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According to the Pathfinder rules as written on temporary ability bonuses and penalties, gaining a bonus to your ability scores that lasts one day or less would not actually increase your ability scores, but instead increase related checks and statistics by 1 for every 2 points of bonus. Similarly for penalties, if it is not specifically ability drain it doesn't change the relevant score, and instead decrease related checks and statistics by 1 for every 2 points of penalty. To further complicate things, ability damage seems to be a separate idea from penalties, but functions the same, with the caveat that it can kill you or render you unconscious if it exceeds your actual ability score.

So my question is, how exactly are these mechanics supposed to work together?

  • If I had a -2 penalty to Strength, it would give me a -1 penalty to all Strength based checks. But if I gained an additional bonus +1 bonus to Strength, would I still receive a -1 penalty to Strength based checks, or would it first be stacked with the penalty and then recalculated to a net -1 penalty and therefore -0 penalty to related checks, since they seemingly work on the same grounds?
  • If my Strength score was 10 and I received a -5 Strength penalty from ray of enfeeblement (-2 to strength related checks regardless of whether my initial score is odd or even), and I then took 5 points of Strength damage, would I be considered unconscious? If the effects happened in the opposite order, and I took the strength damage first and the penalty second, would I then be unconscious, seeing as the rules state that ability penalties cannot render you unconscious or dead?
  • If my Strength score was 10, and I received +4 enhancement bonus to Strength, then 11 damage, would I be conscious? If the damage had been drain instead, would I be conscious?
  • What if I had 10 Strength and took -11 ability drain. If I then receieved a +4 enhancement bonus to Strength, would I regain consciousness? If so, would my Strength score be 4 or 3?
  Ability  Modifier | Temp Bonus  Temp Penalty  Damage  Drain | Result?
    10        +0    |     +1           -2          0      0   | 10 (-1) or 9 (-1) or 10 (-0)?
     9        -1    |     +1           -2          0      0   |  9 (-2) or 8 (-1) or  9 (-1)?
    10        +0    |     +0           -5          5      0   | Unconscious? Order Matters?
    10        +0    |     +4           -0         11      0   | Unconscious? Order Matters?
    10        +0    |     +4           -0          0     11   | Unconscious? Order Matters?
    10        +0    |     +4           -5          9      0   | Unconscious? Order Matters?

*In this table for the first two rows 10 (-1) means that the ability score stays at ten for the purposes of feats, etc. and the modifier you apply to skill checks and whatnot would be -1.


Clarification:

Here are some quotes from the above link, emphasis mine. This one pertains to ability damage.

Diseases, poisons, spells, and other abilities can all deal damage directly to your ability scores. This damage does not actually reduce an ability, but it does apply a penalty to the skills and statistics that are based on that ability.

And then this one pertains to ability penalties.

Some spells and abilities cause you to take an ability penalty for a limited amount of time. While in effect, these penalties function just like ability damage, but they cannot cause you to fall unconscious or die. In essence, penalties cannot decrease your ability score to less than 1.


Trish pointed out a comment from the creative director at Paizo, which can be found in her answer. The creative director initially had the rules wrong, but after re-reading them he stuck with rules as written, and gave a little bit of additional clarification. This seems to indicate to me that Paizo didn't really think this part of the game through. Most people probably don't play it rules as written anyway.

topquark left us a link to the FAQ at Paizo, indicating that Paizo admits to using a sort of quick-rule implementation in the RAW to make it so you don't have to rebuild the character each time. This seems to indicate that RAI and the way it's actually supposed to work is different, but there is no information as to exactly how.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Shouldn't this question be flagged with RAW tag??? Op is asking a specific question based on this. \$\endgroup\$ – Miroderchort Aug 3 '16 at 19:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ RAW for certain things would help (whether or not order matters etc, when applying penalties), but overall RAI seems to be what I'm looking for. I also don't believe the rules actually cover any of this as nobody has been able to give a logical answer yet, but I may be wrong. \$\endgroup\$ – Sheph Aug 4 '16 at 1:36
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Pathfinder is pretty straight forward when it comes to boni and penalties, and we hage a Word of God:

A penalty DOES effectively lower an ability score, but it's temporary. When we have an effect that does damage or drain, we're intending that effect to last as long as it takes to heal the damage by outside sources. When an ability score reducing effect has a built in duration, after which the reduction goes away, we use "ability score penalties" instead of damage.

