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I understand that clothing and armor are allowed to carry different types of bonuses which are maxed out differently. Armor can have an up to 5 enhancement and 5 points whereas a piece of clothing may have enhancement bonuses.

However, for a low strength, high dexterity character, they could potentially get around this by, say, treating a vest as a piece of armor with an AC bonus of 0, no max dexterity ceiling, and no armor check penalty could theoretically bypass this.

My question is what kind of unbalancing might this cause in the game - or would this work as the game is intended because there is no overlapping of bonus types?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure I understand the question. Outfits are treated as armor by the magic vestment spell, but outfits can't normally be crafted to be magical like armor. (Outfits simply aren't armor and also can't be masterwork.) Or is the question Will the game be unbalanced if outfits are treated like armor? Or is the question something else that I'm just not seeing? \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Dec 27 '19 at 16:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ The question is whether the game will be unbalanced if outfits are treated like armor. \$\endgroup\$ – VeronicaTS Dec 30 '19 at 2:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ Is that the extent of the proposed house rule? That is, is it accurate to paraphrase question as Is a house rule that says that An outfit can have added to it magical enhancement bonuses and magic armor special abilities as if it were masterwork armor unbalanced? (I'm just making absolutely sure here before composing an answer—that's not to say that I think the current answer isn't good, but if that's an accurate paraphrase I think that answer may've underestimated that house rule's scope.) \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Dec 30 '19 at 8:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ In this case, it would also not allow the magic item bonuses allowed if it were used this way, but otherwise yes. \$\endgroup\$ – VeronicaTS Jan 1 at 18:57
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No, nothing especially unbalancing about it; it’s the norm in my games and it’s never caused a problem. In 3.0e, it was even official, sort of, in that Arms & Equipment Guide allowed bracers of armor to have special armor properties, rather than only armor bonuses.1 Bracers of armor use the arms slot instead of the body slot, but it’s the same idea. Magic Item Compendium explicitly allows the bracers of armor effect to also apply to body-slot items, while simulataneously allowing that benefit to ignore the price-premium for combining magic items (so a robe could be a vest of armor and also a robe of useful items at the cost of just adding those two together, rather than one costing 50% extra). Pathfinder, which is a D&D 3.5e spin-off, also allowed special armor properties on bracers of armor.2

Races of Stone also has an exotic armor (which is a thing that Races of Stone explains) called gnomish twist cloth, which is +0 AC light armor that has no armor check penalty and no max Dexterity. It is light armor—so it causes trouble with monks etc.—but otherwise it’s an official, 3.5e source of what you are describing. (You can wear it without penalty even without Exotic Armor Proficiency, by the way—what that feat does, for gnomish twist cloth, is cause the armor bonus to AC from its enhancement bonus to count against touch attacks. Which also nicely justifies its existence in a game where clothes can get armor bonuses. Though ultimately I recommend against the feat.)

So yeah, go ahead and allow that. In most cases, there are better options (nightscale from Underdark has a +2 armor bonus to AC, while still having a +10 max Dex; spidersilk from the same source has a +3 armor bonus with +8 max Dex), but if you have a very-high-Dexterity character, yes, this is totally legit.

  1. How official to treat Arms & Equipment Guide, particularly with respect to things that saw reprint in 3.5e, is contentious. The 3.5e version of bracers of armor does not mention special armor properties, and as the latest printing can be seen as an “update” erasing it. On the other hand, it’s really an update to the original 3.0e bracers, which didn’t mention special armor properties either—so maybe the Arms & Equipment Guide modifications to the 3.0e bracers should apply equally-well to the 3.5e bracers. Anyway, this is all semantics—it doesn’t matter what the “official” rule is so much; the real question is what’s best for your game. And allowing it is definitely best for your game.

  2. Technically, bracers of armor—in both D&D 3.5e and Pathfinder—can have an armor bonus of up to +8, while real armor is limited to magic enhancement bonus to armor of +5 (in 3.0e, real armor apparently could also go up to +8 enhancement, which is probably where bracers of armor got its +8 cap in the first place). Pathfinder didn’t change the +8 limit when it allowed bracers of armor to get special properties, it just said the total of enhancement and special properties cannot exceed that same +8—even though the limit for real armor’s enhancement-equivalent bonuses is +10 (Arms & Equipment Guide allowed bracers of armor to go to +13 total enhancement-equivalent, but again apparently that was also the norm for real armor in 3.0e). But anyway, I have never enforced that +8 limit on bracers of armor or on clothing-enhanced-as-armor, and see no reason to do so; it can be +10-equivalent just like real armor (I’m not a huge fan of the +13 limit from 3.0e—the costs for that are so high I think it’s good for the rules to tell people not to do it). The limit on actual-enhancement-to-armor, whether +5 or +8, doesn’t matter because no should ever hit either (the minimum +1 to get started is all any armor should ever have).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Re: your footnote, I think it's because bracers of armor don't count as armor for things that require you to be completely unarmored, which are usually also things that give you a lot of AC from another source, so slightly reducing the max from the bracers lowers the amount past second-place you can get your AC using that option (while still letting that build have the highest AC in the game). I feel like losing the bracers slot to your armor is enough, personally, but I see where it's coming from. \$\endgroup\$ – gatherer818 Dec 27 '19 at 4:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ @gatherer818 That doesn’t appear to be the case, since bracers of armor can actually get a +8 enhancement bonus to one’s armor, while real armor is limited to +5. Not that it really matters—really, no one should get an enhancement bonus to AC higher than +1 anyway, the real value is in the special properties. But since you mentioned it, I double-checked the 3.5e version—which I have never bothered with—and it too gets up to +8, though it cannot get special properties at all (hence not bothering with it). So that’s where Pathfinder gets it. And the +8 probably is to match full-plate. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Dec 27 '19 at 4:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ I only ever see "pure AC" builds using a two-or-three stat-to-AC build using bracers of armor beyond +1 myself, that was my assumption. But yes, you're right, it's probably actually just another inheritance from 3e, I was attributing design intent where there was probably zero thought given at all. \$\endgroup\$ – gatherer818 Dec 27 '19 at 4:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ @gatherer818 I mean, just, for the record, “‘pure AC’ builds” are a really bad idea. AC is massively overpriced, so investing heavily in AC just winds up being a significant waste of resources for a thoroughly mediocre defense, since so many things will just ignore it. Serious defensive builds might want more AC than the norm, sure, but AC shouldn’t be that much of a focus in one. Also, both 3.5e and Pathfinder make it really hard to make a difference as a defensive build—it’s way too easy for enemies to just ignore you and go after the squishies. That is where you really need to invest. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Dec 27 '19 at 4:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ Bracers of armor in 3rd was allowed to have special ability bonuses of +5 (for a total of +13) long before pathfinder.... \$\endgroup\$ – nijineko Dec 27 '19 at 5:03

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