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Switching To Pathfinder from D&D

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Switching To Pathfinder from D&D

How to Drop WotC for Paizo

With all the drama surrounding the OGL update you and your playgroup may be in the market for a new tabletop roleplaying system. Pathfinder is the pepsi to D&D’s coke and if you’re looking for a new game that isn’t too much of a departure from the dungeon delving you know and love then pathfinder might be a perfect fit for your table. We’re going to go through all the major differences and changes you can expect switching from 5e D&D to Pathfinder 1e. Get ready to climb those feat trees as we go through everything you need to know.


Why Pathfinder?

You’ve got a whole world of TTRPGs to pick from, why pick Pathfinder? Pathfinder shares a lot of DNA with D&D, so while it’s a very different system you’ll find a lot of familiar terms and mechanics. It’s essentially D&D just with some of those complexity dials turned up high. If you’re still wanting to play games that are very similar to your existing D&D campaigns but with some more crunch and player options, then Pathfinder is a great fit.

Pathfinder 1e has also been around for 14 years and they’ve released a ton of content. WotC releases just a few books a year, Paizo on the other hand releases dozens every year and there are literally hundreds of books full of official content, most of which are freely available online.

Pathfinder 1 or 2?

Just like with D&D, there are multiple editions of pathfinder to work with. Both 1st and 2nd edition pathfinder are still active and popular games with their own very different pros and cons. For this article we’re going to be talking about the 1st edition pathfinder system but stay tuned for another article discussing the sequel.

What Books do I Need?

This is honestly one of pathfinder’s big selling points, despite there being literally dozens of “core” books for pathfinder, absolutely everything you need is online for free. You and your group can play pathfinder without spending a dime. Paizo has a long running “unofficial” policy regarding takedowns and policing their content. Paizo makes their money with adventure paths and they have no problem with you downloading everything else for free. Huge pathfinder databases are easily accessible and easy to use containing every character option, monster, spell, and feat you could possibly want.

If you’re a purist however and want the physical book, you’ll have to build up quite a library to get the full “core” rules of pathfinder. At the bare minimum you’ll need:

Beyond that there are literally dozens of supplementary books, but I’d recommend starting with:

What Dice do I need?

Just like D&D, Pathfinder uses the polyhedral set of d20, d12, 2 d10s, d8, d6, and d4. So, any dice sets you picked up for D&D will do you just fine for Pathfinder as well. Check out our RPG Dice here

Switching to Pathfinder as a DM

Let’s go through some of the biggest changes you’ll feel as a DM switching from 5e D&D to Pathfinder.

Advantage Vs Crunch

Playing 5e it can be easy to forget how useful the advantage/disadvantage system is until it’s gone. In 5e you’ve probably gotten very used to simply applying advantage or disadvantage to rolls when weird situations come up. Pathfinder has a different solution which is to have special rules for everything.

Let’s say your player is underwater, grappled by a giant squid, blinded by squid ink, and they want to fire an arrow at the merfolk wizard in the distance. In 5e you’d be able to simply tell your player to “roll at disadvantage” but in Pathfinder every single one of those parameters makes a numerical change on the roll. You’ll have a lot of situations where you’ll need to stack up bonuses and penalties for a while before you can figure out what final number to add to a roll and what number they need to reach. And don’t get me started on the grappling rules which I’m convinced nobody ever remembers right.

This isn’t a good or a bad thing exactly. Advantage and disadvantage do a lot to speed combat along, but it also makes some of those situations shallow and inconsequential. Pathfinder gives you rules for practically every weird situation you can come up with and the interactions can get devilishly deep. It just means you as a DM will need to have these rules ready to go, or you at least need to get adept at speedily looking them up.

Magic Item Progression

In 5e magic items are few and far between, they’re rare rewards you can pass out when you feel like it and only categorized loosely by rarity. Pathfinder took a different route and expects you to provide a certain amount of treasure and magic items depending on the player’s levels. You can hand items over directly, but you’ll likely want to plan on some big magic item shops or other ways to make them available to your players. Pathfinder magic items all have gold prices attached, so if you’re unsure what items to give you can simply give them the recommended amounts of gold and treasure instead (found on page 399 of the core rulebook).

You don’t have to get your players everything under the sun, but the way Pathfinder is set up it expects them to gain some basic “stat increase” items and the monsters are all balanced with that assumption. Things like basic magic weapons, magic armor, amulets or cloaks that add to their saving throws, and the belt and headband items that add to their ability scores. 

NPC “Fairness”

One of the design philosophies in Pathfinder is that any NPC “works” as if it was created as a character. This has led to a lot of very strange trends in how they build their NPCs and how you’ll have to build your NPCs for Pathfinder adventures. NPCs are built using all the same rules as a character, but are often built up using multiple classes, tons of levels, and odd feat progression to be a serious threat to the party while still following all the same “rules”. You’ll find practically every NPC has a few levels of Rogue to add extra damage, and you’ll find humanoid NPCs your party face in adventure paths is often at much higher level than the party with features from countless sources.

As a DM you can always handwave away a lot of this complexity in your own NPCs, but there are some mechanics you’ll have to make up on the spot, and particularly rules savvy players will be able to spot inconsistencies. 

Switching to Pathfinder as a Player

Let’s go through the biggest changes you’ll feel as a player swapping over from 5e D&D to Pathfinder 1e.

