Is Pathfinder a better game than 4e?

I’m curious, and would love to know. Pathfinder is something that has largely passed me by. The GM in me still shudders at the thought of running something that (as I understand it, and I might be wrong) still Third Edition D&D under the skin, and the player in me hasn’t had the opportunity to try it out.

Apart from the warm fuzzies of knowing you’re playing something that has embraced the OGL what, specifically, makes it a better game? Assuming it is, of course. Paizo’s openness, support and positive attitude toward its customers must go a long way, especially compared to WoTC’s current ass-backwards “this is what we’re doing, so there” style of customer care.

But is that enough? For a game to be great it has to be mechanically sound and fun to play too. I hear a lot about Pathfinder as a well supported entity, is the “real” D&D and all the rest, but how does it play?

And in what ways does how it plays make it better (if it is) than Fourth Edition D&D?

Enquiring minds want to know.

Thanks!

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41 Responses

  1. With a post like that, you could be accused of being a troll ;-)

    No game (or indeed anything) can be defined as being better than another unless you make clear your criteria.

    If it is “I have more fun” then no one can tell you that. It is subjective and you have to try them both for yourselves.

    If you are asking which is the more refined, better designed game, then its 4e. Its mechanics are simpler and more consistent where as Pathfinder carries more historical baggage.

    If you want colour and flavour in your game, then Pathfinder is better. 4e’s streamline design comes at the expense of flavour. The mechanics have a greater disconnect from the game (e.g. powers that do damage with no explanation of how it happens).

    However, none of this matters, just play what you enjoy playing.

    • greywulf says:

      Troll? Moi? Heh. I guess sometimes even trolls can ask the right questions.

      There seems to be an implicit belief that Pathfinder *is* a better game (whatever that means). I’m curious to know why, or where that belief comes from. I agree that it’s entirely subjective, but when enough people believe it, it stops being subjective and becomes objective instead.

      Food for thought is never fattening :D

      • Tom says:

        Just a thought…

        Pathfinder’s beta pdf was released for player suggestions – Paizo threw it open to suggestions and had something like 50,000 downloads – quite a while before the game came out, but I think it was pretty similar to the final print.

        I reckon a quick web search could turn up a copy if you wanted to flick through and see how the rules looked?

        …and there’s always the system reference document at http://www.d20pfsrd.com to thumb through the classes etc.

  2. Viktor Haag says:

    I am currently running both a regular weekly 4e campaign and a regular weekly Pathfinder campaign. As such, I’ve been able to see the engines side-to-side over a period of time. In the main, /I/ don’t think that one plays “better” than the other: largely, they’re two different games and each has its better points and its weaker points. I’m pretty sure that the players in both campaigns (there’s no overlap) /prefer/ the game that they are playing as both groups have had tastes of the other and weren’t as enthusiastic (granted, the 4e group hasn’t tried PFRPG; their preference is for 4e over 3.x).

    As a DM, what I prefer about 4e:
    – Balanced encounter building is a snap
    – Filling an evening is easier: the same amount of prep goes longer, because encounters last longer.
    – The thematic focus of 4e is very tight: it feels much more like anime/manga style fantasy, or “superheroes with swords”.
    – Tactical encounters are satisfying mechanical play all on their own, and the players seem to really like this (likely because of our historical attachment to other tactically-rich RPGs like HERO).

    Here’s what I prefer about PFRP:
    – Encounters don’t last as long, so the stretch of “I swing, you swing” time in encounters is much less.
    – PFRPG’s “combat manoeuvres” are a wonderful, flexible distillation of complex special options in tactical encounters, and this game’s implementation of them is vastly better than either 3.x or 4e.
    – PFRPG is thematically much closer to “traditional” D&D — the /feel/ at the table is more attached to the previous versions, and the players seem to like this.

    Both of the systems, in my experience so far, seem to hit their stride around PC levels 6-8, and now that PCs are in the 9-10 range, the tactical encounters are starting to lengthen to the point where I’m seeking ways to shorten them and punch them up a bit.

    In this regard, PFRP is more satisfying: yes, early level combats are more threatening and PC death is a bigger risk; at higher levels, though, encounters manage to continue to contain that risk and don’t drag nearly as much. 4e encounters, to my mind, drag a bit.

    Finally, from a “play resources” point of view, I prefer PFRP I think. The number of books I’ve “had” to buy has been much smaller, and their cost cheaper. The resources are /all/ available as PDFs, at excellent pricing points. Players can easily survive with a single book purchase (or two, if they want some of the material in the Advanced Players Guide). The rules are largely well organized and presented (although their terseness is, in some cases, not as effective as or as clear as 4e). The quality of adventures and setting material is much much higher in the PFRPG line than in 4e, but to my mind, the underlying subtext of the 4e setting philosophy (the points of light notion, and the way that realms and dimensions are dealt with) is slightly better and suits what actually seems to happen during play better.

