DND 5E Armor: A Simple How to Guide

Posted by Andrew E. on

 DND 5E Armor:A Simple How to Guide


5e DND is a lot simpler compared to a lot of other systems and even earlier editions, but if you’re starting up your first adventure or are just having a little trouble getting suited up, We’re here to help. Most of this information is found in the Player's Handbook.

What Does Armor Do?

Strictly speaking, it provides you with your Armor Class, or AC. The higher AC you have, the harder it will be for enemies to hit you. If you don’t wear any armor at all, your AC is 10 + your Dexterity modifier. Generally, that’s not a very good AC. Wearing armor helps you pump that number up to something a bit more survivable.


What Armor Can I Wear?

In 5e D&D, armor is divided into 3 categories: Light, Medium, and Heavy.

You can technically put on any armor, but you try to wear armor you’re not proficient with you suffer a whole laundry list of terrible effects that makes it pretty much impossible to go adventuring with it. So if you want to wear a type of armor, you really need to be proficient with it. 

How Do I Get Armor Proficiency? 

The main source of armor proficiency is your class, if you’re starting out at 1st level, usually the armor set you got in your starting equipment (if you got any) is your best option. 

Here’s what each of the core classes gets in armor proficiency:


Armor Proficiencies Table

Class

Armor Proficiencies

Barbarian

Light armor, medium armor, shields

Bard

Light armor

Cleric

Light armor, medium armor, shields

Druid

Light armor, medium armor, shields (druids will not wear armor or use shields made of metal)

Fighter

All armor, shields

Monk

None

Paladin

All armor, shields

Ranger

Light armor, medium armor, shields

Rogue

Light armor

Sorcerer

None

Warlock

Light armor

Wizard

None


Other Ways to Get Armor Proficiency

If your class doesn’t give you the armor proficiency you’re looking for, there are a couple ways to get it.


Feats

Feats are technically an optional rule, but almost every DM I’ve ever talked to uses them. When you get an Ability Score Increase from your class, you can instead choose to take a feat. The Lightly Armored, Moderately Armored, and Heavily Armored, feats give you proficiency in light, medium, and heavy armor, respectively. 

Each armor feat has the previous proficiency as a prerequisite, so to take Moderately Armored you already need light armor proficiency, and Heavily Armored requires medium armor proficiency.

Spending a feat on an armor proficiency is rough, and it gets really painful if you’re trying to go from light or no armor proficiency all the way to heavy. Think of using a feat for armor as a last resort if none of the other options work for you.


Multiclassing

You have the option of taking the 1st level of a new class, rather than advancing in your current class when you gain a class level. Taking a level dip into another class can be a good way to pick up the armor proficiency you want. Sadly, you can’t gain heavy armor proficiency in this way… sort of.


Here’s a table of what armor proficiencies you gain from multiclassing:

Armor Multiclassing Table

Armor Type

Classes

Light Armor

Bard, Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Paladin, Ranger, Rogue, Warlock

Medium Armor

Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Paladin, Ranger

Heavy Armor

None

Shields

Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Paladin, Ranger


So clearly, you can’t be a wizard and take a level of fighter to gain that sweet sweet heavy armor proficiency… But what if you were a fighter, and started taking wizard levels? It’s the proficiencies that get nerfed on a multiclass, not the class abilities, so If from the get-go you know that you want to multiclass then just start out first level with the class with the better proficiencies. It almost seems like an exploit, but this is the best way to get armored wizards. 


Be a Dwarf

Mountain dwarves and a few other races just flat out start with some armor proficiencies, mountain dwarves get light and medium armor proficiency and at level 1 a dwarven wizard gets to wear some tough stuff. The following race options come with at least one type of armor proficiency: Githyanki, Hobgoblins, and Mountain Dwarves.

What Armor Should I Wear?

So barring any magical armor, 5e really simplified down the armor types and there’s not a whole lot to choose from. Generally, you want to wear whatever gives you the best AC that you’re proficient with. 

The limitation is usually cost; better armor costs you more gold pieces, and there’s a good chance that you’ll be spending the loot from your first couple adventures on upgrading your armor. 

Beyond that, some armors give you disadvantage on Dexterity (Stealth) checks, but that’s about it, wear the highest AC armor that your wallet and proficiency allows. 

I Have Light Armor Proficiency, What Do I Wear?

Light armor is pretty darn simple, you only have 3 options, padded armor, leather armor, and studded leather armor, the answer is Studded Leather Armor. Studded leather armor is strictly better than the other two options in every way, the only limitation is that it costs way more gold. If you have the gold, wear studded leather. If you’re broke or just starting out, wear leather. Don’t wear padded armor, it’s literally the worst and there’s no reason to wear it.


