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Armor Proficiencies

Hriston

Explorer
A recent thread about medium armor got me thinking about armor proficiencies, and I would like to share my thoughts with the community.






First, I think it’s important to remember that the default way to calculate AC is 10 + DEX modifier. So given a PC typically has a DEX score between 8 and 17 at 1st level, unarmored ACs will be between 9 and 13. By 4th level, a PC could have a DEX score of 18 or 19 and an unarmored AC of 14, and by 6th level, a fighter could have DEX 20 and unarmored AC 15. Because AC is directly related to DEX, the only way to raise your AC without some other method of calculation is to increase your DEX.




Each type of armor provides a different (better) way to calculate AC. These types are grouped into the three blanket proficiencies, each of which gives access to a suite of options.




Light armor is an obvious improvement over no armor. It preserves the relationship between AC and DEX while increasing the base number of the calculation by as much as 2 (studded leather). This has synergy with DEX-primary characters like DEX fighters, rangers, and rogues who can start with AC 15 at 1st level, increase to AC 16 at 4th level, and max out at AC 17 at 6th level for fighters (8th level for everyone else) all by increasing DEX. So for the same investment in DEX, light armor provides +2 AC compared to no armor, which is just better.




Medium armor at 1st level provides as much as +3 AC over no armor for the same investment in DEX and +4 AC if you take disadvantage on Stealth, for a net +1/+2 over light armor, but only up to DEX 14. At DEX 16, light armor catches up to chainshirt, at DEX 18, it catches up to scalemail (with no disadvantage), and at DEX 20, it catches up to half plate (again with no disadvantage).




So theoretically, at 1st level, you could have AC 15 (16 with disadvantage) with DEX 14, matching the DEX-primary character’s AC with light armor and DEX 16. I say “theoretically”, however, because if you look at the classes that have medium armor proficiency, with the exception of a STR ranger, it’s unlikely that DEX will be better than a tertiary ability score, so I’d expect most medium armor wearers to start the game with a DEX 12 or 13 at best, yielding an AC one point lower than the DEX-primary light armor wearer’s AC unless the medium armor wearer accepts disadvantage on Stealth. All of this is with a much lower initial investment in DEX, so one less point of AC seems fair. At the same level of investment, for example, light armor only provides AC 13 compared to medium armor’s AC 14/15 (chainshirt/scalemail).




At 4th level, the medium armor wearer can increase its DEX to 14, keeping pace with light armor’s increase to 18, and at 6th level, breastplate and half plate become affordable, keeping pace with the DEX fighter’s increase to DEX 20. So for less than half the point buy/ASI investment in DEX, medium armor provides the same AC as light armor with disadvantage on Stealth and one point less without it. Again, medium armor is always better than no armor, but compared to light armor, it’s a wash.




Heavy armor, like medium armor, also requires only a moderate ability score investment, but in STR rather than DEX. It also completely negates the effect of DEX on your AC. So for the same point-buy investment at 1st level , heavy armor gives you +5 AC over no armor, +3 over light, and +2/+1 over medium. To get to AC 16 (chainmail), though, you need to invest in at least STR 13, rather than DEX 12. At 4th level, splint becomes affordable but requires a bump to STR 15 compared to DEX 14. At 6th level, plate becomes affordable, keeping heavy armor wearers one point ahead of similarly disadvantaged half plate wearers and studded leather wearers that have bumped their DEX to 20.




Conclusion: The three blanket armor proficiencies each provide a suite of options that are more or less attractive to different characters but which are all balanced, both within and between the proficiencies, by point-buy/ASI investment, expected ability score allocation by level, expected wealth by level, and the balancing factor of an additional point of armor class in exchange for disadvantage on Stealth checks. The heavier armor proficiencies aren’t improvements over the lighter armor proficiencies but merely expand the set of options that players have to choose from in creating more diverse characters.




One inconsistency with the tables is that padded armor probably shouldn’t require light armor proficiency, but rather should be its own proficiency that everyone gets. I don’t think such a change is anywhere near warranted, however.




The only addition to the tables for which there seems to be any room is an AC 15 heavy armor with a STR 11 requirement. Other than that, it looks like the designers covered everything.
 
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Xeviat

Explorer
I still feel like medium armor is lacking in that it only provides one "upgrade" when typical light armor wearers get two upgrades (Dex 18, Dex 20) and heavy armor gets two upgrades (splint and plate).
 

Toledo

Villager
I don't know how frequently this has (or hasn't been) debated but I feel that that heavy armor should be +2 to what it currently is, and medium armor should be +1. There was a reason why people wore it - because it was hugely effective.

Take a look at the Armored Combat League to see just how protective plate is.
 