    To mind, for fantasy, PFRPG is far and away the best fantasy-themed implementation of the D20 mechanics that I have seen: if I had any continued inclination to want to play a “fantasy D20 game”, I would reach for PFRPG by preference.

    But I don’t think of 4e as a D20 game, really, despite that heritage, and I quite like playing 4e as well. I think it suits the playing styles of the group I’m running it with better, and I’m not sure I’d want to play PFRPG or 3.x with that group.

    • greywulf says:

      Thanks for the detailed reply!

      I agree about the risk factor. Seems to me that Pathfinder has still kept that element of danger (especially at low levels) that 4e has built a cushion against. I know as GM its hard (but not impossible) to TPK party in 4e. Whether that’s a good thing is open to debate. Perhaps the ideal system would be one that provided a set of switches where the GM could set the risk factor based on the grittiness of the campaign setting. Hmmmm.

      Not having PDFs legally availble is a huge loss for 4e, and a major failing on WoTC’s part as far as I’m concerned. D&D Insider just doesn’t cut it as an alternative. That translates to being a win on Paizo’s part for recognizing and catering to their demand. Good call.

      It strikes me (from your comments and others, below) that 4e is a superior game from the DM’s side of the table, while Pathfinder is better for the player. Would that be a fair assessment?

      • Viktor Haag says:

        I think one of the things that 4e explicitly set out to do in its design was “make it easy for the DM to prep”. In my opinion, it made large strides in this direction. Rational scaling combined with software tools is a powerful combination: HERO games did exactly the same thing with a rationally scaled set of rules and HeroDesigner, but I think the character builder and monster builder software from WotC is an even better tool — it’s easier to use, and it’s far, far cheaper (giving you access to all the up-to-date material from the books).

        But it also come with costs: its plug and play, modular approach to building characters and monsters does tend to overdrawn specialization and the confusion of choice (100 different +1 swords, all with slightly different powers?)

        I suppose it comes down to “what kind of prep makes you mad” as a DM. 4e largely solves your encounter prep efficiency problems, but it’s not going to solve any of your other prep issues: geography, setting, characters, plots, and so on — these are all still as thorny in 4e as they are with other incarnations of D&D.

  3. Matthew AC says:

    I recently wrote about this to a small extent. Pathfinder is good. However, it really, really sticks to that 3.5 engine. A lot of the same ‘flaws’ exist, but so do the boons (customization of characters, cool magic items, etc.)

    Lately, Paizo has amped it up a bit. New base classes, lots of options for all core classes to make them very customizable and play different depending on build. Also, Paizo’s ability to put together adventures demolishes the entries from 4e.

    Now, none of that is to say that PF is better, just to give my insight into the discussion. Me? I think I’m going to Fantasy Craft for a bit.

  4. I play in a monthly Pathfinder RPG campaign and played in three or four 4E one-shots. I have not run either.

    I guess my point of view is going to explain why I didn’t upgrade my D&D 3.5 games to 4E.

    In general terms, I found that 4E did not significantly improve or my play experience. It still had lots of skills, they got asked for more often in skill challenges, character creation was still a pain. So no big win from the player’s perspective. I hear it is a big win from the DM’s perspective.

    There were three drawbacks, however:

    1. The lack of save or die effects transformed a high level fight against a demon lord into a very long bash fest. High level spells including very cruel spells make for a changing play experience at different levels in older editions. In 4E, high level combat felt much like low level combat with more hit-points. Thus, it took longer, and thus I was more bored.

    2. The streamlining of the rules reduced many of the irregular, weird and complicated rules to very simple effects that add some damage dice or similar. Now, effects were easier to compare to each other (and classes are probably much easier to balance) but the choices also turned out to be more boring.

    3. I also noticed the strange disconnect sometimes mentioned online, like shifting other people, or kung fu names like splitting the tree ranged attacks with no trees in sight. I’m sort of used to the disconnect in more abstract games like Burning Wheel, but there the number of rounds and rolls is significantly reduced (down to one single roll in the extreme case). Thus, I immediately understand that this is not a blow-by-blow roll.

    Anyway, that’s my short analysis.

    Or, to tackle it the other way around:

    D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder offer the following advantages:

    1. as casters gain new spell levels, these change the game significantly over time and make for more long-term fun.

    2. less streamlining provides interesting and engaging warts and nooks and specialties that fascinate players.

    3. more congruent simulation (if one roll is one blow, then the effects are on a similar level of abstraction).

