Robot Viking has been sadly lacking in coverage of Paizo’s excellent Pathfinder extension of the D&D 3.5 rules (and accompanying campaign world). That’s not by design — I just don’t play Pathfinder, and I always look like a twit when I try to speak authoritatively about things I know very little about (not that that always stops me). Luckily, fellow Viking Billy Gibbs is running a summer Pathfinder campaign. Even though Pathfinder has been around for a while, he’s looking at it with fresh eyes.
Now, let me get one thing out of the way before I start rambling. I have never played D&D 3.5, and believe that 4th is a fairly decent skirmish game, even if everything has too much HP. Although the edition wars still rage on less savory websites, Iâ€™d like to think that we Cybernetic Norsemen are above such petty differences. Still, comparisons are unavoidable when Pathfinder is touted as the true fourth edition by some folks who can be quite scary. Anyway, let me get back on track, I have not played 3, 3.5, 3.14159 or any of those ones that start with 3. I have played a decent amount of 4th, so that will be what I will be making most of my comparisons to.
The first thing I noticed when trying to set up encounters as a DM was the Challenge Ratings donâ€™t match up to player level in a 1:1 manner. In Fourth Edition a monster is given an approximate level in comparison to the PCs. For example a level 2 young Kruthik is approximately equal to a level 2 PC of a comparative role. In Pathfinder the CR indicates its power level in comparison to a party of four PCs a CR 2 bugbear could hold his own against four level 2 PCs. This isnâ€™t an exact science so itâ€™s often not a good idea to send those PCs after that bugbear unless you know a bit about the party and a real good idea of how that creature fights or else your combat could go massively wrong in either direction. This is especially true for spell casting bad guys. These guys are glass cannons in the most terrifying sense, with little armor and less health they go down easy. Defend them well if theyâ€™re key to a campaign or encounter, otherwise your PCs will be disappointed, and so will you.
This lack of health is a great thing in my book. Everything has small amounts of health, and puts out comparatively large amounts of damage. This lethality in combat keeps the pace going and Iâ€™ve found encourages role-playing in combat simply because when you canâ€™t just take hits all day youâ€™re much more inclined to negotiate or retreat, deciding that you might want to work out a plan before you pounce is suggested.
Iâ€™m a combat oriented DM so my thoughts naturally go towards combat andÂ I chose Pathfinder based largely on how combat functioned. That and how magic feels like magic. I know a lot of folks complain about how 4th is WoW and ruining RPGs forever and I would have to disagree with them. Itâ€™s not WoW, itâ€™s Final Fantasy Tactics: Tabletop Edition. The downside with this focus on tactical combat is that theyâ€™ve made magic feel mundane. Nearly all the spells are combat oriented, gouts of flame, and such. Nothing wrong with shooting fire, but when magic feels the same as archery, thereâ€™s a bit of a problem. Pathfinder has spells that do all sorts of weird magical things. Heck, itâ€™s possible to make a wizard in Pathfinder with no damaging spells and try to MacGuyver your way through life with those nonâ€“combat utility spells [Like my old illusionist sorceror! â€“ Ed.]. Making each spell only able to be cast once per day does seem to slow down the progression with regard to in-game time, due to the need to stop and camp quite often to recharge everything, but that allows the effects you get from spells and abilities to be more massive than as is generally allowed in 4E.
Another big difference is the skill system. In Pathfinder, you put ranks in skills as you level up, and you cannot put more ranks into any particular skill than your total number of hit dice, essentially your total level including any multi-classing. This causes characters to be more of a jack of all trades than in 4th where you are just trained in a few skills with a +5 bonus to those skills, and are generally ineffectual in the rest. I prefer the more varied method because it allows me, as DM, to throw more skill challenges at the PCs without the fear that itâ€™ll be something they stand no chance at succeeding in.
Overall I think I prefer Pathfinder to 4th for my gaming group at home. It better fits the style of play that weâ€™re looking for, although Iâ€™m still trying to convince them Shadowrun is a good idea. I do look forward to the return to university and the Legend of Zelda themed campaign Iâ€™m playing there. Deku Wizard GO!