Hriston

Explorer
Light armor is straight forward. You wear studded leather.
Level 1: DEX 16, AC 15
Level 4: DEX 18, AC 16
Level 6: DEX 20, AC 17
So far, so good?

Now let’s look at heavy armor.
Level 1: STR 13, AC 16 (chain mail)
Level 4: STR 15, AC 17 (splint)
Level 6: STR 15, AC 18 (plate)
So with heavy armor, you need to bump up your STR to take advantage of that splint upgrade at level 4.

Now on to medium armor:
Level 1: DEX 12, AC 14/15 (chain shirt/scale mail)
Level 4: DEX 14, AC 15/16 (chain shirt/scale mail)
Level 6: DEX 14, AC 16/17 (breastplate/half plate)
As with heavy armor (and light armor), the upgrade at level 4 requires an ability score increase. Medium and heavy are different from light in that the level 6 upgrade is by equipment only.
 

Mistwell

Adventurer
I still feel like medium armor is lacking in that it only provides one "upgrade" when typical light armor wearers get two upgrades (Dex 18, Dex 20) and heavy armor gets two upgrades (splint and plate).
Scale and half-plate vs splint and plate.
 

Mistwell

Adventurer
Light armor is straight forward. You wear studded leather.
Level 1: DEX 16, AC 15
Level 4: DEX 18, AC 16
Level 6: DEX 20, AC 17
So far, so good?

Now let’s look at heavy armor.
Level 1: STR 13, AC 16 (chain mail)
Level 4: STR 15, AC 17 (splint)
Level 6: STR 15, AC 18 (plate)
So with heavy armor, you need to bump up your STR to take advantage of that splint upgrade at level 4.

Now on to medium armor:
Level 1: DEX 12, AC 14/15 (chain shirt/scale mail)
Level 4: DEX 14, AC 15/16 (chain shirt/scale mail)
Level 6: DEX 14, AC 16/17 (breastplate/half plate)
As with heavy armor (and light armor), the upgrade at level 4 requires an ability score increase. Medium and heavy are different from light in that the level 6 upgrade is by equipment only.
Since Medium provides the same AC as Light, why would you assume different Dex scores? If the light armor guy starts at 16, just start the medium armor guy at 16, or at least 14. They're not likely starting 12 given the classes involved - 14 seems somewhat likely to me given the skills and initiative and saving throw involved with Dex.

Also, if we're assuming an ASI, why wouldn't the Medium armor guy just take the medium armor mastery. Their 16 Dex and a feat is now a higher AC that the 18 Dex guy in light armor...or even the 20 Dex guy in light armor.
 

coolAlias

Explorer
Light armor is for characters using Dex as their primary stat. It requires the most ASI investment to achieve its potential, but chances are you'd be doing so anyway to max your attack and damage rolls.

Heavy armor is for characters using Str as their primary (15+ at 1st) OR secondary stat (14+ at 1st), assuming they have the proficiency for it.

Medium armor is for anyone with access to it that does not have: heavy armor proficiency and decent (13+) Str, high (16+) dex, or some other method of calculating AC that exceeds what would be provided by medium armor.

Medium and Heavy armor generally require little to no ASI investment, but do depend on sufficient funds.

In general, it's pretty easy to determine the most effective armor setup for any given character, and in my experience there isn't much if any variation in what people choose beyond the first few levels of the game until magical armor gets thrown into the mix.
 

Gadget

Explorer
The three blanket armor proficiencies each provide a suite of options that are more or less attractive to different characters but which are all balanced, both within and between the proficiencies, by point-buy/ASI investment, expected ability score allocation by level, expected wealth by level, and the balancing factor of an additional point of armor class in exchange for disadvantage on Stealth checks. The heavier armor proficiencies aren’t improvements over the lighter armor proficiencies but merely expand the set of options that players have to choose from in creating more diverse characters.
I think it depends on what you mean by 'balanced.' This takes as a given that the AC a lightly armored, DEX maxed PC should be roughly comparable (within a point or so) to a PC that invests in heavy armor along with a more modest investment in STR. Taken in isolation, only looking at the AC calculations as described in the OP, that can appear to be the case. But the benefits of boosting Dex (as well as the benefits of boosting Str) go far beyond the AC boost gained. The Light Armor is likely getting an attack and damage boost to go a long with an AC boost for every DEX increase, whereas the STR character is only getting an attack/damage boost beyond 15 STR. DEX also keeps benefiting things like Initiative and a more common save (and thus more valued by the design of 5e). Skills may be considered a more nebulous comparison, as campaigns tend to vary a bit in what skills come up more often, but things like Stealth, Acrobatics, etc. are also enhanced by DEX increases, while STR is usually limited to Athletics and the less used (IME) lifting and carrying capacities.
 