    But through all that, I just learned to love Labyrinth Lord. :)

  5. I think if 4E is not your thing anymore you should go forward, not backward. Try Dragon Age, try some fantasy hacks for Gamma World. I guess it’s gonna do a better job for you.

    • greywulf says:

      4e is still very much my thing, thanks for asking :)

      What I’m interested in is how it differs from Pathfinder and whether there’s any basis in the unwritten belief that Pathfinder is a better game.

  6. BlUsKrEEm says:

    I’m a fan of 4th, but I think the big problem is the inability to start up a pick up game. 4th ed’s character creation, and adventure design are much more involved then most games, and while there are tools out there to help it along, I don’t think it’s reasonable to think that every new player is going to buy a subscription right off the bat. This means it’s harder to get new players interested, and more difficult for casual players to get involved.

    Pathfinder still is much more casual friendly, and has the advantage of essentially being the same game that has been around for a decade so for most players they don’t even have to learn new rules.

  7. cassey says:

    I’m a Pathfinder gal. 4e fights take too long, which means fewer fights, guess what I enjoy the most when rpging ;)

    • Viktor Haag says:

      My group is also grappling with “4e fights take too long”, and I’m slowly finding ways to address that problem. While it’s certainly true that PFRPG equivalent encounters are generally shorter to play through, they don’t offer as much in the way of grand tactical options as 4e does.

      So, it really comes down to what the play group likes doing — our group finds a lot of fun in the 4e system /because/ the combats are lengthy and rich in tactical activity. My job as a DM is to try and make them more interesting and engaging: part of that might be shortening, but part of it might be pacing them, arranging them, and running them in a more engaging manner.

  8. Jonathan says:

    I sometimes get to watch my former Living Greyhawk, now Pathfinder based friends create THEIR characters, and the amount of time and energy they invest in it seems better suited to a second job than an RPG. Of course, as mentioned, they came from Living Greyhawk and are huge power gamers, so I doubt they’d spend significantly less time on 4th Edition. Except possibly their wizard.

    Even as someone who played 3.5, it took me 4 hours to even find a character idea I was interested in and another 45 minutes to build it – not counting the time I spent beating my brains out against a wall so I wouldn’t be able to think about the fact that the Rogue’s “Swashbuckler” progression grants a free military weapon, and the first thought EVERYONE had was, “Oooh, you could sneak-attack with a greatsword!”

    Maybe I’m too picky, I don’t know. :)

    I wouldn’t run Pathfinder, I wouldn’t recommend it to any of my non-roleplaying type friends as an entry point into the hobby… and unless I meet some nicer, friendlier people to play it with, I don’t think I’d play it myself (I know they’re out there, I read their blogs, but none of them seem to be around here). I gave up on it because I’ve yet to meet anyone who actually made it sound like fun.

    Of course, whether I’d recommend 4th Edition for new players either is another question, but the Essentials player’s books really aren’t a bad place to start. . . and I’d be more likely to recommend it; I’ve yet to play in a 4th Edition game that wasn’t fun.

    And I’m obviously biased. Make Mine Mutants and Masterminds! :)

    • Jonathan says:

      As for how it plays, from what I’ve seen the low levels at least play pretty much like 3.5 did; the Monk is still a deeply flawed class at low levels badly in need of some proper AC – a flat +4 armor bonus would fix SO much about the class. . . Vancian Magic has been minimized a little bit through free cantrips at-will (I guess a ranged touch attack at 1d3 isn’t as bad as it sounds), and casters generally get a lot more class features to go with their spells, so that’s nice. Fighters look fairly fun. But it’s basically 3.5 “With a Twist.”

      And, ironically, in the group I’ve observed, it winds up being basically a tactical miniatures game, which is what they claim drove them away from 4th Edition. :P

  9. Lee says:

    To me 4th editon is a miniatures wargame broken up by skill sessions. It’s not the DnD I know. Pathfinder fells right, it’s what 4th edition should have been.

    • Viktor Haag says:

      “what 4th edition should have been”

      That’s one way to look at it. Another way to look at it is that the hobby has luckily increased its scope in an interesting way: using its resources, history, and devoted fan base, WotC has taken a risk and addressed a slightly different market with 4e. Paizo, realizing this, has leapt in to offer an excellent product line aimed pretty squarely at the market that WotC left un-addressed.

      So, now we have two really well supported games with two interestingly different approaches. I play both, and I like both, for different reasons. I don’t feel the need to choose one or the other. To that extent, I think PFRPG’s pricing model is incredibly intelligent (very inexpensive core PDFs and hardcopy options with high production values) — I wonder how many /other/ people are playing both games, and thus need some assistance with the economic barrier to entry.

  10. Is Pathfinder a better game?

    Well like many have said is it better than what and how?

