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So I’m making a new level 11 character, and I have enough funds to purchase a Belt of Physical Might +4 to STR and CON. In 3.5, splitting up these items might be in different magic item slots. Not so much in Pathfinder.

Are there other more cost-effective ways to get ‘permanent’ +4 bonuses to these stats?

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The belt of physical might should itself be more cost-effective

The belt of physical might is costed at 40,000 gp—16,000 gp for a +4 enhancement bonus to Strength, 16,000 gp for a +4 enhancement bonus to Constitution, and +8,000 gp, 50% of one of the effects, because both effects are on a single item in a single item slot. Even though premade items don’t necessarily have to be, this is consistent with the magic item pricing guidelines. And since, officially, these enhancement bonuses are only found on belts, there is no way of avoiding this +8,000 gp surcharge through those guidelines.

This is a mistake. Not accidental, but nonetheless, absolutely wrong. The belt of physical might and other options like it are overcosted, and it makes for a better game for a GM to allow cheaper options. Specifically, basic effects—like enhancement bonuses to an ability score—should be freely available on a variety of item slots, and for that matter should be easily added on to any other item at no price premium. Your belt of physical might should cost only 32,000 gp, and if you wanted some other belt to also give +4 to Strength and Constitution, those bonuses should cost only +32,000 gp on top of the other benefits of the belt. For a variety of reasons, the surcharge is absolutely inappropriate here, and really in most places.

Paizo has said this surcharge being unavoidable is deliberate

Paizo explicitly calls the belt of physical might as an example of a case where the slot restriction of an item is deliberate and intentional, because they believe that

characters who want to enhance multiple physical [...] ability scores must pay extra for combination items like a belt of physical might

(Altering Magic Items)

But nonetheless, Paizo is wrong

All martial characters require at least Strength or Dexterity, alongside Constitution. All magical characters, on the other hand, require one mental ability score—the one associated with their spellcasting—and Constitution, and in most cases that’s it. Thus, a spellcaster can split the ability score enhancements that they need across two item slots—mental ability score enhancements are found on headbands—while martial characters must get both from a single item slot, and thus pay the surcharge. Therefore, to get an enhancement bonus to both their primary ability score and Constitution—which every character must do—physical characters have to pay substantially more than magical characters.

This is completely backwards. It shafts the weakest classes, classes where magic items represent their only source of magic. As a result, these classes are far, far more item-dependent than magical classes. Furthermore, the game continues to assume these enhancement bonuses for martial characters. Paizo doesn’t expect martial characters to pick one or the other—even they know that both Strength and Constitution are too critical to miss—they expect martial mundane characters to have fewer other magical items. Which they desperately need to keep up with the magical classes.

One of the most glaring signs of the martial–spellcaster discrepancy in Pathfinder is “single ability dependence” and “multiple ability dependence.” Spellcasters, almost without fail, can get by on just one ability score—whatever drives their spells. They may have some secondary benefits from another score, and of course everyone likes Constitution, but there is really just one thing they need. Martial characters, however, require many ability scores—they absolutely need Constitution, rather than it being a nice-to-have, and furthermore they usually also need some mental ability score, or some Dexterity on strong build or some Strength on a dexterous build. Paizo’s position compounds this problem, by making anyone with multiple-ability dependence—which is by definition a glaring weakness—pay extra over and above what they already needed to spend.

Unlike Paizo, Wizards of the Coast figured this out

You don’t just have to take my word for this. Paizo’s position stands in stark contrast with that Wizards of the Coast had for D&D 3.5e—and nothing about the use of these items has changed relative to D&D 3.5e. In D&D 3.5e, all physical ability score enhancements were found on different item slots right out of core (belt of giant strength, gloves of dexterity, and periapt of vitality), and then in Magic Item Compendium they say

One of the most frustrating roadblocks to using interesting, unusual magic items is that they take up body slots that you need for an ability-boosting item (such as gauntlets of ogre power), a ring of protection,\$^{[1]}\$ or other must-have item. To address this issue, Magic Item Compendium presents official rules for adding common item effects to existing items.

Table 6–11: Adding/Improving Common Item Effects presents a list of common item effects, from ability score enhancement bonuses to energy resistance, and the price to add that effect to an item.

Table 6–11: Adding/Improving Common Item Effects

\begin{array}{l l r} \textbf{Effect} & [...]^2 & \textbf{Price} \\ \hline ... \\ \text{Constitution, +2 enhancement bonus} && 4\,000\text{ gp} \\ \text{Constitution, +2 to +4 enhancement bonus} && 12\,000\text{ gp} \\ ... \\ \text{Strength, +2 enhancement bonus} && 4\,000\text{ gp} \\ \text{Strength, +2 to +4 enhancement bonus} && 12\,000\text{ gp} \\ ... \\ \end{array}

(Magic Item Compendium pg. 234)

  1. A ring of protection is actually a trap, not must-have. A cloak of resistance would have been a far-superior example here. Nonetheless, the rest of the text holds true.

  2. Leaving out the columns about body slots and spell prerequisites. Worth noting, though, that the relevant bonuses offer three body slots each—and while they both could use the waist slot, the other other four do not overlap.

