Pathfinder to D&D 5E - The Differences

January 09, 2018


So I have been DMing a Pathfinder campaign (Rise of the Runelords) for a group of my mates for the last couple of months however from my point of view, things just haven’t felt right. As a DM I have been feeling bogged down by the rules, from having to know when to apply minor +1 bonuses or penalties to being able to describe why we have 5 different knowledge skills and what they are used for. I have been looking at a number of different systems to try and adapt to including Savage Worlds and Dungeon World but finally I have settled on D&D 5th Edition. This is a small look at the rule differences as they apply to our group for their benefit as well as anyone else thinking of making the switch.



D&D 5th Edition greatly simplifies both the list of skills and how to apply them. Here is the list of Pathfinder skills with their D&D equivalents:

Pathfinder D&D
Acrobatics Acrobatics
Bluff Deception
Climb Athletics
Diplomacy Persuasion
Disable Device
Escape Artist
Handle Animal Animal Handling
Heal Medicine
Intimidate Intimidation
Knowledge (arcana) Arcana
Knowledge (dungeoneering)
Knowledge (engineering)
Knowledge (geography)
Knowledge (history) History
Knowledge (local) Investigation
Knowledge (nature) Nature
Knowledge (nobility)
Knowledge (planes)
Knowledge (religion) Religion
Perception Perception
Perform Performance
Sense Motive Insight
Sleight of Hand Sleight of Hand
Stealth Stealth
Survival Survival
Swim Athletics
Use Magic Device

In addition to this, players no longer put ranks into skills when they level up. Instead, their class determines what skills they are proficient in and when they use those skills, they instead get a bonus applied to the roll based on their level.

D&D also makes use of Passive Skill Checks, something I couldn’t find mentioned in the Pathfinder rule book. Passive skill checks don’t require dice rolls and is used by the DM to secretly determine whether the player characters succeed at something such as noticing a hidden monster. Passive skill checks are equal to:

10 + skill modifier + proficiency bonus (if proficient)

In addition to this, the aid another action is replaced by simply giving a character advantage (see Advantage and Disadvantage) if two or more are working together. There is also rules for group checks which force everyone to make a skill check and if at least half succeed then the check is a success, otherwise it is a failure.


Proficiency is incorporated into D&D at the expense of Skill Ranks and Saving Throws and scales with your characters level. When you create your character, you choose what skills and saving throws you are proficient in and any time you use those skills, you apply your proficiency bonus in addition to your ability modifier.

In addition proficiency is added to:

  • Attack rolls with weapons you are proficient with
  • Attack rolls with spells you cast
  • Ability checks using tools you are proficient with

Proficiency starts at +2 at level 1 and increases every 4 levels thereafter.

Saving Throws

Reflex, Fortitude and Will saves are “replaced” with ability saves meaning instead you will use your STR, DEX, CON, INT, WIS, CHA ability modifiers for your saving throws. It really is just a naming change but it reduces the number of terms players have to remember.

When you create your character, your class determines which 2 abilities you have proficiency in which means whenever you have to perform a saving throw of that type, you add your proficiency bonus.

Item Proficiencies

Your class will tell you what weapons and items your character is proficient in using. Whenever you use these items, you gain your proficiency bonus to your skill check.

Advantage and Disadvantage

Instead of remembering all the cases where players get minor bonuses or penalties when rolling the dice, D&D incorporates advantage and disadvantage. This makes it much easier on me since I don’t have a DM screen full of when these bonuses or penalties should apply.

In both cases you roll 2 d20s; if you have advantage you take the higher value and if you are at a disadvantage you take the lower value.


Cover is one of these things where I’m somewhat puzzled as to why they didn’t just use the advantage/disadvantage system in favor of +X bonuses but I can also see why. Simply, half cover provides a +2 bonus to AC and 3/4 cover provides a +5 to AC. You cannot target someone in full cover.


I tried to introduce a similar system into our game of Pathfinder under the term Hero Points. In hindsight I probably went a bit too overboard with the description of them and set too many parameters around how they are earned and what they are used for.

Inspiration is awarded when you play your character in a way that is true to their personality traits, ideals, bonds or flaws or otherwise portray your character in an interesting way.

Inspiration can be used to give a player advantage on one attack roll, save throw or ability check.

Character Personality

I love the D&D includes some guidelines for fleshing out a character as part of the creation process; in particular traits, ideals, bonds, flaws and background.

At character creation, a character background or create your own which describes where you came from and how you became an adventurer. This will then define your possible traits, ideals, bonds and flaws or you can create your own.

Your personality traits define your character, you get to choose 2 at creation. e.g. I’ve enjoyed fine food, drink, and high society among my temple’s elite. Rough living grates on me.

You also get to choose 1 ideal, which describes what drives your character. Ideals typically are connected to your alignment. e.g. Power - I hope to one day rise to the top of my faith’s religious hierarchy.

Your bonds represent your connection with the people, places and events in the world. You get to choose 1 at creation. e.g. I owe my life to the priest who took me in when my parents died.

Flaws represent some vice, fear, compulsion or weakness for your character. e.g. I am suspicious of strangers and expect the worst of them.


Feats are optional in D&D and are quite powerful. Every 4 levels, you get to choose if you want to take a feat or increase 2 of your ability scores. In our campaign, feats characters currently have will be reworked slightly to match their D&D power levels.

Combat Turns

Combat turns are mentioned a lot more simply in D&D but that doesn’t mean they lack the depth of Pathfinder, it leaves more up to the DMs discretion and players imagination. Each player turn in combat is simply:

  • Move
  • Take 1 action

Some spells, actions or abilities will also allow you to take a bonus action on your turn. You can only take 1 bonus action per turn.

When you attack, you no longer apply a base attack bonus. Instead, if you are proficient with the weapon you are attacking with, you can apply your proficiency bonus.

Critical Hits

Critical hits mean you roll your damage dice twice, there is no rolling to confirm the critical.

Non-Lethal Damage vs Knocking Out

Instead of stating whether you are doing non-lethal damage; when an attacker reduces a creature 0 hit points, they determine whether the opponent is killed or just knocked out.

Two Weapon Fighting

As long as you have a light weapon in your other hand, you can attack with it as a bonus action. You don’t add your ability modifier to the damage of the bonus attack.

Combat Maneuvers

The terms Combat Maneuver Defense (CMD) and Combat Maneuver Bonus (CMB) are gone in favor of using a characters Athletics and Acrobatics skills depending on the situation. I like this change because the few times I would have to ask for a player characters CMD it would draw blank looks followed by a search through the character sheet to find the appropriate value.

Damage Resistance

In Pathfinder, damage resistance is expressed as a type of damage followed by a number which determines how much to reduce incoming damage of that type. This is simplified in D&D by ruling if a creature or character has resistance to a particular type of damage, damage of that type is halved against it.

D&D also introduces vulnerabilities. If a creature has a vulnerability to a particular damage type, damage of that type is doubled.


When you start your turn with 0 hit points, you must perform a death saving throw. Roll a d20, if the result is 10 or higher, it is a success, otherwise you fail.

On your third success, you become stable. On your third failure, you die.

This is just a small summary of the rule differences between Pathfinder and D&D that I found important for our group, they are in no way all the differences. In a follow up, I will be discussing how the player characters change as a result of us moving to D&D.