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A mostly fixed 3.5 type game.
on December 11, 2014
Many regard Pathfinder as D&D 3.75. It was released after 3.5 was officially over, at about the same time as the debut of 4th edition. The Pathfinder ruleset has a lot of the 4th edition mechanics, but not all of them. The game is a lot closer to 3.0/3.5 than it is to 4th edition. There are the same basic classes (in the Core Rulebook) as are found in 3.0/3.5's Player's Handbook, classes like Fighters, Rogues, Wizards, Clerics, Druids, Bards, Barbarians, etc. There are twenty levels to the classes. There are prestige classes. There are feats and the skill system is mostly the same.
Perusing the book, I quickly noticed the quality was much higher than I was used to from the products of Wizard's of the Coast. The paper is a heavier grade and the artwork is phenomenal. The books have stood up to the wear and tear of a couple of years of play, as the pass it around the garage (man cave) set. (I have two copies of each book, one for the shared set and one for myself at home).
Mechanically, classes get a lot more for sticking it out to 20th, than they did in 3.5. There seems to be an ability, class feature, feat, or whatever granted at almost every level. There is also a capstone ability at 20th level for most classes. There is a favored class bonus, which grants you a bonus hit point or a bonus skill point at each level that you take a level in your favored class... (if you purchase the Advanced Player's Guide, there are alternate bonuses you can take instead.)
Feats are gained at every odd level, instead of at every third level. That gets each character 10 feats over 20 levels, as opposed to only 6 with the previous version of the game. That opens a lot of doors, as far as builds will go.
The classes seem quite a bit stronger than their 3.5 counterparts, particularly in terms of durability and staying power. If you're looking to multiclass between several classes, you end up with a character a lot stronger than the 3.5 version. However, if you stick with one class all the way, you're in general better off than cherry picking abilities here and there.
Archetypes are introduced in the Advanced Player's Handbook, which essentially let you modify your class by changing a core feature or replacing it with another. While that is not a part of the Core Rulebook, it is worth mentioning because is drastically increases the playability of the main book. You and I could each play a very different Druid merely by taking different Archetypes for that class.
There seems to be a lot more details of the rules than in 3.5. Basically, if you're looking for a rule on something a little more esoteric, there's a good chance you'll find a lot of topics covered in Pathfinder which were straight DM fiat in a previous edition of the game. The DM is still the final arbitrator of the game, subject of course to whether the players want to play in his/her game.
The skill system is a little condensed as well. For example Perception now covers Search, Spot and Listen as the one skill. This is true for several other skills too. Feats, such as Alertness grant a +2 bonus to your Perception and Sense Motive, and the feat scales by giving you a +4 bonus once you have 10 ranks in the skill. That improves the feat drastically as well.
Pretty much all of the options seem to be worthwhile choices.
There are much fewer broken abilities comparatively. Power Attack (and Deadly Aim, which does the same thing for Archery based characters) scales at a fixed rate. You lose +1 attack bonus, but gain +2 damage (or +3 with a two-handed weapon) per +1 that is given up. But the amount of attack that is sacrificed is at a fixed rate, not as much of your Base Attack as you'd like. This ensures your character still has a decent chance to hit, but also that you're not getting an absurd amount of bonus to damage from the one feat.
Melee have a lot more options, a large portion of that comes from having more feats, but each class gets additional features.... The Fighter gets Weapon Group training... which translates into a +1 Attack and Damage (and bonus to Combat Manuevers) with the entire group (Light Blades, Heavy Blades, Archery, Hammers, etc...) and over time you gain additional Weapon Training (which adds +1 to existing groups, while adding a new category). Fighters gain Bravery, which is a bonus to Will Saving throws. They gain Armor Training, which reduces the max Dex penalty associated with the armor along with the armor check penalty for their armor.
Casters are still weaker at lower levels and drastically stronger at higher levels. However, both Sorcerers (from the Bloodlines) and Wizards (from their Specialization) gain several uses per day of an ability that is comparable to a first level spell. Thematically, it is tied to your choice of Bloodline/Specialization. In practice it means that a Wizard does not have to resort to a Crossbow attack (at +0 BAB, and using a secondary stat... Dexterity... to hit) once they've used their one or two Magic Missile attacks per day. There are also unlimited uses of level 0 spells, which is similar to the idea of 'At Will' powers in fourth edition.