D&D 5E Magic Item Stacking

Falling Icicle

Adventurer
As far as I can tell, there is no general rule against magic items stacking without limit. If you have several items that raise AC, saving throws, ability scores, etc., nothing prevents them from all stacking together, raising one's stats to game-breaking levels. This entire problem can be solved with a very simple general rule: magic item bonuses to any particular stat do not stack with each other unless the item explicitly says otherwise. This seems like a pretty obvious and necessary rule to have in the game, and yet I haven't seen any such rule in the playtest packet (please correct me if I'm wrong).

In 2nd edition, bonuses to things like AC didn't stack. Magic armor, barkskin spells, rings of protection etc. did not stack with each other. This kept one's AC within sane limits. In 3e, they added an elaborate keyword system to denote what could stack and what couldn't, but this quickly skyrocketed out of control and was easily abused, especially after the game had been out for a few years and alot of new books offered new ways of getting stacking bonuses. In Next, especially with bounded accuracy, I think the 2nd edition model would be best.

I already know what alot of people are going to say: "but the DM controls the magic items!" While it is true that magic items are under the DM's control, it makes the DM's job alot easier if he doesn't have to worry about giving the players certain combinations of items because they might stack to a point that they break the game. If the DM wants to introduce an item that specifically stacks with other items, he can do so at his own peril. But by having a no-stacking rule by default, DMs can avoid most of the pitfalls without any additional burden being placed on them. IMO, anything that makes the DM's job easier is a good thing!

There's also a less obvious benefit to this approach. If characters couldn't stack bonuses, they'd only "need" a couple or a few magic items to boost their important stats, and after that, they could spend their attention on seeking out magic items that are actually fun and interesting, rather than just more +X items. The power-gaming mentality would largely be removed from the magic item equation, and I think that would be a good thing!
 

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Li Shenron

Legend
I think the safest choice for 5e would be "nothing stacks", or more precisely "no bonus from magic items stacks with bonuses from other magic items".

I really don't want to see the keyword system to come back, and you quoted the reason yourself: it prevents abuses only in the early cases, after a while, players figure out how to stack stuff properly and supplements provide abundances of opportunities. In the end, the system is not worth the benefit.

Anyway, the starting point is that non-magic-items bonuses do stack. You get AC bonus from armor, shield, Dex, feats, and class features or racial features. To keep the game SIMPLE, all these bonuses actually stack. If you cast a spell that increases your AC, this also stacks. If you get an AC bonus from two different spells, they stack (it says so in the rules!). So far, no need for keywords.

If we want bonuses from magic items not to stack with each other, we might be tempted to add just one keyword, let's call it "magic bonus". If it's only one keyword, we probably don't even really need it, it might be enough to talk about "bonuses from magic items".

But there is always problems, in this case items that replicate spells... what if you have a bonus to AC from a potion of X and another bonus to AC from spell Y? What if both X and Y are in potion form? What if they are both in spell form?

Because this is already getting complicated, I am tempted to say, in the standard game just let everything stack. If a gaming group plays with tons of magic items, let this be a feature of their games, and if they don't like the results, they should introduce their own rules for not letting bonuses stack.

Either way, letting everything stack or letting nothing stack, the game by the RAW remains simple. But the old game of keyword-coding your Xmas tree... no thanks!
 

MerricB

Eternal Optimist
Supporter
In 2nd edition, bonuses to things like AC didn't stack.

I don't think it's quite accurate to say that in 2E bonuses didn't stack. Rather, they stacked inconsistently. Some things were identified as stacking, other things were identified as not stacking, and a bunch of things were not handled at all. That's one of the main reasons the 3E design team came up with the bonus types: to explicitly identify what bonuses stacked and which didn't. (The attack bonuses from Chant and Prayer stack, for instance, whilst rings don't protect when used with magic armour).

However, their solution, as you correctly point out, allowed for a huge number of bonuses to work together. Armour Class, in particular, is so easily broken in 3E. I'm much happier when the benefit from bonuses is kept rather limited and under control. And when access to magic items is much more limited! Although I enjoy magic item creation in 3E/PF, there's no doubt that broken combinations being easily available hurt the game.

I'm all for bonuses not stacking in Next.

Cheers!
 


