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Switching to Pathfinder 2 from D&D 5e

Switching To Pathfinder II from D&D 5e

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Switching To Pathfinder II

Is the 2nd Verse Better than the First?

5e is in a bit of a trouble spot right now and many playgroups are scrambling to find a new home. Paizo’s latest system has a lot going for it, but just what does Pathfinder 2nd edition entail for your games? Pathfinder has always been the frontrunning rival to D&D, is now the time they take the front seat? We’re going to go through all the big changes you’ll feel making the shift from 5e D&D to Pathfinder 2e. Get ready to blaze those trails as we go through everything you need to know.

Switching to Pathfinder 2 from D&D 5e

Why Pathfinder 2e?

Both editions of Pathfinder have a lot of the same roots as D&D, so you’ll find a lot of familiar rules and themes. Pathfinder is a different game, but it’s not going to be a radically drastic change from what you and your group are used to. Pathfinder is crunchier and more in-depth than 5e but with similar bones and if that sounds appealing then Pathfinder might be the right fit for your playgroup.


And unlike other smaller systems, Pathfinder 2e has a TON of content for you to play with. D&D only gets a few official books a year, but Pathfinder prints dozens of new campaigns and supplements every year, much of which is freely available online.


Pathfinder 1 or 2?

Pathfinder has 2 editions, and they’re different enough to both be viable options. 2nd edition cuts down on a lot of the rules bloat that 1st edition suffered from, and fixes some of the base problems they couldn’t address without an overhaul. This article will cover 2nd edition Pathfinder, if you’d like to learn more about the 1st edition of Pathfinder instead check out our other article here.


What Books do I Need?

Just like the first edition, one of Pathfinder 2’s best perks is that all the information you need is free and easy to find online. Paizo has always held an “unofficial” stance when it comes to policing their content and they encourage people to freely distribute the rules. Absolutely everything you need is online for free and is even conveniently converted into tools and character creators. 


If you really prefer physical books, you’ll have to put together a bit of a collection to get the “base game” put together. At bare minimum you’ll need:

  • The Core Rulebook
  • The Gamemastery Guide
  • At least one of the many Bestiaries

Beyond that there are a good chunk of supplementary rule books with more character options. Unlike 5e, most of these books introduce whole new classes and to have all the “base options” you’ll need the following:

  • The Advanced Player’s Guide 
  • Secrets of Magic
  • Guns and Gears
  • Book of the Dead
  • Dark Archive
  • Rage of Elements

What Dice do I need?

Just like D&D, Pathfinder 2e 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 2e as well.


Switching to Pathfinder II 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.


Hard Rules vs Soft Rules

This is true for the 1st edition as well, but it seems amplified in the 2nd edition of Pathfinder, you’re going to have to get used to learning hard rules rather than getting by with soft rules. 5e gets away with a lot of spit balling and soft rules, like the advantage/disadvantage system. You rarely get into situations where you can’t handwave away or just improvise a rule for in 5e. In Pathfinder 2 you really have to stick to their hard rules a lot more because of how interconnected everything is.


This is especially relevant when it comes to monsters. In 5e I’ve often fully improvised a monster on the fly. In Pathfinder 2 there are quite a few class features that allow players to accurately determine a monster’s weaknesses and stats, and if they don’t line up your players will be able to see where you fudged the numbers. Players have abilities designed to specifically line up with the things you throw at them, and you just won’t have the freedom to fudge that you’re used to.


If you’re the kind of DM that never fudged rolls or made stuff up to begin with you won’t see much of a change, but if you’re the kind of DM used to making everything up on the fly it might be a bit jarring.


Mechanics for Everything

Pathfinder 2e has a mechanic and system for everything which is both a blessing and a curse. Does your character want to craft an item? There’re rules for that, and they may even have class features that interact with the mechanic. This means that so long as you’re able to look up a reference, you likely won’t ever have to make up a system on the spot like you often do in 5e. The flip side is that you shouldn’t improvise your own stuff because you risk disrupting the builds your players worked so hard to optimize. 


This is just the old conflict between fixed content and freedom to improvise, and depending on how much you improvised to begin with it’ll either be a huge shift for your DMing style or you might hardly notice.


Skill Actions

Skill actions caught me off guard as a DM, essentially Pathfinder 2 has taken some of the more universal activities traditionally covered by a skill check and has created specific “actions” that typically utilize skill checks but are their own distinct thing.


