The characters in my Pathfinder campaign have a lot of magic items. Pathfinder as a system allows you to have up to 15 items at a time. And our GM lets us get around that even more. If you did an inventory on our party, it would take quite a while to get to the bottom of the list, especially our sorcerer. And that makes the characters extremely tough. So much so that when the five of us were confronted with a horde of zombies that rivaled some of the huge herd scenes in Walking Dead the only thing that bothered us was figuring out how we were going to get through them, we were simply not scared.
Granted we are all 10th level which is powerful in anyone’s book. But when you add in all of our magic it gets pretty out of hand. I would feel sorry for our GM. Except he gave us all that magic or allowed us to buy it. And he is perfectly capable of coming up with foes that are more than our equal.
In contrast, D&D 5E is almost intentionally designed to minimize magic items. But they compensated by making the characters abilities powerful. In my D&D game, I am already scared of what the boys can do, afraid to give them even a couple of magic items. They already seem to be able to handle most of what I throw at them. If I had someone new come into the game I would not have to worry about getting them magic items to get them up to speed.
So, while our 10th level Pathfinder characters have some ability boosts and Feats, if we were stripped of all of our magic we would have a much harder time. When my character went down on Sunday I started looking at the backup character I had created. And I gave him a seemingly good allowance for buying magic items. But he was so far behind the parties power curve. He would get slaughtered.
I am kind of torn about which approach I prefer. I do think that you could play Pathfinder with fewer magic items. Just like you could up the magic item count in 5E. But if you look at the overall systems I do think that they work better the way the two groups are playing. If Pathfinder was meant to be played with low magic, why have a system for building magic items, as well as Feats for making them? Just like 5E has some rules for item creation but without the ease of Pathfinder.
As a DM, I prefer the lower item-centric approach of 5E. Only having to worry about the characters having 2-3 items makes it easier to plan for. And I think it makes the characters less reliant on their items, instead focusing on what they can do on their own. I don’t much enjoy having to factor in all those items and powers when creating a game encounter.
As a player, I do have to admit it is kind of fun thinking about all the options that are available in Pathfinder. Coming up with new items. In every encounter looking over everything I have and figuring out what would be useful is a real challenge.
That might change if there was a reversal. If I was running a group of experienced players like the Denver group. And if I was part of an inexperienced group new to the game.
What it really comes down to is I am a more story focused GM. I want to craft an interesting story and create encounters that are consistent with the story. And worrying about the power of the players throws that off. Which means that I recognize that there is a difference in the systems. But it really comes down to my preferences as a GM and a player.