4 Things I Hate About Pathfinder

I love Pathfinder. I’ve been playing the game since the first playtest and, as you might know, I publish a fair few Pathfinder supplements through Raging Swan Press. That all said, it’s by no means a perfect system.


A rework of the 3.5 rules, Pathfinder is a more robust version of the game first released as Dungeons & Dragons 3.0. However, there are still some things I hate about Pathfinder.

In no particularly order…


This probably isn’t a surprise, but I’m not a big fan of the grapple rules. I think they are still confused and unclear. Even worse than that, they both often cause the game to normally screech to a halt and can immediately end encounters when one character is much better at grappling than the other. Enemy wizards are particularly vulnerable to grappling. While grapple’s encounter ending abilities aren’t a huge problem for me—there are many effects and abilities that can almost instantly end combats—the time it can take to resolve grapples sucks.

Channel Energy

Channel energy turned up in 3rd Edition and replaced the turn undead ability. Initially I loved the concept. It helps the PCs adventure longer and enables the party cleric to do things in encounters that don’t feature undead. But, I’ve recently been thinking it could be so much more.

Essentially, channel energy lets a cleric spam healing (or damage) until he runs out of uses. It’s a bit of a blunt tool.

I like the way, the paladin’s lay on hands ability can also cure (at higher levels) various afflictions and conditions. It would be cool to modify channel energy to allow the cleric to spend uses of channel energy to cast various healing-type spells (the various restorations, remove disease etc.) I’d limit the available spells based on what level the cleric can usually cast. This would have the result of both reducing the amount of healing available to the party, while increasing the healing’s versatility. (For example, in a recent encounter in my Shattered Star campaign, the party’s explorations came to an abrupt halt when several of the spellcasters were deafened—the party’s cleric had no way of removing the deafness until she had rested and relearnt the relevant spell.

(If you are interested in this concept, let me know and I’ll work up some basic rules).

Woolly Wordings

As I play the game more, I discover more and more examples of “woolly” wording. I get that English—like any language—is open to interpretation, but you’d think after the best part of 20 years 3.0/3.5/Pathfinder could have crushed any such odd language into dust.

I’ve previously blogged about freedom of movement but there are many other examples. (In fact, we discovered yet another one last night in the fighting underwater rules).

Woolly wordings are not ideal. They can lead to disputes, arguments and even broken games. (And while sometimes fun, discussions about rules and rulings waste precious game time).

As an aside, I think that as a rule system gets more robust and comprehensive, it reduces the GM’s ability (or desire) to make rulings. Of course, a GM can make any ruling he wants, but psychologically the more comprehensive the rules the more likely a GM is to want to stick to them.

In the good old days, GMs were expected to make ruling when the rules were unclear (or non-existent). Now, it seems, players are much more likely to argue the toss and to go look at message boards and so on in an attempt to prove they are “right”.


This might be related to Woolly Wordings, above. I couldn’t decide, and so I decided to separate it out.

Pathfinder is a game of rich complexity; that’s one of the things I like about it. Even just using the Core Rulebook (which is all you really need along with the Bestiary), it’s possible to make an almost unlimited number of interesting, mechanically different PCs. However, as we get to higher and higher levels the game gets more and more complex. We seem to spend more time looking stuff up than actually playing.

One of the things I like about 5e is its simplicity. I think, as much as possible a rule system should get out of the way and promote actual game play. There is clearly a sweet spot between too complex and too simple. For me—now—Basic D&D is too simple. I’m beginning to think high-level Pathfinder play may also be too complex for me.

What Do You Hate About Pathfinder?

So those are four things I hate about Pathfinder. What sends you into an incandescent rage about the game? Let me know, in the comments below.


Creighton is the publisher at Raging Swan Press and the designer of the award winning adventure Madness at Gardmore Abbey. He has designed many critically acclaimed modules such as Retribution and Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands and worked with Wizards of the Coast, Paizo, Expeditious Retreat Press, Rite Publishing and Kobold Press.

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35 thoughts on “4 Things I Hate About Pathfinder

      • Great. This would be an interesting set of options. One thing I’d ask you to consider is how one rewards a clever cleric that had the foresight to memorize the right spell. To illustrate, I noticed that as soon as spontaneous casting became a thing, none of my clerics ever memorized a Cure Light Wounds again. So, one house rule I came up with was to make a memorized CLW instantly do max healing (no need to roll) as opposed to a spontaneous cast still requiring a roll. Probably not perfect, but hopefully it illustrates the need.

        If the channeling to combat deafness can work, is there a way to make it work a little less effectively than Cure Deafness? I’m sure not everyone would agree, but then it would seem like a number of spells would become obsolete. What do others think?

