Mar 24, 2023
Calculating out all your bonuses and penalties is a lot easier now compared to Pathfinder 1st Edition where you had some bonuses that didn’t stack, some that did, and way too many of them existed, but it can still be overwhelming to new players...
Calculating out all your bonuses and penalties is a lot easier now compared to Pathfinder 1st Edition where you had some bonuses that didn’t stack, some that did, and way too many of them existed, but it can still be overwhelming to new players. So, let’s go over each of the bonuses and penalties you’ll be encountering in Pathfinder 2nd Edition and I’ll be giving you some tips on how to keep track of them all.
Types of Bonuses (and Penalties)
There are only a handful of bonuses and penalties you need to keep track of thankfully, and we can cover them all pretty easily.
Proficiency: Your proficiency bonus should be a top priority to calculate because almost everything in the game revolves around it. Proficiency is calculated by adding together your level and your proficiency bonus unless you’re untrained in which case your proficiency bonus is a flat 0.
Untrained is just 0
Trained is your level + 2
Expert is your level + 4
Master is your level +6
And Legendary is your level + 8.
You might be thinking that that’s a really high number, and thus pretty overpowered, but the game is entirely balanced around these numbers.
If you use the variant rule No Level to Proficiency you of course remove the level additive to your proficiency bonus. With this variant all monsters and some spells (specifically battle form spells) will need to be adjusted accordingly.
On your character sheet, there is a section where you can list your total proficiency bonus, and if you’d like you can take note of the formula. I personally use self-made character sheets so the formula is always right there for me and I can easily adjust and double check it as needed.
Ability Modifier: Just about every check that involves your proficiency bonus also involves an ability modifier associated with it. Remember that Ability Modifiers are smaller numbers derived from your Ability Scores. Here are some tips to help you out.
The easiest way is simply, for every two points above ten that you have, your modifier gains a +1. So, if you’re at 12 Strength, you have +1; if you’re at 16 Constitution, you’re at +3; if you’re at 17 Wisdom, you’re also at +3 because you haven’t gained an additional plus two.
This works the same way in reverse, so for every two you have below ten, you have a -1 modifier, but instead of it being changed at 8, 6, and so on, it changes at 9, 7, and so on. So, if you have 9 Dexterity, you have a -1 modifier; if you have 6 Intelligence, you have a -2 modifier.
The more complex way is the following formula: take your total score, divide it by 2, round down, and subtract 5. So, if we have a score of 10, we do 10/2 = 5, 5-5 = 0. If we have a score of 15 we do 15/2 = 7.5, rounded down to 7, 7-5 = 2. If we have a score of 20 we do 20/2 = 10, 10-5 = 5.
This works the same way for negatives. If we have a score of 8, we do 8/2 = 4, 4-5 = -1. If we have a score of 4, we do 4/2 = 2, 2-5 = -3. If we have a score of 1, we do 1/2= .5, .5 rounded down is 0, 0-5 = -5.
Circumstance: Circumstance bonuses and penalties come from a specific circumstance. A goblin with the Tailed Goblin heritage gets a +2 circumstance bonus to Climb checks for example. Circumstance bonuses stack with all other bonuses and penalties, but they do not stack with themselves.
Item: Item bonuses and penalties come from items. A penalty might come from a cursed item, as an example. Item bonuses stack with all other bonuses and penalties, but they do not stack with themselves.
Status: Status bonuses and penalties most often come from spells. Status bonuses stack with all other bonuses and penalties, but they do not stack with themselves.
Untyped: Sometimes you’ll run into an untyped penalty. The most common instance of this is with the Multiple Attack Penalty. This type only comes in the form of penalties and it stacks with itself.
How Stacking Works
As stated above, you can’t stack multiple of the same bonus or penalty. Instead, you take the higher of the bonuses or lower of the penalties, so if you have a +2 circumstance bonus affecting your Athletics and a +3 circumstance bonus affecting your ability to Climb, when using all other actions with Athletics you use the +2, but when using Climb you use the +3 instead. If you have a -1 circumstance penalty to Perception from one debuff, and a -2 circumstance penalty to Perception from another debuff, you take the -2.
Now here’s the tricky thing, you can have both a penalty and a bonus of the same type and they both take effect. So, let’s say that I’m a level 1 Barbarian with Expert in Perception and a +2 to my Wisdom, my current bonus would be +7. But let’s say I get a +1 Circumstance bonus to Perception from a friend, and then get a -2 Circumstance bonus from an effect, stacking them together I would do 7+1-2, so I’d have +6 to my Perception instead.
How to Keep Track
There are a few ways to keep track of these things, and the easiest way (but potentially most messy) is with scrap paper. If you’re online, keeping a .txt document open to keep track of your bonuses and penalties and the time remaining on them is another good option. Virtual Table Tops (VTTs) like Foundry can also keep track of your bonuses and penalties fairly easily. You could use one of the various writing apps on your phone to keep track of this too. You’re going to come in contact with bonuses and penalties a lot during play, so you want your method of tracking them to be easy and quick. If you’re using the Pathbuilder app you can set your own penalties and buffs from there. Of course, there are more creative ways. One method could be to use six packs of small d6s. These usually come in packages of a little under 40 dice and they cost around 10 or 15 bucks each. Each pack is a different colour and you can use those to keep track of how much of a penalty you currently have by placing them over top of affected stats. You can also do this with coloured construction paper for a cheaper option by writing the negative on the piece you tear off.
For the Multiple Attack Penalty specifically I like to keep track of it with d6s. I’ll have two d6s on the side and I can quickly put them on my sheet to represent how many times I’ve attacked at a quick glance since the negatives are based on the current weapon, not previously used weapons and the cap is based on two attacks, so even if you attack four times, you only have a -8/-10 to the attack. Remember that your Multiple Attack Penalty depends on the weapon you're using, so if you do your first attack with a longsword, then make your second attack with an agile weapon your penalty will be -4 instead of -5. I’ll be covering the action economy in more detail at a later date.
Bonuses and Penalties are a huge part of Pathfinder 2nd Edition. They encourage teamwork and doing things besides just attacking the enemy three times. In Pathfinder 2nd Edition one thing you’ll learn fast is that every +1 and -1 counts, so don’t be afraid to spend an action to aid an ally, raise a shield, use Inspire Courage, or cast a debuff.
Pathfinder 2nd Edition Core Rulebook
Pathbuilder 2e is a free app that allows you to quickly create characters with ease. It calculates all your stats for you and it has a slew of tools. One warning is unless you pay for the app you will need to keep track of scrolls, custom items, and pets separately. If you’d like to go for the premium version, it’s a one time payment of approximately $6 CAD. I bought the app and I haven’t regretted it at all. One thing I like is that while the free version does have ads, they never jump up in your face or cover up important information, they’re just on a small bar on the bottom of the screen and they’re easy to tune out.
Foundry VTT is a single purchase VTT with ways to run all sorts of different TTRPGs on it. The module for Pathfinder 2nd Edition is particularly well made and sees updates often. The drawback is not every VTT is on Foundry, so you’d either need to try making it yourself or using one of the more general based VTTs that are on the system.