With all the options out there for armor and magic items, it's easy for new players to forget that they can also choose spells, skills, feats, and tactics to improve the Armor Class of their PCs. Take a look at some more advice from designers Gwendolyn and Stephen in this week's Tactics and Tips!
Gwendolyn: The most versatile way of upping your Armor Class is through spells. Many of these are also available as potions. Do consider which ones work best with your equipment because a bonus from a spell won't stack with the same bonus from a magic item. For example, a ring of protection grants a deflection bonus. The Armor Class bonus from magic circle against evil is also deflection. You'd get the benefit of the better of the two, but not both.
*Assuming you're playing one of the races described in the Player's Handbook, alter self lets you assume the form of another humanoid. For purposes of Armor Class, the troglodyte makes a great choice. You gain +6 natural armor. This does stack with either an amulet of natural armor or the barkskin spell since they grant enhancement bonuses to natural armor. (The troglodyte form also gives you other benefits including a claw attack and a +4 bonus on Hide checks.)
** Other versionsprotect against chaotic, good, and lawful creatures.
Stephen: Though Gwendolyn covered things pretty thoroughly in her chart (see above), I have a few things I'd like to focus on. She discusses how bonuses sometimes don't stack (or add together). An armor bonus is a specific type of bonus, as is a deflection bonus. To read more about bonuses, check out page 21 of the Dungeon Master's Guide. In addition to the spell effects listed above, a PC's armor and shield can be enhanced through use of the magic vestment spell. Also, keep an eye on the maximum Dexterity bonus of the armor your character wears when using the increase in Dexterity from cat's grace.
Feats and Skills
Stephen: A number of feats exist to increase Armor Class. The most commonly used feat is Dodge, which provides a +1 bonus against one foe (and in many encounters, there is only one foe that really matters). Combat Expertise is a more efficient form of fighting defensively, but don't forget that 5 ranks in the Tumble skill can help out when fighting defensively or using total defense. A character with the Mobility feat and 5 ranks in Tumble who uses the total defense action would gain a +10 total dodge bonus to her Armor Class against attacks of opportunity incurred while moving around (+11 against her Dodge target)!
Gwendolyn: Even with the best equipment, spells, and resources, sometimes your character may find that he needs to increase his Armor Class even further. He can fight defensively as a standard action (Player's Handbook page 140) or as a full-round action (page 143). He takes a -4 penalty on attacks for a +2 bonus to Armor Class. The Combat Expertise feat (page 92) lets you take an additional penalty to add to your Armor Class.
Gwendolyn: Taking cover is a great way to be defensive. It adds +4 to your character's Armor Class (though it works both ways and the enemy will be harder for him to hit as well). Page 151 in the Player's Handbook has useful diagrams illustrating cover. Bear in mind that walls, furniture, and a character's fellow party members are all good sources of cover.
Beyond Armor Class
Gwendolyn: Another way to avoid getting hit is through creating a chance that your character's foe misses him entirely. These can be spells or potions. The magic item that helps in this regard is the cloak of displacement.
About the Author
Gwendolyn F.M. Kestrel works full-time as a game designer for Wizards of the Coast. Recent and upcoming books include d20 Past, Races of Eberron, and Planar Handbook. She simultaneously leads the lives of an avid gamer, Ph.D. student, trio of birds of prey, and a hedonistic cat.
Stephen Schubert, formerly a minion of a large computer services company, has written for Dragon Magazine, Star Wars Gamer, and the Wizards of the Coast website. He now works as a developer for roleplaying games and miniatures at Wizards of the Coast, and he has been involved in many products on the 2005 schedule.
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