    I like 3.x, Pathfinder and 4e and play each for different reasons.

    Pathfinder has a lot going for it and is really D&D in all but name. If you liked 3.x then chances are good you will like Pathfinder.

    The advantages to Pathfinder are:
    1. One book to play. Sure there are no monsters in it, but for the most part the players will only need the Core Rules.

    2. IF you know 3.x you know Pathfinder (mostly).

    3. The rule changes from 3.x to Pathfinder to me anyway seem to follow a logical progression. They make sense.

    4. All your 3.x/OGL/d20 stuff is still good.

  11. uhf says:

    The reason 4e came out is that no one was buying or playing 3.x. Maybe if there were more fans or something… Paizo came out with Pathfinder because they are primarily and adventure module company, and the GSL sucked a*s. They were looking at the death of their business. (The GSL is outright business vicious…)

    I went from AD&D to 4e, so I missed the 3.x series entirely. Initially I found 4e character creation daunting. But DMing is entirely different. For the first time I’m able to concentrate on story and do it all myself. I could never do that before. Running it is also easy. I only need to know like 50 pages of rules, and after that I just read stat blocks for combat and role play the role playing.

    I own Pathfinder, but I haven’t played. Frankly the characters are just as complicated to understand as 4e, and worse, all the rules (Combat, + Feats + Spells) must be memorized in order to run a game. I know I can’t keep all that in my head.

    One thing I notice is that many 3.x players (including famous bloggers such as the Alexandrian) can’t seem to separate the game from the adventures, and well, WOTCs adventures almost categorically suck a*s. (WOTC’s 4e adventures are the bottom of the barrel.)

    I think the real reason 3.x players think this way is that they aren’t able to run the game themselves.

    Stating up 3.x is a pain in the butt, so many DMs of the 3.x games are buying modules. This logic might seem odd, but professional module developers have told me exactly this. The implication should of course be clear. 3.x is too hard to create your own adventures for, so you must buy modules to play it. (You’d almost think WOTC thought this up. Hmm… )

    From my perspective, I’ve started converting adventures from Pathfinder, 3.0, and even AD&D. Its a snap in 4e.

    I get old school role play with 4e action. Awesome!

  12. I still want to see more people answer Greywulf’s original question: “And in what ways does how it plays make it better (if it is) than Fourth Edition D&D?” :)

    • uhf says:

      I don’t play both, but harking back to my AD&D.

      Magic feels more magical under the old magic system.

      Simple Pathfinder fights of the hack and slash type are faster than 4e. While I hear that 4e and Pathfinder (3.x) are on par for combat times, I think its safe to say that there aren’t any short combats in 4e.

  13. Darktouch says:

    I play pathfinder on an every other week basis. As to why, it was more of a case of what was there. I would have played 4e with that same group and I think it would have been just about the same.

    Things I like about Pathfinder:
    1. The World. We’re playing in Golarion which seems to be very nicely fleshed out and not something I am familiar with so that’s been nice.
    2. Know the basics: (I know this is backwords)I’ve been playing Mutants and Masterminds for a long time. Being a d20 game I was familiar enough with the rules to make the jump.
    3. Like the Character Generator: I was already using Herolab for Mutants and Masterminds so expanding it to also handle pathfinder was quick and easy for me.
    4. I’m multiclassed all over the place. My preference would be point buy just because of how I normally do advancement for my characters but the multiclass rules seem to be more flexible than 4Es.

    I think that’s about it and only the last one was a direct comparison. With the right people just about any game can be fun I think. I could probably say some other stuff about the advancement options and class tweaks those are more icing on the cake than something I would pick one game over another for.

  14. In short, this is my opinion:
    4E is a better ruleset. Is faster, solid, easy to explain, easy to run, easy to prepare, with mechanics that give the DM grea possibilities to make the thinsa he has in mind.

    Pathfinder is a better campaign world. Colorful, deep, with great books and greater adventures. Full of things to do and NPCs to interact with.

    What I do? In the last three years, I’ve played in Golarion (Parthfinder’s world) with 4E rules. And this rocks!