Sadrik

First Post
Anyway, the starting point is that non-magic-items bonuses do stack. You get AC bonus from armor, shield, Dex, feats, and class features or racial features. To keep the game SIMPLE, all these bonuses actually stack. If you cast a spell that increases your AC, this also stacks. If you get an AC bonus from two different spells, they stack (it says so in the rules!). So far, no need for keywords.
First of all, it is this kind of thing that has me worried about the overall game's outcome. The math has to work. It should have been covered in the playtest, I and everyone else can come up with great ideas on how it could work in the message boards and it won't make a lick of difference.

That said here is my idea :p:
It cannot be that simple, because what if you have magic armor and a magic shield. You have to have certain types of bonuses. Though they can be greatly reduced:
* Cover bonus (Concealment, barriers and other things, typically cover is +0 unless hiding behind a tree or in fog etc.).
* Dodge bonus (Things that provide more mobility to dodge or parry, typically is based on the DEX).
* Armor bonus (armor, shield, natural armor, and armor is have to be stronger to puncture it or more precise to avoid it).

I could see "Enhancement" bonuses pumping up one of the three basic AC bonuses. Perhaps displacement gives you a cover enhancement bonus of +2, perhaps a ring of protection gives you an Armor enhancement bonus +2. Perhaps boots of speed give you a +1 Dodge enhancement bonus. So they are treated as enhancements over your normal Armor. You only ever use the highest enhancement bonus you have. So if you have a +2 cover enhancement bonus and a +1 cover enhancement bonus, only the +2 is used. Magic items AND SPELLS should all be enhancement bonuses.

This type of thing can be added to skills, saves, attack rolls, and any other basic rolls. This is such a core game function though... :(

The main reason why 3e came up with the keyword bonus system was because natural armor vs. armor was very awkward in 1e/2e. I think the lower scaling of attack bonuses may make this not a problem (or at least greatly reduces the problem). If a creature is hard to hit, it is hard to hit. It is then a feature of that creature and not a function of the level of it's opponent. If a swordsman is bad ass and can hit easily this is a function of the swordsman and not the level of the opponent.

To reduce the shield bonus and the armor bonus, suits of armor could be costed and listed with shield and helm. If they take the shield away their armor bonus drops by 1 if they take the helm away their AC drops by another 1. In this way, when you have a magic suit of armor, it comes with the shield, if it does not include the shield its AC is -1. It is a simple and effective solution. So you do not have two enhancement bonuses too for a magic shield and magic armor, stacking to your AC.
 
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Li Shenron

Legend
That said here is my idea :p:
It cannot be that simple, because what if you have magic armor and a magic shield. You have to have certain types of bonuses. Though they can be greatly reduced:
* Cover bonus (Concealment, barriers and other things, typically cover is +0 unless hiding behind a tree or in fog etc.).
* Dodge bonus (Things that provide more mobility to dodge or parry, typically is based on the DEX).
* Armor bonus (armor, shield, natural armor, and armor is have to be stronger to puncture it or more precise to avoid it).

This is not too complicated, it can work.

But how about reducing them to only 2? One type of bonus for things that makes you not get hit (concealment, dodge) and a second type of bonus for things that makes you not get hurt when hit (armor, hide, barriers). Theoretically, shield could be a bit of both, but forcing it into one type isn't going to cause much problem.

I suppose that your system would then work by making bonuses of the same type overlap, and bonuses of different types stack, so only 2 instead of 3 types means generally lower numbers.

Overall, I think that the real problem is with spells and magic items. The rest is usually not a problem because it's quite static: if the Fighter uses armor and shield, the AC tends to be the same one calculated at some point, Monks and Barbarians update their AC if they get a stat bump, but anyway the AC doesn't change too often to be a problem. Cover may change on a round basis, but still nothing problematic.

OTOH, spells explicitly stack. 5e has lots of spells requiring concentration to reduce stacking, but only to a certain point (different casters can cast a spell each, and it will stack unless it's the same spell). Spells are the biggest problem at least because of the round-based durations.

About magic items, 5e groups are supposed to have freedom in how many. Groups where magic items are scarce, or at least varied enough so that it's not common for a party to have multiple items affecting the same stat, may not need any stacking rules, which would unnecessarily complicate their game. Groups playing monty haul campaigns or 3e-style with regard to magic items, may or may not need stacking rules: it depends if it is actually appropriate for 5e to allow stacking magic bonuses at all, without breaking bounded accuracy.

After all, it might be just better to rule that all magical increases to the same one stat doesn't stack... We might need this one only label.
 

