Mechanic Overview: Armor Class 5e
What is Armor Class?
In 5th Edition, Armor Class (AC) is one of the most important aspects of any character because it determines how easily they can be hit. While it is specifically called “armor” class, a creature’s AC does not always entirely depend on how much armor a creature is wearing. A high AC can mean that a creature is particularly dexterous or that they can use magic to defend themselves.
There are a number of things that can increase a character’s AC, a few of which being armor, magic items, class features, and racial traits. In this Mechanic Overview, we will be covering the basics of AC, and how it interacts with other aspects of D&D’s 5th Edition.
How does AC work in 5e?
When making an attack against a creature, if the attacker meets the defender’s AC the attack will hit. When making a Saving Throw, Armor Class does not affect the outcome of the roll.
How do you calculate Armor Class in 5e?
When unarmored, your base Armor Class is 10 + Dexterity modifier. If you have a spell, item, feat, or racial trait that affects your Armor Class then the calculation will change.
The two most common ways to increase AC are to pump your Dexterity modifier (if you’re not wearing heavy armor) or to equip better armor. Below are some examples of different ways to increase AC, these options focus mainly on the Basic Rules, though some examples are given from other sources
How to increase your Armor Class
Armor is one of the most common ways to increase Armor Class in 5e. A character’s ability to wear armor directly ties to the class they take, though their ability scores and any feats they have also come into play.
Below is a table of the different types of non-magical armor that can be found in D&D 5e, before choosing to wear a certain type of armor, make sure that your class has proficiency in it, and that you meet any other requirements such as the minimum STR requirement for Heavy Armor and only being able to equip non-metal armor for Druids.
|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.|
|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.|
|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.|
|Shield||10 gp||2||—||—||6 lb.|
Some classes gain the ability to increase their base AC:
- Monk: Unarmored Defense – Base AC = 10 + your Dexterity modifier + your Wisdom modifier
- Barbarian: Unarmored Defense – Base AC = 10 + your Dexterity modifier + your Constitution modifier
- Artificer Infusion: Enhanced Defense – This infusion allows you to increase the AC of a shield or suit of armor by 1. At 10th level, this bonus becomes +2.
There are other subclasses that can boost AC because of class features:
- Forge Domain Cleric: Soul of the Forge – Gain a +1 bonus to AC when wearing heavy armor.
While magic items are rare and expensive, there are quite a few that can boost your AC. Some examples are below:
- Armor +X – +1/2/3 AC
- Arrow-Catching Shield – +2 AC against ranged attacks, among other effects
- Cloak of Protection – +1 AC and to all saving throws
- Demon Armor – +1 AC, among other effects
- Dragon Scale Mail – +1 AC, among other effects
- Dwarven Plate – +2 AC, among other effects
- Elven Chain – +1 AC, among other effects
- Glamoured Studded Leather – +1 AC, among other effects
- Ioun Stone (Protection) – +1 AC
- Ring of Protection – +1 AC and to all saving throws
- Shield +1/2/3 – +3/4/5 AC (because shields grant +2 AC, the +1 shield will grant +3 AC and so on)
- Staff of Power – +2 AC and to all saving throws, among other effects
Not many races give an inherent bonus to AC because of how strong an AC bonus at 1st-level tends to be. Some races that were introduced outside of the core sources that boost AC are:
- Tortle: Natural Armor – Base AC increases to 17 and can use Shell Defense to gain +4 to AC, among other effects.
- Warforged: Integrated Protection: – +1 AC
We wrote an entire article on 5e feats so if you are looking for an in-depth look at them, that is where you can find it. Below are the feats that directly and indirectly impact AC:
- Defensive Duelist – You can use your reaction to add your proficiency bonus to your AC
- Dragon Hide – Base AC is 13 + your Dexterity modifier
- Heavily Armored – Gain proficiency with heavy armor
- Lightly Armored – Gain proficiency with light armor
- Medium Armor Master – Add 3, rather than 2, to your AC if you have a Dexterity of 16 or higher.