  15. Geek Gazette says:

    Everyone has a different preference when it comes to gaming so there really is no such thing as a better game. All you can claim is that a game is better for you personally.
    From a GMs perspective I have run 4e and Pathfinder and honestly I find it easier to run Pathfinder. Granted I a much more familiar with the books and rules, but I can get a PF game up and going in 5 minutes and GM on the fly with no problems. I also find it much easier to run a Pathfinder game for a single PC when the need arises.
    As for character creation, except for when we used character generators, it takes about the same amount of time to generate PC in both games IMO. It just depends on how detailed you get in making your character. If you just want to throw something together you can do it in under 15 min with both games.
    As for why I prefer it, and again this is just my personal opinion, I think Pathfinder allows you to use just the rules you want. There is no real sense that you “need” to do things they way the book tells you. Pathfinder can be a very complicated game if you get hung up on the RAW, but it can also be a very simple game if you don’t. My personal experience is that this is not true for 4e. A good example is the tactical mini aspect of the game. If you don’t want to play that way it is not required in any way and the game does not suffer or feel “broken” if you don’t. However if that is how you want to play the rules are there. With 4e the game feels “wrong”, to me at least, if you ignore the minis rules or try to play with a single PC.
    I’m not knocking anyone’s preference or trying to come off as a 4e hater. I got no beef with whatever game anyone wants to play. I just think that Pathfinder is more adaptable to any style of play than 4e. If you want long and detailed tactical combat, you can do that. If you want more of a lose, free-style type of play it is easy to do that too.

  16. Geek Gazette says:

    I also agree with Darktouch. Golarion is a bit of a kitchen sink world that basically is made up of multiple D&D settings. Forgotten Realms, Ravenloft, Kalamar, Greyhawk, etc, all seem to have a counterpart on Golarion. However, since it is Paizo’s only setting they put everything into making it as detailed and “alive” as you want it to be. It has quickly become my favorite setting to play in. They make what could have been a hodge podge world work.

  17. Tom says:

    To answer: “And in what ways does how it plays make it better (if it is) than Fourth Edition D&D?”:

    I’ve played and GMed both – but only read the 3.5 books – just so you know where I’m coming from.

    To my mind, Pathfinder is the better system hands down, because:

    * Pathfinder works in the same BAB/feat/class ability way as 3.5, but 4e makes everything into daily/encounter powers that frankly get tedious. And, as people have mentioned, there’s no real flavour to the powers, just damage. So… my rogue can throw a handful of shuriken to blind a group of attackers… but only once a day?

    * 4e’s powers get added to characters at seemingly random levels, and at certain points you *have* to swap out lower level powers for higher ones. So you essentially forget one technique to learn another. Pathfinder gives all classes something at every level.

    * From a DM’s point of view, 4e’s stat blocks aren’t any better than Pathfinder’s – and you can use 3.5 adventures in Pathfinder more easily than in 4e. Encounter building is easier in PFRPG, and non-combat encounters are billed as “roleplay and roll skills, get an encounter’s worth of XP” as opposed to 4e’s frankly weird and counter-intuitive “Skill Challenges”. Shudder.

    * 4e introduced “Healing Surges” which pretty much make PCs invincible in combat until the surges run out, at which point they can’t use potions to regain HP until they’ve slept. I understand that this is to reduce the need for magical healing, but if you’re playing low magic settings then there are loads of variant rules from 3.5 (that can be used in Pathfinder) that work better.

    * By all accounts, the classes are much better balanced in PFRPG than either 4e or 3.5. Pathfinder continues the idea of classes/prestige classes with no multiclass penalty, 4e imposes heavy penalties on multiclassers – and has paths you *have* to take at a certain level, rather than ones you *can* take when you meet the requirements.

    For me, Pathfinder just makes more mechanical sense. Switching to it from 4e was like taking the training wheels off. However, if the GM in you wants to avoid the craziness of running 3.5 but you still want to play “D&D”, I’d strongly recommend FantasyCraft/SpyCraft. It evolves 3.5 into a more streamlined toolkit and plays much more cinematically. And has a better solution to 4e’s one-HP “minions” that prevents the need to track monster hitponts.

  18. greywulf says:

    Fascinating feedback, all. I salute you, particularly for keeping it relatively anti-4e snark free. Thanks for keeping this mostly on-topic and positive.

    Digesting it all now. More than a few people have put forward the campaign setting itself as one of the areas where Pathfinder is “better” (an entirely subjective word, but a good one). That’s something I hadn’t expected or thought of. I certainly need to look more into that.

    More thoughts as I plough through your (excellent) comments. Keep ‘em coming!

  19. Jack Colby says:

    Who’s been saying it’s a better game? Pathfinder is, without any doubt whatsoever, a better version of “D&D” simply by virtue of resembling it more closely that 4E does (hey, I’d rather play 4th than 3rd too, but this is a fact – 4E deviates a LOT), which is no doubt why Pathfinder is enjoying better sales. I guess more people simply want to play D&D as they know it, and WotC gave other companies the means to provide it for them when they themselves have taken a very different route with the actual D&D brand.

  20. Jeremy says:

    As there are many very good comments on the relative merits of PF vs 4e already here, I’ll be brief.

    I’ve played every version of DnD that exists, and now PF is my fantasy game of choice. In terms of mechanics, I believe that the combat, character level, and encounter-planning issues in 3x have been elegantly solved by the crew at Paizo. 4e dealt with these problems with an entirely new approach – one that takes the simulation out of the roleyplaying experience, and turns it into a game, only.