BookBarbarian

Expert Long Rester
Medium armor at 1st level provides as much as +3 AC over no armor for the same investment in DEX and +4 AC if you take disadvantage on Stealth, for a net +1/+2 over light armor, but only up to DEX 14. At DEX 16, light armor catches up to chainshirt, at DEX 18, it catches up to scalemail (with no disadvantage), and at DEX 20, it catches up to half plate (again with no disadvantage).


So theoretically, at 1st level, you could have AC 15 (16 with disadvantage) with DEX 14, matching the DEX-primary character’s AC with light armor and DEX 16. I say “theoretically”, however, because if you look at the classes that have medium armor proficiency, with the exception of a STR ranger, it’s unlikely that DEX will be better than a tertiary ability score, so I’d expect most medium armor wearers to start the game with a DEX 12 or 13 at best, yielding an AC one point lower than the DEX-primary light armor wearer’s AC unless the medium armor wearer accepts disadvantage on Stealth. All of this is with a much lower initial investment in DEX, so one less point of AC seems fair. At the same level of investment, for example, light armor only provides AC 13 compared to medium armor’s AC 14/15 (chainshirt/scalemail).


At 4th level, the medium armor wearer can increase its DEX to 14, keeping pace with light armor’s increase to 18, and at 6th level, breastplate and half plate become affordable, keeping pace with the DEX fighter’s increase to DEX 20. So for less than half the point buy/ASI investment in DEX, medium armor provides the same AC as light armor with disadvantage on Stealth and one point less without it. Again, medium armor is always better than no armor, but compared to light armor, it’s a wash.
I've lost count of how many Barbarians I've played in 5e and every one started with Dex 14 and ended with Dex 14, and wore medium armor. I'm not sure we're this 12-13 Dex number is coming from, and I've never use an ASI at level 4 to bump a Tertiary stat instead of bumping Primary stat at the first chance I get seems so strange to me. It's a much better investment to get it to 14 at level 1 and keep it there.
 

Mistwell

Adventurer
Light armor is for characters using Dex as their primary stat.
Or those who just have light armor proficiency and not medium or heavy.

It requires the most ASI investment to achieve its potential, but chances are you'd be doing so anyway to max your attack and damage rolls.
Maybe, but there are a bunch of reasons that might not be the case. Off the top of my head:

1. Warlocks have light armor proficiency, but their caster stat is not Dex.
2. Bards have light armor proficiency, but their caster stat is not Dex.
3. Druids would often choose light armor, as their only real medium option is hide which is the same protection as studded leather. Their caster stat is not Dex.
4. Barbarians get light and medium armor proficiency but may well be focusing on other stats than Dex.
5. All mountain dwarves get light and medium armor proficiency, but may well be of a non-Dex class.
6. A lot of PCs will choose their armor based on magic armor they might find. If you were wearing Hide, but find +1 Studded Leather, you will change to the magic armor.


Heavy armor is for characters using Str as their primary (15+ at 1st) OR secondary stat (14+ at 1st), assuming they have the proficiency for it.
Or a dwarf.

Medium armor is for anyone with access to it that does not have: heavy armor proficiency and decent (13+) Str, high (16+) dex, or some other method of calculating AC that exceeds what would be provided by medium armor.
Medium armor is better than light armor at most early levels, even with a 12 Dex.
 
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TwoSix

Lover of things you hate
Now on to medium armor:
Level 1: DEX 12, AC 14/15 (chain shirt/scale mail)
Level 4: DEX 14, AC 15/16 (chain shirt/scale mail)
Level 6: DEX 14, AC 16/17 (breastplate/half plate)
As with heavy armor (and light armor), the upgrade at level 4 requires an ability score increase. Medium and heavy are different from light in that the level 6 upgrade is by equipment only.
My only quibble with this is that any class or subclass that caps at medium armor is going to have Dex as a tertiary stat at worst, so they can get a pretty easy level 1 Dex 14.
 

coolAlias

Explorer
Or those who just have light armor proficiency and not medium or heavy.


Maybe, but there are a bunch of reasons that might not be the case. Off the top of my head:

1. Warlocks have light armor proficiency, but their caster stat is not Dex.
2. Bards have light armor proficiency, but their caster stat is not Dex.
3. Druids would often choose light armor, as their only real medium option is hide which is the same protection as studded leather. Their caster stat is not Dex.
4. Barbarians get light and medium armor proficiency but may well be focusing on other stats than Dex.
5. All mountain dwarves get light and medium armor proficiency, but may well be of a non-Dex class.
6. A lot of PCs will choose their armor based on magic armor they might find. If you were wearing Hide, but find +1 Studded Leather, you will change to the magic armor.

Or a dwarf.