- Moderately Armored – Gain proficiency with medium armor and shields
- Shield Master – You can add your shield’s AC bonus to any Dexterity saving throw you make against a spell or other harmful effect that targets only you
Because of the nature of the D&D 5e system, a lot of spells result in providing advantage or disadvantage to attacks, or resistance to a certain damage type. That said, there are a number of spells that can help with raising AC. Though none of these are permanent, some last longer than others:
- Barkskin: 1-hour duration – AC can’t be less than 16
- Ceremony (Wedding): 7 days duration – +2 AC while both creatures are within 30ft of each other
- Haste: 1-minute duration – +2 to AC, among other effects
- Mage Armor: 8-hour duration – Base AC becomes 13 + Dexterity Modifier
- Polymorph/True Polymorph: 1-hour duration – Creature adapts the AC of the creature it was turned into
- Shield of Faith: 10-minute duration – +2 to AC
- Tasha’s Otherworldly Guise: 1-minute duration – +2 AC, among other effects
- Warding Bond: 1-hour duration – +1 AC, among other effects
One of the easiest ways to increase your armor class that is commonly overlooked is by using cover. Using the environment to your advantage grants the bonuses listed below:
- Half cover: +2 AC – A target has half cover if an obstacle blocks at least half of its body. The obstacle might be a low wall, a large piece of furniture, a narrow tree trunk, or a creature, whether that creature is an enemy or a friend.
- Three-quarters cover: +5 AC – A target has three-quarters cover if about three-quarters of it is covered by an obstacle. The obstacle might be a portcullis, an arrow slit, or a thick tree trunk.
- Total cover – Can’t be targeted directly by an attack or a spell, although some spells can reach such a target by including it in an area of effect. A target has total cover if it is completely concealed by an obstacle.
Why doesn’t AC automatically increase with levels?
AC in D&D 5e doesn’t increase much above the low 20s and can be reached by PCs and NPCs at low levels. For example, a 1st-level Paladin wearing plate mail and wielding a shield has an AC of 20. An Adult Black Dragon, which is a challenge rating 17, only has an AC of 19. What gives?
D&D 5e is built around a system called “Bounded Accuracy” which locks “target numbers” in the game, such as Armor Class and the Difficulty Class, to levels that are reasonable to achieve at any level.
Under bounded accuracy, you won’t see these targets increase above a certain ceiling as characters progress. Instead, these targets remain fairly static, only ever reaching between 20 and 30.
“But” you may ask, “as characters level up, they face threats that have a higher chance to hit and can do more damage. Won’t that mean that characters facing these threats will die easier?”
Well, as characters level up, they are provided more tools that will allow them to deal with higher-level threats. These tools usually come in the form of a larger pool of hit points, more damage per round, or various other abilities they can use to swing the encounter in their favor.
Bounded accuracy suggests that there shouldn’t be a minimum level where you could ever hope to hit an Adult Black Dragon. Because an Adult Black Dragon’s AC is 19, they could be hit by a 1st-level character with a +5 to hit about 25% of the time.
Now, whether or not it’s reasonable for a party of 1st-level adventures to be able to defeat an Adult Black Dragon is another matter. While a party of new adventurers would likely fair poorly against such a great threat, if the PCs could rally a city against this dragon, or put it at a severe disadvantage, they actually may have a shot to kill it.
In short, Bounded Accuracy allows for a number of things, mainly:
- When characters level up, they actually get better at things. When you get +1 to an ability, you actually get 5% better at performing tasks in that area. In a system without Bounded Accuracy, these increases are necessary to provide even a basic level of competence to complete certain tasks.
- PCs that aren’t specialized in a certain field can still participate. A Barbarian with an 8 in Charisma can still be reasonably effective in social situations, even if they have a -1 modifier.
- It provides a consistent difficulty level for tasks. This allows DMs to improvise more effectively because they know that breaking down an iron door is a DC 17 Strength check, no matter what level the characters are.
- It expands the list of encounter options over time, it doesn’t limit them. Because the character’s AC doesn’t increase above levels that can be met by lower-level creatures, the pool of viable enemies that the party can face only expands over time.
In short, AC is a simple enough mechanic on the surface. It allows new players to hop into the game easily, by telling them “if you hit this number, that creature takes damage”. But, when combined with the other mechanics in the 5e system, such as Advantage and Disadvantage, it still provides enough complexity and depth to be relevant to higher levels of play.
If you enjoyed our overview of the AC mechanic or would like to see other mechanics dissected in future posts leave us a comment below! Thanks for reading and remember, in the immortal words of Wayne Gretzky Michael Scott, “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”.
Mike BernierMike Bernier is the lead content writer and founder of Arcane Eye. Outside of writing for Arcane Eye, Mike spends most of his time playing games, hiking with his girlfriend, and tending the veritable jungle of houseplants that have invaded his house. He is the author of Escape from Mt. Balefor and The Heroes of Karatheon. Mike specializes in character creation guides for players, homebrewed mechanics and tips for DMs, and one-shots with unique settings and scenarios. Follow Mike on Twitter.
