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Converting D&D 4e to Pathfinder

The Return

When I had the itch to start running a new RPG campaign I went with what I knew: Dungeons & Dragons. I picked up a few of the latest edition books and immediately set to writing a new version of my classic Vallhyn campaign. I was quickly surprised at how much D&D 4e was like an MMORPG and less like… well, D&D.

I don’t mean that in a negative light. It was just a very different experience and the classes truly were like the classes you’d find in an MMO. There were powers that a player could “click often” (At Will) and powers on longer cooldowns (Encounter and Daily). The large amount of skills from previous editions had also been distilled down into only a few major categories.

The Issues

The Vallhyn campaign and, honestly, any campaign I run is very story and roleplay driven. Combat occurs but it isn’t the centerpiece of the story. D&D 4e excels at combat and makes it the focus. It also has a ton of rules about experience and monetary progression. Characters are just constantly thrown items that by older edition standards seem very powerful. This all seemed to run counter to some of the basic tenants of my campaign. I see D&D 4e like this:

  • Magic items are no longer super special
  • If you’re good in a few skills you can do everything
  • Combat is king
  • It is basically an MMORPG in pen-and-paper format
  • The traditional way spells are handled has been uprooted

The Winds of Change

I knew pretty early on that I’d want to eventually change back to the 3.5 edition of D&D but I was worried my players wouldn’t be able to have the characters they currently had. It would be somewhat of a struggle so I just continued to soldier on as things were. When something didn’t make sense I just ignored it.

I also found myself creating far more combat encounters than I normally would. D&D is all about running your players out of their resources to make fights challenging. I just didn’t enjoy that and it slowed down the game. It also made for a lot of throw away fights. I knew I had to finally change our system.


In all truth converting wasn’t that difficult. The rules at the basic level are very similar. One character had to pick a new race and we’re just “pretending” he’s the same to keep the story consistent. Two others had to pick different classes that are close to the 4e class but not perfect. Thankfully nothing seemed to be outright broken by the conversion.  We haven’t really started playing yet though! Hopefully all will go well.

At the end of the day you should consider what is best for your setting when selecting a ruleset. If something isn’t working out try making a change. You can always go back.


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3 Responses to Converting D&D 4e to Pathfinder

  1. Damion says:

    Id get so bored with pen and paper I need visual effects to keep my ADHD mind happy.

  2. Josh says:

    I know over a year has gone by since you posted this. I was just wondering how converting to pathfinder turned out for you, as I’m thinking about doing the same with my game.

    Any tips on conversion would be welcome too :)

    • Ferrel says:

      It wasn’t too difficult. The major change was that people couldn’t pick exact race/class combinations that exist in 4e. In our case that means our Dragonborn is a Half-Orc that “counts as” a Dragonborn. Our Warlord had to convert to a Paladin but that actually made sense story wise and worked out well. If your players are on board it isn’t that big of a deal.

      I found the combat to be faster than in 4E and we don’t spend forever on each little fight. That lets me put in some more throw away combat and move the story along. We’re pretty happy all around.