d20 rules comparison: 3.5, 5E and Starfinder

As a GM and player I find myself regularly switching between three different rulesets as time schedules and availability dictate. That can lead to a certain amount of confusion over roleplaying game rulesets that are similar but not 100% identical. The purpose of this post is to collect and compare rules as written (RAW) summaries for common situations or actions that, across 3.5 / 5E D&D and Starfinder, are not exactly the same.

This is a ‘living’ post in that I intend to come back and add to it for my own and my group’s references as and when rules confusions occur. It is also based on the common wiki websites as they are more likely to have errata included than my old original print-run manuals.

Rule 3.5 D&D 5E D&D Starfinder
Actions in a round,
()=optional actions
Move OR 5′ step + Standard + (Free) Move + Action + (Bonus) + (Reaction) Move + Standard + (Swift) + (Reaction)
Attacks of Opportunity Extra melee attack if opponent:
*moves out of threatened square,
*attacks ranged target,
*casts a spell,
*uses an item, *certain skill rolls (see full list)
Use Reaction for extra melee attack if target:
*moves out of reach
Casting or shooting in melee cause disadvantage on attack rolls NOT an attack of opportunity!
One Reaction per round.
Use Reaction to make extra melee attack if opponent:
*moves out of threatened square,
*attacks ranged target,
*casts a spell
One Reaction per round.
Concealment If view of target is obscured then any rolled hit has a 20% or 50% (for total concealment) chance of missing. Concealment does not stack. No separate concealment rules, see cover below. If view of target is obscured then any rolled hit has a 20% or 50% (for total concealment) chance of missing. Concealment does not stack.
Cover If LoS passes through a wall or other solid object, target has +4 bonus to AC. Likewise +2 bonus to Reflex saves. Soft materials only provide the AC bonus. Total cover means cannot be targetted directly. Three degrees of cover:
Half-cover: +2 AC and Dex saves
3/4 cover: +5 AC and Dex saves
Total: cannot be targetted directly
If LoS passes through a wall or other solid object or other creature, target has +4 bonus to AC. Likewise +2 bonus to Reflex saves. If less than 50% cover only +2 bonus to AC and +1 to Reflex save. ‘Improved cover’ gives +8 and +4 respectively. Soft materials only provide the AC bonus. Total cover means cannot be targetted directly.
Moving out of melee (without provoking an attack) You can use your 5′ step action to safely get out of a threatened square OR you can use the Withdraw action to double-move safely out of combat. Disengage is a full action that performs a single move action without provoking an attack of opportunity. You can use a Guarded Step (i.e. 5′ step) as your move action to safely get out of  a threatened square OR you can use the Withdraw action to double-move safely out of combat.
Shooting into combat from range -4 penalty to attack if target is less than 10′ if in melee with a different enemy. No penalty. No penalties (see cover above).
Surprise Use Listen or Spot checks to determine who is surprised. Those not surprised take a standard action in initiative order. Free actions can be taken also. Those surprised take no action and are flat-footed. Use Dex (stealth) checks vs Wis (perception) to determine who is surprised. Those not surprised can act normally. Those surprised skip the first round of combat. No AC modifiers. Use Perception checks to determine who is surprised. Those not surprised take a standard action in initiative order. Those surprised take no action and are flat-footed.

Line of Sight (LoS) is a line traced (or imagined) between you and a target or vice versa – any walls, curtains or other objects in the way of this could cause cover or concealment.

As an example of why I’ve compiled this: the Cover vs Shooting into Melee comparison for Starfinder is a good example where I hadn’t read the rules in enough detail. Unlike 3.5, you do not have a penalty to hit firing into melee, but if any other creature is between you and your target, then your target gets cover bonus to AC and Reflex saves. That’s an important distinction to be aware of!

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