There are few roleplaying games as famous or as wide-spread as Dungeons & Dragon 3.5 edition, so it’s no surprise that a big chunk of its player base was less than pleased when the edition went away. For them, Pathfinder might be the next best thing, if not the absolute best.
- Pathfinder Society.
- Abundance of character options.
- Well-crafted world.
- Streamlined D20 3.5 rules.
- Archetypes are a bit restrictive.
- No variety in (Anti-) Paladins.
- Too little flavour text.
Audience: D&D 3.5 players. D20 players. High Fantasy, Sword & Sorcery, Medieval Setting fans.
Player Learning Curve (1-10): 4 (3 with previous D20 experience)
Storyteller Learning Curve (1-10): 4 (2 with previous D20 experience)
When Wizards of the Coast released Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition, not everyone was pleased at the direction they took, eschewing D&D 3.5’s level of customization in favour of Level-dependent benefits, restrictive multi-classing, and video-game-esque powers for every character which to many (myself included) made every class feel samey, as they all had powers, making magic and martial abilities mechanically the same. (Note: I have played 4th, so I know what I’m talking about.)
Thankfully, Paizo, the company previously responsible for both Dragon and Dungeon magazines, had D&D 3.5 players’ backs with Pathfinder. First starting as modules for D&D, it became its own game not long after D&D 4th released. Players quickly embraced Paizo when the company started taking player input in designing their rules, releasing beta material to be play-tested by GMs and players everywhere, a practice Wizards of the Coast has since adopted for D&D Next.
Pathfinder RPG officially released in 2009 and since then, it’s kept on growing.
Part of that growth is thanks to the Pathfinder Society, an organization both in-game and outside. In the game, these are the journeymen, those traveling the world and recording major events and new discoveries. In our world, the Pathfinder Society Organized Play allows players anywhere to participate in a worldwide campaign with the Society’s Seasons, a number of modules each year in the organized campaign setting, influenced by the efforts of all other players around the world. Consider it a Massive Multiplayer Roleplaying Game, just on Tabletop.
Mechanically speaking, Pathfinder reworks plenty of D&D 3.5’s rules, for the better. Skill rank maximum is set to your level, there are no cross-class skills, meaning you can use all of them and raise them for the same skill point cost, but your class skills have a +3 bonus to them (where in D&D 3.5, the maximum rank was level + 3). Grapple, disarm, and all other maneuvers have been streamlined into Combat Maneuver Bonus and Defense, allowing for all of them to be resolved with single rolls against a maneuver-specific defense, eliminating the bog-down D&D 3.5 suffered when it came to these special actions. Character health is higher than in 3.5, with the lowest class having a d6 die, up from d4, and tying Health Dice to Base Attack Bonus progression, standardizing them for ease of class creation and customization. And of course, there is no level loss. In D&D 3.5, when someone died and was brought back to life, or when someone failed the saving throw for level drain, they lost the level, meaning characters spent a long time removing an entire level from their sheet. In Pathfinder on the other hand, negative levels just add a cumulative -1 to all rolls, making it easier to play with.
These changes are only a few Paizo made to the base 3.5 rules, making them more streamlined and easier to play, learn and master.
Character classes also received a substantial redesign, getting rid of many of the dead-level-syndrome many classes in D&D 3.5 suffered from, meaning they had many levels with no new class features (such as the Cleric, which received only a few features on its first level but got nothing else for a long time.). While there are still dead levels here and there, the gap is much smaller, with most classes having at least one new feature every other level.
Speaking of characters, from feats, to prestige classes to archetypes, there is a staggering amount of character options, allowing players to craft any imaginable build for a given class, and that’s without even bringing multi-classing (where you take levels from two or more classes) into the mix. Archetypes, which are similar to variant classes, offer new and exciting class features to replace the ones given by your base class. Sadly, archetypes are designed as all-or-nothing, meaning the moment you take its first ability, you’re taking them all, without allowing you to pick and choose from the rest of them. (It’s something I often house-ruled in my game, to provide a greater range of character options.)
Classes aren’t the only ones with archetypes and additional options, as races have their own variants, allowing players to exchange the base race features and benefits with a wide range of alternatives. This system and the previous one actually mix together in the form of Racial Archetypes, such as the Buccaneer for Humans.
Pathfinder’s world is Golarion, and its core nations (the ones in their core rulebooks) are located on the continent of Avistan, each with a rich background and colorful characters and organizations and creatures for the characters to join and fight. You can spend days reading material on each of the nations, and they are all so well crafted, you’ll want to play in this setting even if you have to do it with different rules.
Nations all have a theme around which their society revolves, and which makes them unique and provides countless adventure hooks. Andoran is a medieval republic, formed after a revolution in which power was given to the people. Cheliax is a decadent empire, made strong by their devilish ties, literally devilish. The Land of the Linnorm Kings is a frigid wasteland where the strong rule and where to become a King you need to singlehandedly kill a Linnorm, a huge Komodo dragon. Lastwall is a military nation, where only those actively serving the nation’s military have rights.
Faith in the Pathfinder universe is actually one of my favourite things, with gods for all alignments and worship for all of them spread around the world. From the Paladin goddess of justice Iomedae to the Lawful Evil God of slavery, tyranny, pride and contracts Asmodeus, each god finds worship in every kingdom, sometimes not amenable, sometimes hidden, but the mere presence of their following adds layers to the roleplaying experience. In my own campaign I had players regularly interacting with evil god Clerics, especially Asmodeus clerics, since his Lawful Evil alignment meant he, and his priests, could be counted on to keep their words, as long as the price was met.
The variety of gods however, brings the Paladin and its counterpart the Anti-Paladin into a shameful light. With the Paladin and Anti-Paladin taking up the extremes in the moral/law axes, it boggles the mind how there aren’t rules set up for Paladins for all other gods, and all other alignments, considering the hugely varied pantheon in Golarion. It’s often left to GMs everywhere, to house rule their Lawful Evil or Neutral Good Paladins, specifically tying them to each god by altering their class features, as the designers didn’t see past the classical D&D approach to these classes.
Character creation, like in any other D20 game can be a short or a long affair, depending on whether you have a plan or not. If you don’t, or you’re new, it can take a long time to sift through all the available character options to create your new adventurer. For new players, the rulebooks are very well written and clearly explain all the rules, a welcome thing for both players and storytellers alike.
It’s not just rules, however, but also stories and even small amounts of flavour text that line the books, with each chapter usually having a small story, helping to get the player much more interested in the game. My only complaint is there isn’t enough of it, as almost anything, from spells to feats to skills could’ve benefitted from an in-game reference or story, which always helps new storytellers learn how to describe these actions, and fun descriptions go a long way to get people to remember them.
Speaking of books, while there are certainly a ton of them and book jumping to look for something specific is a given, the supplements themselves are very well organized and indexed, allowing you to easily find anything you need, unless your eyes stay glued to the fantastic art. In addition to that, there are a large number of online resources telling you where to find each thing, making the book trek much easier.
While it has its flaws, Pathfinder Roleplaying Game is a fantastic game in the D20 3.5 system, giving old D&D players and newcomers alike a thoroughly crafted and intriguing world to play in. With tons of character options and streamlining of some muddy rules, this is the definite 3.5 experience.