    Consider others’ comments on the existence of all sorts of power, like Split the Tree, in 4e. The exist; players use them; end of discussion. There is a significant disconnect, through the selection and use of powers, between the story and the game – that is, the simulation that RPGing should seek, and the rules that manage help manage the story. 4e is a game; PF is a simulation. To me, 4e is an excellent minis tactical game, with story elements grafted on as adjuncts. PF is a simulation that uses rules to help sort out the questions that come up during storytelling. There doesn’t need to be one rule to rule them all, and PF accepts that.

    My group switched to 4e when it came out, and played it exclusively for about 2 years. We all got really burned out – it just didn’t feel right…didn’t feel like DnD.

    One session of PF and it was like the first kiss all over (creepy, right?). It was all smiles around the table, and we’re now in our second PF campaign, porting Eberron into the new rules (we hated what WOTC did to the mechanics with the Dragonmarks in 4e, anyway). My party is about to wander into the Mournland this weekend…probably with dumb smiles on their faces.

  21. mxyzplk says:

    Yes, it is a much better game.

    The campaign world and the adventures they are putting out are the real huge draw.

    But besides that, it’s a really good system. Our gaming group was getting tired of 3.5e, kicked the tires on 4e and found it extremely unsatisfying for anything other than tactical combat, and has been loving Pathfinder since beta.

    As compared to 4e, it allows for more realistic characters and foes and environments. It’s more conducive to exploration and character immersion. It’s not all canned into delve encounters and treasure parcels and skill challenges.

  22. Dave R. says:

    4E I suppose is the better *game* – except for the fact that I can’t figure out how they call that game “D&D”. I’ve played it in good faith and it just didn’t feel like D&D to me, though if it were billed as a party tactical combat game with optional light role-playing I’d say it delivered.

    Pathfinder is the better *D&D game*; the better delivery of brand and experience. But it is, by design and open declaration, “still 3E under the skin,” so if that’s a deal-breaker for you then you should pass it by.

  23. benpop says:

    I’ve only played a little beat of each, and neither in over a year (unfortunately!). These are very subjective as well, so grain of salt and all that.

    1) Type of player.
    PF seems to attract power gamers. 4e tends to attract more newer players, and all the groups I’ve been in but one have been courteous. Based on this alone I’d chose 4e.

    2) Character Generation.
    Both can be horrendously long and slow. 4e spreads this out across the board while PF weights it more on the caster side (though the increased options for all classes has narrowed the gap from 3.5). 4e tends to favor group char building more, though that may stem more from the people type than the game. Also, the online Char Builder is a good focal point for pizza and beer consumption.

    3) Combat Time
    Were this the one point, 4e loses so very hard here. Individual turns tend to go long, people forget what they’re doing, readied actions and interrupts further confuse things. PF’s increased options again make it hairier than 3.5, except those things now abstracted by Combat Maneuvers (like Grappling, thank Kord), but it’s still shorter on average than 4e. And when you forget what you’re doing, doing a basic attack isn’t a huge drop in your effectiveness. PF battles are usually short and sweet, especially with those power gamers that so love it, while for 4e, none save the highest skill level–perhaps, I’m just guessing, I’ve never seen it–can avoid the long slogs that are 4e battles.

    So, my opinion is split. It’s easier for me to find PF games, but I’m more likely to dislike the players. 4e’s streamlining makes it pleasant in some ways, but the long combats make me want to pull my hair out.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that if anyone comes up with an answer either way to Greywulf’s question, please let me know.

  24. Sayge says:

    Let me first start off, I am a big fan of these posts you have made, Greywulf, and have been reading them for quite a while. They are insightful, creative, and are very useful.

    I have been pondering this one for a while. This is not the first time I have thought about it. Both as a player and as a DM.

    Mechanically speaking, is Pathfinder better? No, its not. I was skeptical of 4e at first like many others, but when I sat down, learned it, really tried it out and give it a fair chance, 4e won me over. People dislike 4e because it is so very different from previous editions, or their first introduction to 4e was from players who treated it like a tactical miniature game and not a fantastic RP that 4e can be. But mechanically, 4e is far more flexible and streamlined, leaving the players and GM to be able to focus more on making a story, then number crunching during the game.

    Is Pathfinder worth playing? Yes, it is. You are doing yourself a disservice by letting this game pass you by. The term 3.75 is often coined for the pathfinder game, and in my opinion, it is exactly that. It does improve the original game while still staying faithful to the 3.5 origins that spawned it. The class redesigns are well thought out and deserves the praise it gets from its fans. The new classes from its Advance Players Guide also shows the same well thought out game design. This also holds true for their monster book as well. Pathfinder irons out some annoying flaws of the 3.5 system and turned it into a work of gaming goodness.

