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I have seen quoted several places on the internet a rule that one can apply bonuses and penalties in the most beneficial order.

An example I come across frequently (as a druid) is the combination of Natural Bond and Alternative Animal Companions. Natural Bond increases your effective druid level for determining the stats of animal companions but cannot increase it beyond your character level. Choosing an alternative animal companion lowers your effective druid level for determining the same stats. The "most beneficial order" rule is used to justify applying the level penalty before the natural bond bonus in order to get around the character level cap on natural bond.

Does this rule actually exist? If so, where does this rule originate? I would like to be able to cite a reliable source for my GM.

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Can you give an example? In general "order" doesn't matter since you can have a negative modifier, but it would be helpful to know what circumstances you're referring to. I haven't been able to find anything about "beneficial order", so far. – Wesley Obenshain Jul 14 '14 at 6:59
To those flagging as unclear - I hope it's not because the "most beneficial order rule" is not well explained in the question. The "rule" is very frequently (but nebulously!) mentioned in online discussions on D&D 3.5. Explaining the details of the rule would be an answer to the question. – Ernir Jul 14 '14 at 9:56
@WesleyObenshain You can either subtract a number before multiplying or after. This rule suggests you do it whichever way is most beneficial. – GMNoob Jul 14 '14 at 10:37
@GMNoob That's what I figured he was asking but I'd like him to clarify it. And whether or not there's even an ambiguity depends on the situation. – Wesley Obenshain Jul 14 '14 at 18:39
I added an example to try and make things a bit less ambiguous. – shaydwyrm Jul 17 '14 at 5:00
up vote 14 down vote accepted

It's a "guideline" from the 3.5 FAQ.

As part of an answer to the question

If a monster has resistance and vulnerability to the same kind of damage (such as fire), which effect is applied first? And when does the saving throw come in?"

the answerer (who I think is Skip Williams, but the compiled D&D 3.5 FAQ doesn't specify authors) had this to say:

As a general guideline, whenever the rules don't stipulate an order of operations for special effects (such as spells or special abilities), you should apply them in the order that's most beneficial to the creature. In the case of damage, this typically means applying any damage-reducing effects first, before applying any effects that would increase damage.

... and that's it.

Now, let's make note of a few things.

  1. The "guideline" isn't in a rule book. It doesn't cite actual rules. It's a paragraph in an article that lies well outside the main body of rules.
  2. The original question had a clearly defined scope, the one of interacting resistances and vulnerabilities. Even though the phrasing of the sentence on its own implies this can be applied in all D&D 3.5 situations ever ("As a general guideline..."), we must not forget its original context.
  3. Under no reading is this a hard rule. It's explicitly written as a guideline. Something a GM can reach to to resolve sticky rule situations.

In online discussions, this "rule" is mentioned in all sorts of contexts (a casual Google search for 'D&D 3.5 "most beneficial order"' or similar should reveal dozens of instances). In all but a handful of cases, the text of the "rule" won't be cited. That's because it doesn't exist. "Most beneficial order" is a phrase that haunts online communities.

Does that mean it's useless? No, probably not. It's as good as any other way to do it. You just won't find it in a rule book.

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Such doctrine is generally termed "defender chooses" and can be useful, but always using the "most beneficial order" can lead to some highly illogical conclusions. – Wesley Obenshain Jul 14 '14 at 18:42

The D20 SRD has this to say about bonuses and penalties, i.e. modifiers:

If the modifiers to a particular roll do not stack, only the best bonus and worst penalty applies

What this means is that if you have two effects giving you armor bonus, for instance, one at +1 and one at +2, then the best bonus, +2, takes effect. Similarly, if you have two competence penalties, one at -1 and one at -2, only the -2 takes effect.

So the better wording would be not that you apply bonuses and penalties in the most beneficial order, but that the highest modifier, speaking as absolute numbers, always takes effect.

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I'm pretty sure that's not what OP is asking about, especially given the limited context I was able to find for this "beneficial order" rule. It would be better to wait for clarification. – Wesley Obenshain Jul 14 '14 at 7:51

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