Vow of Poverty, Revisited

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.

Comments (26)

InfernalistGamer (March 23rd, 2008)

What do you think about some of the other classes ending up with it? I point to the Marshal/Legendary Leader, and Leadership characters…Ugh. I’m having to deal with this in a high-level game now…and I want to hurl.

Malbur (March 26th, 2008)

One thing to note is that vow of poverty is something that is broken at least in my own campaigns… unfortunately I play with utter power gamers and as such in an Epic Level campaign (Level 20) they decided to take vow of poverty after receiving large quantities of magical items (including magical books that permanently boost one ability score). With this being said, I am not certain that vow of poverty is something that can be taken at any time or if it is mandated to be taken before the game starts and therefore these items that permanently boost ability scores… if it is mandated to be stated before creating the character, then no, it is not over powered. If it is not then what is stopping a person from taking it later after having benefited from such items which makes it blatantly overpowered.

Malbur (March 26th, 2008)

again, i do not rule out the idea that my DM sucks…

Austin (April 6th, 2008)

Ah, now for an interesting question. An alternate druid path in Players Handbook 2 provides for a shapshifting (and thus companionless) build. Many optimizers have noted this build to be useful with 2/Monk, 8/Alternate Druid, 10/Sacred Fist (Complete Divine).

Since this vow seems to save the monk and damn the druid in terms of power balance… What is your viewpoint on the hybrid?

Dare (June 2nd, 2008)

No, it dosn’t ‘damn the druid’ Austin: he said that the druid comes out on top with this feat.

KasraKhan (July 19th, 2008)

The strength of VoP depends solely on the style of the character, the classes of choice (as stated earlier), and the compaign being run. I personally would, in the case of Malbur, inflict a penalty on those characters who had already gained permanent ability increases, effectively deflating them. Of course, the books re-emerge, but the player can’t keep them without wasting their feat.

Style plays an important role, I think. Many of the Exalted feats are not only class specific, but noticeably un-PC like, especially some of the vows themselves. Vow of Peace, Vow of Nonviolence, mainly.

This feat also recquires a character be Exalted in deed, not only on sheet, and I for one am strict on deeds matching alignment.

Additionally, VoP can impact the other PC’s, especially on random treasure troves. Does the DM still roll for 4 PCs, as the party is correctly sized, or does he roll for 3? Does he allow the 4th PC to “donate” his goods to his companions, or simply not even claim his share? This leads to the VoP being a party sacrifice, giving the other three members of the party greater power.

For example, 4 treasures divided 3 ways is at level 5 12,000 per head, at 10 65k per head, 270k at 15, and a massive million at 20.

That said, its underpowered at epic levels. Most of the feat progressions can be extended, such as the multiple AC and ability boosts (which become less potent after all 6 are being enhanced) and the Exalted Strike. Eventually, however, Exalted feats run out, and there isn’t much left to magically sustain after not needing to eat, breathe, sleep.

Foreverataglance (August 19th, 2008)

In response to Malibur’s high end woes..If i were a Dm and I found out they tried to pull that. They would lose ALL benefits from prior to taking the vow. Including inherent bonuses from reading stat boosting tomes. Flavor it as purging them off all their worldly ties or something. :)

Hurracan (October 15th, 2008)

KasraKhan, the treasure dividends are the same even if one PC won’t be actually “using” any of the randomly-generated items or monies. The VoP character must donate his/her share to charity or someone in a worse situation than the PC or the party in general. No one comes out getting shafted, since the donations are contributing to the same value-to-level balance in the end.

One thing I found interesting was the idea of a VoP fighter using a staff. In a few test runs against a handful of werewolf lords, a hypothetical VoP staff-fighter, level 20, took barely a scratch in an EL20 match-up.

One nice thing about VoP is that one can make a character fresh at any level without worrying about shopping or needing balanced item rewards in keeping with the rest of the party.

