Last week I finally got to sit down at a gaming table as a player again, this time with an old friend and instead of Pathfinder, the game is being run with 3.5. Some of the changes are stark in my mind (for instance, the differences between a 3.5 Dhampir and a Pathfinder Dhampir are staggering) but I’ve logged plenty of hours into the old standard and felt confident it would be a very simple transition.

“Skills and combat maneuvers are different, I’m sure it’ll only take me a minute to make my character,” I said, confident that some old gamer-muscle memory would kick in. It did kick in, but the longer we played the more changes I found and ultimately, the more pleased with Pathfinder I got.

The differences are small and subtle, my memories of them easily dulled by the passage of time, but numerous. At one point, I threw up my hands when I realized the Concentration skill was completely circular (and thus pointless). Then came the realization that no, I could not just backpack my healer to the fighter and use Cure Minor Wounds willy-nilly, 0th level spells still have slots. Every creature on the Summon Monster list had a fiendish or celestial template. There’s a table on my character sheet with over two dozen rows to cover synergy bonuses.

Basically, 3.5 and Pathfinder are different systems and I hadn’t really thought so until last week. I thought we were talking about Lake Huron and Lake Erie, not the Gulf of Mexico and the coastline of Normandy. The whole tone of each is different; Pathfinder is less in focus but easier to digest quickly and 3.5 covers all the tedious details, twists and turns (so if you’re expecting argumentative players, it’s better geared for you). I think on the whole it’s just more technical than Paizo’s counterpart (which I must admit, quickly became my favorite) and that first game was really educational.

As I sit down to work out a plethora of 3.5 stat blocks for tonight (and level up Borskiir Bronzebeard, dwarven Cleric of the Cosmic Prankster!), there’s a little trepidation but some excitement too – what other diminutive differences did I fail to notice last week?

I guess I’ll find out tonight, but I do know this: a far savvier player will be sitting down at the gaming table tomorrow night.