Some Thoughts on Pathfinder and the 5th Edition of the World’s Oldest Fantasy Roleplaying Game

{GIANT DISCLAIMER: Everything in this post regarding 5th Edition D&D is based on my reading of the 5th Edition System Reference Document. I am working on getting my hands on the full Player’s Handbook / Dungeon Master’s Guide / Monster Manual.}

In the next month or two, I will be beginning a new game with my gaming group. I had been considering using a heavily-modified version of Pathfinder. While I love 3.X/Pathfinder, the amount of player book-keeping required is more than my players enjoy. So rather than constantly referencing rules that, ultimately, they do not overly care about, I decided to try to condense the mechanics into something simpler. I wanted to preserve the basic “roll a D20, add appropriate modifiers, & compare to target number” to determine success, but to make the math used in the “add appropriate modifiers” part of the formula easier for the players to calculate.

In 3.X/Pathfinder, the types of modifiers and number of modifiers can be quite daunting.* Just to whack a monster with a sword, you might need to add the Base Attack Bonus, Strength modifier, magical weapon bonus, racial bonus, and (a temporary) bonus from a spell cast on you.

This seems reasonable (and it is), but when combined with the skill system, based on skill points that have little relation how attacks are resolved, with its own modifiers, that, once again, generally have little relation to how attacks are resolved. On top of that, there are saves against certain effects that have their modifiers and are not necessarily related to how attacks or skill checks are resolved.

Essentially, there are three mechanical similar-ish systems all working together. Unfortunately, for my players this was all just a little bit too much to fully comprehend. I had to hold their hands a little bit more than I felt comfortable doing. I think that the calculation of all the numbers paralyzed them a little and prevented them from taking any bold action. Obviously, as a GM, this was frustrating. I decided I would do better, so I sat down to homebrew Pathfinder into something a little simpler.**

Then my attention was drawn to 5th Edition. The Proficiency Bonus system was love at first sight. A unifying mechanic married to a system with less complicated math to confuse a player.*** AND THE STAT BLOCKS FOR MONSTERS ARE SMALLER! 5th Edition has captured my heart and soon, hopefully the hearts of my players as well.

* For example, in most situations, two modifiers of the same type will not stack, only the highest modifier will apply.

** Nothing in this post is meant to bash 3.X/Pathfinder. I am just pointing out some of the issues that my particular group of players have had with the system. When I was playing more than being a GM, it was not really an issue for me.

*** I haven’t even mentioned advantage/disadvantage yet. Holy cow what a flexible mechanic to keep the math under control! Instead of a particular numerical bonus (the exact numerical bonus might be different depending on the source of the bonus) in a specific circumstance, just roll 2 D20s and keep the higher result, or instead of a particular numerical penalty, just roll 2 D20s and keep the lower result. Also, this is a great way to incentivize creative and interesting ways to approach the game. If a player does something interesting and unexpected that is smart, give them advantage on the roll associated with the action they chose to take.

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