James08 (February 25th, 2009)

an idea to consider; VoP becomes a little more broken for a cleric that also take the vows of nonviolence and peace. those feats are now supplied through VoP and it simply means the cleric is STILL limited to a quarter staff for nonlethal damage and they specifically state that not only do the AC bonuses stack but the Vow of Peace’s is actually increased.
all this means is that your cleric is now solely a healing and turning cleric for all intents and purposes.

grand admiral thrawn (March 2nd, 2009)

i have an 8th lvl monk with 36 AC beacuse of vow of poverty and vow of peace but i got 35 AC at 2nd lvl ( I put 2 point into dexterity)
the apostle of peace class is the coolest prestige class though…

grand admiral thrawn (March 2nd, 2009)

sorry points

grand admiral thrawn (March 2nd, 2009)

my ac at 8th is higher sorry

Zyerhod (June 8th, 2009)

I’m not sure if I’m just used to uber powergamer muchkin twink gamers or if maybe monk is one of the more misunderstood classes, but I continuously see people saying that VoP Monk is not that powerful a combo….


With the combination of ability to completely evade most damaging spells/effects (and only take half if you fail the saving through… and did I mention that monks get good bonuses to saves?), a decent attack bonus with level, scaling damage for unarmed attacks, and the ability to take something like intuitive attack that adds wisdom to your attack instead of strength, thus maxing dex & wis (as you should for a monk anyway) for sick AC and solid attack & damage.

No, I submit that a VoP Monk is a very solid character to play and would put one up against anything else… except maybe a twinked Kalashtar kineticist with Quori Mindhunter prestige class….

Zyerhod (June 8th, 2009)

saving throw, even..

ack with the typos

Kenshin (August 1st, 2009)

My assimar monk takes the Vow of Poverty at 6th level and now he is at 16th level. With intuitive attack feat and his high Wisdom score, he has absolutely high AC (even good at touch AC — is the most difficult defense that a PC can rise), high Saves, poison immunity, SR, improved evasion, high jumb & tumble skills. I would say he is the most invulnerable character among the party. However, the enjoyment from this character is decreasing.

From my opinion, the consideration before a character to take the Vow of Poverty is not only its power. As a D&D player, I enjoy the uncertainty and exciting treasure rewards from adventures. The character’s path of improvement is uncertain, like life. However, I can now imagine what will my monk looks like when he is at 20th.

The most critical draw back from this feat should be, it reduces the part of the fun of this game.

Robert (August 19th, 2009)

It is pretty clear that the VoP is broken for monks and druids.

The argument that VoP gives apropriat bonuses for the gear that character has given up falls apart when you use it for characters that can not use heavy armor.

At level 18 VoP gives you a +10 Armor bonus wich is fair and resonable if you are talking a paladin or a cleric. That would only represent a 25k gold item. When you apply that to a monk who can not wear armor that is bracers of AC 10 which is a 100k item.

It is crazy when you look at the level 1 case. Ok a paladin gets the equivalent of his 50g chain shirt. The only way a monk will get a +4 armor bonus is with +4 bracers which is a 16k item.

How many level 1 characters start with 16k in gear?

In my game if you are playing a class that does not have proficiancy in heavy armor you start the armor bonus at +1 AC. It is still a 1,000 gp item at level 1 but then I also don’t allow the feat to be taken by level 1 characters.

Robert turner (November 10th, 2009)

You guys should know VOP only gets rid of magical items and expensive spell components it does not prohibit you from acquiring or using any normal arms and armor.

Kevin (December 13th, 2009)

I do not know what VoP you are looking at but it states in Exalted Deeds
“To fulfill your vow, you must not own or use any material possessions, with the following exceptions: You may carry and use ordinary (neither magic nor masterwork) simple weapons, usually just a quarterstaff that serves as a walking
stick. You may wear simple clothes(usually just a homespun robe, possibly also including a hat and sandals) with no magical properties.”

So that I think states very clearly that you can use simple weapons and NO Armor.

With that said I am very excited about VoP and most of the “problems” that people have with it sound like they stem from game balance issues with the Monk and Druid. I think people are overlooking the goal of the Vow which is to teach the character the path of true aestheticism and the benefits that come with that. The reason I like VoP so much is that it really brings out the Role Playing which is something that a lot of people seem to forget.

I think the key to being a DM with a VoP character in the party is to make sure that they do stay in character. That they act exalted b/c that is main thing that must be done on this path. So watch the character closely and do not let them stray too far from it.

Okay I have said enough on this for now…

Baelzar (January 5th, 2010)

So I’m playing a character in a one-shot adventure next month. 3-4 days playing.

