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When a character ages, there are negative penalties to physical stats.

As a made up example, if there was a commoner who somehow had 3 in one or more of their physical stats at age 18, and due to a very unlikely fortunate event found a manual corresponding to their weak stat, granting them a +3... what will happen to that stat once they reach old age?

I am assuming that equipment, psionic, and magic based bonuses are not affected by aging.

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2 Answers 2

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The ability has a base score of 3, a +3 inherent bonus from the manual, already has a −1 penalty from middle age, and reaches old age for a further, cumulative, −2 penalty. They therefore have a score of 3 + 3 − 1 − 2 = 3, which means they have a −4 modifier.

No bonuses, or penalties, or any other modifiers, are affected by aging. That is, you do not add or subtract anything from any of your other bonuses or penalties due to aging—you add or subtract your aging modifiers from the score, just as you add other bonuses or subtract other penalties from that score. Aging is just another modifier to the score, and so is applied to the score alongside any other modifiers. All of the modifiers are applied in full (barring special cases, which none of these are).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Given that a tome (sorry, actually meant manual for the physical stat) specifically grants an inherent bonus, would that not be immune to aging then? \$\endgroup\$
    – nijineko
    Sep 15, 2023 at 20:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ @nijineko Why would the bonus being an inherent bonus render it immune to change? If you're hit by a ray of enfeeblement, you don't get to keep your inherent bonuses to Str. If an allip drains your Wis, you don't not drain your inherent bonuses to Wis. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 15, 2023 at 20:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ @nijineko I don’t understand the question. Aging doesn’t affect the inherent bonus or any other bonus—it affects the score. I am about 99% sure this question is prompted by some deeper misunderstanding, but I have no idea what it is. The inherent bonus and the aging penalty are “next to” each other, and both apply in full. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Sep 15, 2023 at 20:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ @nijineko No bonuses are affected by aging because aging doesn’t do anything to any bonuses; it adds more modifiers alongside those bonuses, but those bonuses still exist, untouched, there’s just another modifer afterwards that change things from there. That is, you still have the 6 you had after reading the manual, now you’re applying a −2 penalty so you go down to 4. (Well, technically, the −2 penalty replaces the −1 penalty you had before, so you go from 5 to 4 rather than 6 to 4, but I hope this is clear.) \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Sep 16, 2023 at 0:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DanIsFiddlingByFirelight The –4 is the ability modifier associated with an ability score of 3: because that score is so low (10 is average), this character takes a –4 penalty on everything related to that score. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Sep 16, 2023 at 13:04
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The stat will be back down to 3 at old age.

Bonuses and penalties in 3.5e don’t really ‘interact’ or modify each other except for one specific rule that I will cover in a moment. So computing a given score consists of simply taking the base score, adding any bonuses to it, then subtracting any penalties. Some of the penalties may cancel out some of the bonuses (or even completely negate all of the bonuses), but those bonuses do still exist. They don’t just disappear because of the penalties.

The ordering in this case is also important, because aging (and a number of other sources of penalties) cannot reduce a score below 1 (so if you applied the penalty first, the total would be 4 instead of 3). That order is intentional so that penalties, which are often less common than bonuses, apply to the fullest extent possible no matter what the score.

The one special exception to all of this is if you have bonuses or penalties of the same type applied to the same score. As an example, say you have a Belt of Giant Strength +6, granting you a +6 enhancement bonus to your strength score, and then somebody casts Bull’s Strength on you, which grants a +4 enhancement bonus to your strength score. Because both provide an enhancement bonus, you would only have a total of +6 to your strength score because that’s the higher bonus. This is usually most relevant with armor, shield, enhancement, and morale bonuses (those four are the big ones that have lots of things that grant them), but it crops up with other types as well from time to time.

However, that exception does not apply in this case, because aging penalties and bonuses are untyped (or, alternatively, they have a type of ‘aging’, and are the only instance of that type of bonus or penalty in the game, meaning they are effectively untyped), which means they are only cancelled out by effects that specifically call them out as not applying (such as the Monk’s level 17 class ability Timeless Body, which explicitly states that the monk is no longer affected by penalties to ability scores from aging). This is distinctly different from an inherent bonus (or penalty) such as provided by the tomes or manuals, the term ‘inherent’ is just a (rare) type of bonus, it means nothing special beyond identifying the type of bonus.

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