January 2016 Sage Advice - All About AC

There is a new Sage Advice from WotC's Jeremy Crawford posted on the D&D website about Armor Class and how spells interact with it. As always, the Sage Advice Compendium has also been updated with this information. This month, Jeremy discusses how to calculate creature ACs, and how spells like mage armor, barkskin, amor of Agates, and heroism work. Interestingly, it also contains a reconsidered ruling on how barkskin and shields work, and an update to his previous ruling one the Savage Attacker feat.
Find the full column here and the full compiled Sage Advice Compendium PDF here.

Also of note, the Monster Manual errata has been updated and now includes the water elemental and changes to the kraken.


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.
 
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Li Shenron

Legend
DEFCON 1 said:
What? Just because your skin takes on a hardened form of pseudo-natural armor that protects you even when you're wearing leather armor over it... but then that protection suddenly disappears once you strap a shield on your arm? How could that NOT make sense?!?

The only way to make some sense to it, is to try and keep focused on the original idea that in D&D "armor is cover", so any AC increase is more about covering your weak spots rather than absorbing hits.

If you think of Barkskin, natural armor, shield etc. to be mostly about covering more of your exposed body, it starts making some sense that these don't just stack like they easily did in 3e, but you tend to get diminishing returns from adding more AC bonuses.

But then, what suddenly starts to feel broken, is 3/4 cover. We have all these restrictions meant to keep your AC low for bounded accuracy, but a ranged combatant has such an easy way to boost her AC by a whooping +5 just by getting behind 3/4 cover that stacks with everything - except of course Barksin :p
 

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CapnZapp

Legend
Mechanically barkskin is a more interesting spell with this ruling. It is a way for parties to help a character that might not have optimized stats, such as a Monk who picks strength over dexterity. I prefer this over yet another spell that adds X to your AC.
And I have said that I can work with the mechanism, but then you'd need a plausible pseudo-explanation for the way the protection varies with other forms of AC, including trivial examples like the sarcastic shield example given above.

Rename the spell "Ancestral Defense" or something and it becomes difficult to accuse the spell of not making sense.

Or perhaps describe how nature spirits deflect attacks but how these work best if you go naked as a babe but get less and less energetic with your other protective measures, and I'm all good.

But a spell that turns your skin "hard as bark" does not make any sense at all with this mechanic. Quite contrary - a "skin as bark" is a veritable posterboy for the natural AC mechanic.

---

That's why I say I find it incomprehensible why Barkskin is written as it is, and why it doesn't showcase the Natural AC armor mechanic.

regards,
 

Sadras

Legend
Either they have intended Barkskin to be used only by the caster, in which case it should have had a target:self, or it is intended to benefit others too and then that's what it should do.

But it seems to me that it is not their priority to make Barskin tactically interested, but rather their priority is to make ruling consistent, even at the expense of narrative being inconsistent.

Which is a bit dissonant with other aspects of the game where they have thrown consistency out of the window because it was not fun (e.g. NPC and monster design).

We have all these restrictions meant to keep your AC low for bounded accuracy, but a ranged combatant has such an easy way to boost her AC by a whooping +5 just by getting behind 3/4 cover that stacks with everything - except of course Barksin :p

A possible solution to fix the problem with keeping to 5e's bounded accuracy policy but also ensuring consistency with narrative, the spell Barkskin could be altered to allow damage prevention. One would need to ensure this is balanced and the duration of the spell is reasonable of course so it doesn't make it OP.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
The only way to make some sense to it
I really honestly wouldn't wish for you or anyone to go there...

The best way to make sense of the spell is either to rework its mechanism or its description&name. That is change either the crunch or the fluff, so they match each other.

You could even do both:

Barkskin. Target: Self. While you don't wield a shield, you gain the equivalent of heavy armor AC 16. You're considered to be proficient with Barkskin armor, which is non-metal, has no Strength requirement and doesn't give Stealth disadvantage.

