One of my most popular posts of old seems to be my article on Vow of Poverty, a feat from Book of Exalted Deeds. It seems there’s still a strong idea in the D&D community that VoP, which sacrifices your equipment and magic items for bonus abilities, is horribly broken and overpowered. With a new edition on the way, I decided now would be as good a time as any to take a closer look and see if there’s any truth to the matter.
One of the biggest complaints about VoP is that no other feat grants you powerful abilities at every level. This is true, but we must remember that by standard, players are expected to have a certain power level of magic items commensurate to their level, which Vow of Poverty characters must give up. In order to make some sort of fair comparison, therefore, what I’ve done is to go through the average gold piece value chart and compare the values of the abilities gained. For reasons of time I’ve only taken four samples: levels, 5, 10, 15 and 20.
At level 5, a normal character should have about 9,000 gold pieces in treasure. Our Vow of Poverty character trades this for a +5 AC bonus, a “+1 weapon” persistent effect, a permanent endure elements, and two bonus exalted feats. He also no longer needs to eat or drink. This is straightforward to convert into magic items: a ring of sustenance, a chain shirt +1, a +1 weapon and a cowl of endure elements (which I will price at 2,000gp). Total value: 9800gp. Slightly above average, but remember that he had to take a feat to get this. It’s slightly better still if he couldn’t normally wear armour or wields multiple weapons, but he is limited to simple weapons and can’t drink potions.
At level 10, most characters have an impressive 49,000 gold pieces worth of equipment. Our poor character finds himself with +9 in various AC bonuses, +1 to saves, +2 to one ability score, a mind shielding effect, a weapon upgrade to +2 and damage reduction 5/magic. He also now has five exalted feats – this sounds powerful, but it should be considered that the majority of exalted feats were written for specific classes only, meaning that there are only so many a player can make use of. Continuing our comparison, we upgrade our equivalent character an to a +2 weapon and a suit of +1 invulnerability chain shirt, along with a new mithril buckler +1, ring of protection +1, amulet of natural armor +1, cloak of resistance +1, gloves of dexterity +2, and a ring of mind shielding. Total value: about 48,950gp, almost spot-on. However, again, not all characters use single weapons, armour, or have a free arm for the shield, and this skews the power in favour of spellcasters, druids and monks: precisely the characters to take Vow of Poverty.
Level 15 sees most of us owning 200,000 gp of treasure, but not our poor Vow of Poverty character here. Instead, he now has +12 to AC, +6/+4/+2 to ability scores, +2 to saves, a +3 weapon, and resistance 5 to all elements, plus the various abilities from before. He also doesn’t need to breathe, has persistent freedom of movement, and his damage reduction is now 5/evil. We simulate this with a chain shirt +3, mithral buckler +2, a ring of mind shielding, a mantle of faith, a ring of freedom of movement and an iridescent spindle ioun stone, plus the usual stock items. Total value: 247,000 gp, without having counted in “resistance 5 to all elements”. Overall, perhaps 50% more powerful magic than standard equipment. However, it depends largely on class: while a fighter would normally have access to AC+8 nonmagical armour and better weapons than a quarterstaff, a VoP monk finds himself with a huge AC boon and an attack bonus that’s normally fairly expensive from the amulet of mighty fists.
Finally, level 20 should have our character with the equivalent of 760,000 gp of gear. His numbers all scale up further, his damage reduction doubles to DR10/evil, he gains a regeneration ability and persistent true seeing, and he gains his tenth (and by now, wholly worthless) bonus exalted feat. Again, much standard gear: chain shirt and mithral buckler +3, ring of regeneration, gem of seeing (albeit persistent), weapon +5, and an expensive ring of resist all elements 15 (144,000 gp alone). I’ve also used ad-hoc prices for a permanent gem of true seeing (100,000 gp), a double-power mantle of faith (double cost at 152,000 gp) and a Belt of Giant Strength +8 (64,000 gp, since the epic price is inflated like all epic items to keep them out of nonepic). Total value: a remarkably spot-on 765,000 gp.
What, then, is the overall power of Vow of Poverty? The answer is that it depends largely on character class. Melee and ranged fighter classes are essentially trading heavy armour and martial weapons for a few exalted feats and the occasional power boost by level. Clerics are likewise hurt by a lack of armour and shields, but can still benefit from their own combat spells. Lighter characters like rangers and rogues are ultimately making gains if they take a two-weapon combat style, since they essentially gain a free weapon, while the unarmoured sorcerer finds the equivalent of the expensive bracers of armor, thus raising the feat’s value.
Where the feat becomes genuinely more powerful than magic items is in the hands of a druid or monk. Druids don’t normally benefit from magic items in wild shape form, giving them a huge boost. Monks typically do use equipment despite their spartan image, but likewise find themselves here given a hefty armour boost (as bracers of armor) and enhancement bonus (as an amulet of mighty fists), in both cases gaining the benefit of a much more expensive magic item. That said, the monk is typically a weak-ish combat class to begin with, and a Vow of Poverty monk can’t use potions, boots of striding and springing, or other handy items a monk normally expects to have. Monk thus becomes “good” with this feat, but not horribly broken. The only class that becomes truly powerful with Vow of Poverty is the druid, the one class who never uses items anyway and thus finds himself vastly more powerful.