James Jacobs, Creative Director [at Paizo]

Therefore:

  1. Take the Ability Score as basic number
  2. Apply all relevant permanent modifieres, like enchantment bonus and drain, this is the Modified Ability Score, it will determine our 'Base' from where to modify further.
    1. If you are at an ability of 0 or negative: Roll a new character...
  3. Sum up all temporary: boni, then damage and finally penalties (as negative numbers), one after another, apply the following on the way:
    1. Should drain + damage get you down to a score of 0, nasty things happen (unconscious, crippled, etc)
    2. Should a penalty try to lower the number to 0 or below, set it to 1.
  4. Unless you hit a branching case (which is either dead, icapicitated or a score of 1 with bonus of -5), calculate the current Ability Score Bonus from the Modified Ability Score:
    • round down the result of \$\frac{\text{Modified Ability Score} - 10}{2} + \frac{\text{Sum of Boni, Damage and Penalties}}{2}\$
    • However RAI from the FAQ seems to be more the recalculation of the Ability Modifier each time with each Score: \$\frac{\text{Modified Ability Score}+\text{Sum of Boni, Damage and Penalties} - 10}{2}\$

So, you have strength 10, no strength damage and drain. Now you apply no bonus and a penalty of 5. The resulting value is Strength 5. Strength 5 results in an Ability modifier of -3. Would you have Strength 11, the modifired strength would be 6, and the Ability Score Bonus thus -2.

Now, your other question is similar:

You have 5 Ability damage and a 5 Ability Penalty applying to the same Ability. Here it gets a bit tricky. First, we check the Base score again. 10. Apply the bonus (0), then drain (0), then damage (5) and finally a penalty (5). After the damage, the Ability Score is 5. Applying an ability penalty of 5 to an ability of 5 is not possible, as Ability Penalties may never drop a score to 0, but instead they drop it to 1 instead.

This is played straight as just tracking them and then stacking them, as seems to be the general voice on the paizo forums:

You track each [penalty] separately and they stack. ... They don't actually reduce your score. Ability drain on the other hand, however DOES actually reduce your score.

... that ray of enfeeblement couldn't have reduced your goblin's strength to 0 (seen here)

also

Penalty and Damage don't lower the score, only Drain. Because of that, your score stays the same for the purpose of required stats.

The reference to lowering ability scores below 1 only applies to temporary effects, such as those from Ray of Enfeeblement, but not from diseases (which last permanently or until removed). You can't be rendered unconscious or dead by a temporary penalty from a spell, but you can by a permanent penalty from a disease or curse. (seen here)

also

ability modifiers are a summed modifier, not a separate set of individual bonuses or penalties. Ability damage doesn't directly reduce the relevant stat but it follows a similar logic. By this I mean: gaining 4 ability damage is a -2 penalty, not two -1 penalties. These are mathematically distinct concepts in pathfinder rules. (seen here)

but:

[That the same spell can't stack with itself] comes from page 208 of the core rulebook:

"Spells that provide bonuses or penalties...usually do not stack with themselves." (seen here)


Now, your test cases...

  • Score 10, 5 Penalty, 5 Damage

The sum of the reductions is 10, but some of it is a penalty. As Penalties can't reduce to less than 1, the score is 1.

  • Score 10, 4 Bonus, 11 Damage

As long as the Bonus of 4 stays, your score is 3. As soon as it fades, you go to -1 with all consequences, till the damage is healed to some degree.

  • Score 10, 4 Bonus, 11 Drain

Your Modified Ability Score is -1. You may never have an Ability Score that is -1 from permanent sources. Drain is permanent. You die instantly.