Sage Advice is a monthly column that gives official clarifications of D&D rules. It also sometimes provides reference documents to help your D&D game run smoothly. Despite its official status, Sage Advice doesn’t trump the rulings of a Dungeon Master; the answers and information provided here are meant to assist a DM in adjudicating the game.
If you have questions for a future installment of Sage Advice, please send them to [email protected], or reach me on Twitter (@JeremyECrawford), where I answer questions between installments of this column.
How do you calculate a creature’s Armor Class (AC)? Chapter 1 of the Player’s Handbook (p. 14) describes how to determine AC, yet AC calculations generate questions frequently. That fact isn’t too surprising, given the number of ways the game gives you to change your AC!
Here are some ways to calculate your base AC:
- Unarmored: 10 + your Dexterity modifier.
- Armored: Use the AC entry for the armor you’re wearing (see PH, 145). For example, in leather armor, you calculate your AC as 11 + your Dexterity modifier, and in chain mail, your AC is simply 16.
- Unarmored Defense (Barbarian): 10 + your Dexterity modifier + your Constitution modifier.
- Unarmored Defense (Monk): 10 + your Dexterity modifier + your Wisdom modifier.
- Draconic Resilience (Sorcerer): 13 + your Dexterity modifier.
- Natural Armor: 10 + your Dexterity modifier + your natural armor bonus. This is a calculation method typically used only by monsters and NPCs, although it is also relevant to a druid or another character who assumes a form that has natural armor.
These methods—along with any others that give you a formula for calculating your AC—are mutually exclusive; you can benefit from only one at a time. If you have access to more than one, you pick which one to use. For example, if you’re a sorcerer/monk, you can use either Unarmored Defense or Draconic Resilience, not both. Similarly, a druid/barbarian who transforms into a beast form that has natural armor can use either the beast’s natural armor or Unarmored Defense (you aren’t considered to be wearing armor with natural armor).
What about a shield? A shield increases your AC by 2 while you use it. For example, if you’re unarmored and use a shield, your AC is 12 + your Dexterity modifier. Keep in mind that some AC calculations, such as a monk’s Unarmored Defense, prohibit the use of a shield.
Once you have your base AC, it can be temporarily modified by situational bonuses and penalties. For instance, having half cover gives you a +2 bonus to your AC, and three-quarters cover gives a +5 bonus. Spells sometimes modify AC as well. Shield of faith, for example, grants a target a +2 bonus to AC until the spell ends.
Magic items can also enhance your AC. Here are a few examples: +1 chain mail gives you an AC of 17, a ring of protection gives you a +1 bonus to AC no matter what you’re wearing, and bracers of defense grant you a +2 bonus to AC if you’re not wearing armor or using a shield.
Does Unarmored Defense work with a spell like mage armor? Unarmored Defense doesn’t work with mage armor. You might be asking yourself, “Why don’t they work together? Mage armor specifies that it works on a creature who isn’t wearing armor.” It’s true that the target of mage armor must be unarmored, but mage armor gives you a new way to calculate your AC (13 + your Dexterity modifier) and is therefore incompatible with Unarmored Defense or any other feature that provides an AC calculation.
How does barkskin work with shields, cover, and other modifiers to AC? Barkskin specifies that your AC can’t be lower than 16 while you are affected by the spell. This means you effectively ignore any modifiers to your AC—including your Dexterity modifier, your armor, a shield, and cover—unless your AC is higher than 16. For example, if your AC is normally 14, it’s 16 while barkskin is on you. If your AC is 15 and you have half cover, your AC is 17; barkskin isn’t relevant in this case, because your AC is now higher than 16.
Can you extend the duration of armor of Agathys by gaining more temporary hit points? The spell is meant to work only as long as you have the temporary hit points that the spell grants. When those temporary hit points are gone, the spell is done.
Keep in mind that temporary hit points aren’t cumulative (see PH, 198). If you have temporary hit points and receive more of them, you don’t add them together, unless a game feature says you can. You decide which temporary hit points to keep. As an example, let’s say you’re a warlock with the Dark One’s Blessing feature, which gives you temporary hit points when you reduce a creature to 0 hit points. You currently have 2 temporary hit points from armor of Agathys, you just slew a monster, and your Dark One’s Blessing can now give you 4 temporary hit points. If you take those temporary hit points, they replace the ones from armor of Agathys and end that spell, so you might not want to take them and keep the spell going.
Do the temporary hit points from heroism accumulate each round? These temporary hit points aren’t cumulative. The spell would tell you if you were meant to add them together. At the start of each of your turns, the spell, effectively, refreshes the number of temporary hit points you have from it; if you lost some or all of the temporary hit points, the spell gives them back to you.
