My Pathfinder 2E campaign on Saturday has wrapped and we're actually diving into D&D 5E again for a bit now, but my Wednesday group just finished a short Call of Cthulhu campaign and is now back to Pathfinder 2nd Edition. Here are some more comments on it after running Pathfinder 2E for over a year, and a few comments on comparison and contrast to D&D 5E, especially as I get back in to it and notice the rather interesting differences (especially in the feel of it).
Most immediately....something which I can say for sure is true at low level in both games, is that low level combat can be as deadly as a GM is willing to push it. If you ignore the XP budget rules in D&D 5E you can get an unintentionally lethal encounter, sure. But if you ignore it even a little bit in Pathfinder 2E you get an interesting result, in which the characters might have a stressful fight for their life. The fact that PCs in Pathfinder start with more hit points at level 1 (and the fact that the game is balanced around it) is stark and noticeable, but it also means that while players can be "in the game" a bit longer in tough fights, everything also tends to hit with more force and damage, too.
Put another way: D&D 5E fights feel a tad anemic, and I am having to adjust to the fact that monsters have a lot of hit points even at low level....but the more balanced starting hit points of PCs in Pathfinder mean you can take a hit or two without worrying too much. At low levels, at least, it's safe to say both games are fun to play but the tactical nuance of PF2E stands out.....you're having fun in D&D but things get interesting as well as fun in PF2E.
PF2E characters also have a wide range of options to resort to healing. Even without a conventional healer you can probably survive with careful decision making and judicious use of treat wounds. D&D 5E characters have an advantage with the hit dice recovery mechanic, but if you don't have a healer in the group (or a bunch of fighters or something with second wind) it's possible to find yourself in trouble faster. D&D 5E leads to an interesting cadence, in which you find immediate threats to be potentially dire but as long as you find a place to rest a full day you can fully recover. PF2E definitely gives you options for healing, and it seems to encourage the group to camp out, often for an hour or three depending on who needs some first aid and who has magic healing, so getting back to full after a good period of rest is also possible. However, in battle most PF2E classes have some range of recovery options...eventually....but like 5E you may need specific classes to benefit from immediate in-combat healing. Without that option, your best bet his to spend your hero points to recover after you drop.
In encounter design for low level groups I'm also noticing something interesting, about which I will speak more in the next post: in brief, as I mentioned above, designing a lethal encounter in PF2E can be a really interesting experience and the PCs might pull their butts out of the fire. It might not feel fair, but survival is possible, even if it means escape. This is in contrast with D&D 5E, where I have found that a lethal encounter generally is just sad and unfair; the group which wades in against an unbalanced encounter simply may not have enough hit points to survive the brutal thrashing they experience on round one.
When I say lethal encounter, I mean something over the "extreme difficulty" XP budget but not, say, more than double the expectation. In PF2E for a level 1 group that's typically about 160 XP or more in threats, and in D&D 5E it's around 450-500 XP after adjusting for # of creatures. Oh yeah....that's something too, getting used to adding XP then dividing by total # of PCs in D&D 5E is a bit of a "whuhhh oh my god I forgot it was done this way" moment for me. I don't like milestones, but I have to say....I love the "flat XP: what you calculated is what everyone gets" math of PF2E.