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I'm trying to reverse engineer the Celestial part of the Celestial Armor in the Dungeon Master's Guide (page 220).

Celestial Armor: This bright silver or gold +3 chainmail is so fine and light that it can be worn under normal clothing without betraying its presence. It has a maximum Dexterity bonus of +8, an armor check penalty of –2, and an arcane spell failure chance of 15%. It is considered light armor, weighs 20 pounds, and it allows the wearer to use fly on command (as the spell) once per day.

Faint transmutation [good]; CL 5th; Craft Magic Arms and Armor, creator must be good, fly; Price 22,400 gp; Cost 12,550 gp + 1,004 XP.

While some of its resulting abilities appears to be from mithral, the description doesn't actually say that and every other magical armor I can find, including on that same page, lists the material they're made of if that's important. So I'm going with the assumption that it's just steel.

We start with masterwork chainmail at 300 gp. Add in a +3 enchantment at 9,000 gp and a one a day fly enchantment as an additional ability at 8,100 gp.

300+9000+8100=17400

22400-17400=5000

So the Celestial enchantment would be a flat 5,000 gp cost and grant 1/2 weight, reduced armor category by one step, Max Dex Bonus +6, ACP -3, and ASFC -15%.

Does that sound about right? Does my math and logic check out?

How does this work balance-wise? Comparing it to mithral, it's an extra 1,000 gp for an extra +4 max dex bonus and -5% ASFC. Of course the assumption of it being steel means that you could stack it with mithral. Assuming the specific armor is mithral reduces the cost of the enchantment to only 1,000 gp but also reduces the bonuses down to just the +4 max dex bonus and -5% ASFC. Thoughts?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Why assume it's made of steel when it says it's silver or gold? \$\endgroup\$ Aug 24 at 21:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan I'm assuming that "bright silver or gold" is a description of its color rather than its material. There are plenty of enchantments that change the color of armor, Blueshine jumps immediately to mind. If that was a description of its material, I would think it would pick one or the other, and also be a lot heavier. Also, as far as I know there's no such thing as 'bright silver' or 'bright gold', which again implies to me that it's a description of color rather than material. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kuro_Neko
    Aug 24 at 21:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ That's cool. James Jacobs — creative director of Pathfinder but who also worked on Third Editionsays differently. I'm not sure it really makes a difference—the statement just caught my eye, and I'd written about celestial armor for Pathfinder elsewhere on the site. Your game; your call. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 24 at 22:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan Huh. But wouldn't that make the enchantment more powerful? It can make gold chainmail half the weight of steel chainmail despite gold being much more dense, and additionally it can give the much softer gold the same AC as steel. On top of that, the base cost of the armor would go up considerably, making the enchantment cheaper. Unfortunately there's not to my knowledge any hard numbers for making armor out of gold or silver, so there's no way to nail down exactly what is happening in that case. Not without turning to physics, which is probably beyond the scope of the question. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kuro_Neko
    Aug 24 at 22:30
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Your math and logic checks out. Balance-wise, that's much trickier.

First, let's address stacking. Compare the price of bracers of armor +5, which cost 25,000 gp, with an amulet of natural armor +5, which costs 50,000 gp. They both do the same exact thing, but one—the bracers—doesn't stack with normal armor, whereas the amulet does. Because it's easier to stack with more common sources of AC, the amulet of natural armor costs twice as much.

The primary way of reducing arcane spell failure, weight, and Dexterity limit is through armor material. That's important for two reasons: first, armor material scales with armor weight class. Mithral might cost 4,000 for chainmail, but it costs 9,000 for full plate. Something like entropium (from the Arms and Equipment Guide), which also reduces arcane spell failure, armor check penalty, and improves maximum Dexterity bonus, scales from 2,000 gp for medium armor to 8,000 gp for heavy armor. Blended quartz (also from A&EG) costs 5,000 for medium and 10,000 for heavy, and it just reduces arcane spell failure.

Second, as a magical armor ability, celestial would, in theory, stack with armor special materials. Just like the amulet of natural armor, that means it should probably cost a premium.