Taking a Second Look at a Ruling
I’m constantly revisiting the rules of the game. As a DM, I use them in the games I run. As a designer and editor, I refer to them every week to ensure that future D&D books are on course. As the Sage, I consider them from different angles when new questions arrive in my inbox and on Twitter. This sometimes leads me to reconsider a ruling I’ve made.
In this installment of Sage Advice, there’s an example of me revisiting a ruling. On Twitter, I recently gave a different explanation for how barkskin works and, by extension, how shields work. What I said was based on the game’s text, but the text is sometimes inconsistent on how shields are treated. In my official ruling here in Sage Advice, I’ve decided to counter what I said on Twitter about barkskin and shields to go with a simpler explanation—one that is also supported by the text and that more closely aligns with our design intent.
In the Sage Advice Compendium below, I’ve also changed my ruling on the Savage Attacker feat, which I originally addressed in November 2015. The original ruling was simply off-base—I read the feat too fast—so I’ve fixed it.
Sage Advice Compendium
The Sage Advice Compendium gathers every installment of Sage Advice in one PDF. It’s been updated to include this month’s questions and answers.
Monster Manual Errata
We’ve updated the Monster Manual Errata file to more closely match the latest printing of the book. The PDF now includes an entry for the water elemental, and the kraken entry now reflects what’s in the book.
Here are other D&D reference documents we’ve posted on this website.
Basic Rules for Dungeons & Dragons
D&D Spell List (version 1.01)
Monsters by Challenge Rating (version 1.0)
D&D Monsters by Type (version 1.0)
Magic Items by Rarity (version 1.0)
Conversions to 5th Edition D&D (version 1.0)
About the Author
Jeremy Crawford is the co-lead designer of fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons. He was the lead designer of the fifth edition Player’s Handbook and one of the leads on the Dungeon Master’s Guide. He has worked on many other D&D books since coming to Wizards of the Coast in 2007. You can reach him on Twitter (@JeremyECrawford).
D&D 5th Edition
The Armortable shows the cost, weight, and other Propertiesof the Commontypes of armor worn in fantasy gaming worlds.
Armor Proficiency: Anyone can put on a suit of armor or strap a Shieldto an arm. Only those proficient in the armor’s use know how to wear it effectively, however. Your class gives you proficiency with certain types of armor. If you wear armor that you lack proficiency with, you have disadvantage on any ability check, saving throw, or Attackroll that involves Strengthor Dexterity, and you can’t cast Spells.
Armor Class (AC): Armorprotects its wearer from attacks. The armor (and shield) you wear determines your base ArmorClass.
HeavyArmor: Heavier armor interferes with the wearer’s ability to move quickly, stealthily, and freely. If the Armortable shows “Str 13” or “Str 15” in the Strengthcolumn for an armor type, the armor reduces the wearer’s speed by 10 feet unless the wearer has a Strengthscore equal to or higher than the listed score.
Stealth: If the Armortable shows “Disadvantage” in the Stealthcolumn, the wearer has disadvantage on Dexterity(Stealth) checks.
Shields: A Shieldis made from wood or metal and is carried in one hand. Wielding a Shieldincreases your ArmorClass by 2. You can benefit from only one Shieldat a time.
LightArmorMade from supple and thin materials, Light Armorfavors agile Adventurerssince it offers some Protectionwithout sacrificing mobility. If you wear Light Armor, you add your Dexteritymodifier to the base number from your armor type to determine your ArmorClass.
Padded:Padded Armorconsists of quilted layers of cloth and batting.
Leather:The Breastplateand shoulder protectors of this armor are made of leather that has been stiffened by being boiled in oil. The rest of the armor is made of softer and more flexible materials.
Studded Leather:Made from tough but flexible leather, studded leather is reinforced with close-set rivets or spikes.
Medium ArmorMedium Armoroffers more Protectionthan Light Armor, but it also impairs Movementmore. If you wear Medium Armor, you add your Dexteritymodifier, to a maximum of +2, to the base number from your armor type to determine your ArmorClass.
Hide:This crude armor consists of thick furs and pelts. It is commonly worn by Barbariantribes, evil Humanoids, and other folk who lack access to the tools and materials needed to create better armor.
Chain Shirt:Made of interlocking metal rings, a Chain Shirtis worn between layers of clothing or leather. This armor offers modest Protectionto the wearer’s upper body and allows the sound of the rings rubbing against one another to be muffled by outer layers.