  • Score 10, 4 Bonus, 5 Penalty, 9 Damage

Sums up to an effective 10 reduction of the score, BUT, there is still some Penalty (1 point!) of it. Penalties still can't reduce to less than 1, so score is 1.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Except that it isn't straight forward at all, considering everything you just said is false, as it contradicts the rules given at the link I provided. \$\endgroup\$ – Sheph Jul 23 '16 at 22:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ no, Word of god: paizo.com/threads/… :"A penalty DOES effectively lower an ability score, but it's temporary. When we have an effect that does damage or drain, we're intending that effect to last as long as it takes to heal the damage by outside sources. When an ability score reducing effect has a built in duration, after which the reduction goes away, we use "ability score penalties" instead of damage." \$\endgroup\$ – Trish Jul 23 '16 at 22:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for providing the link, but it seems as if the spell which received the ruling (Touch of Idiocy) is an outlier to the general rule and has a specific exception in its spell description. From what I can gather, nothing in that thread answers my questions, nor backs up your answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Sheph Jul 24 '16 at 0:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Sheph After reading the answer, and the link provided, I cannot see the contradiction. Ability penalties cannot cause you to become unconscious or die. By extension, this means they cannot set you up to be knocked unconscious or die, either. If you had 10 str and took 10pts of str damage, ban, out cold and done. If you had 10 str and took 10pts of ability penalty, it cannot reduce your total str below 1, so you're at 1. This forces you to apply them from most to least permanent effect, meaning Drain, then Damage, then Penalty last, and you must recalculate each time new effects apply. \$\endgroup\$ – tzxAzrael Jul 24 '16 at 0:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Sheph they do not permanently reduce an ability. the reduction is temporary only while the effect lasts, or until healed. Ability Drain is the only type of damage that (semi)permanently reduces abilities. It's the same as HP. Losing some HP does not reduce the maximum HP you have, you can heal them back normally over time (or magical healing). Certain serious effects can drain HP from you that you cannot heal until that ailment is specifically treated, much like Ability Drain. \$\endgroup\$ – tzxAzrael Jul 24 '16 at 4:01
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how exactly are these mechanics supposed to work together?

Exactly as they appear to work. They temporarily modify your ability score. Ability Damage and Ability Check Penalties are not independent mechanics. The Ability Check Penalties are simply a by-product of the ability damage, exactly as if you had started with a below-average ability score.

Regarding topquark's FAQ Link...

...This is really the entire answer here. It explains that the Glossary is not the RAW, it is just a quick and dirty reference to the RAW. Sections like the one in question assume that you understand the way things "really work", so that you can appreciate a simpler way of handling it which is "mostly good enough".

For example, the method you're confused over is the "short" method. The "long" method (that is, the "proper" method) is to rebuild your character sheet every time. That is, to rewrite the ability scores whenever you are affected by a bonus or penalty to the score, and recalculate everything based on the new score. (Many digital character sheets actually have fields to add in drain, damage, and temporary bonuses/penalties.)

Everything else is just a breakdown of how that applies to various situations, and is going to be long and detailed.


From your link, Pathfinder Glossary

Ability Score Bonuses
Some spells and abilities increase your ability scores. Ability score increases with a duration of 1 day or less give only temporary bonuses.

The remainder of the description is simply a reminder of how bonuses (or penalties) are calculated from ability scores.

The same thing is true of any kind of ability penalty.

Ability Score Damage, Penalty, and Drain
For every 2 points of damage you take to a single ability, apply a –1 penalty to skills and statistics listed with the relevant ability.

Note that the statement specifically refers to damage being done to an ability score.

The previous line that causes you so much confusion:

This damage does not actually reduce an ability...

...is simply referring to the fact that this ability damage is temporary.

Note also to the following two references from the same section, referring to ability scores requiring healing, either naturally, or magically.

Unless otherwise noted, damage to your ability scores is healed at the rate of 1 per day to each ability score that has been damaged. Ability damage can be healed through the use of spells, such as lesser restoration.

If the scores did not take damage, why would they need healing?

"This damage does not actually reduce an ability..." is equivalent to stating "This damage does not permanently reduce an ability...", and is intended to distinguish temporary ability damage as separate from permanent ability damage (Ability Drain).

Ability Drain: Ability drain actually reduces the relevant ability score.

Example 1
Start with 10 Strength.
You take a penalty of -2 Strength. You now have 8 effective Strength.
You then gain a bonus of +1 Strength. You now have 9 effective Strength.

Your effective Strength is 9. This gives you a -1 penalty to all Strength-related checks and abilities.

