Guidance – Theorycrafting 101: Are You Strong Enough?

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 talking about the Strength ability score.

For as long as I’ve been active in the Pathfinder community, I’ve seen the debate of finesse vs. strength characters wage. Arguments and theorycrafting abounds on both sides, but ultimately neither side seems to submit to the other. What are those sides, you ask? Generally speaking, most people who are active in these discussions fall into one of three categories: A) Finesse characters are worthless because they don’t get to add their Dexterity bonus to damage rolls, B) Finesse characters are overpowered because Dexterity is more useful than Strength and finesse builds simply make this worse, C) Finesse characters are fine as they are.

I was browsing such a thread the other day when talk about a feat that allowed you to add your Strength to your AC came up. Personally, I think this is a rather silly idea, but another poster had an interesting retort: you already do add your Strength bonus to your AC.

You do? What was this guy talking about? I was determined to find out, so today, I’l dragging you down into the horrific realm that is the Theorycraft Zone.

The Argument

According to this post, characters with high Strength already added their Strength scores to their AC because their high Strength allowed them to effectively use heavy armor. If you were unaware, if your carrying capacity is too low, you take an increasingly severe series of encumbrance penalties. If you qualify for medium encumbrance, you take a –3 penalty on all Dexterity-based checks and limits your Maximum Dexterity to +3. Likewise, your Maximum Dexterity is limited to +1 and your check penalty increases to +6 if you have heavy encumbrance. In both cases, your speed is cut to 20 feet (if normally 30 feet) or 15 feet (if normally 20 feet). There’s also a reduction in run speed for each stage of encumbrance.

Basically, the idea is that the penalties associated with encumbrance counteract your Dexterity modifier if you aren’t strong enough to wear your armor, and because your armor has a sizable weight associated with it, based upon its AC bonus. But to determine if this is true, what IS the minimum Strength to wield each category of armor, anyway?

Testing the Hypothesis

In order to solve this question, the first thing that I need to determine is, “What is the Strength value of a point of AC?” To do this, I am going to go through all of the Ultimate Equipment armors and come up with an AC bonus per pound ratio to determine how much a point of Strength can potentially add to your AC. Wish me luck!

+1 AC

  • Padded (10 lbs)
  • Quilted Cloth (15 lbs)
  • Average: 12.5 lbs

+2 AC

  • Leather (15 lbs)
  • Average: 15 lbs

+3 AC

  • Studded Leather (20 lbs)
  • Wooden (25 lbs)
  • Average: 22.5 lbs

+4 AC

  • Chain Shirt (25 lbs)
  • Armored Coat (20 lbs)
  • Hide (25 lbs)
  • Average: 23 lbs.

+5 AC

  • Scale Mail (30 lbs)
  • Average: 30 lbs.

+6 AC

  • Chainmail (40 lbs)
  • Breastplate (30 lbs)
  • Average: 35 lbs.

+7 AC

  • Splint Mail (45 lbs)
  • Banded Mail (35 lbs)
  • Average: 40 lbs.

+8 AC

  • Half-Plate (50 lbs)
  • Average: 50 lbs.

+9 AC

  • Full Plate (50 lbs)
  • Average: 50 lbs.

Note: I ignored the agile half-plate and agile-breastplate. Sue me.

Now, let’s look at the minimum Strength that you need to wear each armor without suffering any further penalties. Remember, this doesn’t include the weight of your weapons or any other item that you wear.

  • AC +1 (12.5 lbs): Strength 4
  • AC +2 (15 lbs): Strength 5
  • AC +3 (22.5 lbs): Strength 7
  • AC +4 (23 lbs): Strength 7
  • AC +5 (30 lbs): Strength 9
  • AC +6 (35 lbs): Strength 11
  • AC +7 (40 lbs): Strength 12
  • AC +8 (50 lbs): Strength 13
  • AC +9 (50 lbs): Strength 13

I find it amusing that the minimum Strength to wear full-plate without suffering additional penalties is also the minimum Strength needed to take Power Attack.


The data is interesting, but ultimately not conclusive of whether or not you should consider an armor’s weight its “Strength to AC” or anything. For one, most of the armors are light enough that you could wear them with a Strength penalty, though you’d probably have to forgo manufactured weapons.

When looking at Strength and encumbrance, it is important to only view the weight of your armor, clothes, weapons, and slotted gear as “certain.” Yeah, you’re going to carry a lot of other stuff but it is easy to circumvent the weight of things like potions or quest items. The only items you really HAVE to lug around (especially at high level) are those that you wear and fight with.

That said, one of the common strategies for Dex-based characters is to reduce Dexterity all the way down to 7, sometimes 5 if the player is playing a Strength-penalizing race. If you’re Dex-based and you want to wear the very best light armor (a chain shirt) and brandish the most iconic finesse weapon (a rapier), you’re going to need a minimum Strength of 9 in order to carry 27 pounds of armor, plus a weapon, without taking the penalties for carrying a Medium load. In effect, you can’t dump down to 7, let alone 5, or the point of you being Dex-focused is null and void. This isn’t including buckler use (another 5 lbs) and any magic items you might be interested in. Ultimately, if you’re a Dex-based character you do sort of NEED Strength to a certain extent. That is, unless you’re fudging the rules and you’re GM’s not enforcing those encumbrance penalties upon you.

That’s all I’m going to talk about on the question of Strength to AC. What do you think? Did I miss something important in my discussion? What do you think of Dex-focused characters? Is the penalty of armor encumbrance enough to make you want at least a little bit of Strength? How strict are you in enforcing the encumbrance rules? Let me know below, and make sure to tune in next time for another article from your Everyman Gamer.

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’s favorite color is blue, his favorite Pathfinder Race/Class combination is kitsune agile fighter, even though it doesn’t really have any finesse options.

Alex Augunas

Alexander "Alex" Augunas is an author and behavioral health worker living outside of Philadelphia in the United States. He has contributed to gaming products published by Paizo, Inc, Kobold Press, Legendary Games, Raging Swan Press, Rogue Genius Games, and Steve Jackson Games, as well as the owner and publisher of Everybody Games (formerly Everyman Gaming). At the Know Direction Network, he is the author of Guidance and a co-host on Know Direction: Beyond. You can see Alex's exploits at, or support him personally on Patreon at


  1. One thing i’d like to say is that i’ve always seen a direct correlation between high dexterity and high AC. Strength, in my eyes, does not factor into AC at all. Armor choice isn’t a function of strength as much as it is of Class and Feats.

    • The correlation between high dex and high AC comes from stacking both the DEX modifier along with the AC value. This post didn’t touch on the other facets of armor, such as armor check penalty or maximum dexterity bonus. For instance, a finesse build with DEX score of 18 gets a +4 modifier. If this character wears a chain shirt they can use their entire DEX modifier to AC along with the +4 armor bonus. This means this character has a 18 AC to start.

      Another factor of armor is the cost. At higher levels this is negligible, but for the first few levels those fighter types aren’t going to be using full-plate.

      One last point I will make is about special materials, namely making armor out of mithral. This lowers the armor check penalty across the board by 3, and increases the maximum DEX bonus allowed by that armor by 2. Lastly, this material halves the weight of armor itself. The use of this special material is only a gold, although for medium and especially heavier armors, it is quite steep.

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