Note that these prices cost exactly the same as the appropriate enhancement bonuses as separate items do. In short, they represent zero surcharge for combining these effects with other items—including other items that already have some of these effects. This is the right choice for the game. This is what all GMs should do.

Conclusion

Paizo’s position hurts classes with multiple ability dependence, classes without their own magic, classes that have always been among the weakest in the game, classes which are actually in many cases even worse off than they were in D&D 3.5e. And on top of that, Wizards of the Coast is absolutely correct in their analysis: this is “one of the most frustrating roadblocks to using interesting, unusual magical items.” That’s extremely true, and extremely important in a game as item-heavy as 3.5e or Pathfinder.

In short, enforcing this surcharge for basic item effects is bad for your game. If you are GM, know that it makes your game worse off than it otherwise would be. You can use the Magic Item Compendium rules if you have them, or just recognize that the surcharge shouldn’t apply in a lot of basic cases like ability score enhancement or saving throw resistance, or even just do away with the surcharge altogether (there are some cases where it arguably makes sense but not many and in any event custom magic items are always under GM purview anyway so you’re free to adjust any particular case anyway). If you really, really don’t want to deal with special cases not having surcharges, at least allow these kinds of bonuses on a variety of item slots, so the surcharge can be avoided. This does not make you “exceptionally lenient,” it means you understand the game well enough to recognize this failure in the system and have taken steps to address it. It means you are that much a better GM.

But if you are not the GM, unfortunately, obviously you cannot just choose for yourself to change the rules at the table. I recommend bringing up these very points with them, and making a case for it, but in the end you may have to choose between a game that implements Paizo’s ass-backwards ruling, and no game at all. This problem is severe, but not so severe that it is a reason in and of itself to avoid a game for most people, I suspect. In such a situation, I strongly recommend simply avoiding classes that Pathfinder screws over here—because they screw them over here, there, and everywhere. Pathfinder is pretty consistent about it. So if someone is refusing those classes even this small boon, and sticking with the system even here, then you can expect them to do so with the rest of the ways Pathfinder screws them. Play something else, something that gets at least 6th-level spells, most likely. Then you can get a bonus to your most important ability score and Constitution without having to pay out the nose for it. It’s a sad situation, but unfortunately in someone else’s game it may be the best you can do.

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    \$\begingroup\$ 11/10 answer, knocks it out of the park. I think it's a really valuable thing for people coming here with questions to leave not just with the literal answer from the book, but also an understanding of the ramifications of the decision and reasoning behind it. \$\endgroup\$ – Elia Nov 19 '18 at 22:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ To be clear: Following Pathfinder's rules, the answer is that "No, there is no better way to cost-effectively enhance these two stats in one item," followed by a "BUT, I recommend house ruling against this rule, and here is a very good why." Not that I think the answer is wrong, but that the answer sits in an unclear space. \$\endgroup\$ – NFeutz Nov 20 '18 at 17:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NFeutz Can you explain how “should be,” “Paizo has said this is deliberate,” “they are wrong,” “this is what you should do” could possibly be even remotely unclear on this point? \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Nov 20 '18 at 17:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ Because it is a yes or no question in which you never explicitly state yes or no. Certainly you can understand that an answer to the question should come first, and then any opinion should come secondary. Starting off with "[T]he belt ... should be more cost-effective," is immediately contradicted by the system's own rules, which you quote. Is the "should" in the headline of your answer prescriptive or descriptive? Are you espousing an answer or an opinion when you begin? I thought you might be revealing a genuine pricing error in Pathfinder, hence the nature of question. \$\endgroup\$ – NFeutz Nov 20 '18 at 17:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NFeutz I literally say “Not accidental, but nevertheless, wrong.” I still see zero opportunity for confusion, assuming the answer has been read. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Nov 20 '18 at 17:57
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Based on magic item creation, you cannot get these benefits cheaper; some GM's may allow exception(s).

Wizards of the Coast took a lenient method with item creation, but Paizo decided they preferred more structured Magic Items when they adopted the SRD content into the Pathfinder system.

Magic Item Creation rules explain the pricing:

Adding new Abilities (+4 to your +4): 1.5x the lower costing Ability (16,000 + 16,000 + 8,000 = 40,000)

They also address their "Big 6" of raw statistical bonuses (Headband of Mental Ability, Belt of Physical Ability, Cloak of Resistance, Ring of Protection, Amulet of Natural Armor, and Weapon/Armor Enhancement bonuses) and provide GM's with guidance against allowing items to be slotted differently (see Altering Existing Magic Items heading under the previous link):

Some item slots are very common and are shared by many useful items (boots, belts, rings, and amulets in particular), while some slots are used by only a few items (such as body, chest, and eyes). Allowing a character to alter or craft an item for one of these underused slots is allowing the character to bypass built-in choices between popular items.

and more specifically:

Some of the magic items in the standard rules are deliberately assigned to specific magic item slots for balance purposes, so that you have to make hard choices about what items to wear. In particular, the magic belts and circlets that give enhancement bonuses to ability scores are in this category—characters who want to enhance multiple physical or mental ability scores must pay extra for combination items like a belt of physical might or headband of mental prowess.

This is all guidance, not set-in-stone rules. It's worth opening a dialog with your GM to decide if they think it's fair to give up additional slots to not have to pay the combination cost.

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