  1. I’m not a fan of Pathfinder anymore. I don’t think it’s the game itself, it’s probably the groups I’ve been in that are to blame. To many opportunities for power gaming and way to many splat books filled with many more opportunities for power gaming. I prefer systems like Castles & Crusades and AD&D.

    • I certainly know what you mean about splat books and power gaming. We currently only play with the core book. The next campaign will also include elements of the Advanced Player’s Guide but more than that makes the GM’s job very difficult I think.

        • Yeah, I agree. There’s a bit of bloat (ok, more than a bit) that has come with the numerous splat books. I like the broader base of character options, but keeping up with it all…

      • Unfortunately, material bloat & splat books are the result of the company that designed the original game having the need to generate a continuous source of income in order to stay in business. Books and PDF’s are very much n0n-perishable and therefore last much longer than other products that don’t last as long. So in order to keep the cash flow coming, they’re going to have to make new products. D&D 3.5 is a prime example of material bloat. They were starting to have it with 2nd edition as well, but switched over to 3rd edition before it got too out of hand. With 3.5, it got really bad, but at the same time, I do like having lots of options so it’s a catch 22.

        • And sometimes, splat books may even present interesting new options and takes on old classes, introducing new gimmicky (is that even a word?) mechanics or flavor that one might not have thought about before.

  2. I am grappling with some complex or wooly wording at the moment. I’m trying to develop a cleric with a penchant for summoning monsters. The language on Sacred Summons just makes things needlessly unclear, even the forums go round and round on it

  3. Like you, I love Pathfinder. I also love 5th Ed, BECMI, 1st, 2nd ed, etc. But ever since I tried Dungeon World, I keep coming back to it. As much as I love the other rules sets, they just seem so sloggy now; even the older versions of D&D.

  4. I think what I’m kind of getting tired of is the attrition-based HP component. Like most here, I’ve poured hundreds of dollars into Pathfinder, so I doubt I’ll abandon it or anything like that. And there’s plenty I love about the system. But either I’m a terrible tactician or my players are just way too smart for my encounters. Maybe what I’m really tired of is the fact that they summon in half a celestial army with every encounter (the Oracle, Cleric, and Wizard all do it as their go-to in the first round) and not only does combat grind to a painful pace, but their proxies are cutting everything in their path to ribbons.

    • Yeah, full casters specializing in or constantly using Conjuration is a certain kind of annoying pain from time to time. My own players and myself have basicly stopped using it since it, as you say, grind combat to a halt.

  5. My favorite thing about Pathfinder? Variety. Since I have all of Pathfinder, 3PP for Pathfinder, 3.0/3.5, 3PP for 3.0/3.5, Dungeon Magazine, Dragon Magazine, and AD&D Spells to draw from. I have a huge list of things I can include for my players to find and enjoy.

    So, what do I hate the most about Pathfinder? The way the HP scales so much that the players practically become invulnerable. The lich teleported you 3 miles up? No problem, my character can survive a fall like that.

    I’ll leave lesser dislikes for another time.

    • Yes, exactly this. Variety and options are what makes Pathfinder great. Sure, there’s a lot of bloat and trap options that essentially amounts to bad choices, but there’s still like… an enormous amount of choice. Perhaps too much for many. But for me and my players? It suits the kind of high fantasy game that we want.

      HP scaling is ridicolous though. Using Path of War allievates some of this but it can easily swing the other way, meaning HP is pointless since you are going to get hit for insane amounts of damage and die anyway.

  6. Grappling has been a bugbear of mine since 3rd edition came out, but I feel PF made things a lot better (but still not the best) with their CMB and CMD. I downloaded a flow chart from d20pfsrd that makes the process much clearer and without it grappling would still be a mess.
    Channel Energy doesn’t bother me much, but I love the idea of alternate “healing” options like mercies.
    Wording bothers our group occassionally, and like complexity I’m trying to push that the GM makes a decision during the game to keep things moving, and if players are bothered we can look things up before the next session.

  7. I hate the tendency for Druid characters to buff their wonder-kitties into demigods of destruction. The game quickly devolves into AccountingFinder once the Druid starts casting multiple buffs on their chosen pet, which most Druid players start to do as soon as the GM pulls out a map.

    Another frustration is seeing 1d3-3 and the like published for tiny or smaller creatures’ damage. I understand that is done for scaling purposes, but without buffing said creature, the notion of dealing negative damage that always transfers into 1 hp damage seems ridiculous.

    • Definitely agree with the 1d3-3 damage thing. Just keep it simple & say it can only do 1 HP of damage & maybe more if buffed. Otherwise just keep it at 1 without there even being a need for a die roll like with caltrops.

