Rules of the Game
Does It Stack? (Part Two)
By Skip Williams

Let's get started with the Armor Class of the example character now!

Armor Class

Our example character has a wealth of Armor Class improvements:

  • +7 armor bonus (+2 chainmail)
  • +2 shield bonus (heavy shield)
  • +1 deflection bonus (ring of protection +1)
  • +2 natural armor (barkskin spell)
  • +2 Dexterity bonus (the character's Dexterity is 17, thanks to the cat's grace spell, but chainmail allows only a +2 Dexterity bonus to Armor Class, says Table 7-6 in the Player's Handbook).
  • +4 armor bonus (mage armor spell)
  • +4 shield bonus (shield spell)
  • +2 deflection bonus (shield of faith spell)

That's a lot of bonuses, but all the bonuses with the same names overlap, so we're left with the following:+7 armor bonus (+2chainmail)

  • +2 natural armor (barkskin spell)
  • +2 bonus from Dexterity (from the cat's grace spell, as limited by the chainmail)
  • +4 shield bonus (shield spell)
  • +2 deflection bonus (shield of faith spell)

That's a total bonus of +17 to Armor Class, giving our example human (who has a base Armor Class of 10 with no size adjustment) an Armor Class of 27.

Please note a couple of things here:

Multiple Enhancement Bonuses: The character is effectively getting two enhancement bonuses to Armor Class (from the +2 chainmail and the barkskin spell), and that works in this case because those two bonuses are being applied to two different elements of the character's Armor Class.

WhereEnhancement Bonuses Apply: In general, an enhancement bonus goes with a specific item a character uses, or with one of the user's abilities or other statistics. The example character's touch Armor Class is only 14, because a touch attack bypasses the character's armor bonus (including the +2 from the magic armor), natural armor bonus (including the +2 from the barkskin spell), and shield bonus. Those enhancement bonuses don't float around the character, warding off harm; they improve a specific aspect of the character's defenses.

Overlapping Bonuses are Still in Place: This can become significant when dealing with Armor Class. For example, our human has an Armor Class of 24 against an incorporeal touch attack, as follows:

  • Base 10
  • +2 Dexterity: The chainmail's Dexterity cap still applies, even though the chainmail itself can't block the attack.
  • +4 shield bonus: The shield spell works against the attack because it is a force effect.
  • +4 armor bonus: The mage armor spell works against the attack because it is a force effect. (But, neither the chainmail's +2 enhancement bonus nor the barkskin's +2 enhancement bonus improve the mage armor's armor bonus.)
  • +2 deflection bonus from shield of faith spell.

Coming in Part Three of Does It Stack?

Skip goes over the attack bonus, Reflex save, and jumping possibilities of the example character.

About the Author

Skip Williams keeps busy with freelance projects for several different game companies and has been the Sage of Dragon Magazine since 1986. Skip is a co-designer of the D&D 3rd Edition game and the chief architect of the Monster Manual. When not devising swift and cruel deaths for player characters, Skip putters in his kitchen or garden (his borscht gets rave reviews).


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