnny McCheater would have the same likelihood of being hit. This was awesome except when it wasnít, because at high levels you hit everything all the time as youíd presumably been getting a steady stream of random items (see number 3 above), and in my experience bonuses to hit quickly outpaced that limited number anyway. The solution in 3rd Edition was to make Armor Class and ďTo HitĒ bonuses uncapped so you could go to the moon if you wanted.
The problem with this is that everything becomes linear; a more powerful monster might require you to roll 20 higher to hit than an appropriate level one. In order to keep from constantly wiping out the party, a system was added so you could know what level monsters to throw at your characters. Basically, it leads to feeling like a video game where everything is secretly resizing itself to your character as you go. It also adds a lot of complexity as the higher numbers you need start to come from more and more sources (items, spells from friendly casters, situations, your character abilities), which adds to more tracking. In D&D 5th, a 20th level Fighter has a +6 to hit instead of a Pathfinder Fighterís +20, which means the math will be less linear and that tougher monsters will need more to go on than just another +3 to hit, armor, and damage.
5) A More Class FeelAt this point, weíve all seen elves and orcs and whatnot done to death. When Pathfinder first hit their open play test, I felt ambivalent about firing up the same old races and classes again. They won be mover by releasing their Advanced Playerís Guide, which added some weirder options like a vaguely steampunk alchemist and a creepy inquisitor into the lineup Ė here was new and fun stuff to play. This trend continued, both for good and for ill, until later books have added things like private detectives and gunslingers into the mix. This has made the Pathfinder world its own.
However, at this point it doesnít feel like Pathfinder is D&D anymore. Instead it is its own thing. Our monthly game involved a rat-man with a sentient tumor, a vaguely lecherous frog-man who worshiped the god of drinking, and a hideously scarred priestess who was a pacifist. Are these cool ideas? Yes. Are they the D&D I grew up with? No. I actually feel like stepping away from guns, tumors, and crazy inventors to go on a quest somewhere and stab something with a sword. I enjoy both vaguely steampunk Pathfinder and class fantasy D&D, but they arenít the same thing and classic fantasy is starting to seem like a fun throwback.
6) Inspiration!RPGs cover a large spectrum of experiences when it comes to fighting. Some games, such as World of Darkness, are great games where you may spend most of your time talking. In other games, like RIFTS, youíll probably be killing a lot of things. I think D&D games work best split down the middle with an equal mix of combat and role-playing. I donít like it when weíre trying to infiltrate the Temple of Evil Doom and somebody pulls a sword out, laying into them and generally murdering people. However, I also donít like it when a dragon is dropping down on the party, prepping a fiery cone of Doom Breath, but someoneís too busy having wacky ďRole Playing HijinxĒ to get into the middle of things.
What I really like about the new inspiration system is that it gives you small mechanical benefits for entertaining everyone with role-playing, so chewing the scenery in between fights now makes you better at fighting! This is a great idea and honestly fairly derivative of FATE, which I love, but Iím going to congratulate D&D 5th for embracing progressive design instead of shaming them for stealing stuff. After all, D&D has been stolen from so much over the years that they deserve to get a little back.
7) Backgrounds!In fairness, Pathfinder actually has a really hilarious system for generating backgrounds for your character. Itís in the book Ultimate Campaign and allows you to create bizarre backstories for the likes of a time traveler, a person raised by vampires in an undead kingdom or a serial killer. It takes a couple of hours to run a group through it and tends to result in lots of laughs. The only problem with it is the fact that it isnít in the main book, it is terribly complicated, and it really doesnít influence your character that much.
The new, not especially cleverly named Backgrounds mechanic, on the other hand, makes up a major part of your character. No longer is your Fighter a graduate from Fighter School in Fighter City. Instead, he started out at a Criminal. He gets to learn deception and stealth and how to use thievesí tools, which is quite an upgrade for a big guy with a sword. He also gets a network of criminal contacts and some roleplaying suggestions. Again, this doesnít match the gonzo fun of Pathfinder, where heíd probably end up some half-insane warrior raised by Aberrations and separated from his lost love by the fall of their empire, but it is solid, fun, and meaningful.
8) Better Races!It will be a familiar refrain at this point, but not only does Pathfinder have dozens of races they have an entire book that details how to make your own. Also much like Archetypes, there are many exchanges and substitutions that can be made with a Pathfinder race. The Gripplis, a frog-like race, can trade their ability to walk in swamps to jump really high or trade their ability to camouflage themselves with the ability to glide like a sugar glider. Actually, they can even do both since the changes donít overlap. Hereís the weird thing, though, humans are a 10 point race and Gripplis are only 6. Clearly Gripplis are underpowered, why not just give them the ability to jump in the first place? You can if you hack the system and redesign frog people from scratch, but canít the powers that be just take care of it?
The reason is that a Grippli race existed before the points existed, and so did the human. Basically, the designers are trying to inject a somewhat sophisticated point buy system into Pathfinder, which is a great idea, but they arenít able to go back and change much of anything. Their system just exists nearby and along with the main rules, which most people will use anyway. All told itís another fiddly bit on top of many others. I feel more friendly towards the new D&D races, which fit on a single page and still have customization (such as choosing between Hill Dwarf and a Mountain Dwarf). Itís new, it looks like it works well, and it looks way easier. I am excited to give it a try and give Pathfinder a bit of a break.