For example, we now have the “Earn Income” action that players can take when they have downtime. Earning income can use skills like Craft or Perform and the action has its own distinct set of rules. This also covers quite a few combat actions that work like this too such as disarming opponents or feinting attacks. Mechanically it’s nice to have these things quantified and rules set for them, just be aware that there’s more to them now than just rolling a skill check.


Skill actions also have their own preset consequences for crits and fumbles. Rather than leaving the results up to the DM, each skill action has its own unique results that you’ll want to be able to quickly reference.


Switching to Pathfinder II as a Player

Let’s go through the biggest changes you’ll feel as a player swapping over from 5e D&D to Pathfinder 2e.


Everything is Feats

If you’re used to 5e, you’ll be used to getting the majority of your abilities and features baked into your class, with extra options from things like your race and class archetype. Feats are an optional rule in 5e, so trading over to Pathfinder 2 may be a bit of a jarring transition when you find that everything is feats. Your ancestry gives you a choice of ancestry feats, your class gives you class feats. You get skill feats, and magic feats, and combat feats, it’s feats all the way down.


Classes really only provide a couple foundational features and things like hit points and base proficiencies, beyond that their main function is to grant access to that class’s collection of class feats.


But what do all these feats really add up to? Everything being feats means your character is more of a collection of options chosen carte blanche from various lists. This gives you a ton of freedom to design your character how you want, but it also means you have a lot more responsibility to design your character well. Pathfinder 2 is a game designed around character builds unlike 5e’s reliance on simple progression. If you want to do a specific maneuver or focus on a style of play, you’ve got to build up to it. Many styles and techniques use a very negative starting point that you need features to overcome and get good at. You don’t start out capable by default in Pathfinder 2, and it’s up to you to become competent in accomplishing your goals. And just like in the first edition of Pathfinder, all these feats have feat trees, and you’ll need to plan accordingly to build up to the feats you really want.


Action Economy

Actions and bonus actions are gone! Now you have 3 “actions” you can use every turn, and everything costs between 1 and 3 “actions” to perform. There are still “free actions” like dropping items and talking, but for the most part you’ve got an action resource and you’ve got to choose each turn how to spend them wisely.


Big Numbers

Just on your base starting stats you’ll feel a huge difference in the numbers. You’ll be getting much more frequent ability score increases and you should expect to very quickly get to an 18 in your most important ability score with 16’s and 14’s in most other scores. AC is higher, damage is higher, and the bonuses you’ll be applying to attacks and skill checks will all just generally be higher. The targets will be increasing just as much, and monsters with AC’s floating up in the 30’s and 40’s aren’t uncommon. It all balances out in the end, but you’re going to have to get used to rolling a “25” and failing to hit the enemy. Just be aware of how different the scaling is and shift your expectations accordingly.


Meh Archetypes

Class archetypes are kind of a vestigial leftover in Pathfinder 2. All the classes are just lists of carte blanche options anyway so the need for a defining archetype kind of fell by the wayside. You still pick an archetype, but most class archetypes boil down to a single ability or buff and are essentially just another feat group to pick from. This isn’t bad exactly, you’re still getting way more freedom to build your characters than you’re used to, just don’t be disappointed by the weenie archetype options.


Scaling Proficiency Bonuses

In 5e you have one gradually increasing proficiency bonus and it has exactly two tiers, you’re either proficient in something, or you aren’t. Pathfinder 2 for a start grants WAY bigger proficiency bonuses than you’ll be used to, and you have 5 tiers of proficiency to work with.

  • Untrained - No Bonus
  • Trained - Your level + 2
  • Expert - Your level + 4
  • Master - Your level + 6
  • Legendary - Your level + 8

  • Bonus Types

    A lot of pathfinder boils down to picking some type of attack or ability and getting bonuses for it as high as possible. Pathfinder 2 has a bit of a built-in limiter to the min-maxing though due to the restrictions on the bonus types. Each bonus to your rolls will either be a circumstance bonus, an item bonus, or a status bonus based on where you got it from. The trick here is that you can only ever apply the highest bonus of a bonus type to any given roll. You can stack up a bonus of each type, but once you’ve got two from the same type, the lower ones essentially get wasted. For example, let’s say you’re getting a +4 bonus to Arcana checks from a magic hat you picked up, a +2 bonus to Arcana checks from a wand you’re wielding, and a +1 bonus to Arcana from a class ability. Because both your hat and wand are providing an item bonus, only the higher bonus applies. This means you’d add the +4 bonus from the hat, and the +1 bonus from your class ability, but you wouldn’t be able to also add the +2 from the wand since that’s also an item bonus.


