10 Biggest Differences Between Pathfinder 2e And D&D 5e

A split image showing a Pathfinder party in a dungeon, and a DnD character battling a giant


Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder aren’t just the two biggest names in fantasy roleplaying. They’re also two of the biggest names in TTRPGs full-stop. On the surface, the games are similar. This is because Pathfinder First Edition is a modified version of the D&D Third Edition ruleset. However, both systems have diverged.


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D&D Fifth Edition has only a passing resemblance to 3e. Likewise, Pathfinder Second Edition has overhauled and revolutionized almost every system in the game. Both RPGs use similar classes and races, and feature dungeoneering and fantasy questing, but that’s where the similarity ends. Players looking to try something other than D&D might notice a lot of differences in Pathfinder.

10 Pathfinder 2e Is Much More Feat Focused

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Both Pathfinder 2e and D&D 5e have feats. However, they use them in very different ways. 5e has feats as an optional extra rule. Characters can take them instead of an Ability Score Improvement. They also vary in power, with little mind to balance. Pathfinder goes the opposite way.

Pathfinder 2e characters get feats with every single level. These feats are split into various categories. They cover different classes, different skills, different ancestries, and feats that anyone can take. The result is character progression with a huge amount of customization. However, it also requires a lot more reading and decision-making from players to pick the right ones.

9 Pathfinder’s Bonuses Scale Much More Quickly

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>A fighter standing by a slain giant in DnD

Dungeons & Dragons 5e is built around the concept of “bounded accuracy.” Its maths remains quite flat, and bonuses don’t scale much. A character will start with a bonus of around +5 to the things they’re best at, and have around a +11 by 20th level. Pathfinder 2e has much bigger increases. Everything a character is proficient in increases by 1 with every level, with additional boosts for Expertise, Mastery, and more.

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This also applies to things that don’t scale in 5e, such as Armor Class. Both systems have their strengths. 5e‘s low scaling ensures rough parity between characters and prevents most monsters from becoming completely obsolete. Pathfinder‘s high scaling is carefully balanced at each level and creates a feeling of genuine progression. It’s also used in the game’s intuitive encounter crafting rules.

8 Pathfinder Characters Take Three Actions In Combat

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>A party in combat in DnD.

One of Pathfinder 2e‘s biggest changes from 1e is its combat system. It doesn’t use a D&D-esque system of movement, an action, and other types of bonus action. Instead, every turn in Pathfinder 2e comprises three actions. Anything a character might do uses up at least one of these actions.

Moving is an action. Interacting with an object is an action. Swinging a weapon is an action. Casting a spell is often two or three actions. This creates a tactical feeling to combat. It also gives players the freedom to choose what they do in their turn. From the very first level, a character can attack three times. However, this will incur an increasing accuracy penalty with each swing.

7 Pathfinder’s Skills Are Much More Nuanced

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>A rogue infiltrating a building in DnD

D&D Fifth Edition has a very straightforward skill system. For the most part, characters are proficient in skills or not proficient. If they’re proficient, they add their proficiency bonus to the skill’s ability score modifier. Certain feats or classes give access to Expertise, which doubles the proficiency bonus. However, this is rare.

In Pathfinder 2e, the skill system has more nuance. Skills, as with other proficiencies, have a series of stages. They begin at Trained and go through Expert, Master, and Legendary. Each gives a further bonus on top of Pathfinder 2e‘s level scaling. On top of this, characters get Skill Feats. These represent specific extraordinary things they can do with their skills.

6 There Are More Classes In Pathfinder, With New Ones Released Often

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Dungeons & Dragons 5e has a fairly slow release schedule. On top of this, the edition has been very slow to release new classes. Only one official additional class has been released, the artificer. There is no word of any new classes being added to either 5e or the upcoming One D&D.

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Pathfinder 2e has already surpassed 5e‘s classes. It has almost all of 5e‘s classes, albeit with tweaks like the paladin becoming the champion. On top of that, it has options like the summoner, the investigator, the oracle, and many more. New classes are commonplace in Pathfinder‘s releases, with as much care put into them as the base classes.

5 Pathfinder Handles Magic Items Differently

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>A spellcaster using the Illusionist's Bracers magic item in DnD.

Pathfinder 2e‘s magic item rules have a very different philosophy to D&D. 5e doesn’t mandate or require them at any level of play — aside from overcoming monsters’ damage resistances. A character isn’t expected to have a certain amount of loot by a certain level. Pathfinder 2e structures its rewards much more. Characters have clear points past which they are meant to have a certain amount of power.

This makes magic items more frequent in Pathfinder. It also makes magic weapons very different. In Pathfinder, characters don’t just have weapons with specific magical properties. Instead, these features come from runes. These include fundamental runes — which increase accuracy and damage — and property runes, which impart magical abilities.

4 Characters Are Much More Modular In Pathfinder

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>A Ranger looking down from the trees in DnD

Pathfinder 2e doesn’t just add lots of classes to the game. It also adds a lot of important decisions to character creation. It has the D&D staples of ancestry and class to determine a character’s basics, as well as a background. However, most classes now have at least one important decision.

These resemble D&D 5e‘s subclasses, but they’re handled differently. Some have them overhaul huge parts of a character, such as the spell list they learn from. In addition, these choices also unlock feats. Multiclassing is also very different. Instead of taking levels in another class, characters take an Archetype that lets them learn some of another class’ feats.

3 Rolls In Pathfinder Get Bonuses And Penalties, Not Advantage And Disadvantage

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Saltmarsh scene from DnD official art

Both D&D 3e and Pathfinder 1e are notorious for the sheer number of small bonuses characters could apply to a roll. Between spells, class features, situational modifiers, magic items, feats, and far more, they could be trying to keep track of many different numbers. 5e simplifies this with advantage or disadvantage, a beneficial or detrimental reroll of the d20.

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Pathfinder 2e doesn’t go as far to simplify it. Rolls still add bonuses from various sources to them, such as circumstantial bonuses. However, the system has been made less complex than in 1e. Bonuses are more reliable and the number of types has been reduced. As such, total modifiers to rolls are much easier to calculate.

2 Pathfinder Has Many More Types Of Weapons

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>A bald Barbarian Monk fighting with a spear in 5e DnD

Weapons are fairly simple in 5e. They mostly comprise a damage die, a type of proficiency, and a handful of properties. The idea is for weapons to act as simple archetypes, with more exotic weapons given an existing statblock. Pathfinder 2e takes a very different approach.

Almost any conceivable weapon gets a statblock in Pathfinder 2e. They vary on damage type, handedness, and the dozens of properties available. Any build will have several weapons that can suit it perfectly, all of which will be different from one another. Weapon choice is an important part of character building in Pathfinder 2e.

1 Crits Are Expanded Beyond Natural 20s And 1s In Pathfinder

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>A D&D Party facing off against a beholder.

D&D 5e takes a very conservative approach to critical rolls. They only occur on a Natural 1 or a Natural 20, and only in very specific circumstances. Critical hits on attack rolls deal an extra die of damage, while a Natural 1 causes an automatic failure. They also affect death saving throws. Apart from that, they’re absent from the base rules.

Every roll in Pathfinder 2e can critically succeed or critically fail. A critical success will go above and beyond — and with certain features, will activate unique weapon properties. A critical failure will cause an additional negative consequence, usually impeding future actions. In addition, a critical success can happen by beating a roll’s DC by 10. Likewise, a critical failure happens when a character rolls more than 10 below a roll’s DC.

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