Anytime there’s a new tabletop game or an updated version of an existing game, its success is dictated by player retention and adding more people to the player base. With Pathfinder Second Edition (PF2), Paizo has made it easy with their recent release of the Pathfinder Second Edition Beginner Box.
Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition has a similar product, dubbed the D&D 5E Starter Set. Since D&D and Pathfinder are the two big behemoths of the tabletop roleplaying game arena, I’m going to set forth a comparison review between the two products.
I’m also including the caveat that you can’t go wrong with either product; both are fantastic for getting new players to the table. There are, however, certain advantages across the two products that may sway your decision if you’re trying to dip your toe into either system. In each section, we’ll discuss the pros and cons of each Box, and then declare the ‘winner’ of the category.
Players take up the most spots at the table, so the number one goal for a Beginner Box is to get players in the game! The content should be easy enough to understand and presented in a logical way that players can begin playing quickly. Last thing you want to do is organize a game and then spend two hours rifling through rulebooks trying to teach core concepts. That’s not a great way to get anybody’s attention.
Both the D&D 5E Starter Set and the Pathfinder 2E Beginner Box deliver fantastic player content, albeit presented in different ways.
D&D 5E Player Content Pros
- The Player’s Handbook clocks in at a slim 32-pages, leaving only the essential information and basics
- Focuses on the gameplay, introducing the concept of tabletop roleplaying games and the flow of the table
- Each of the 5 pre-generated characters comes with the class-specific information in an accompanying sheet, instead of nestling the information into the Handbook
D&D 5E Player Content Cons
- The content is very bare-bones, and might be too much of a birds-eye view on the actual gameplay
- There isn’t any content on character creation, which is where a lot of the fun comes in for players
- Layout-wise, we’re talking about a lot of text walls, making it seem more dated than the revamped layouts present in Pathfinder 2E content
Pathfinder 2E Player Content Pros
- Hero’s Handbook is a whopping 80 pages, and goes into a ton of detail on gameplay and the classes included with the 4 pre-generated characters, presented in a logical layout
- Includes a solo adventure in the style of a ‘choose-your-own-adventure’ to help players acclimate to the rules on their own
- Information on character creation, including blank character sheets to fill in with your imagination
Pathfinder 2E Player Content Cons
- The content is almost TOO much, and I could see players being turned off by the length of the Handbook
- Putting the solo adventure at the beginning is a sink-or-swim style to just dive into the game right away, even if the concepts therein are introduced logically
- There’s a lot more information on the character sheet for Pathfinder 2E, which can also be overwhelming to learn the iconography and abbreviations
Pathfinder 2E. With the solo adventure, spare character sheets, and expanded content, players have more avenues to learn the game in the way that makes most sense for their preferred learning style. The Hero’s Handbook also walks through everything, stripping away the guesswork and ambiguity of creating a new character.
D&D 5E Gamemaster Content Pros
- The Adventure is a good mix of dungeon-delving and open-world information-gathering, showcasing combat and roleplay equally
- Maps are absolutely gorgeous and clear with information, accompanied by notes for each area
- You get to encounter some iconic creatures like Bugbears and dragons, plus who doesn’t like Goblins?!
D&D 5E Gamemaster Content Cons
- Apart from the Adventure, there really isn’t a lot of information for the Gamemaster to glean from the book; only the basics on general adventure creation are provided
- All statblocks are in the appendix of the book, which means running an encounter has the Gamemaster flipping back and forth more often than I’d prefer
- Maybe this is also a pro, but this adventure is a long one for an introduction, and will definitely take more than a couple of hours for beginners to work through
Pathfinder 2E Gamemaster Content Pros
- The Adventure portion of the book is about a quarter of the entire length, meaning that there is a ton of Gamemaster content on building your own adventures like a mini Bestiary and plot hooks
- Running the adventure is easy with included cardboard pawns and a massive flip-map
- Each area contains a little mini-map zoom on the area so that the Gamemaster can focus on each area instead of flipping back to the main map, and the statblocks are all at the ready in the same section
Pathfinder 2E Gamemaster Content Cons
- You’re getting a much shorter adventure here, designed to whet the palette of bright-faced adventurers
- The green and black color choices seem to blend together more easily than another combination of colors would when it’s presented as only text (boxing text with the green looks great)
- It’s minor, but it would be nice if the appendix section on Otari was mentioned up front in the introduction to the Adventure, to help provide a bit more setting context
Pathfinder 2E. A big benefit of the Pathfinder 2E content is that it includes more than just an adventure. Having that extra information sets the Gamemaster up for success when designing and building their own adventures for the players. The adventure’s focus is on getting the players rolling right away, and getting the Gamemaster comfortable with ways to help guide the players and describe the action.
D&D 5E would get the crown if we’re just talking about the breadth of the adventure. But if I’m a new Gamemaster, the Pathfinder 2E content is a better introduction to the system and the role.
D&D 5E Extra Content
- 6 Dice in a gorgeous blue color
- Character information to go with each pre-generated character sheet
Pathfinder 2E Extra Content
- 6 Dice in different colors, which are color-coded to the Character sheets and content to make it easier to follow-along
- 100+ Monster and Character Pawns
- Full-color Double-sided Adventure Map
- Player Reference Cards
Pathfinder 2E. You get so much more content that makes the Beginner Box a one-stop-shop for introducing Pathfinder 2E. By including the maps and the pawns, everybody is ready to play in person. I also appreciate the accessibility of the color coordination and plafyer reference cards.
D&D 5E Price: MSRP $19.99, although I’ve seen it priced around $12.
Pathfinder 2E Price: MSRP $39.99, although I’ve seen it priced around $30.
D&D 5E. At half the price, you would expect to get less content, but the content that’s included is still really good. It’s an absolute steal at that price point, cashing in at less than $5 per person for a Gamemaster and a table of four players to pitch in for the experience. You can’t go wrong with that; it’s one of the best deals in gaming. And if you get it on sale, we’re talking $2 PER PERSON.
The Pathfinder 2E Beginner Box comes out on top overall, but you don’t sleep on the D&D 5E Starter Set either. I’d recommend the Pathfinder 2E Beginner Box for the accessibility and breadth of coverage, whereas the D&D 5E Starter Set is a more streamlined value.
If you’re looking to get into Tabletop Roleplaying games, picking up either of these boxes is a step in the right direction! You can find them at your Friendly Local Game Store (FLGS), or pick up the Pathfinder Second Edition Beginner Box at Amazon here, or D&D 5E Starter Set at Amazon here.
Disclaimer: Nerds on Earth was provided a physical copy of the Pathfinder Second Edition Beginner Box by Paizo Publishing as well as the D&D Starter Set by WotC in exchange for an honest review.