An Explanation of What Bonuses (and Penalties) Stack


  • PC

    Overview

    Not all builds are created equal, and if you want to eke out an optimized party, players need to understand which bonuses and buffs stack. (A similar principle applies to penalties, but considering this is a CRPG where you usually have an infinite time to buff before encounters, it’s more frequent with bonuses.)

    The Big 6

    As a preface, be aware that the tabletop game Pathfinder is balanced around the fact that most characters will have what is called “The Big 6” magic items. These are:

    • Magic Weapon (preferably with a +5 Enhancement bonus in addition to other special abilities)

    • Magic Armor and/or Shield (preferably one with a +5 Enhancement bonus; or simply a +8 Armor bonus if you don’t wear armor)

    • Cloak of Resistance (which gives up to a +5 Resistance bonus to all Saving Throws)

    • A stat boost to your corresponding Ability Score, such as Strength for Fighters or Intelligence (anywhere from a +6 to a +8 Enhancement bonus to the corresponding Stat; in Pathfinder, there is also an additional +5 Inherent bonus but we can ignore that for this game since Inherent bonuses are rare)

    • A Ring of Protection (which gives up to a +5 Deflection bonus)

    • Amulet of Natural Armor (which gives up to a +5 Natural Armor bonus)

    Having all these items are not required, especially if you can get a similar bonus from other sources, if they’re not applicable to you (i.e. a spellcaster could possibly skip owning a Magic Weapon), or if you have a very specific build/tradeoff in mind (i.e. you don’t need saving throws if your enemy is dead before they can attack), but be aware of this standard assumption for optimizing your character.

    Armor Class (AC)

    Unless otherwise noted, everything covers normal AC. Whether they apply to Flat-Footed AC or Touch AC will be mentioned. Unless otherwise noted, assume they do not stack.

    • Armor bonus; usually +9 with Full Plate, or +8 with a Bracers of Armor; covers Flat-Footed AC.

    • Armor Enhancement bonus; covers most magic armor, up to a +5 bonus; covers Flat-Footed AC.

    • Shield bonus; usually +4 with a Tower Shield or the Shield spell, or +2 with a Heavy Shield; covers Flat-Footed AC.

    • Shield Enhancement bonus; covers most magic shields, up to a +5 bonus; covers Flat-Footed AC.

    • Deflection bonus; usually up to +5 and can be obtained via Ring of Protection, Shield of Faith, and various Protection from Alignment spells; covers both Flat-Footed and Touch AC.

    • Natural Armor; most player characters have +0 Natural Armor, but various animals, monsters, and size increase/decrease can change a character’s base natural armor. covers Flat-Footed AC.

    • Enhancement to Natural Armor; boosts your existing Natural Armor (even if it’s +0) and usually goes up to +5 from Amulet of Natural Armor or spells like Barkskin; covers Flat-Footed AC.

    • Luck; some magic items or spells might give you a Luck bonus; covers both Flated-Footed AC and Touch AC.

    • Dodge; various abilities and the Feat Dodge gives you a Dodge bonus; covers Touch AC; stacks.

    • Insight; some magic items or spells might give you an Insight bonus; covers both Flated-Footed AC and Touch AC.

    • Sacred/Profane; some magic items or spells might give you a Sacred/Profane bonus (specific type depends on whether you channel Positive/Negative energy); covers both Flated-Footed AC and Touch AC.

    • Size; some racial traits, magic items or spells (like Enlarge Person or Reduce Person) will give you a Size bonus; covers both Flated-Footed AC and Touch AC.

    • Circumstance; Circumstance bonuses stack as long as they come from different sources.

    • Untyped; some bonuses (like the Wisdom Monk’s bonus to AC) stack as long as they come from different sources.

    Saving Throws

    • Resistance; some magic items (like Cloak of Resistance) or spells usually give up to +5 Resistance bonus.

    • Alchemical; some magic items or spells give Alchemical bonuses.

    • Competence; some magic items or spells (like Guidance) give Competence bonuses.

    • Insight; some magic items or spells might give you an Insight bonus.

    • Luck; some magic items (like Ring of Good Luck or spells might give you a Luck bonus.

    • Morale; some magic items or spells or abilities (Bard’s Inspire Courage or Paladin’s Aura of Courage) might give you a Morale bonus.

    • Sacred/Profane: some magic items or spells might give you a Sacred/Profane bonus (specific type depends on whether you channel Positive/Negative energy).

    • Circumstance; Circumstance bonuses stack as long as they come from different sources.

    • Untyped; some bonuses (like Paladin’s Divine Grace) stack as long as they come from different sources.

    Ability Scores

    • Enhancement; some magic items (like a Gloves of Dexterity) or spells usually give up to a +8 Enhancement bonus.

    • Alchemical; some magic items or spells give Alchemical bonuses.

    • Inherent: some magic items (like Bokken’s masterpiece) or spells give Inherent bonuses.

    • Morale: some magic items or spells (like Rage) give Morale bonuses.

    • Size; some racial traits, magic items or spells (like Enlarge Person or Reduce Person) will give you a Size bonus.

    • Untyped; some bonuses stack as long as they come from different sources.

    Attack

    • Enhancement; covers most magic weapons, up to a +5 bonus (if you don’t count the effects of bane).

    • Competence; some magic items, spells, or abilities (like the Bard’s Inspire Courage) give you a Competence bonus.

    • Insight; some magic items or spells (like True Strike) give you an Insight bonus.

    • Luck; some magic items or spells (like Divine Favor) give you a Luck bonus.

    • Morale; some magic items or spells (like Bless) give you a Morale bonus.

    • Sacred/Profane: some magic items or spells might give you a Sacred/Profane bonus (specific type depends on whether you channel Positive/Negative energy).

    • Circumstance; Circumstance bonuses stack as long as they come from different sources.

    • Untyped; some bonuses stack as long as they come from different sources.

    Damage

    • Enhancement; covers most magic weapons, up to a +5 bonus (if you don’t count the effects of bane).

    • Luck; some magic items or spells (like Divine Favor) give you a Luck bonus.

    • Morale; some magic items or spells (like Bless) give you a Morale bonus.

    • Sacred/Profane: some magic items or spells might give you a Sacred/Profane bonus (specific type depends on whether you channel Positive/Negative energy).

    • Circumstance; Circumstance bonuses stack as long as they come from different sources.

    • Untyped; some bonuses stack as long as they come from different sources.


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