    You are correct, attitude toward the customers goes a long way. I suspect this is one of the main reasons why pathfinder has such a strong following. I think of it like this. .

    Where shall we go to eat?
    A. (WotC) Sure, the food served there is really good, but the service has a lot to be desired for…
    B. (Paizo) Then again there is that restaurant down the street whose food is not bad, but the service is great.

    –or–

    C. (Ronin) That out of the way place that is best kept secret in town.

    • greywulf says:

      Well said, sir. Your comment mimics my own (silent, thus far) opinion. In brief: 4e is a better game, but Paizo are a better company when it comes to understanding what matters when it comes to customer service.

      And that, it seems, makes all the difference.

  25. Timber says:

    It’s a bit all over the place, but here’s my two cents

    As a gaming system (ie — disregarding “fluff”) Pathfinder beats out 4E in the following areas:
    1) Easy and intuitive multiclassing;
    2) Improvising combat maneuvers;
    2) Evoking (heh) the proper “feel” of spellcasters;

    The response, of course, is that 4E solves the issues where everyone ELSE feels firmly placed in spellcasters’ shadows. Batman wizard, begone!

    With 4E, everything you do is rigidly defined with keywords, making for easy balancing both between different characters/classes and in encounter creation. Gone are the days of 2Es creative uses of Rope Trick.

    The question, then, of which method is superior must come down to individual play styles.

    For me and my group, 4E with some minor tweaks is the way to go.

  26. Greek George says:

    Grey, come play both the D&D 4e and the PFS Battle Interactives convention-only specials with us, Bruce Cordell and Chris Sims, at Comicpalooza Houston 2011, in May! Then you’ll be able to make quite an informed decision. ;)

  27. benensky says:

    I was DMing and playing 3.5 when I reluctantly tried 4E on my son’s prompting. After trying it, I liked it. For me it is a better game. However, for the Pathfinder people, they state many reasons they like it. For them it is a better game. Why argue. It depends what you are looking for.

  28. HarpoMarx says:


    Viktor Haag:

    I am currently running both a regular weekly 4e campaign and a regular weekly Pathfinder campaign. As such, I’ve been able to see the engines side-to-side over a period of time. In the main, /I/ don’t think that one plays “better” than the other: largely, they’re two different games and each has its better points and its weaker points. I’m pretty sure that the players in both campaigns (there’s no overlap) /prefer/ the game that they are playing as both groups have had tastes of the other and weren’t as enthusiastic (granted, the 4e group hasn’t tried PFRPG; their preference is for 4e over 3.x).
    As a DM, what I prefer about 4e:
    – Balanced encounter building is a snap
    – Filling an evening is easier: the same amount of prep goes longer, because encounters last longer.
    – The thematic focus of 4e is very tight: it feels much more like anime/manga style fantasy, or “superheroes with swords”.
    – Tactical encounters are satisfying mechanical play all on their own, and the players seem to really like this (likely because of our historical attachment to other tactically-rich RPGs like HERO).
    Here’s what I prefer about PFRP:
    – Encounters don’t last as long, so the stretch of “I swing, you swing” time in encounters is much less.
    – PFRPG’s “combat manoeuvres” are a wonderful, flexible distillation of complex special options in tactical encounters, and this game’s implementation of them is vastly better than either 3.x or 4e.
    – PFRPG is thematically much closer to “traditional” D&D — the /feel/ at the table is more attached to the previous versions, and the players seem to like this.
    Both of the systems, in my experience so far, seem to hit their stride around PC levels 6-8, and now that PCs are in the 9-10 range, the tactical encounters are starting to lengthen to the point where I’m seeking ways to shorten them and punch them up a bit.
    In this regard, PFRP is more satisfying: yes, early level combats are more threatening and PC death is a bigger risk; at higher levels, though, encounters manage to continue to contain that risk and don’t drag nearly as much. 4e encounters, to my mind, drag a bit.
    Finally, from a “play resources” point of view, I prefer PFRP I think. The number of books I’ve “had” to buy has been much smaller, and their cost cheaper. The resources are /all/ available as PDFs, at excellent pricing points. Players can easily survive with a single book purchase (or two, if they want some of the material in the Advanced Players Guide). The rules are largely well organized and presented (although their terseness is, in some cases, not as effective as or as clear as 4e). The quality of adventures and setting material is much much higher in the PFRPG line than in 4e, but to my mind, the underlying subtext of the 4e setting philosophy (the points of light notion, and the way that realms and dimensions are dealt with) is slightly better and suits what actually seems to happen during play better.
    To mind, for fantasy, PFRPG is far and away the best fantasy-themed implementation of the D20 mechanics that I have seen: if I had any continued inclination to want to play a “fantasy D20 game”, I would reach for PFRPG by preference.
    But I don’t think of 4e as a D20 game, really, despite that heritage, and I quite like playing 4e as well. I think it suits the playing styles of the group I’m running it with better, and I’m not sure I’d want to play PFRPG or 3.x with that group.