Scale Mail:This armor consists of a coat and leggings (and perhaps a separate skirt) of leather covered with overlapping pieces of metal, much like the scales of a fish. The suit includes gauntlets.
Breastplate:This armor consists of a fitted metal chest piece worn with supple leather. Although it leaves the legs and arms relatively unprotected, this armor provides good Protectionfor the wearer’s vital organs while leaving the wearer relatively unencumbered.
Half Plate:Half Plateconsists of shaped metal plates that cover most of the wearer’s body. It does not include leg Protectionbeyond simple greaves that are attached with leather straps.
HeavyArmorOf all the armor categories, Heavy Armoroffers the best Protection. These suits of armor cover the entire body and are designed to stop a wide range of attacks. Only proficient warriors can manage their weight and bulk.
Heavyarmor doesn’t let you add your Dexteritymodifier to your ArmorClass, but it also doesn’t penalize you if your Dexteritymodifier is negative.
Ring Mail:This armor is Leather Armorwith heavy rings sewn into it. The rings help reinforce the armor against blows from Swordsand axes. Ring Mailis inferior to Chain Mail, and it's usually worn only by those who can’t afford better armor.
Chain Mail:Made of interlocking metal rings, Chain Mailincludes a layer of quilted fabric worn underneath the mail to prevent chafing and to cushion the impact of blows. The suit includes gauntlets.
Splint:This armor is made of narrow vertical strips of metal riveted to a backing of leather that is worn over cloth padding. Flexible Chain Mailprotects the joints.
Plate:Plate consists of shaped, interlocking metal plates to cover the entire body. A suit of plate includes gauntlets, heavy leather boots, a visored helmet, and thick layers of padding underneath the armor. Buckles and straps distribute the weight over the body.
Getting Into and Out of ArmorThe time it takes to don or doff armor depends on the armor’s category.
Don: This is the time it takes to put on armor. You benefit from the armor’s AC only if you take the full time to don the suit of armor.
Doff: This is the time it takes to take off armor. If you have help, reduce this time by half.
Donning and Doffing Armor
One of the bigger changes to the game in the new edition of Dungeons & Dragons concerns Armour Class.
It’s function hasn’t changed: the better (higher) your Armour Class, the harder you are to hit. When an attack is made, the attacker rolls a 1d20 and adds their attack bonus; if the result equals or exceeds the target’s Armour Class, the target is hit.
Although its function in the game hasn’t changed, it doesn’t just keep going up and up and up like in 3E and 4E. A major factor in the new edition’s design is Bounded Accuracy, which means that target numbers can’t change too much. Within the game, this translates to most Armour Classes being in the range of 10 to 20.
When a monster or character goes outside those ranges, you generally can assume there are magical items or spells involved, or the monster is special in some way. In the Basic Rules, the best Armour Class is 19, held by an adult dragon. The Hoard of the Dragon Queen Online Supplement has two monsters with an Armour Class of 20 – a helmed horror and a roper. Nothing in those documents gets better. Almost nothing in the Monster Manual exceeds 20.
This is, in many ways, similar to the original Dungeons & Dragons design, where monster Armour Classes were all in a very limited range: basically from 2 to 9. In those days, instead of providing a target number, they provided a chart reference; you’d cross-reference the Armour Class with the level or Hit Dice of the attacker to see what the target number was. Making Armour Class into the target number was one of the things the 3E designers got absolutely right. Historically, using a look-up chart for Armour Classes allowed non-linear progression of the target numbers, but that concept was largely abandoned by the time original D&D was printed.
With Bounded Accuracy in place, this has several implications to how Armour Class is calculated. Drawing on the terminology of previous editions, you have a Base Armour Class which then has several Armour Class Modifiers applied to it before you get the final result.
In 3E, your Base Armour Class was 10, and then everything else modified it: Armour, Shields, Dexterity, Spells, Amulets, Rings, and so on. In 4E, you also gained a bonus to it equal to half your level.
This is not how it works in 5E. Instead, Armour, Spells or Special Abilities provide you with a Base Armour Class, which is then modified by a very limited number of sources.
If your character has several ways of calculating their base armour class, you only use one method.
