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I've been DMing Dungeons and Dragons for more than 20 years, and have always had "issues" with the AC system. I was pretty happy when I found the AC as Damage Reduction Variant in the PF Combat Handbook, which I quickly implemented into my 5e game, along with the other variant's provided: wounds and vigor, called shots, and piecemeal armor

The problem is, I'm having a little bit of difficulty balancing the variant with the 5e rules... According to 5e, natural armor, and conjured armor (ie Mage Armor) doesn't stack cumulatively with worn armor; according to the variant - at least as well as I can tell - it does. For balancing purposes, should natural armor stack with other forms of armor?

According to the variant, any enhancement bonus goes to dodge, while the actual AC(-10) of the armor goes to damage reduction. But what about class abilities like unarmored defense or spells like Shield of Faith?

How does damage reduction work with weakness/resistance in this variant? The current process is to reduce the damage, and then half for resistance, or multiply for weakness, on what goes through; but is there not an agreed upon average number that weakness/resistance is equal to? Something like -5/+5, etc?

I'm hoping to get answers that are less "house rules" and more closer to the actual intention of the variant in Pathfinder.

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Armor Class as Damage Reduction in 5th Edition

Spells not working as increased Armor Class is a design intent from D&D 5th edition that does not exist in pathfinder, so we have to work around that design. Armor class in general is higher in pathfinder as the levels go on, and so does the attack bonus of players and enemies alike.

In 5th edition, the spells that grant AC instead grant you the equivalent to a specific armor's AC, like Mage Armor granting 13 AC, which is similar to a leather armor. This was designed so Armor Classes will hardly go above 20 even when the character's dexterity bonus is added on it.

Shield of Faith seems to be an exception here, as it still grants a fixed AC bonus.

So, you have two options here:

  • Accept this design and make it so those spells also grant a specific Armor Class, which will grant damage reduction instead of making you harder to hit, instead of adding on top of your armor class, this way, a character that has a full plate will gain no benefit from mage armor/barkskin cast of them. This sounds closer to the design intent for 5ed spells.

  • Refuse this design and make those spells actually increase your Defense Score (which acts as the AC for those not familiar with the Armor as Damage Reduction system). This second choice will make those spells stronger than armor (which is something you have to decide if it's intended or not).

The second approach also has the issue of increasing the average AC of a character that has access to those spells, so monsters will be less dangerous to them (they need to roll higher to hit).

In pathfinder, Shield of Faith grants a deflection bonus, one of the strongest bonuses in the game. So, instead of simply adding up to your AC (if i were to convert this) i would make the spell increase your Defense Score.

Resistance and Vulnerability with Damage Reduction

Again, Damage Reduction is a thing that does not exist in D&D 5th edition, but is very common in Pathfinder. There is the feat Heavy Armor Mastery that says:

While you are wearing heavy armor, bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage that you take from non magical weapons is reduced by 3.

While this sounds and behave similarly, it is not called damage reduction nor has the other specifics for the rule, unlike on previous editions.

The design choice was to replace Damage Reduction by Vulnerability or Resistance to specific types of damage, and with this, simplify the whole deal with reducing or increasing damage and which applies first.

The main issue is deciding which to apply first:

  • Resistance/Vulnerability then reduce the damage;

  • Reduce the damage then apply Resistance/Vulnerability;

The designers for 5ed did give us an example on how this should work if that scenario ever happens:

Resistance and then vulnerability are applied after all other modifiers to damage. For example, a creature has Resistance to bludgeoning damage and is hit by an attack that deals 25 bludgeoning damage. The creature is also within a magical aura that reduces all damage by 5. The 25 damage is first reduced by 5 and then halved, so the creature takes 10 damage.

So the best approach here is to not change this design choice and apply the Armor Class's reduction before Resistance/Vulnerability. This will avoid any complications as which should apply first and second and so on.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Very useful consideration regarding Shield of Faith. I will take this into consideration regarding the spell, and other abilities that could be considered a deflection bonus. Any thoughts about calculating weak/resist? \$\endgroup\$ – Jacob Hooper May 16 '17 at 18:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ "Damage Reduction is a thing that does not exist in D&D 5th edition" Although I do agree, there is Heavy Armor Master (pg 167 PHB) which - essentially - gives DR 3 (vs B/P/S) :) although worded obliquely. ;) \$\endgroup\$ – Ditto May 16 '17 at 20:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Ditto the example given also works as DR (or actually, the previous edition's form of resistance). \$\endgroup\$ – ShadowKras May 16 '17 at 20:30

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