(This option means cover etc work just as you expect them to. The prohibition on shields is a bit of a stretch, but really not anything Monks haven't coped with.)

Nature's Defense. If your current AC is less than 16, your AC becomes 16 as nature spirits cover the gaps in your armor.
 

Li Shenron

Legend
I really honestly wouldn't wish for you or anyone to go there...

The best way to make sense of the spell is either to rework its mechanism or its description&name. That is change either the crunch or the fluff, so they match each other.

Yeah, but obviously I meant "with the current rules". Changing the PHB is not on the table right now.
 


Azurewraith

Explorer
A possible solution to fix the problem with keeping to 5e's bounded accuracy policy but also ensuring consistency with narrative, the spell Barkskin could be altered to allow damage prevention. One would need to ensure this is balanced and the duration of the spell is reasonable of course so it doesn't make it OP.

I had the exact same thought but unfortunately or fortunately? I dunno lol basic damage reduction didn't make it into this ed. It could give resistance to everything but psychic and vulnerable fire and slashing? Not sure seems op to me
 

Sadras

Legend
I had the exact same thought but unfortunately or fortunately? I dunno lol basic damage reduction didn't make it into this ed.

Have a look at the Heavy Armour Master Feat

With regards to it being OP. What I mean is that it will be a must have spell in every situation. Personally I don't like that kind of spell.

@CapnZapp had the most elegant solution: To change the name of the spell - for the narrative/description to suit the mechanics.
 


Yaarel

Mind Mage
The Barkskin spell might need a rewrite to help its mechanics and narrative cohere with each other.

In 4e, only mechanics mattered, and ‘fluff’ was officially suggestive and alterable, even alterable by the players using the mechanic.

But in 5e, both the mechanics and the narrative matter. The game expects the DM to adjudicate outcomes based on the implications that result from the narrative description.

So, DMs who adjudicate the Barkskin spell by favoring its narrative description over its mechanical description, are, in fact, playing D&D 5e right.

In this particular case, the problem is with the language of the spell itself, its conflictive stats and narrative.
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
The Barkskin spell might need a rewrite to help its mechanics and narrative cohere with each other.

In 4e, only mechanics mattered, and ‘fluff’ was officially suggestive and alterable, even alterable by the players using the mechanic.

But in 5e, both the mechanics and the narrative matter. The game expects the DM to adjudicate outcomes based on the implications that result from the narrative description.

So, DMs who adjudicate the Barkskin spell by favoring its narrative description over its mechanical description, are, in fact, playing D&D 5e right.

In this particular case, the problem is with the language of the spell itself, its conflictive stats and narrative.

That's pretty much it in a nutshell. The description talks about your skin becoming hardened (like armor), and the second part of the rule specifically mentions setting your AC regardless of the armor you are wearing. So that's two parts of the spell that talk in armor terms, and thus imply Barkskin is an armor replacement. Which would therefore also imply that things that work in addition to armor (like cover and shields) would also work and stack with Barkskin.

Then you throw in the additional facet that Druids are given Medium Armor proficiency. So they theoretically should and could be wearing Chain Mail {CORRECTION: Scale Mail} at 1st level just like the other classes that gain Medium Armor proficiency (see Cleric) except they are given that fluffy "no metal" rule so they can't. But without that fluffy rule, their maximum AC could normally be 16 (14 for Chainmail {Correction: Scale Mail} armor + 2 for DEX.) Now since they CAN'T use metal armor and are stuck with Hide, you'd think they would have some other method to get that AC 16 just like every other Medium Armor proficiency class can have (you know... for balance reasons)... and hey, look! Barkskin could be that way to get it! That spell gives you an AC of 16!

But of course... that Cleric wearing {Scale} Mail also gets to hold a shield for another +2 to AC and can get behind cover for another +2 or +5 to AC. But heaven forbid the Druid actually get to do that though! Naw... we can't have that! If the druid does wear a shield and get behind cover... those only would apply as a bonus to the druid so long as he was already wearing a different set of armor plus his DEX mod to approach that AC of 16 already. Of course... why a Circle of the Land Druid who is already wearing Studded Leather + high DEX or Hide + 2 points of DEX would then ALSO then put Barkskin on himself is beyond me.

