Welcome to Guidance, Private Sanctuary’s source for tips and techniques for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, written by Everyman Gamer Alexander Augunas. Today, we’re going to be taking a look at some fun tricks that you can do with armor.
Today I’ve a shorter article for you today, a “Tricks of the Trade” article about something that most of you care about: armor! I wouldn’t call any of this “advanced,” by any stretch of the imagination, but I would call it an intermediate skill, so I thought it would be nice if I took the time to sit and discuss a rather effective gearing strategy that you could theoretically use if you wanted to. So without any further delay, let’s talk about weird tricks that we can do with armor!
For the purpose of this article, I’m assuming that you know all of the basic rules in the Core Rulebook. If you don’t, go read up on them; it might be helpful.
Crash Course: Non-Proficiency Penalties for Armor
All right, so before we start, I’d like to begin by refreshing everyone’s knowledge on how Armor Proficiency works. As you probably know, armor and shields require proficiency to use, and we’re sort of drilled to say, “Oh no! I better not use this if I’m not proficient?!” But honestly, when you sit down and read the rules, the non-proficiency penalty is … rather low. Basically, if you’re not proficient with a suit of armor or shield that you’re using, you add the armor’s check penalty on attack rolls. And that … is about it.
So if you’re a character who, for some reason, isn’t proficient with Light armor or something, there’s actually a rather sizable list of armor that you can wear without taking any noticeable penalties. They are: armored kilk, padded armor, quilted cloth armor, leather armor, rosewood armor, and leaf armor. Now, if you’re a monk, you still lose all of your class features for wearing these types of armors and if you’re a spellcaster, you still take arcane spell failure. So why is this good? Well, we need to refresh ourselves on the workings of masterwork armor and shields for this part.
Crash Course: Masterwork Armor and Shields
So yeah, if you make your armor or shield masterwork, its armor check penalty is reduced by –1, so adding to the above list, you can also wear: hide shirt armor, parade armor, studded leather armor, and buckler shields without any real penalty. That last one is pretty big: you can use a masterwork bucker with no real penalty! Great if you need an extra AC boost, but aren’t able to cast shield or proficient with traditional shields. (Note that this is why monks specifically cannot flurry with shields despite not being proficient with them; they technically could and take no penalties for it.) Now, a –1 penalty might not seem like a huge deal, but it becomes even more effective when you add in special materials.
Crash Course: Armor Special Materials
Pathfinder has two special materials that armor can be crafted from that reduces the armor’s overall armor check penalty and arcane spell failure. The first is mithral, which is incredibly well-known. The second is darkleaf cloth, which is basically the same thing as mithral, except with different armors that it affects. Basically, any armor that is mostly made from metal can be mithral while any armor that is mostly made from cloth, leather, or hide can be darkleaf cloth. Both items grant the following modifications: spell failure for armor and shields are decreased by 10%, maximum Dexterity bonuses are increased by 2, and armor check penalties are decreased by 3. Remember that the bonus for being masterwork and the bonus for being mithral / darkleaf don’t stack, so that’s just a flat reduction of 3.
With this modification, all kinds of shields are now ACP –0, while the following kinds of armor are added to our list: chain shirt (light), armored coat (medium), hide armor (medium). In addition, the following types of armor have their spell failure chance reduced to 0 if the character is wearing armor made from this material: quilted cloth armor, leather armor, and rosewood armor.
Believe it or not, though, that’s STILL not all of the moding that we can do to your armor’s ACP; there’s just a LITTLE bit more….
Crash Course: Armor Expert and Comfort
Armor Expert is an Advanced Player’s Guide trait that reduces the armor check penalty of any suit of armor (but not shield) that you wear by 1. Likewise, comfort is a special armor quality from the Pathfinder Society Field Guide that, among keeping your armor clean, fresh, and comfortable, reduces your armor’s armor check penalty by an additional 1 at the cost of 5,000 gp. That’s right; this doesn’t even require an armor bonus; its just a flat gold sum.
Assuming you have both of these on a mithral suit of armor, you can reduce your armor check penalty by up to 5, which reduces the armor check penalty of all types of Medium armor and one type of armor from the Inner Sea World Guide (field plate) to 0. For the most part, this is overkill, as the only Medium armor that has an Armor Check Penalty higher than 4 is chainmail, and overall chainmail is worse than having a breastplate because it has a higher ACP and a lower maximum Dex bonus.
