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D&D 5E Lets Talk about Medium Armor

Xeviat

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Hi everyone. I'd like to talk about medium armor, and possibly about improving it. 4E got rid of the concept of medium armor and just had lights and heavies. Some armor was just flat out better than others, but proficiencies were given out by armor and not all at once. 3E had varied max dex bonuses, allowing everyone to aim for roughly the same 17-18 AC (with full-plate and padded being special).

5E is ... different. Light and Heavy Armors line up pretty well on their own. Studded Leather is the basic light armor (it's cheap enough that you could have it at first level) at 12+Dex AC. Chainmail is the basic heavy armor, for 16 AC.

For a light armor wearer starting with 16 Dex (doable for dex fighter, ranger, and rogue, and more warrior inclined light armor casters), this is AC 15 compared to heavy armor's AC 16. The light armor wearer can boost their Dex twice, ending with AC 17, while the heavy armor wearer can upgrade their armor twice, ending with AC 18.

That's good. That's balanced.

What about medium armor? Well, a medium armor wearer needs a Dex of 14 to maximize their AC, which can be doable with standard array but really limits options. Chain and Scale are the baseline medium armors. With a 14 Dex, Chain is AC 15, and Scale is AC 16. Scale comes with stealth penalties, just like heavy armor, so the comparison is good here. Medium armor gets to upgrade once, to 16 or 17 AC accordingly ... but that's it.

So, not only does Medium armor require you to make Dex a secondary or tertiary stat (which limits character options in my opinion), but it ends up having lower AC than light armor or heavy armor.

I feel like medium armor needs 2 boosts. I feel like the distinction between "light medium" armors that don't penalize stealth, and "heavy medium" armors that do penalize stealth aren't really utilized. I've personally never seen a character proficient in stealth who wasn't a dex focused character, so medium armor wouldn't benefit them anyway. But maybe I play with power gamers.

I'm not sure where the balance point should be. Medium Armor proficiency is paired with shield proficiency generally speaking, but shield use comes with its own hand things. I feel like medium should be an all around improvement over light, and heavy should be an improvement over medium. I'm not sure "disadvantage on stealth" is really in the same category as "+1 AC" to be balanced against it. I'm not sure "you don't need to invest in Dex" is also a "point" in favor of Medium armor, as investing in lower Dex still comes with its own penalties.

So, where do you think Medium armor should be? Should medium armor always be +1 AC over light? Should heavy always be +1 AC over medium? Should "disadvantage on stealth" be worth +1 AC? Is 14 Dex too must to ask for medium armor wearers?
 

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Xeviat

Community Supporter
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Lets look at the classes:

Barbarian: Medium armor or Unarmored Defense
*Bard: Light armor (valor has Medium)
Cleric: Medium armor (life, nature, tempest, and war have Heavy)
Druid: Medium (likely limited to Hide and special Scale)
Fighter: Heavy
*Monk: Unarmored Defense
Paladin: Heavy
*Ranger: Medium
*Rogue: Light
Sorcerer: None
Warlock: Light
Wizard: None
*stealth as a class skill
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
These are all ACs that are close enough in the same ballpark that more often than not things like shields, magical armors, spells, and other class features and abilities that affect or change AC render any attempts to make some sort of universal "balanced" chart for the three levels of armor pretty much moot.

If Clerics wear medium but feel they need some points of AC, they can use a shield, raise their DEX, cast Shield of Faith on themselves, etc. etc. Druids can cast Barkskin for an AC of 16 if an extra point or two of AC matters to them or just Wild Shape and take the extra pool of HP to be their "better armor". And Rangers will probably have the 2 points of DEX to start with and could take the Defense fighting style if it really mattered. So at the end of the day, the Medium armor PCs will have a certain group of numbers for their AC, and it'll be in and around the heavy armor wearers and in and around the light armor wearers. It all works itself out in the wash and nothing I don't think needs to get too noodly on. But that's just me.
 

I really wish that medium armor was a point higher than light or heavy armor, given that it requires both proficiency and a high score to benefit. If light armor tops out at 17, and heavy armor is AC 18, then IMO medium armor should be AC 19.

Of course, I also wish that a fighter-mage would gain enough benefit from versatility to make up for the lack of specialization. If an enemy has high AC but bad saves, then the ability to target one rather than the other should compensate for not being able to hit either one as hard.

But that's not D&D; or, at the very least, it's not 5E. This is a game where everyone is expected to specialize in exactly one trick, and use that trick against everyone.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
Medium armor ... you mean the very best armor in a very large number of cases? Nope, no improvement needed.

