Armor is one of the most critical aspects of the Dungeons and Dragons rules. It is the basis on which the combat system is anchored, and it is frequently the difference between a glancing blow that merely dents your favorite Breastplate and ending up as the centerpiece in an all-you-can-eat Troll buffet.
But, even with such a central role, many people still have numerous questions about Armor and the game mechanics that surround it. If you are one of those people, read on…
The Mechanics of Armor in 5e
Armor Class, more commonly just known as AC, is a value that relates to how hard you are to hit when someone is trying to attack you. The basic AC for an unarmored character is 10 plus any Dexterity bonus they might have, i.e. how well they can dodge and weave in combat.
To improve this base value, you add a set of Armor. Do that, and the rating improves, making you harder to hit. Armor may then impact your Dexterity bonus. The heavier and more cumbersome the Armor you are wearing, the harder it is to quickly step out of the way of an incoming blow.
Armor proficiency is the idea that you are trained and experienced in fighting in a particular type of Armor. Just as you need to train with weapons to get the best of using them, the same is true with Armor.
If you opt to wear Armor that you are not proficient in, you will suffer a stack of penalties. An experienced sword wielder would struggle the first time they attempt to fire a slingshot.
Armor also seriously hampers the casting of magic. Unless you take certain feats and are clever in your choice of multiclassing, spellcasting in Armor is very restrictive. It is why you see a few Wizards wearing Armor. It’s just too damned confining.
Types of Armor
Light Armor comes in three types, Padded, Leather, and Studded Leather. Most classes begin with proficiency in Light Armor, except Monks, Wizards, and Sorcerers.
Their skills and magic are hampered by even the most rudimentary of protection. Otherwise, any other class will have proficiency with these most basic types of Armor.
|Name||Armor Class (AC)||Cost||Stealth||Weight|
|Padded||11 + Dex modifier||5 gp||Disadvantage||8 lb|
|Leather||11 + Dex modifier||10 gp||10 lb|
|Studded Leather||12 + Dex modifier||45 gp||13 lb|
Padded Armor is essentially a thick outer garment or a quilted jacket. Despite being the most basic of Armor, it creates its protection through thick layers and is pretty noisy and prohibitive to stealth activities. Upgrade as soon as you can afford to.
Leather armor is simple, cheap, and doesn’t hamper any activities that require stealth. It is the go-to Armor for fledgling Rogues and impoverished 1st-level Fighters.
And as soon as you can, upgrade again to Studded Leather, it is tougher, and the only downside is that it costs more and is slightly heavier. But Studded Leather is the way to go if your character favors Light Armor.
Next up in the protection stakes is, you guessed it, Medium Armor. The classes that start with Medium armor proficiency are very varied — Artificers, Barbarians, Clerics, Druids, Fighters, Paladins, and Rangers all get proficiency in these from day one.
|Name||Armor Class (AC)||Cost||Stealth||Weight|
|Hide||12 + Dex (Max 2)||10 gp||12 lb|
|Chain Shirt||13 + Dex (Max 2)||50 gp||20 lb|
|Scale Mail||14 + Dex (Max 2)||50 gp||Disadvantage||45 lb|
|Breastplate||14 + Dex (Max 2)||400 gp||20 lb|
|Half Plate||15 + Dex (Max 2)||750 pg||Disadvantage||40 lb|
Hide Armor is the worst armor choice in the game. It starts at AC 12 and maxes out at 14. Avoid if at all possible. Sadly, Druids, due to their class and cultural restrictions, will find it is as good as it gets for them. Sometimes it sucks to be a Druid.
The next step up brings us to the Chain Mail shirt. It’s not great, but it is an improvement on Light Armor and is relatively cheap in the scheme of things.
Scale Armor is basically a leather garment fitted with overlapping plates to form an interlocking scale-like covering. The AC is pretty good, and it is really cheap. But, it is cumbersome and will get in the way of any attempts to be agile, graceful, and silent, so Rogues wearing this will be seriously hampered.
Your DM could allow the players to find Scale Armor made of actual Dragon scales; not only cool, but its organic nature gets around the Druid’s prohibition on wearing metal armor.
Breastplates are an excellent option for those who want to protect themselves but still want to get up to sneaky business without penalty. Fighters might want to be better protected, but those who operate in the shadows will find this a good, if expensive, choice.
Finally, the top of the Medium Armor pile is Half-Plate. It is expensive and heavy and only confers one additional AC over the Breastplate. If Stealth is vital to your character, stick with the Breastplate and try to stay out of the way of direct combat. If you are less cautious and want to get stuck into the action, it’s a decent option.
And lastly, we arrive at Heavy Armor. These are complete sets of metal armor, beloved by Fighters and Paladins and an option for Clerics of the more warlike domains. Heavy Armor is restrictive, so you will lose any Dexterity bonus you might have gotten if you were less encumbered.
Heavy Armor also has a minimum Strength requirement, you have to be in good physical shape to be able to move and fight in such suits, and even then, you will move slower than your usual rate.
|Name||Armor Class (AC)||Cost||Stealth||Weight||Strength|
|Ring Mail||14||30 gp||Disadvantage||40 lb||None|
|Chain Mail||16||75 gp||Disadvantage||55 lb||Str 13|
|Sprint Mail||17||200 gp||Disadvantage||60 lb||Str 15|
|Plate Mail||18||1500 gp||Disadvantage||65 lb||Str 15|
Ring Mail adds 14 to AC and ranks similarly to Hide Armor, except that there are no Dexterity or Strength requirements to use it. It is cheap compared to other Heavy Armors and lighter than Scale Mail. But at an AC of only 14, it seems a waste of Heavy Armor Proficiency.
