Dungeons & Dragons Vs. Pathfinder: Which TTRPG Is Right For You?

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  • Character Creation
  • Rules
  • Finding Players

Pathfinder and Dungeons & Dragons are easily the two most popular tabletop RPGs currently available. D&D is in its Fifth Edition, and Pathfinder is in its Second. They're direct competitors, and while the decision to play one over the other is up to the player, each has plenty of good points to recommend it.

Every player prefers a different style of game, and playing with the right group means you'll always have fun no matter what. Given the choice, though, which of the two games will give the most enjoyable experience? Let's break down the differences between D&D and Pathfinder so that you can be sure you've made the selection that's right for you.

Character Creation

Both games grew out of the same ruleset, so if you've played one, it will be easy to pick up the other. Each allows you to select a background and a class for your character, as well as their fantasy race (or ancestry, as Pathfinder calls it). D&D has more playable races overall, including the popular Dragonborn and Tieflings, but Pathfinder's Goblins are a mischievous delight; if you're the sort of player who likes their character to get into trouble, give the Goblins a look.

D&D's plug-and-play approach to character creation makes it easy to whip up a new character quickly and introduce players to the game. Most of a character's starting abilities are determined by the above broad-stroke choices, with some embellishments here and there to give each character unique flavor. Pathfinder character creation takes more time, as there are more decision points throughout the process, allowing for more individuality between characters.

Feats

First introduced in Dungeons & Dragons, Third Edition, Feats are character options that allow players to specialize or to access traits they might not otherwise be able to get. Feats are present in both games, but Pathfinder focuses on them much more heavily. Every few levels, a Pathfinder character gains access to a new feat, derived from their heritage, their class, or from a list of generic options.

In Dungeons & Dragons, Feats are optional – whenever your character would increase an Ability Score from leveling up, they can instead opt to take a Feat. Feats are much more limited in scope in D&D Fifth Edition, usually expanding the options available to a character in the long term; taking a Feat can be said to widen a character's power rather than heighten it.

Rules

Both systems use a d20 roll as their primary method of determining the success or failure of an action. If the result of the roll meets or exceeds the action's Difficulty Class after applying modifiers, the action succeeds. Otherwise, it fails. There are a few key differences that players will need to be aware of when switching games for the first time, and you might find that you prefer one method over the other.

Proficiency

Both systems use a mechanic called Proficiency, which determines how competent a character is at a given task. Pathfinder assigns individual Proficiencies to each capability, adding between two and eight to the result of a die roll. Each Proficiency and its rank must be tracked separately,

D&D gives each character a single Proficiency Bonus tied to their level. Whenever a character attempts something, they're either proficient or they aren't – if they are, thanks to training, natural aptitude, or quality tools, they get to add their Proficiency Bonus to the roll.

Advantage And Disadvantage

Pathfinder uses the classic method of determining whether outside factors affect a character's action. Favorable conditions add to the die result, and unfavorable ones subtract from it. Multiple factors can be applied simultaneously, ultimately resulting in a net modifier assigned to the roll. For example, a character climbing a cliff face might get a plus four bonus from a magic item designed specifically for that purpose, but a minus two penalty from the rocks being wet and slippery – absent any other modifiers from skills and the like, the player gets plus two to the roll.

D&D simplifies this system by having the DM determine whether a character has Advantage, Disadvantage, or neither. A character with Advantage rolls twice and chooses the better result, and a character with Disadvantage rolls twice and takes the worse result. In the cliff-climbing example above, the magic item would grant Advantage, but the Disadvantage from the slippery rocks would cancel it out. Unless the player or their party members can come up with some additional way to boost the character's chances, they'll be relying solely on their Athletics skill with one die roll, pass or fail.

Finding Players

As you've probably gathered, the simplest way to sum up the differences between the two games is that Dungeons & Dragons has simpler, more streamlined rules while Pathfinder is slightly more complex but allows for greater flexibility. Players brand new to RPGs will probably have an easier time getting the hang of D&D, and its status as a household name makes people more willing to try it. In all likelihood, you'll have an easier time finding people with whom to play D&D than Pathfinder if you're starting from scratch.

If you have an established group for one game already, they might be interested in trying the other as a change of pace – run a one-shot and see how it goes.

Both games also have organized play programs sponsored by their publishers (the Wizards Play Network and the Pathfinder Society), so if you have a local game or hobby shop in your area, stop by and see if they hold in-store play or would be willing to start. If your local shop doesn't have organized play for the game you want to try, consider stepping up and running some games yourself. Game retailers nearly always want to hold new events to bring people in the door, and there's no better spot to find dedicated gamers.

At the end of the day, play the game that you and your group enjoy the most. There are plenty of RPGs out there besides these two, and for a gaming enthusiast, there are few things better than a good game played with people who make it fun.

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