    Really, I had PFRPG and got rid of it soon after, it had all I hated about 3.5 in it still, very GM unfriendly. I really like the new 4e essentials, its quicker to play and quicker to setup for a GM, the world building is nice and with the new fluff material coming out, it reminds me of the old D&D world books, so keep your PF glut of books, the 4e essentials are far cheaper.

  29. Dharmabum says:

    4e to me is more of a miniatures game and was developed to take advantage of the popularity of Mage Knight. Wizards has even added power cards to try and attract Magic fans.
    That being said it can be a good entry point into table top gaming.

    3.5 and PFRPG are for people who want more control over their gaming experience.

    Although for the best RP I would go with White Wolf’s storyteller system. One of the guys in my group modified it a little to run an Underdark campaign that was heavy on RP and low on combat.

  30. Drinan says:

    I see a lot of valid points here and I’m glad to see this hasn’t become a back-and-forth bashing of 4e, which many of these kinds of discussions do.

    Before I go any further, I’m a long-time DM of 3.x going on 10 years now. During that time I’ve probably been a player only 1/100th of the time I’ve spent DMing. Recently, however, I decided to pick up the PF and 4e books and give them a shot before forming an opinion.

    I’ll cover the player’s reactions first. As a whole, I’ve gotten a fairly equal reaction to all three RPGs. Many of my old players enjoyed the inherent flashiness of 4e and streamlined encounters, but disliked how manufactured the encounters felt. Many of the same players also enjoyed PF’s consistency with 3.x, which allowed them to easily convert their favorite characters to a new, more epic feeling PF, but grew frustrated with the combat defense maneuver (essentially: DC) for special attacks. Going from opposing an opponent’s roll, to watching with fingers crossed, made them feel like they’d lost an amount of control of their character. Both have good points to them, but at the end of the day, the majority of my players chose PF over 4e.

    With that out of the way, I’d like to address the DM’s side. I hear a lot of people talking about how much easier 4e is on the DM and I agree: it is simpler. But there’s something about that that irks me. In all my time spent building the worlds, npcs, and encounters for my players, I never found myself wishing it was easier. I’ve always believed that, as a DM, it was my job to deliver the most enjoyable experience to my players, and the extra work was sometimes part of that. In my expirement with 4e, I felt like it really took away the creative liscence of the DM. Most encounters turned into stereotypical “squash hordes of minions and fight the epic boss”, the boss fights being simple and without real risk.
    Perhaps I’m too old fashioned in my mindset towards DMing, but I find that the amount of freedom given the DM and players in the 3.x (and mostly PF) to make the game their own, far outweighs the “streamlined” product that is 4e. In regards to PF, as a DM, I found it to be little more than a 3.75 edition. It’s mechanics are such that most 3.x content can be easily adapted to it, though the character classes often feel over-the-top.

    So, in the end, as most discussion like this do, it boils down to player preference. That’s to be expected, because the game is about the players, but what it shouldn’t be is about the DM’s preference or convience.

    There’s my rant, no offense meant to any parties. If, however, you do take offense, please don’t sue me, the military pays me little enough as it is.

  31. Grizzled Old DM says:

    The short of it:

    4e puts DMing and encounter creation on rails, so you shouldn’t come across as many sessions with either terrible or wonderful DMs… but they’ll all be sort of vanilla. Similarly, 4e seems to place balance before all else on classes and races, so the melee won’t watch longingly as the wizard lobs another fireball onto the zombie pyre… but without distinction between metal, stealth and magic character abilities become rather boorish and lack differentiation.

    PF requires more from the DM, either up front in terms of preparation and understanding, or during play in the form of improvisation…. but it allows good DMs to be good DMs (while also allowing poor DMs to sink). Class and race balance is still off a bit, despite getting some love through minor tweaks…. but different play styles between the classes preserves the color of the game as a result.

    If you hold balance and consistency above all else, 4e is probably the better game. If you prefer differentiation and the traditional “DnD experience”, PF is probably the better game.

    Perhaps the easiest way to summarize the differences: I can get the same fix from WoW or another fantasy MMO that I get from 4e, and usually in a way that is both much more convenient and enjoyable with respect to the tactical combat execution. PF scratches an itch MMOs have not yet been able to replicate as fully.

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