GX.Sigma

Adventurer
As far as I can tell, there is no general rule against magic items stacking without limit. If you have several items that raise AC, saving throws, ability scores, etc., nothing prevents them from all stacking together, raising one's stats to game-breaking levels.
The only items that actually give a bonus to AC are limited by attunement. Check it:

+X Armor: sets your AC to a certain number
Bracers of Defense: sets your AC to a certain number (can't be used with shield)
Defender [attuned]: bonus to AC
Ring of protection [attuned]: bonus to AC
+X Shield: bonus to AC (none exist in playtest rules)

In my experience with the playtest, the only real problem with AC stacking is when a player has +1 armor and a +1 shield (which is probably why there aren't actually any +1 shields in the playtest rules).

I think the simplest way to prevent abusive stacking is to have everything that grants an actual bonus require attunement. Then, it's not a rule that the players have to remember; it's already taken care of on the back end.
 

Sadrik

First Post
But how about reducing them to only 2? One type of bonus for things that makes you not get hit (concealment, dodge) and a second type of bonus for things that makes you not get hurt when hit (armor, hide, barriers). Theoretically, shield could be a bit of both, but forcing it into one type isn't going to cause much problem.

I suppose that your system would then work by making bonuses of the same type overlap, and bonuses of different types stack, so only 2 instead of 3 types means generally lower numbers.
The reason why I selected there to be 3 categories instead of 2 is because the Armor bonus and the Cover bonus need to stack. If you are in heavy armor and you hid behind a wall it should make you that much more difficult to hit. Cover and concealment are also very key magical and environmental game effects that are in play all the time. So they need to be pulled out and applied separately imho.

I also agree with your thoughts on the shield.

Overall, I think that the real problem is with spells and magic items. The rest is usually not a problem because it's quite static: if the Fighter uses armor and shield, the AC tends to be the same one calculated at some point, Monks and Barbarians update their AC if they get a stat bump, but anyway the AC doesn't change too often to be a problem. Cover may change on a round basis, but still nothing problematic.
If it were my game to design, I would have magic items and spells that "took the best value". No stacking spells, class features, magic items etc. Like I broke up the AC above I can see breaking up each standard roll into three categories. Each one can have a base bonus and an enhancement bonus. At most any roll would only add 6 bonuses, of which most would be precalculated.

AC
Circumstance (Cover bonus/Cover enhancement bonus)
Ability (Dodge bonus/Dodge enhancement bonus)
Tool (Armor bonus/Armor enhancement bonus)

To hit roll
Circumstance (Tactical bonus/Tactical enhancement bonus)
Ability (Attack bonus/Attack enhancement bonus)
Tool (Weapons bonus/Weapons enhancement bonus)

A lot of this seems inane. If one cleric casts bless, and then another casts bless, you only get the effect from one. More trickily though, if one cleric casts bless and another casts prayer, they stack? No, because both would be attack enhancement bonuses, etc. (And lets not get into prayer should be bless cast from a higher level spell slot...)
 

Li Shenron

Legend
The only items that actually give a bonus to AC are limited by attunement.

...

In my experience with the playtest, the only real problem with AC stacking is when a player has +1 armor and a +1 shield (which is probably why there aren't actually any +1 shields in the playtest rules).

I think the simplest way to prevent abusive stacking is to have everything that grants an actual bonus require attunement. Then, it's not a rule that the players have to remember; it's already taken care of on the back end.

Good point, this would actually prevent a lot of abuse because of the limit to attuned items.

I am not sure if +2 AC from magic armor and shield is a big deal tho. But in general, I dislike having magic items that grant bonuses to attacks or AC in addition to more interesting properties.

The reason why I selected there to be 3 categories instead of 2 is because the Armor bonus and the Cover bonus need to stack. If you are in heavy armor and you hid behind a wall it should make you that much more difficult to hit. Cover and concealment are also very key magical and environmental game effects that are in play all the time. So they need to be pulled out and applied separately imho.

Yes definitely!

However, non-magic armor and cover already stack. Spells that grant cover or concealment are part of the game. Maybe the Shield spell could grant 3/4 cover (instead of the current +4 to AC), and a rule could say that two covers don't stack.

It would sound to me simpler to remember, that if you have cover from a wall and cover from a spell, you just apply the better, rather than having a "cover" keyword for bonuses, but YMMV.

If it were my game to design, I would have magic items and spells that "took the best value". No stacking spells, class features, magic items etc. Like I broke up the AC above I can see breaking up each standard roll into three categories. Each one can have a base bonus and an enhancement bonus. At most any roll would only add 6 bonuses, of which most would be precalculated.