People seem only to look at the extreme cases while judging, when in truth there's a wide variety of cases and when you look across actual usage, medium armor is the best armor more than heavy armor is or light armor is.

Okay, first let's talk about ability scores and bell curves, including pseudo bell curves from the point buy/standard array method.

Starting characters usually have one 15-17, one 14-16, and then we're lookign at +1 and +0 mods with a -1 somewhere.

DEX is usually seen as a great ability score, as it affects many things. If your character isn't focused on it (rogue, ranged or finesse weapon wielder), you still likely have a +1 or +2 modifier in it with the exception of some heavy armor people who use it as a dump stat.

STR is only useful for melee weapon wielders, a subset of characters though it does include some melee clerics. It's a pretty safe bet that no other character is going to have a 15+ STR in the first two tiers. Heavy armor, when confined to the choices that take less than a 15 STR, lose out to medium armor with average expected dex. So heavy armor only wins for STR-based melee weapon wielders.

For Dex-prime characters - finesse and ranged weapon wielders, light armor will be the best. Medium armor can match it's AC, but at a higher costs and at disadvantage to stealth. Not huge deals, but still.

For everyone else, without the STR to wear heavy armor nor the dex focus, medium armor is the best armor for them. It gives the best AC.

What we have from this is that the group of people whom medium armor would be best (assuming they had proficiency in it) is larger than either the STR-prime melee combatants, or the DEX-prime finesse / ranged combatants. It includes all of the classes where wielding a weapon is not the primary thing.

Now, there's one more important point - medium armor does not need the ability score focus that light or heavy do. Light armor requires a heavy investment in DEX to be better. Heavy armor requires a smaller investment in STR (but that's a less useful ability score) and a greater investment in gold.

Conclusion:
1. If you rank the number of characters the three armor types are best for, Medium is best.
2. Medium armor requires lesser character investment to make it work, which is a good reason it shouldn't match/exceed the AC available to characters who do invest a lot.
 

aco175

Legend
It seems that medium armor is for the non-fighters that are not Dex builds. Like a cleric that is not a dwarf and gets heavy armor for free. This still allows Dex to be a tertiary stat and still get +1 or 2.

You can change the donning time for the armor to make it a slight bit better if you can take it off quickly in situations like a Saltmarsh campaign and if you are on ships.
 

I played a dex paladin and used medium(half plate) and shield. I had 16 dex and took the medium armour feat that boosts dex bonus to +3 to medium armour and removes disadvantage on stealth.

My AC was 20.

The crappy thing is, if I increase my dex to bring ost my attack rating, my defence doesn’t also go up. OTOH, I kind of feel that is balanced given people’s gripes about dex being the super-stat.

In short: I had to spend an ASI to make medium armour viable.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
I played a dex paladin and used medium(half plate) and shield. I had 16 dex and took the medium armour feat that boosts dex bonus to +3 to medium armour and removes disadvantage on stealth.

My AC was 20.

The crappy thing is, if I increase my dex to bring ost my attack rating, my defence doesn’t also go up. OTOH, I kind of feel that is balanced given people’s gripes about dex being the super-stat.

In short: I had to spend an ASI to make medium armour viable.

AC 19 wasn't viable? Viable?

i-do-not-think-it-means-what-you-think-it-means.jpg
 

Ristamar

Adventurer
Put a +4 Max Dex cap on Light Armor. Create a feat (Light Armor Master) that gives +1 Dex and removes the Max Dex cap and any Stealth disadvantage.
 

TwoSix

Unserious gamer
Medium armor ... you mean the very best armor in a very large number of cases? Nope, no improvement needed.
Yep, you nailed it.

I think the 5e armor system is actually pretty elegant. Ascending armor proficiency is a class perk; characters will pretty much always wear the armor corresponding to their highest granted proficiency, unless they make a specific decision to focus on Dex for their early ASIs. And if you consider the bonuses to Init and Dex saves as more valuable than a point of max AC, you can always downgrade from heavy armor to medium armor to gain them.
 

Xeviat

Community Supporter
Supporter
My issue is that it is as good as light or heavy armor at the lower levels, but then those get better than it. Since medium armor only has 1 upgrade for each kind, their AC gets left behind. Yeah, there's a feat for medium armor mastery, but that's only good if you have a 15 Dex (so that you get the 16 from the bump). Yes, it's the best AC for those without the Str/Heavy armor or the Dex to maximize light armor, but it also takes ability score points to maximize itself.