Your real Strength remains at 10, but has been damaged. When the +1 bonus is removed, your effective Strength returns to 8, until it is healed.

Example 2
Start with 10 Strength.
You are hit with the ray, and take -5 Strength Penalty. Your effective strength is now 5.
You are hit with another effect that causes 5 more Strength damage. Your effective Strength is now 1, because Ray of Enfeeblement is a temporary effect.

Some spells and abilities cause you to take an ability penalty for a limited amount of time. While in effect, these penalties function just like ability damage, but they cannot cause you to fall unconscious or die.

Because Ray of Enfeeblement is a temporary effect, the temporary damage cannot reduce your Strength below 1.

The order of the effects does not matter, because of the limitations on effects that last only for a limited time.

Example 3
Start with 10 Strength.
You gain a bonus of +4 Strength. Your effective Strength is now 14.
You take a brutal effect that causes 11 damage to your Strength. Your effective Strength is now 3.

As long as you keep that bonus of +4 Strength, you remain conscious.
You will fall unconscious if/when that bonus expires, because your effective Strength will be reduced to -1, unless you have received some healing before the bonus expires.

The difference between Damage and Drain: With Ability Damage, assuming no magical healing, you will remain unconscious until your Strength heals back to 1+. This will normally take 2 days.

With Ability Drain, you will be in a permanent coma until you receive magical healing. Your ability score cannot heal naturally from Drain.

Example 4
Start with Strength 10. You take -11 ability damage, and fall unconscious. Your effective Strength is at -1. You gain a bonus of +4 to your Strength. DM's discretion, but I would rule that you awaken. Your effective Strength is 3.

I see nothing that states that Ability Damage is limited to any particular number.


Your table is confusing. First line: you suggest "10 + 1 - 2 = 10" is a possibility.

To repeat:
+X to an ability means add that much to the ability.
-X to an ability means subtract that much from the ability.

The Ability Modifier is calculated from whatever the resulting ability score is.


Summary


Diseases, poisons, spells, and other abilities can all deal damage directly to your ability scores.

or, "Your ability scores will go up and down because of this."

This damage does not actually reduce an ability,

or, "Do not change the score on your character sheet, it will go back to normal later."

And Ability Drain:

Ability drain actually reduces the relevant ability score.

or, "If you don't have healing already lined up, you might as well change your character sheet. You could be stuck with this for a long time."

Some spells and abilities cause you to take an ability penalty for a limited amount of time. While in effect, these penalties function just like ability damage, but they cannot cause you to fall unconscious or die. In essence, penalties cannot decrease your ability score to less than 1.

or, "Temporary stuff is temporary, and you won't die from it, because you'll get better in a minute or two anyway."

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't see the need to tell me it's supposed to be simple when the only two answers I have disagree with each other. I think that some of your logic makes sense and some of it doesn't. Not going to give a + or - because I think part of the answer lies in each one so far, and we haven't figured it all out yet. I apologize if my table is confusing I only had so much room for the results column. I can try to add a clarification. \$\endgroup\$ – Sheph Aug 1 '16 at 0:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ Basically, you're overthinking it. Trish's answer and mine don't disagree, we just present the same thing differently. "add all the bonuses. subtract all the ability damage/drain/penalty. this is your new ability score; calculate the new ability modifier from that." \$\endgroup\$ – tzxAzrael Aug 1 '16 at 4:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ So your answer says order doesn't matter and his does. That is pretty clearly a difference in content and not presentation. I am going to ask you stop using the excuse that I'm overthinking it unless you can provide concrete evidence that it is simpler, which nobody has yet given. Thank you. \$\endgroup\$ – Sheph Aug 1 '16 at 4:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ Order does matter a tiny bit because you have to check if anything from the penalty will reduce the score to less than 1. So it is most easy to apply penalties last and the hard stuff first, especially drains as they modify your permanent score. \$\endgroup\$ – Trish Aug 1 '16 at 8:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ I was just checking that in my head. "If long term damage does not reduce score to less than 1, then the short term damage cannot either" was basically my 'check' for it. Always check your (my) assumptions, then make sure you write them down. \$\endgroup\$ – tzxAzrael Aug 1 '16 at 10:20

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