AD&D : 10 Differences – ‘Pathfinder’ and ‘D&D 3.5’

A few friends and I have started to get together on Saturday nights to playtest a new campaign module. The goals of the playtest are: A, to find ways to improve the module overall; B, find out where more information is needed by the DM or by the players; C, find and correct mistakes within the module; and D, see if the players break the module before the module self-destructs.

They found the right group of idiots to playtest this thing. And I’m just one of those four idiots.

I built my character for the module the week before, to see how the Pathfinder system handles things, and just how different it is from the 3.5 edition of D&D (what we currently use). Between the DM and I, we learned a few important differences. Those differences are about as important as putting out a fire with an extinguisher, rather than a can of fuel.

1. Character Customization

The most notable difference is that the starting races in Pathfinder’s core are all useful, and I really do mean that. Comparing the races and classes in the core will show rather obvious strengths and weaknesses, and help inform players on how to build a solid starting character that they want to play.

Not only that, if two players pick the same class, there are enough options to make these two characters completely different from one another – either through feats, class features, or their skills.

Better yet, Monks aren’t useless. For a guy that punches things, Monks become a viable class even at lower levels.

2. Skills

The skill list has been simplified. By a lot. No seriously, several skills from 3.5 have been condensed under single headings in Pathfinder (like Tumble and Jump became Acrobatics). Generally this makes more sense to the players and the DM when a specific skill roll is needed in a given situation.

Add in the favored class option, and you gain additional points in class skills when you first train that skill, giving you a nice bonus early in the game.

3. Leveling

In 3.5, you’d run into what people call “dead” levels, or class levels in which the character gains no new abilities, spells or feats. That’s been fixed in Pathfinder. Characters gain a new feat every other level instead of every third. This is a great help to melee fighters as they often get eclipsed by spellcasters early on.

4. Cleave Feat is brutal

In 3.5, the Cleave feat allowed a melee fighter to hit a single target, and if the damage of the attack killed that target, they could then make an attack on an additional target in range. They could continue doing this as long as they killed whatever they hit, kept hitting a target, or still had viable targets in range.

In Pathfinder, you just need to hit the target, regardless of how much damage is dealt. By simply succeeding on a hit, the melee fighter could then attempt to hit each additional target within range until he cannot overcome a target’s armor class.

5. Spells

The differences between the two systems becomes far more noticeable when it comes to the spell lists. Several of the broken spells in 3.5 are nerfed or completely retooled in Pathfinder. Stronger spells remain they way they were, with some improved language in the spell description and mechanics.

Save or die spells are few and far between in the core book, which is a welcome change to lower level parties. Failing the saves will still result in nasty penalties, but won’t flat out kill you.

6. Combat Maneuvers

Grapple, disarm, and bull rush attempts have been overhauled into a single system called Combat Maneuver Bonus/Defense (or CMB/CMD). These values take into account all the bonuses your character has and gives you a single bonus to add to your rolls. To perform such a maneuver, the attacker simply rolls and adds the CMB. To resist or defend against a maneuver, the defender rolls and adds the CMD. If attacker has a higher number, the maneuver works. If the defender has the higher number, it fails.

7. Experience Costs

Several spells in 3.5 required the player to permanently sacrifice experience points to cast. That meant if the spell was cast enough, the player could drop a level or two. This has been removed in Pathfinder, at least in the core book. The gold costs are higher for these spells, but that’s a welcome tradeoff.

Experience costs were also removed for magic item creation. Again, it was entirely possible in 3.5 to drop a level or two after completing a magic item. Now, just like spells, the gold cost is slightly higher to make up for it.

8. Less Shenanigans

Tower shield shenanigans have been completely removed.

In 3.5, hiding behind a tower shield granted full cover for the wielder and all equipment they were carrying. Mechanically speaking, this included the tower shield they were hiding behind. This meant that the shield couldn’t be targeted to be destroyed because it was no longer in line of sight, even though it was still out in the open.

Pathfinder flat out stated no, that’s not how it works. Stop complaining you power gaming twunt.

9. Free or Cheap PDFs

Pathfinder releases new material every month, both in physical and digital forms. Modules usually run about $12 in gaming shops, and core books and other rules can be found for $30-50.

By going online to the Pathfinder website, you can find the official PDFs available for download for $10 or less. That includes the core rulebook (which usually runs for $50).

10. Community Support

The Pathfinder developers actually listen to the community of players and DMs, and improve or correct areas of the game that need it.

Additional books get released in stores and online that contain errata, or corrections of previously printed material.

Although Pathfinder is still considered a Beta product, it is constantly changing and improving on the 3.5 system. So far I’m enjoying the Pathfinder system and hope that it’s simpler to use overall.

This should be an interesting playtest.