Medium armor is better than light armor at most early levels, even with a 12 Dex.
Dwarves are certainly an exception to some of what I stated, but the rest of your points can be summed up as follows:

For anyone with any armor proficiency at all and with no other method of calculating AC, wearing the heaviest armor you can will almost always provide the best AC.

I don't disagree, I just didn't consider those types of characters when mentioning my stat breakdowns.
 

Xeviat

Explorer
Dwarves are certainly an exception to some of what I stated, but the rest of your points can be summed up as follows:

For anyone with any armor proficiency at all and with no other method of calculating AC, wearing the heaviest armor you can will almost always provide the best AC.

I don't disagree, I just didn't consider those types of characters when mentioning my stat breakdowns.
If "almost all" included the Dex Ranger, I'd be with you.
 

Hriston

Explorer
Since Medium provides the same AC as Light, why would you assume different Dex scores?
Because the benefit of medium armor is that you don’t need to invest as much in DEX to have the same AC (if you take disadvantage on Stealth checks) thereby being able to invest in other abilities. If you’re wearing medium armor, there’s no benefit to AC in having a DEX above 14.

Before the availability of half plate (6th level), if your DEX is 18 or higher, you should wear studded leather unless you also have a STR 15 or higher and heavy armor proficiency. Once you can afford half plate, if your DEX is 20, you’re better off wearing studded leather unless your STR is 15 or higher, and you have heavy armor proficiency.

If the light armor guy starts at 16, just start the medium armor guy at 16, or at least 14. They're not likely starting 12 given the classes involved - 14 seems somewhat likely to me given the skills and initiative and saving throw involved with Dex.
The classes involved are barbarian, cleric, druid, and ranger. Ranger is the odd man out. A DEX-primary ranger should wear light armor, so medium armor proficiency is included only to enable STR-primary rangers. A STR ranger is still going to want a high DEX, though, so will probably max out his/her medium armor at 1st level. As s/he increases his/her DEX to 18 and above at higher levels, s/he may end up adopting light armor.

That leaves barbarian, cleric, and druid. Typically, none of these classes are going to have DEX higher than 3rd or 4th in importance. I’m assuming a starting array with the numbers 16, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8, which would give these characters a 13 or 12 in DEX at best. What am I missing?

Also, if we're assuming an ASI, why wouldn't the Medium armor guy just take the medium armor mastery. Their 16 Dex and a feat is now a higher AC that the 18 Dex guy in light armor...or even the 20 Dex guy in light armor.
Feats aren’t part of the base game, which is what I’m focused on, so my analysis doesn’t account for them.
 

dnd4vr

Explorer
You know, all this talk about armor proficiency made me think of something: what happens if you wear armor you aren't proficient in??? I am sure there is something in the PHB about it, but another player is borrowing mine and for the life of me, I can't think of the rule about not having proficiency... :confused:
 

Mistwell

Adventurer
That leaves barbarian, cleric, and druid. Typically, none of these classes are going to have DEX higher than 3rd or 4th in importance. I’m assuming a starting array with the numbers 16, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8, which would give these characters a 13 or 12 in DEX at best. What am I missing?
OK I will go through point-buy with some common races for those classes.

Barbarian Half-Orc: 16, 15, 14, 12, 10, 8
Hill Dwarf Cleric: 16, 16, 14, 12, 10, 8
Ghostwise Halfling Druid: 16, 16, 14, 10, 10, 8

Not seeing the issue. A 14 Dex as the third stat should be very common. If you start with Medium armor proficiency, you will almost certainly also start with a 14 Dex. At least that's my experience, and the experience of others in this thread. AC is one of the only things that doesn't reliably increase with level. You're going to want to look out for it from level one.
 
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coolAlias

Explorer
Seconding [MENTION=2525]Mistwell[/MENTION] here - I don't know that I've ever seen a character who has (and plans to use) medium armor proficiency have a Dex less than 14, regardless of class, race, or stat generation choice.
 

S'mon

Hero
I don't know how frequently this has (or hasn't been) debated but I feel that that heavy armor should be +2 to what it currently is, and medium armor should be +1. There was a reason why people wore it - because it was hugely effective.

Take a look at the Armored Combat League to see just how protective plate is.
You can add in some better armour types.
In 5e Primeval Thule, Bronze Cuirass is Medium +6 AC, 900gp.
In my 5e Golarion, Hellknight Plate is Heavy +9 AC. You could add in some kind of Gothic Plate with the same effect; maybe 2500gp or 3000gp?
 

S'mon

Hero
Seconding [MENTION=2525]Mistwell[/MENTION] here - I don't know that I've ever seen a character who has (and plans to use) medium armor proficiency have a Dex less than 14, regardless of class, race, or stat generation choice.
Yup, me too. Especially with Point Buy, DEX 14 is very much the standard allocation.
 

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