But how about character's abilities from class, race and feats? Now those IMO can stack...

I try to check how many instances of bonuses to AC we can get in the game:

- Stats:
+Dex for everyone, but worn armor sets a limit on max bonus

- Equipment:
max 18 AC from armor
max +2 AC from shield

- Races:
+1 AC Mountain Dwarf (med/heavy armors only)
+1 AC Warforged

- Classes:
+1 AC defense fighting style of Fighter/Paladin/Ranger
+Con for Barbarian (no worn armor only)
+Wis for Monk (no worn armor only)
wildshape AC for Druid (replaces armor worn)

- Feats:
+1 Dual Wielder (no shield only)
+att bonus Fencing Master (1/round only)

- Environment:
max +5 from cover

- Spells:
+2 Barkskin
+2 Haste
base AC increased to 13 by Mage Armor
+1 Prayer
+4 Shield
+1 Shield of Faith

- Magic Items
max +2 from current magic armors
max +3 from Defender weapons
base AC increase to 13 by Bracers of Defense or 15 by Robe of the Archmagi (no worn armor only)
+1 Ioun Stone (not sure how many you can have)

On a rough calculation (might be wrong), you can get up to AC22 from non-magic equipment or stats only for Barbs and Monks (if they are allowed to use shields, otherwise AC21), counting the fighting style and choice of race. It's possible that splatbook introduce subclasses and races with larger bonuses, but hopefully not much larger.

As I said, things start to really get out of hand only if you consider multiple spells (or potions) being cast on the same PC, or if the DM allows an abundance of magic items.

This is why I proposed simply a rule that says "bonuses from spells and magic items to the same stat do not stack", while everything else can keep stacking.

Would be nice to do a similar check on other stats tho, most notably attack bonus. Any volunteer? :)
 

Sadrik

First Post
But how about character's abilities from class, race and feats? Now those IMO can stack...
I think they would fall into the 6 categories just like spells and magic items. It would be pretty easy. The only weird one is shields. I put them below as just a piece of your armor bonus although I can see your thought about making them count as a cover bonus. If you are hiding behind a wall and have a shield should you also get your shield bonus too? Really that is a very minor distinction and can be ruled either way. Clearly some of the numbers would have to be changed around a bit to make better sense, the approach is solid though.

I try to check how many instances of bonuses to AC we can get in the game:

- Stats:
+Dex for everyone, but worn armor sets a limit on max bonus <Base Dodge bonus>

- Equipment:
max 18 AC from armor <Base Armor bonus>
max +2 AC from shield <Base Armor bonus... would be included with the armor>

- Races:
+1 AC Mountain Dwarf (med/heavy armors only) <Armor Enhancement bonus>
+1 AC Warforged <Armor Enhancement bonus>

- Classes:
+1 AC defense fighting style of Fighter/Paladin/Ranger <Dodge Enhancement bonus>
+Con for Barbarian (no worn armor only) <Base Armor bonus>
+Wis for Monk (no worn armor only) <Base Armor bonus>
wildshape AC for Druid (replaces armor worn) <Base Armor bonus>

- Feats:
+1 Dual Wielder (no shield only) <Dodge Enhancement bonus>
+att bonus Fencing Master (1/round only) <Dodge Enhancement bonus>

- Environment:
max +5 from cover <Base cover bonus>

- Spells:
+2 Barkskin <Armor Enhancement bonus>
+2 Haste <Dodge Enhancement bonus>
base AC increased to 13 by Mage Armor <Base Armor bonus>
+1 Prayer <Dodge Enhancement bonus>
+4 Shield <Base Armor bonus... would be included with the armor>
+1 Shield of Faith <Armor Enhancement bonus>

- Magic Items
max +2 from current magic armors <Armor Enhancement bonus>
max +3 from Defender weapons
base AC increase to 13 by Bracers of Defense or 15 by Robe of the Archmagi (no worn armor only) <Base Armor bonus>
+1 Ioun Stone (not sure how many you can have) <Armor Enhancement bonus>
This is why I proposed simply a rule that says "bonuses from spells and magic items to the same stat do not stack", while everything else can keep stacking.
I think this can cause some issues though. If you get +1 to AC from a ring of protection and then you have +1 armor, they stack or do not stack. Based on what you say they do not. You cast barkskin and prayer, they stack or do not stack? You have a +1 shield and a defender weapon? The problem is that in some of those case you may want them to stack. In others you do not. This does not give you enough mobility to allow for that.
 

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