Light Armors

Armor

Cost 

Armor Class (AC)

Strength

Stealth

Weight

Padded

5 gp

11 + Dex Modifier

-

Disadvantage

8 lb.

Leather

10 gp

11 + Dex Modifier

-

-

10 lb.

Studded Leather

45 gp

12 + Dex Modifier

-

-

13 lb.


I Have Medium Armor Proficiency, What Do I Wear?

Medium armor has the most options, with your choice of Hide armor, Chain Shirts, Scale Mail, Breastplates, or Half-Plate.


Hide Armor

This armor is terrible, it’s even worse than studded leather but just costs less. Only wear hide armor if you’re starting out and you’re completely broke.

Chain Shirt

This is a decent option if you’re both broke, have medium armor proficiency, and want to be stealthy.  

Scale Mail

If you’re broke, have medium armor proficiency, and don’t care about being stealthy, scale mail is for you.

Breastplate

400 gp can be a LOT for a low-level character, but if you have the dosh the breastplate is strictly better than scale mail or a chain shirt, wear it if you have the money.


Half-Plate

750 gp es even more gold for a low-level character, but half-plate grants an even higher AC, it does come with the stealth disadvantage though. Wear half-plate if you don’t care about stealth and have money to burn.


Medium Armors

Armor

Cost 

Armor Class (AC)

Strength

Stealth

Weight

Hide

10 gp

12 + Dex modifier (max 2)

-

-

12 lb.

Chain Shirt

50 gp

13 + Dex modifier (max 2)

-

-

20 lb.

Scale Mail

50 gp

14 + Dex modifier (max 2)

-

Disadvantage

45 lb.

Breastplate

400 gp

14 + Dex modifier (max 2)

-

-

20 lb.

Half Plate

750 gp

15 + Dex modifier (max 2)

-

Disadvantage

40 lb.


I Have Heavy Armor Proficiency, What Do I Wear?

Heavy armor adds in another consideration, a Strength score minimum. It shouldn’t really be a problem, since most classes that want to wear heavy armor are Strength-based anyway. So as long as you have a decent Strength score, you’ll be fine. You get your choice of Ring Mail, Chain Mail, Splint, or Plate.


Ring Mail

Objectively the worst heavy armor. Other than being cheap and weighing a bit less it has nothing going for it. About the only situation for ring mail is if you’re a fighter and you haven’t gotten enough gold for better armor.


Chain Mail

This is most likely going to be your heavy armor until you can afford splint or plate, or possibly if you’re not up to 15 Strength. You start with chain mail as a paladin, and you’ll likely stick with it until you get through enough adventuring to afford something better.

Splint

Splint is an awkward middle step, the only reason to pick it over plate is a lack of money, but it’s still expensive itself. If you’re having trouble getting gold, splint may be your best option.


Plate

Plate is the best armor you can get, it’s heavy, you clank when you walk, but there’s no better AC. It just costs a fortune. Plate is what you build towards, wear it if you can get it.  

Heavy Armors

Armor

Cost 

Armor Class (AC)

Strength

Stealth

Weight

Ring Mail

30 gp

14

-

Disadvantage

40 lb.

Chain Mail

75 gp

16

Str 13

Disadvantage

55 lb.

Splint

200 gp

17

Str 15

Disadvantage

60 lb.

Plate

1,500 gp

18

Str 15

Disadvantage

65 lb.


I Have a Bunch of Proficiencies, What Do I Wear?

You may have noticed that light armors add your Dexterity modifier to your AC, medium armors let you add your Dexterity modifier up to a max of 2, and heavy armor doesn’t care about your Dexterity at all. Generally, you want the highest AC you can get. 


If you made a really high Dexterity character or a stealthy character, you want to wear light armors.

If you have a Dex modifier of +2 or +1, you want to wear medium armors. 

If you have a Dex modifier or +0 or even negatives, you want to wear heavy armors.


What About Shields?

Shields are super simple in 5e, there’s only one “Shield” equipment and it just adds a flat +2 bonus to your AC at the cost of well, occupying a hand. There’re no buckler stats or anything, no tower shields, they all just count as a “Shield”. 

Shields are great for the “sword and board” style fighting, you basically trade a more damaging (two-handed) weapon, in exchange for a +2 AC bonus. They’re also REALLY good for casters, as you normally only need one hand to cast spells anyway. If you’ve got the proficiency, really consider grabbing some extra survivability in the form of a shield.

 

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