A Wealth of Options

Pathfinder has a lot of the same basic character-building blocks as D&D 5e, just a LOT more of them. You’re still working with the 6 ability scores and rolling up stats in basically the same way, there’s no background, but you’re picking a race and a class. There are dozens of races to choose from and dozens of classes to choose from.

Skill Ranks

Pathfinder doesn’t have proficiency, instead you’ll be getting set bonuses to specific saving throws from your class, and you’ll have a number of “skill ranks” determined by your class and your Intelligence modifier you can put in skills of your choice. 

Some stuff you should know about skill ranks:

  • Each class has what are called “class skills” that are basically skills that your class should be able to do well. So long as you have at least 1 rank in a class skill, you get a +3 bonus to it.
  • You can put a maximum number of ranks into a skill equal to your class level. So starting at level 1 you can only put up to 1 rank in each skill.
  • Humans get an extra skill rank per level.

Baked-in Ability Score Increases

Depending on how long you’ve been playing 5e you might be used to picking your own ability score bonuses from your race. In pathfinder each race has not only bonuses to specific ability scores but also negatives to specific scores. This means there are better and worse combinations of class and race, and you should try not to pick a combination with a negative in one of your primary scores. Practically every race also has alternate versions that change these scores around and replace racial features with new ones. Shop around for the version that works best for you.

Class Archetypes

In 5e, the class archetypes are built into how a class works with archetype features set at specific levels just determined by what archetype you select. In Pathfinder an archetype is more like a variant option on the class itself. You can just play a “rogue”, no archetype, no changes whatsoever. OR you could play one of nearly 100 archetypes of “rogue”, all of which replace some of the base rogue’s features with new ones. 

Favored Class Bonus

This is a whole system that’s oddly easy to miss in your character creation. Basically, whenever you take a level in your “favored class” (your only class usually, or your pick if you’re multiclassing) you get an extra little bonus. This bonus is your choice of either an extra hit point, or an extra skill rank.

It gets more complicated though due to the extra racial options. Every race option as a list of their own “favored classes”, and if you’re using that race and class combination you can choose something special instead of the skill rank or hit point. For example, if you’re a half-orc barbarian you can instead choose to get an extra round of rage per day as your favored class bonus.

There are also a lot of the racial favored class bonuses that are fractions. For example, let’s say our half-orc is a sorcerer instead of a barbarian. Half-orc barbarians can gain ½ a point of fire damage whenever they deal fire damage with a spell. Fractional bonuses must be added up to a whole number before they count. So, for example, let’s say we’re a 3rd level half-orc barbarian and we’ve picked this racial class bonus for each level gaining 1 ½ points of fire damage, we’ll actually only deal 1 extra point, but that’ll go up to 2 points the next time we take that favored class option.

Base Attack Bonus

Pathfinder doesn’t have proficiency, but it does have a slowly growing number you’ll add to all your attack rolls. Your Base Attack Bonus (often shortened to BAB) is dependent on your class, with the martial classes typically getting a faster progression compared to casters. 

Your base attack bonus is also tied to the number of attacks you make. You’ll see on the class tables that when the BAB gets to +6, +11, and +16 it adds another number separated by a “/”. When you reach these, you have the ability to make extra attacks, just with lower basic attack bonuses. So, when you have a BAB of +6/+1, that means you can make two attacks, the first one with a +6 bonus and the second attack with a +1 bonus.

Confirming Criticals

Another rule that’s easy to miss when changing over is that you need to confirm your critical hits. If you make a critical hit (usually rolling a 20 on a d20) you automatically hit, but you then have to roll the d20 again as if you were making the attack again. If that roll would hit, you “confirm” the critical hit and it’s actually a critical hit rather than a normal hit.

Feat Trees

In 5e, feats are an optional feature you can take in place of an ability score increase, taken rarely and in low numbers. In Pathfinder you gain a feat automatically at 1st level and another feat every odd level, and there are tons of ways to gain extra feats on top of that. 

There are hundreds of feats to choose from, but you’ll have to get used to using “feat trees”. Most feats have other feats as prerequisites for taking them, and you’ll have to plan around building up a feat tree if you want your character to really utilize them. 

Let’s look at a relatively high feat called lightning stance. Lightning stance is a cool feat that you might want to build up to, it gives you 50% concealment if you’ve spent two actions on movement in a turn (think moving so fast you’re like a blur). Now lightning stance has several prerequisites you need before you can take it. You must already have the dodge feat, the wind stance feat, a minimum Dexterity score of 17, and a base attack bonus of +11. Wind stance also has dodge as its own prerequisite, which means our path to getting lightning stance is first taking dodge, then taking wind stance, then once you hit a BAB of +11, take lightning stance. You’ll have to get used to this sort of planning ahead quite a bit more than you’d be used to in 5e.

What to Expect from your Pathfinder Games

Ultimately, if you’re used to D&D 5e and you switch over to Pathfinder 1e, you’re going to experience a lot more crunch, and a lot more character options than you’re used to. It is however, from the same family tree as D&D and most everything should be at least a bit familiar to you. Pathfinder is an amazing game that has kept going right alongside D&D all these years, it’s just much crunchier. Expect a bit of a learning curve on both character creation and combat, but you should have a great campaign once you and your group get into the swing of things and find the right path. 

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Our Complete Magic Item 5e Guide HERE.(if you haven't quite yet made the change)

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Last updated: January 27, 2019

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