Chain Mail and Splint Armor are both excellent options. Chain Mail only requires 13 Strength to wear unimpeded, which means Wisdom-based Clerics will find it helpful as they rarely focus on improving Strength as they move through the levels. Splint is harder to bear but has a great AC and isn’t too expensive.
Plate Mail is expensive, but the advantage is that you will be wrapped in an 18 AC tin can. If you have Heavy Armor proficiency and are one of those characters who like to lead the charge, Plate Armor is your ultimate goal.
Although Shields come in all shapes and sizes, as far as the AC rules are concerned, they all do the same job.
|Name||Armor Class (AC)||Cost||Weight|
|Shield||+2||10 gp||6 lb|
Shields are a sub-group of Armor, and any class that starts with Medium Armor proficiency also gets Shield proficiency, so Artificers, Barbarians, Clerics, Druids, Fighters, Paladins, and Rangers. You can use a Sheild without proficiency, but again, you will face many penalties.
Shields add +2 to your AC and encumber your non-weapon hand; with both hands full, you can’t cast or hold anything. For purposes of many of the Fighting Styles, the Sheild doesn’t count as a weapon, enabling you to Duel and the like.
If you are a non-caster and proficient with a Shield, you would be a fool not to carry one. +2 AC is quite a nice bonus for carrying around the lid of a small coffee table.
How do you get Armor Proficiencies?
If you don’t have the Armor proficiency afforded by your class, you can gain it in one of two other ways.
Feats: The Lightly, Moderately, and Heavily Armored feats give you light, medium/shield, or Heavy armor proficiency, respectively. But you must have acquired the lower Armor proficiency before moving on to the next one.
Multiclassing: Some classes, such as the Paladin, afford you lots of Armor proficiencies if you decide to multiclass with them.
What Armor To Choose?
Your Dexterity mainly dictates your choice of Armor. But you must also be proficient in that Armor type to be helpful during fights. This means that if you are only proficient in Light Armor, then wear light Armor.
Later, you might find yourself proficient in more than one type; what do you do if this is the case? Well, it all depends on your class and play style.
Light Armor, preferably Studden Leather, is the way to go if you want to get the most out of your Dexterity. It won’t hinder your speed and stealth; with magical enhancements, you can still get to a decent total AC.
If you are not high Dexterity driven, Medium Armor is probably for you if available. The Breastplate gives a good balance of protection and agility, and Half-Plate is excellent for more combative types.
If you don’t care about the bonuses of Dexterity, then consider Heavy Armor, as Dexterity is never a factor. It is worth doing a little maths before you choose, as lighter Armor with a Dexterity bonus can outperform heavier Armor with no Dexterity bonus. You need to plan things out before deciding.
If you have a low Dexterity, then it’s Heavy Armor all the way. You won’t need to put points into Dexterity to help dodge and defend yourself; you can relax with a massive amount of AC and watch clubs and cudgels, swords, and spears ricochet off your Armored suit.
Other Aspects of Armor
As you learn more about the world that your characters live in, and perhaps something of your DM’s tastes, you will stumble across all manner of non-standard Armor. Some of it will be magical, some made out of rare materials.
Magic Armor can be found and found out about as and when the DM sees fit to let the characters know. But rumors of the rarer materials used to make Armor are often the subject of idle gossip in the dark corners of taverns or information to be traded on street corners.
Rare Armour Materials
Although leather, cloth and metal are the main ingredients of most sets of Armor, there are a few rare, legendary and sought-after sets out there in the world, either hidden in dragon hordes or handed out to heroes for their great deeds by grateful lords.
Adamantine: When wearing this Armor, you are no longer subject to critical hits, which can often deliver a surprising amount of additional damage. If you are allowed metal Armor and a set of Adamantime Armor comes your way, never take it off.
Mithral: One of Armor’s significant drawbacks is its effect on your ability to be Stealthy. With Mithril Armor, all of that goes away. The Armor is light enough not to require a minimum user Strength. Perfect for Fighters who also like to do a bit of sneaking around.
Elven Chain Shirt: This shirt gives 14 + Dex (Max 2), and everyone is proficient in its use. A brilliant option for casters with low Dexterity!
Adamantine and Mithral are uncommon in scarcity rating and are a type of steel, so they are unsuitable for those with metal armor restrictions. The exciting aspect regarding these rare materials is that these metals are not magic, so you don’t have to attune them (check with your DM); you should be able to enchant them.
Final Thoughts on Armor 5e
Armor is one of the most critical aspects of the game. It affects all characters and all combat and will be an essential and integral part of most gaming sessions. It is, therefore, important to understand it.
Understand proficiency and the role of Strength and Dexterity and choose the best Armor not just for the character’s protection but which will allow you to adopt your preferred style of play.
And finally, always aim for the best Armor type that you can afford because dodging hits in the first place is much better than having to be healed after the event.
We hope you enjoyed our list of Armor in 5e, broken down by Light Armor, Medium Armor, and Heavy Armor. Why not check out some of our other guides on Greater Invisibility 5e, Detect Magic 5e, or Mage Armor 5e?
Before starting GameCows with his wife Kendra, he used to teach English Language Arts in the US. He combined his love of gaming with education to create fun game-based learning lessons until he eventually decided to run GameCows with Kendra full-time. He’s known for pouring over rulebooks in his spare time, being the rule master during game night, and as the perma DM in his DnD group. Bryan loves board games, writing, traveling, and above all his wife and partner in crime, Kendra.