Here are a few examples of Base AC calculations:
- No Armour: Base AC = 10 + Dexterity modifier
- Leather Armour: Base AC = 11 + Dexterity modifier
- Chain Shirt: Base AC = 13 + Dexterity modifier (max +2)
- Plate Mail: Base AC = 18
- Mage Armour spell: Base AC = 13 + Dexterity modifier
- Barbarian Unarmoured Defense
ability: Base AC = 10 + Dexterity modifier + Constitution modifier
- Monk Unarmoured Defense ability: Base AC = 10 + Dexterity modifier + Wisdom modifier
- Sorcerer Draconic Resilience ability: Base AC = 13 + Dexterity modifier
Meanwhile, there are several ways of further modifying your Armour Class. A few examples of these
- Shield: +2 bonus to AC*
- Shield of Faith spell: +2 bonus to AC
- Shield spell: +5 bonus to AC
- Half Cover: +2 bonus to AC
- Three-Quarters Cover: +5 bonus to AC
- +1 Armour: +1 bonus to AC
- Ring of Protection: +1 bonus to AC; requires attunement
- Bracers of Defense: +3 bonus to AC when not wearing armour or using a shield; requires attunement
- Arrow Catching Shield: +1 bonus to AC against ranged attacks; requires attunement
There is at least one unusual exception to how AC is calculated:
- Barkskin spell: Your minimum AC is 16.
*: The description of shields is unusual as it says it modifiers your base AC, but for most intents and purposes you can just treat it as a regular modifier.
As you can see, a multiclass Barbarian/Monk does not get to add all of their Dexterity, Constitution and Wisdom modifiers to the Armour Class! They have three ways of calculating their base AC, but can only choose one. However, they can benefit from as many other bonuses to AC as they like.
All the other modifiers stack; they aren’t split into several types of modifier like in 3E. (The one exception is that you can’t benefit from the same effect twice; if two clerics cast Shield of Faith on you, you only get a +2 AC. Multiple copies of the same spell do not stack!)
So, why can’t you just apply modifier after modifier and end up with a fantastic Armour Class that requires a natural 20 to hit? Well, you can in limited circumstances. However, there are three major restrictions on increasing your AC.
The first is that there aren’t all that many ways of modifying AC. Although several magic items in the Dungeon Master’s Guide do so, it’s something that the designers kept an eye one. +1 magic armour is sort of hard to find, but +3 armour is rare and precious, and +5 armour? It doesn’t exist!
The second is attunement. Magic items that provide powerful effects (and most permanent items that affect major numbers on your character fit into that category) have the limitation of “requires attunement”. The rules state that a character may have a maximum of three items attuned to them, so you are limited in that sense as well.
The third is concentration. Ongoing spells that provide bonuses typically require the caster to concentrate on them. That means that the caster can’t have any other spells requiring concentration at the same time. One character could get the benefit from a few spellcasters all providing them with armour class bonuses from different spells, but that will be the exception and not the rule, and the rest of the party wouldn’t be benefitting. It should be noted that there are very few spells that provide a bonus to AC in any case.
Honestly, the best way of increasing your Armour Class? Get behind an arrow slit! They provide three-quarters cover. Unfortunately, dungeon designers typically don’t design their dungeons with arrow slits the characters can take advantage of…
The flip side of this is to consider the range of attack bonuses. Just taking a quick flip through the Basic DM Rules, I see attack bonuses in the range of +0 to +14 (crab to adult dragon), with most being in the range of +3 to +7. A player character can probably expect at high levels to get a regular attack bonus of +12, assuming a 20 in the appropriate ability score, the full +6 proficiency bonus and a +1 weapon. Spells, items and abilities may push it a few points higher.
So, that’s a brief tour of how Armour Class works in the new edition. If you’d like to compare how AC worked in previous editions, I have articles on Armour Class in Original D&D and AD&D, AD&D 2E and D&D 3E. This is unlikely to be my last word on the topic, as my analyses are anywhere but complete!
|Padded||11 + Dex modifier||light, stealth disadvantage|
|Leather||11 + Dex modifier||light|
|Studded leather||12 + Dex modifier||light|
|Hide||12 + Dex modifier (max 2)||medium|
|Chain shirt||13 + Dex modifier (max 2)||medium|
|Scale mail||14 + Dex modifier (max 2)||medium, stealth disadvantage|
|Breastplate||14 + Dex modifier (max 2)||medium|
|Half plate||15 + Dex modifier (max 2)||medium, stealth disadvantage|
|Ring mail||14||heavy, stealth disadvantage|
|Chain mail||16||heavy, stealth disadvantage, Str 13|
|Splint||17||heavy, stealth disadvantage, Str 15|
|Plate||18||heavy, stealth disadvantage, Str 15|
|Shield||+2||modifies Base AC|
Class dnd armor
Few scores on your Character Sheet are as important as your AC or Armor Class in D&D 5e.
For your character to survive the perils that come with being an adventurer, it’s wise to learn what Armor Class is and how it works!
What is Armor Class?