Basically, the spell is clearly meant to be used just by Circle of the Moon druids just prior to wildshaping (as has been said), because no other druid would bother. And it's exactly why I have no intention to use that particular ruling of Sage Advice because I think it's stupid.

Now that being said... I also don't have any problem whatsoever that Jeremy MADE that ruling in Sage Advice, or that he makes ANY rulings in Sage Advice for that matter. The books are written in a much more casual manner such that various people with various grammatical skill or comprehension will take away different things on occasion. And if enough of those people harangue Jeremy to the point that he feels the need to clarify how he and they team intended those things to work, then he can go right ahead and satisfy the desires of that group of people who wanted it.

The one thing I *don't* get though are the players who then get upset that he DID make those Sage Advices. Because not a single one of us HAS to read those columns. If someone doesn't want those "clarifications", then don't read them. Pretend they don't exist! No one is forcing you to read them or use them. And don't then give me that "Well, I play Ruled As Written, so I'm now forced to use these bad rulings that I don't agree with" because that's complete and utter BS. Get over your compulsive self. That's just plain stupid. And you have no right to dictate what Jeremy does and doesn't produce for those players who want them just because you don't have the self-control to not read the articles when they come out or just IGNORE them when they do. That's all on you.
 
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Pauln6

Adventurer
I've just been saying that the barkskin should be treated the same as heavy armour. Your skin gets tough but it makes you stiff so no dex bonuses etc.
 

Kalshane

First Post
I'm of the opinion that Barkskin should be treated like wearing chainmail (but not metal), and allow anything that would stack with chainmail to stack. While I realize this contradicts this Sage Advice, I think the Sage Advice makes zero sense in this case. (Same goes for the ruling on the Lucky feat, where you actually have a greater chance to succeed when you have Disadvantage than normal if you spend a luck point.)

I think a phrasing along the line of "this counts as wearing heavy armor for the sake of anything that would modify your AC (such as your Dexterity bonus)." would have been much easier to handle than this "can never be less than 16" business.
 

Staffan

Legend
If they open up a possibility only to nerf it, it doesn't sound like good design to me.

Either they have intended Barkskin to be used only by the caster, in which case it should have had a target:self, or it is intended to benefit others too and then that's what it should do.
The primary purpose is as a self-buff for Moon druids. There are also valid other uses, such as using it on animal allies (even if druids don't have an animal companion class feature in 5e, it's not a stretch that they could get animals to aid them using magic such as animal friendship and speak with beasts) or on humanoid allies with less-than-optimal AC (and remember that it's only a 2nd level spell - AC 15ish isn't that uncommon at low levels).
 

Shasarak

Banned
Banned
**Not in terms of rules. Just don't say that to an angry monk. Or even a non-angry monk, because then he'll be an angry monk. And you wouldn't like the monk when he's angry.

I did not like the monk when he was not angry but he is pretty fun when he is drunk though.
 

jodyjohnson

Adventurer
Sage Advice is something I like to pull out when a player says he wants to play by the book.

I can always find something in there that softens that stance.

Fortunately they recommend NOT playing by the book all the time.
 


Then you throw in the additional facet that Druids are given Medium Armor proficiency. So they theoretically should and could be wearing Chain Mail at 1st level just like the other classes that gain Medium Armor proficiency (see Cleric) except they are given that fluffy "no metal" rule so they can't.

Chain Mail is Heavy Armor, not Medium.
 


CapnZapp

Legend
I think he meant chain shirt.
I can't speak for anyone else, but I mean chainmail.

Specifically, I mean AC 16 armor with no dex modifier.

I wrote (in my alternate Barkskin write-up) how the caster is considered proficient in the armor. At least I think I did.
 

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