So, with all this in mind, what sort of shenanigans can we do? Well, let’s take a peak!
For casters, the big thing that we’re looking for is to keep our ACP and arcane spell failure at 0, so we don’t feel any sting when we’re casting. Now, unless we start buying into the Arcane Armor Training feats, this basically restricts us to light armor. The highest AC that we can get is from darkleaf cloth leather armor, which has no ACP and has its arcane spell failure of 10% reduced to 0. Leather armor has a +2 armor bonus and a darkleaf cloth version of the armor would cost 760 gp (light darkleaf cloth armor costs +750 gp). This is compared to bracers of armor +2, which cost 4,000 gp. Now, if you’ve got an extra 4,000 gp to burn anyway, you could enhance your leather armor to +2, which would give you a total bonus of +4, meaning that for 4,750 gp you’ve got a +4 armor bonus that gives you no ACP and no arcane spell failure. Yup, you’ve guessed it: you’re wearing mage armor all the time!
We can actually be even more ridiculous with shields. Normally using a buckler-bearing arm to cast a spell with somatic components costs you to lose that shield’s shield bonus to your AC and you flat-out can’t use a shield-bearing arm to cast such spells. Now, you could always have a shield in one hand and cast a spell with the other, but then you’ve got no weapon to help your buddies flank should they need that service from you. So, what are you to do?
Buy a klar. A klar counts as a weapon AND a light shield, so you can use your off-hand for casting and threatening, AND defend yourself with a klar. Better still, make your klar out of mithral for the low price of 1,000 gp and now your klar has no ACP or spell failure chance. Now you’ve got a shield with a +1 bonus and for 9,000 gp, your klar is as good as a shield spell. If that’s too expensive and you’re willing to use a heavier shield, a mithral light steel shield is virtually the same cost with the same ACP and spell failure, but has +1 to AC over the klar, meaning that you only need an extra 4,000 gp to be as good as a shield spell. Bearing in mind that a ring of force shield is an actual force shield, but for a mere +2 shield bonus for 9,000 gp. Yeah, I’d take the real shield too (or the spell for that matter).
Martials have it a bit easier than spellcasters; they typically don’t need to worry about arcane spell failure, they just need to worry about armor check penalty and speed. Mithral and Darkleaf Cloth knocks the speed rating of your armor down a notch, but that means if you’re going from Heavy to Medium, your speed is still impaired. As a general rule, the most common practice that I see is players taking the all-powerful mithral breastplate and combining it either with armor expert or the comfort armor ability to knock their ACP with the item to 0. That way, a rogue could technically wear Medium armor without suffering any penalties at all.
What’s interesting about the tactics here is that many martial abilities specifically say, “While you’re wearing X” kind of armor, and thanks to a recent FAQ regarding mithral armor, all of your cool class features that care about what kind of armor you’re wearing take mithral into consideration when deciding if you get the ability’s benefit. For instance, a brawler loses a few of her class features if she wears Medium or Heavy Armor, but a mithral breast plate counts as Light armor to her, so she can wear a Light breastplate and be fine so long as her armor doesn’t have a check penalty (or as long as she’s properly proficient with it). Likewise, a barbarian can wear mithral full plate and not lose her fast movement ability. The only class that’s REALLY hurt by this are classes like the monk, which specifically state “no armor.” Not even mithral can downgrade Light armor to No Armor, so none of these tricks work with the monk or any character that gains monk-like restrictions.
Well, that’s all the time that I’ve got today! Have any questions or comments? Leave your answers below, and check back in on Friday for another Iconic Design! Take care.
Alexander “Alex” Augunas has been playing roleplaying games since 2007, which isn’t nearly as long as 90% of his colleagues. Alexander is an active freelancer for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and is best known as the author of the Pact Magic Unbound series by Radiance House. Alex is the owner of Everyman Gaming, LLC and is often stylized as the Everyman Gamer in honor of Guidance’s original home. Alex also cohosts the Private Sanctuary Podcast, along with fellow blogger Anthony Li, and you can follow their exploits on Facebook in the 3.5 Private Sanctuary Group, or on Alex’s Twitter, @AlJAug.