Your character’s Armor Class (also known as AC) represents how hard they are to hit. A higher number means that you are less likely to get hit.
This might be due to a character’s quick reflexes, the armor that they are wearing, or some mix of the two.
Armor Class is almost exclusively used in combat situations.
Attacks against an enemy must be greater than or equal to the target’s AC to successfully hit. In other words, an attack will hit if it successfully meets or beats the target’s Armor Class.
How to Calculate Armor Class in D&D 5e
The base calculation for a character’s Armor Class is 10 + that character’s dexterity modifier.
If you need, you can learn more about modifiers and ability scores here.
For most classes, wearing armor provides them with extra Armor Class. However, there are a couple of exceptions that we will cover in the next section.
In most cases, your AC will be equal to 10 + your DEX modifier + bonus from armor + bonus from magic items/effects.
Armor Class for Monks and Barbarians
Monks and Barbarians have class features that change how their AC is calculated. Both of these classes are melee combatants who prefer fight without armor. Because of this, you will want to pay special attention to a Monk or Barbarian’s AC!
Barbarians Unarmored Defense
When a Barbarian is not wearing armor, their AC is equal to 10 + DEX modifier + CON modifier.
Barbarians can still use shields without losing this benefit.
So if Bjorn the Barbarian has a Dexterity score of 13 and a Constitution score of 16, his AC would calculate as:
10 + 1 (from DEX) + 3 (from CON) = 14 AC
But Bjorn gets an idea…
He grabs a shield from one of the hobgoblins that the party has just finished fighting. Because he can still gain the benefit of his Unarmored Defense while using a shield, his AC increases by +2 (the shield’s standard AC bonus.)
So Bjorn’s AC calculation is now:
10 + 1 (from DEX) + 3 (from CON) + 2 (from shield) = 16 AC
Monks Unarmored Defense
Like Barbarians, Monks have a different calculation for their AC. While they aren’t typically as beefy as a barbarian is, their speed in combat allows them to still hold their own on the front lines.
When a Monk is not wearing armor, their AC is equal to 10 + DEX modifier + WIS modifier.
Unlike Barbarians, Monks cannot use shields and still benefit from this ability.
So if Mialee the Monk has a Dexterity score of 18 and a Wisdom score of 16, her AC would calculate as:
10 + 4 (from DEX) + 3 (from WIS) = 17 AC
If Mialee attempted to use a shield, she would lose the bonus from her Wisdom modifier (and access to many of her core abilities) while only gaining a +2 AC bonus. This would put her AC at 16.
Do Increases to Armor Class Stack?
Class features or specific spells may sometimes change how your Armor Class is calculated.
In most cases, these increases to your AC do not stack. In these situations, you choose which calculation to use.
Let’s return to our good friend, Bjorn the Barbarian, as an example!
Bjorn the Barbarian Learns About AC Calculations
With his Unarmored Defense and newly-acquired shield, Bjorn currently has an Armor Class of 16.
Looking over at his heavily-armored party member, Falgrim the Fighter, Bjorn gets another idea…
Scavenging through the defeated hobgoblins, he finds a suit of Chain Mail armor that will fit him. He immediately begins putting the armor on with a hearty and excited laugh.
Bjorns AC calculation is now 16 (from the Chain Mail) + 2 (from the shield) for a total of 18.
But there’s a problem…
While Bjorn does have a higher AC now, wearing heavy armor is constricting enough that it removes the benefits from the Barbarian’s Rage ability!
Because Bjorn doesn’t want to lose his ability to Rage, he removes the armor and comes up with another idea!
Bjorn asks another party member, Willow the Wizard, to cast her Mage Armor spell on him.
With Mage Armor, Bjorns AC becomes 13 + his Dexterity modifier when he isn’t wearing armor. Now he can still rage and use his shield.
But (you guessed it) there’s another problem…
Mage Armor does not stack with Bjorn’s Unarmored Defense. He has to make a choice.
With Mage Armor, his Armor Class is calculated as 13 + 1 (from DEX) + 2 (from the shield) for a total of 16.
That’s the same result as his regular Unarmored Defense calculation and uses one of Willow’s spells! Bjorn had hoped that his AC would be 13 + 1 (from Dex) + 3 (from Con) + 2 (from the shield) for a total of 19.
Yeah, probably best to just stick with Unarmored Defense…
For most characters, wearing armor is how they will primarily increase their AC.
To see what kinds of armor your character is proficient with, check the Class Features section of their Class in the Player’s Handbook. Always double check this before trying to equip new gear!
Some classes (Sorcerers, Wizards, and Monks) do not start with proficiency in wearing any type of armor.