    Degrees of Success, Crits, and Fumbles

    Crits and fumbles work a bit differently in Pathfinder 2 and have a lot more to do with the DC of any given check, not to mention they can happen on skill checks as well as attacks. Pathfinder 2 distinguishes between critical failures, failures, successes, and critical successes and puts them all on a scale they call “degrees of success”. If you roll and meet the DC of a check, you succeed, if you roll under it, you fail. However, if you exceed the DC by 10 or more you instead score a critical success, and if you roll under the DC by 10 or more, you score a critical failure.


    Exactly what all of these degrees of success do depends on the check, but most actions have explicit results predetermined for each degree of success.


    What we traditionally think of as “crits” and “fumbles” still matter though. Whenever you roll a “20” on a d20 it shifts your result 1 further up the scale, and whenever you roll a “1” it shifts your result 1 down the scale.

    This typically means a natural 20 is usually a critical success, but if rolling a 20 still wouldn’t hit the DC, you only score a success since you shifted one up the scale from failure to success.


    Conversely this means a natural 1 is usually a critical failure, but if rolling a 1 would still pass the DC, you’d only score a regular failure.


    For example, let’s say you’re fighting an Ancient Red Dragon (and are probably about to die) but you roll a natural 20 firing your longbow at it. You add +12 to your roll (from various bonuses) for a total of 32 for your attack roll. Well, the dragon has a whopping 45 AC, which means your attack roll result is still a failure. But, because you rolled a natural 20, your failure result shifts 1 up the scale for degrees of success, changing from a failure to a success! It’s not a critical success, but hey, you still managed to pierce the dragon’s hide even though it’s AC is higher than your maximum result.


    Very Video Gamey

    Pathfinder 2 did a very good job of consolidating abilities and keywords. Practically every “thing” you can do in the game uses the same standardized format, has an action cost, and one or more of the universal tags that permeate the system. There’s no fundamental difference between casting a spell and performing a spin kick as a monk, it’s all just effects and costs using the same template.


    From a game perspective this is fantastic, and you’ll have far fewer rules’ arguments (hopefully) with the clean standardized language behind everything.


    From a TTRPG perspective you’ll find Pathfinder 2 feels very video gamey, and if that’s your background that may well be a feel you’re looking for. Just be aware that the feeling of standardization and mechanical weight fills out everything in this system. 


    Use the Online Tools!

    More than any other system I’ve played with, Pathfinder 2nd edition’s online tools and character builders make play and character creation a breeze. Everything’s free online in convenient and easy to understand websites and apps. Features pop up with full explanations and rules, automatically filtered for what your character can and can’t take. Handy rules and references are a click away rather than buried in books and guides. I can’t overstate how high quality these tools are and how easy they make the experience. 


    What to Expect from your Pathfinder 2 Games

    Just like with the first edition of Pathfinder, Pathfinder 2 has a lot more crunch than 5e and a much deeper swathe of character customization options. 2 has fewer toys to play with but gains a much more refined ruleset and FANTASTIC online tools to simplify the process. 


    I would not recommend Pathfinder 2 for a group’s first system, but as a 2nd or 3rd system to try after getting bored of 5e it’s perfect. If you’re happy with a heavier and more video gamey rules system you’ll be rewarded with deep combat and well-designed interconnected mechanics.  


    Pathfinder 2 FAQ

    Can I use Pathfinder 1st Edition Content in Pathfinder 2?

    Sadly no, not really. There’re enough of the same foundations that you can probably get away with converting things but especially with how they changed the action economy they really are different games. Adventure paths and monsters are probably the easiest to convert, but class features and abilities should really be left behind.


    Is Pathfinder 1 or 2 More Complex?

    It’s a bit of a tossup honestly but I think when you weigh everything Pathfinder 2 is more streamlined compared to the 1st edition. The writers benefited from the years of refining Pathfinder 1 and the 2nd edition has a lot of moving parts but they’re all designed to work together from the ground up, rather than being build onto a shaky foundation like in the 1st edition.


    Are the Books Free?

    Pazio puts out all the core rules online for free along with some incredible online tools, simply google “pathfinder 2 character builder” and you’ll find everything you need.

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    Last updated: January 27, 2019

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