    • For pragmatic reasons I agree, but ‘1d3-3’ differs from ‘1’ in that it reduces the value of bonuses. ‘1+2’ is strictly better than ‘1d3-3+2’ (1d3-1).

      Though I’ll grant that the difference is hardly worth worrying about; if you’re going to buff a kitten you might as well get a buff… kitten.

  8. Generally I found that the last times I played it the rules took centre stage over the story because of the amount of time they needed to be consulted. I now prefer lighter rules systems (5e particularly), although I do still play pathfinder. I have also found a tendency for some of my players now to just default to power gaming rather than roleplaying.
    The amount of GM time to be invested in crunching numbers etc to prep for a session has made it a chore at its worst.
    I totally agree with the comment on invulnerability. The mathematics of the system make the game feel more super-hero in style, than the AD&D games which I remember from my youth. I don’t particularly enjoy the feel of the game (to me) at upper-mid to high level.
    I’m feeling a roleplaying renaissance with 5e for me. I don’t believe that Pathfinder is a bad system, but it currently doesn’t play to a style that I enjoy so much. I’m rerunning some of my old 1st ed games using 5e (as I did using Pathfinder) and have recaptured that feeling of 35+ years ago, to some degree.

  9. Don’t know if I hate them, but I’ve found myself thinking of ways to revise Pathfinder’s skills quite often. A lot of this got covered in a series on the Hack and Slash blog a while back, but in summary: 1) certain skills are useless, while others get used all the time; 2) you’re often just rolling dice without any interesting or game-critical outcomes, which is inherently boring; and 3) using them often reduces player skill and opportunities for role playing.

    Still, as others of have said, Pathfinder is still great. And in Gygaxian manner, it even says on pg 9 of the core rule book: “While [the rules] are designed to make your game easy and exciting, you might find that some of them do not suit the style of play that your game group enjoys. Remember that the rules are yours. You can change them to fit your needs.”

  10. The game is too complex. It’s inherent design favors power gaming over role-playing. (Compare this to FATE, which requires story development to even create a character.) For all it’s complexity, it’s essential approach is “no, unless you have a feat.” This necessitates creating new feats, new archetypes, or new classes to let players do the imaginative things they envision. This feeds into the never-ending cycle of complexity.

  11. 1: Grapple: Ever watch UFC? Most combats grind to a halt if someone is better at grappling. Solution: Get better at grappling if you want to win!

    2: Channel Energy is the basic idea of channeling. There are ways ot customize this ability.

    3: Woolly Wording? What language is your parent language? I’ve never heard this term before in my life! You have to write specific entries less the very smart players figure out ways to break the rules.

    4: Complexity. Yep it’s complex. Pathfinder is D&D for Adults. If you want simple stay with the kiddy version of D&D in 5e (if that’s too complex you can go back the Duplo version with 4e)

  12. First; Not causing damage with a weapon while attempting the combat maneuvers trip, disarm and sunder. It just doesn’t make any sense to not cause damage with a weapon you’re using as part of the attempt. I might understand reduced damage in the case of sundering, but it’s still going to hurt having your shield pounded on. Especially an attempt on any body armor.

    Second; I know this may sound kinda sexist yet I also understand the reason the publishers did this, but in my opinion, they should use gender neutral descriptors for everything instead of making them all female (to attract female players in a majority male dominated game). Yeah, I know 1st & 2nd edition used all male descriptors in their books and 3rd edition on has made them all female, but I still find any gender identification in descriptions annoying when they can be either or and should therefore be neutral.

    • Fantasy AGE has a wonderful mechanism for this: you roll 3d6 (one off-color), and if you succeed and there is at least one pair of doubles, you get the value of the off-color die as ‘stunt points’ that can be spent to your advantage.

      If a similar mechanism could be implemented here, it would be fairly easy to say each attack is for one purpose, but if you get stunt points you can spend them to get another result as well. So, I attack for damage and get stunt points — functionally ‘critical hit!’ — and spend them to disarm or trip my opponent. Or vice-versa, I try to use my staff to trip my opponent, get a critical success and get to thump him on the way down.

      (Note that while these simulate ‘better than normal’ hits, they turn up much more often than critical hits in Pathfinder — 120/216 rolls have no doubles, 90/216 have doubles, and 6/216 have triples).

  13. Regarding channeling, I have long wanted to see casting split up.

    Wizards gain spells through study.

    Sorcerers are not casters at all, they have spell-like abilities via their blood.

    Clerics are not casters either, they channel the will of the gods.

    All of these can be done via reskinning, but I like the idea of them being entirely different mechanisms.