Types of Armor
There are three types of armor in D&D: light, medium, and heavy.
Characters that tend to rely on their speed and wit instead of their strength typically favor lighter armors. Stronger characters (like Paladins and Fighters) typically favor heavier armor.
Light armor includes padded, leather, and studded leather armors. While these armors are not as strong as heavier options, they still provide extra protection without impeding the wearer’s dexterity.
Beyond having light armor proficiency, there is no additional requirement to wear these.
Medium armor is sturdier than light armor and has many different options. Medium armors include hide, chain shirts, scale mail, breastplates, and half-plate armor.
All medium armor increases your base AC but limits the bonus from your dexterity modifier to +2. A character with a dexterity score of 16 or higher may want to reconsider wearing medium armor.
If you have proficiency with wearing medium armor, there are no additional requirements to wear any of these.
Heavy armor is the strongest armor, but works differently than light and medium armors.
Where light and medium armors provide an AC equal to the base number + Dexterity modifier, heavy armor provides a flat value.
From weakest to strongest, the heavy armors available to characters are ring mail, chain mail, splint, and plate.
Keep in mind that all of these (except for ring mail) require a minimum strength score to use. Chain mail requires a minimum Strength score of 13 while Splint and Plate mail require a minimum Strength score of 15.
Excluding magic items, all shields provide a +2 bonus to the wielder’s AC.
If you are not dual-wielding or using a two-handed weapon, a shield is a great investment!
A character wearing plate armor and wielding a shield has an incredible 20 AC!
Wearing Armor without Proficiency
There is a difference between wearing armor and wearing it effectively. This is what proficiency represents.
If you are attempting to wear armor without proficiency in that armor’s type, you have disadvantage on all ability checks, saving throws, and attack rolls that use Strength or Dexterity. Additionally, you can’t cast spells.
So because Bjorn the Barbarian (who does not have proficiency in heavy armor) changed his mind about wearing the chain mail in our earlier example, he didn’t have to learn the hard way just how bad his idea actually was!
If you wish to gain proficiency in a type of armor that your class does not start with, you can take feats to do so.
The Lightly Armored, Moderately Armored, and Heavily Armored feats give you proficiency with the corresponding armor type.
Conclusion – Armor Class in D&D 5e
Adventuring is dangerous!
Whether you prefer mighty suits of steel or would rather trust in your own speedy reflexes, your Armor Class is one of the most important stats for your character. After all, what good is finding all of a dungeon’s treasure if you won’t live long enough to enjoy it?
Still got questions about armor class? Say hi in the comments!
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There are a lot of different things that can affect your character’s AC. New players sometimes struggle with this and even experienced players can sometimes get it wrong. Here is a checklist that might help.
How to calculate your Armor Class (AC)
First you calculate what armor class you get from your armor, then add your shield and lastly add any other bonuses or penalties you may have.
A) Figure your Base Armor Class. This depends on what type of armor you are wearing.
• Start with 10.
• Add your Dexterity Modifier. Note that this can be a negative number.
• If you are a Barbarian you also add your Constitution Modifier.
• If you are a Monk you also add your Wisdom Modifier.
This total will be your base armor class.
• Start with your Dexterity Modifier. Note that this can be a negative number.
• If you have Padded or Leather armor add 11.
• If you have Studded leather armor add 12.
This total will be your base armor class.
• If your Dexterity Modifier is 2 or higher, Start with 2.
• If your Dexterity Modifier is 1 or lower, Start with your Dexterity Modifier. Note that this can be a negative number.
• If you have Hide armor add 12.
• If you have Chain shirt armor add 13.
• If you have Scale mail or Breastplate armor add 14.
• If you have Half plate armor add 15.
This total will be your base armor class.
• If you have Ring mail armor your base armor class is 14.
• If you have Chain mail armor your base armor class is 16.
• If you have Splint armor your base armor class is 17.
• If you have Plate armor your base armor class is 18.
B) Add your shield if you are using one.
• If you have a Shield add 2 to your base armor class.
C) Add any magical adjustments.
• If you are using magical armor add it’s magical bonus.
• If you are using a magical shield add it’s magical bonus.
• If you have any other magical items or magical adjustments to you armor class add those.
D) Add any miscellaneous adjustments.
• If there are any rules or features of the game that add or subtract from your armor class add those.
The total of all of this will be your armor class (AC).
← D&D 5E – Multiclass SpellcastingD&D 5E – Artificer Character Sheet →Sours: https://olddungeonmaster.com/2020/03/09/dd-5e-armor-class-ac/
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