D&D 5E Layering and Breaking Armor


He / Him
I've been thinking a lot about creating house rules for a prehistoric setting. I just did a thread about breaking weapons and spell foci, so this one is about armor!

I think one fun image of a prehistoric fantasy setting is the armor. In my mind, the only available metal is bronze, and most armor is going to be layers of hide, leather, bone, wood, etc.

I also like the idea of armor breaking, and characters having to make or barter for new armor. But I think armor breakage should be in the hands of the players, not the DM. So here's my idea, combining the layering of armor with armor breakage.

Note: I would probably pair this with a harsher Massive Damage rule, such as: When you take 20 or more damage, you must make a Constitution Saving Throw (DC 10 or 1/2 damage) or be reduced to 1 hit point. A character reduced to 0 Hit Points by Massive Damage automatically fails one Death Saving Throw.

Armor Layers
Armor comes in two parts: base armor and layers. . Base armor can be modified by up to two layers. A character doesn't benefit from wearing more than two layers on top of base armor. Furthermore, layers worn without a base armor provide no benefit. Shields still provide bonuses to Armor Class even when a character is not wearing base armor.

Light, Medium, and Heavy Armor
All base armor is light.
Base armor worn with one layer is medium. A character wearing medium armor may only add up to +2 Dexterity to their Armor Class.
Base armor worn with two layers is heavy, and no longer allows a character to add their Dexterity Modifier to Armor Class.

Block and Cover
When a character takes damage, they can choose to sacrifice a piece of armor to gain resistance against certain damage types. When the armor is sacrificed, its AC Bonus is reduced by 1. When a piece of base armor is reduced to AC 10, or a layer is reduced to +0, it is destroyed.

An armor that blocks can be sacrificed to grant resistance against bludgeoning, piercing, or slashing.

An armor that covers can be sacrificed to grant resistance against acid, cold, fire, lightning, or thunder.

Big and Heavy
Layering armor can overburden weaker characters. Most base armor, and some layers, carry the tags Big or Heavy. A character can wear armor with a number of Big or Heavy tags equal to 2 + Strength Modifier.

Base Armor
: Thick clothing or wrappings. AC 11 + Dex.
Padded (Big, Cover): Clothing filled with straw, hair, or other light materials. AC 11 + Dex.
Leather (Big, Cover): Treated hides. AC 12 + Dex, Cover, Big.
Linked (Big, Block): Pieces of bone, stone, or wood linked together with twine or leather chord. AC 12 + Dex. Disadvantage to Stealth Checks.
Bone (Big, Heavy, Block, Cover): Large plates of bone tied together by leather chords. AC 12 + Dex. Disadvantage to Stealth Checks.
Bronze (Big, Heavy, Block, Cover): Heavy pieces of bronze, sewn onto leather or cloth armor. AC 13. Disadvantage to Stealth Checks.

(Cover): A cloth, leather, or hide cape. +1 AC.
Gauntlets (Block, Heavy): Bone or bronze gauntlets. +2 AC.
Greatcloak (Block, Cover, Heavy): A heavy cape, made of thick hide. +2 AC.
Greathelm (Block, Heavy): A heavy helmet, made of bone or bronze sewn into leather or hide. +2 AC.
Heavy Belt (Block): A thick belt made of leather or cloth straps, with plates of bone, wood, or bronze. +1 AC.
Heavy Gloves (Block): Thick gloves made of leather or hide. +1 AC.
Helmet (Block): A light helmet, made of cloth, leather, or hide. +1 AC.

(Block): +1 AC
Shield (Block, Big): +2 AC
Greatshield (Block, Cover, Big, Heavy): +2 AC.


Njorvin is a Half-Orc Fighter with 18 Strength (+4) and 12 Dexterity (+1). He can wear armor with up to 6 Big or Heavy Tags. He puts on Bronze Armor (Big, Heavy), a Greatcloak (Heavy), Gauntlets (Heavy), and a Greatshield (Big, Heavy). Njorvin does not add his Dexterity Bonus to AC for two reasons: Bronze Armor doesn't allow a Dexterity Bonus, and this is also Heavy Armor. Njorvin's Armor Class is 19.

Bonehawk is a Dwarven Barbarian with 16 Strength (+3) and 16 Dexterity (+3). She can wear armor with up to 5 Big or Heavy tags. She wears Bone Armor (Big, Heavy) with a Greathelm (Big, Heavy) and a Shield (Big). This is considered medium armor, so she only adds +2 from her Dexterity, giving her a total Armor Class of 19.

Skalva is a Tiefling Warlock with 8 Strength (-1) and 14 Dexterity (+2). She cannot wear Bone or Bronze armor, because each have the Big and Heavy tags, and she can only wear armor with one tag. She wears Leather Armor, and has an AC of 14. Skalva is only proficient in Light Armor, so she cannot wear any layers.

Rabbit is a Gnome Wizard with 8 Strength and 12 Dexterity (+1). Rabbit is not proficient in armor. He is a squishy wizard.

During an adventure, the group is attacked by drow. Njorvin is hit by an arrow, dealing 12 Piercing and 8 Poison damage. He chooses to sacrifice his Greatshield, lowering its AC bonus to +1, but gaining resistance to the Piercing Damage.

Skalva also is hit with an arrow, taking 10 Piercing and 3 Poison Damage. She cannot sacrifice her Leather Armor, because it only has the Cover Tag, not the Block Tag.

Later, a Drow Sorcerer casts Fireball, dealing 32 Fire Damage. This would trigger a Massive Damage Saving Throw in characters who fail their Dexterity Saving Throw! Characters wearing armor with the Cover Tag (Njorvin, Bonehawk, Skalva) are able to sacrifice in order to gain resistance to the Fire Damage. Rabbit fails his Dexterity Saving Throw, and doesn't wear armor. He must make a Constitution Saving Throw DC 16 or suffer the effects of Massive Damage.

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