Now let's look at armor enhancements. The twilight armor enhancement (found in Player's Handbook II) reduces arcane spell failure by 10%, and is a +1 enhancement. The nimbleness armor enhancement (in the Magic Item Compendium) increases maximum Dexterity bonus by 2 and decreases armor check penalty by 1, and is also a +1 enhancement. Celestial is clearly stronger than either of those. Being a +2 enhancement might be reasonable. That would mean celestial armor, the item in the DMG, is much cheaper than the sum of its parts, but that's not necessarily a problem.

We can also quickly check armor properties that cost around 5,000 gp to check your initial estimate, and we find quickness, which adds 5 ft. of move speed, and then properties like bouyant (+2 to swim checks, no ACP on swim checks), landing (ignore 60 ft. of fall damage), or gilled (water breathing). On the stronger side of that price range are things like 3/day haste for 1 round from the speed enhancement. If these all seem weaker than celestial, that's because they are. 5,000 gp might be a mathematically correct price derived from the base item, but it's clearly very cheap for the effect.

Personally, if I were to allow an isolated celestial enhancement, I'd start with scaling it to armor category like a special material. Blended quartz doubles in price, entropium quadruples in price; I'd go somewhere in between and triple it. 5,000 for medium armor, sure, or 15,000 for heavy. This is more expensive than the aforementioned materials, but it's also better in nearly every way, and given that it stacks with special materials, a bit of a premium is sensible. Light armor could be 3,000 or something; celestial is pretty weak on light armor. (I'd also apply the price before factoring in mithral lowering the armor category; celestial mithral fullplate would still cost the +15,000.)

But that's in a vacuum, and balance questions (which this certainly is) are never really in a vacuum. So let's look at whom such a property most benefits: gishes, and to a lesser extent thief- or archer-types. If your campaign has someone who's got, say, 13 levels of scout and wants to wear heavy armor without it impacting his ability to shoot things too much, then maybe the 5,000 gp price point is reasonable. Even someone like a duskblade, or just a run-of-the-mill eldritch knight, probably isn't outshining the rest of the party, higher AC or no. On the other hand, if you've got a reasonably-optimized abjurant champion, then 17,000 gp for a suit of +1 celestial full plate seems reasonable. Alternatively, leaving such a suit or armor as loot somewhere might be a better approach, depending on the party.

Ultimately, 5,000 gp is much, much cheaper than equivalent effects, and celestial is much stronger than +5,000 gp armor abilities, but depending on who's benefitting, that's not necessarily a problem, since Dexterity-based characters and poorly-optimized martial/mage types could probably both use some help.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I’m not really clear on why we have the aside about bracers of armor and amulet of natural armor; you don’t really seem to use that result any? Also, it’s kind of a problematic example since those are both items that are absurdly overpriced and should just about never ever be bought, optimally. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Aug 25 at 21:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ The point is about stacking, in the fourth paragraph. Both bracers and amulet do the exact same thing, but amulet is easier to stack (for players, who have ready access to armor but more difficulty getting natural armor), so it costs twice as much. Similarly, a celestial enhancement should probably cost a premium above and and beyond similar effects, because in its niche (ASF, ACP, and weight lowering), it stacks with the most common method in that niche (mithral). It's less about the actual items (though bracers are excellent for cheap armor abilities) and more about the philosophy. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 26 at 0:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ Bracers of armor are not allowed to gain armor abilities at all; they can only have enhancement bonuses to your armor AC, which is basically worthless (despite costing dearly). (Pathfinder added the option of special armor properties on bracers of armor, but 3.5e did not.) The point about stacking between bracers and amulet is sound, but it seems dubious to use items with notoriously-incorrect pricing as an example of how to price anything well. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Aug 26 at 15:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ Arms and Equipment Guide has the rules for abilities on bracers of armor on page 130. I suppose a particularly strict reading says they can only have enhancements from the DMG, which is less useful but not entirely useless. You're right that the items are overcosted, but I chose them because they're core; I suppose I could've chosen gauntlets of ogre strength and tome of exercise +2, but inherent bonuses have some weirdness going on. Most non-core items don't just add to a stat, which makes isolating price trickier. If you have a clean example with better items, I'm open to ideas. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 26 at 19:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ Fair enough, I’ll think on it but you have a point about core examples. The bigger issue with Arms & Equipment Guide is that it’s 3e material, and officially, 3e material is only 3.5e-legal if it hasn’t been republished in 3.5e—which the bracers of armor have. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Aug 26 at 19:32

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