We will be 15th level and have only 150k for magic items (50k short of the DMG table) and can use all 3.5 books published by WotC.

You like VoP Monk over regular Monk? How does VoP make up for the Monk’s Belt level adjustment?

Any other suggestions for a character in this scenario?

Lamorake (January 12th, 2010)

VoP monk vs Monk with Monk’s Belt? Well, you can take a few feats to make up for not having the Monk’s Belt and the VoP covers more than the rest. I’d recommend these two feats at least: Superior Unarmed Strike and Improved Natural Attack. Taking those will boost damage significantly, and the VoP AC bonuses and Stat bumps are more than enough… not to mention Freedom of Movement and damage reduction.

Anonymous (April 4th, 2010)

Karaskhan, you fail at reading. The VOP character still gets his share of the gold- he’s required to donate it to charity.

Also, VOP is a sucky feat, because most melee classes are shooting themselves in the foot for lack of a way to fly, and most spellcasting classes should be spending moolah on Force Multipliers like Metamagic Rods, not mostly useless boost to AC… at higher levels AC is worthless.

The only class that VOP actually is a net benefit for is the Druid, and there are only a few more classes that are even halfway playable with VOP: Incarnates, Totemists, Binders, and maaaaaaaaaaaaybe Psions in a low power game

Lorelei (April 25th, 2010)

I’m currently running a character using many things from the 3.5 world, much of which is from the book of exalted deeds.
I am currently a cleric 1 / favored soul 1 / monk 4, although I’m a 9 HD character. I have attached the Saint and Half-Celestial templates to this character. The first feats i took were the Sacred vow, Vow of Nonviolence, and Vow of Peace. The vow of poverty has come in very handy in developing my character as a completely defensive character. The monk and saintly abilities have provided nice additions to my AC as well. Intuitive attack was an excellent choice for my attack rolls, which are all nonlethal. Holy Subdual allows bonus holy damage to be nonlethal as well, all of which is allowed by the vow of peace. The feat Sacred Healing from the Complete Divine book has become a much more effective method of healing the party. Currently, my AC is 51, and my saving throws are fort 17, ref 11, will 21. One i am able to take class levels again, I will take two levels of Paladin, whe the divine grace ability will provide a boost to my save of my cha modifier of 6. Once those two levels have been completed, I will become ever after an Apostle of Peace. If you are able to research the rules, you can find amazing things to do with your character.

ZedarFlight (January 3rd, 2011)

Am I the only one noticing that the rings and such drop off from one list to the next, because I’m pretty sure at level 10, 15 and 20 the ‘ring of sustenance’ effect is still active on the VoP character, but it seems to have disappeared in the itemized character.

Ironrage (November 9th, 2011)

Lorelei I really want to slap your DM across the face. You don’t just attach the Saint template to your character. You have to EARN it, and you damn sure shouldn’t have it at low levels.

OpticSeagull (November 13th, 2011)

I’m used to high powered campaigns where the items are at least +5’s. Regardless…
Seems like a predictable path is “out of sync” with the rest of the party, whether over or under-powered. I know what it’s like playing with imbalanced characters, and on top of that, what’s it like playing with non-lethal damage (lesser of two evils)?
How’s is it going to look when we split the items and then i take some useful stuff and “throw it in the trash”. Silly. Which is why we’re not going to do it.
My main question is, is this feat any fun? As a druid (usually) i like having spells that are like a tool kit. Items are also tools. Closed doors? No thanks. THX for the warning, Kenshin. I’ll find another way to boost wildshape i hope, and still role play a minimalist.

christopher (November 12th, 2013)

i’m level 4 with a half dragon monk i don’t know why your ac is so low at that level my ac with the feats i toke equal out to be 57 at 4th level these are the feats i toke dodge quick silver,improved natural armor class 5 times giving me a bonus of 15 ac dodge and quick siver give me a +4 total plus my natural armor bonus of + 4 plus the + 5 bonus i got for being vow of poverty now this is an example no shit i played with my dads group and he was running the game so i played a half dragon monk with vow of poverty and there was an areana in the city we went to and he had me go up agianst a 15th level fighter and i held my own agianst him lesson to be learned read up on feats people

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