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A typical barbarian in a rage "gains a +4 bonus to Strength, a +4 bonus to Constitution, and a +2 morale bonus on Will saves, but he takes a −2 penalty to Armor Class" (Player's Handbook 25).

A barbarian possessing the rage variant whirling frenzy says that the barbarian "doesn't gain the normal bonuses when he enters a rage. Instead, when a barbarian with whirling frenzy enters a rage, he temporarily gains a +4 bonus to Strength and a +2 dodge bonus to Armor Class and on Reflex saves" (Unearthed Arcana 66). However, a whirling frenzy "is otherwise identical to the standard barbarian rage in all other ways" (ibid.).

Because the penalty on Armor Class is not a bonus from rage, does a barbarian in a whirling frenzy suffer the penalty to Armor Class from rage then gain the bonus to Armor Class from whirling frenzy, rendering the barbarian's AC, essentially, unchanged? Or when whirling frenzy says the normal bonuses that's shorthand indicating a complete replacement of the section that describes adjustments typically made for a barbarian in a rage?

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RAW, yes, though I wouldn’t rule it that way. Basically, I do not trust the WotC editing team enough to read so much into the choice of bonus rather than modifier here. It reads to me like the authors just forgot that rage applies a penalty and the editors didn’t catch it.

Instead, I would rule it the way you suggest, that they really just meant that whirling frenzy obeys all the rules for rage (things you cannot do in a rage, how long it lasts, being fatigued after, and so on), and differs only in the effects you get therein.

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