Again, at lower levels, it is equal to light or heavy. It falls behind when Dex characters can get Dex 20 and when Str/Heavy armor wearers can afford/find Plate. That's my chief complaint. Pushing for that 14 Dex still takes work.
 

ad_hoc

(he/they)
Medium armour isn't supposed to be for those with high dex scores. If you are proficient with medium armour you are also proficient with light armour. So just wear the light armour.

I don't see the problem.

Medium armour lets you get to the same AC as someone with Dex 20 with only Dex 14. That's pretty good.

It's also completely okay for a medium armour wearer to have lower AC than someone with either 20 Dex or with high strength and heavy armour proficiency. A benefit of heavy armour proficiency is not needing to have a high dex for AC.

Everything working as intended.
 

DND_Reborn

I don't debate opinions.
I guess I don't see your issue.

At best, Studded Leather and DEX 20 is AC 17. Half-Plate and DEX 14 is also AC 17. Plate is AC 18. Overall, seems pretty well balanced to me. I guess maybe you think the DEX 14 is too much of an investment for Medium armor to perform at its best? Maybe instead of a DEX boost for MAM, allow the feat to boost the AC value of the armor worn by 1 point?
 

Conclusion:
1. If you rank the number of characters the three armor types are best for, Medium is best.
2. Medium armor requires lesser character investment to make it work, which is a good reason it shouldn't match/exceed the AC available to characters who do invest a lot.
So medium armor is best for people who don't care about armor? That's a lot like saying light crossbows are the best weapon for wizards. Even if it's true, it doesn't really matter.

As it stands, for anyone who cares about armor, light armor is better than medium armor. The only time where medium armor is superior is if you don't care enough to invest in using light armor to its full potential.
 

Zardnaar

Legend
Medium armor is really only good on a handful of classes. Barbarians, Arcana and nature Cleric, Hexblades off the top of my head

That's with the default array. Personally I think they messed up the armor system, light could top out at 17, medium at 18, and heavy at 19.

Some if the heavy armor should have +1 or +2 dex bonuses allowed.
 

Before actually seeing it used in play, I had the same issue with medium armor. In play, I've found a lot of characters don't have access to heavy armor and don't max out Dex. Mostly Barbarians, many Clerics, most Druids, and some Rangers, plus a few odd character designs. In my current game, for example, one player has a githyanki wizard who can wear medium armor, but only has a +1 Dex.
 

DND_Reborn

I don't debate opinions.
So, is the beef with medium armor that it requires the +2 Dex bonus to really perform at its best?

I think we should take Dex out of the equation and look at what the armor actually does. Light caps at AC 12, medium at 15, and heavy at 18. Armor, for what the armor itself does, is balanced IMO.

Oddly, medium armor is the only type of armor worn in our current game. We have the following:

1. A rogue/fighter with DEX 16, MAM, and scale mail (AC 17, maxed). Tack on Dual Wiedler (AC +1) and magic armor +2 for AC 20 total.
2. A barbarian/fighter with DEX 14 and half plate (also AC 17, maxed). He has a shield and magic armor +1 for AC 20 total.
They are our two frontline battlers.

3. A bard/paladin with DEX 14 and breastplate (AC 16).
4. My cleric/wizard/rogue with DEX 14 and elven chain shirt (AC 15). She has buckler (AC +1) and magic armor +1 for AC 17 total.

The unarmored are:

5. The sorcerer/druid has AC 13 (sorcerer), DEX 12, and Bracers of Defense for AC 16 total.
6. The monk/bard with DEX 16 and WIS 16 for AC 16 total.

If AC is important to the player, then the Dex investment is also important IME.

Earlier, we did have a dwarven tank-type, plate+shield+defense style for AC 21, but he "retired" from the group and went in another direction. :)
 

5ekyu

Hero
Sorry, OP, my experience says Medium is fine and a strong option for very many classes and characters. I would not improve it without upping the others too.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
My issue is that it is as good as light or heavy armor at the lower levels, but then those get better than it. Since medium armor only has 1 upgrade for each kind, their AC gets left behind. Yeah, there's a feat for medium armor mastery, but that's only good if you have a 15 Dex (so that you get the 16 from the bump). Yes, it's the best AC for those without the Str/Heavy armor or the Dex to maximize light armor, but it also takes ability score points to maximize itself.

I think you covered your counter-point as well, the opportunity cost. For light armor to get better than medium armor takes several ASI/feats. That same number of ASI/feats can get you the medium armor proficiency and +3 Dex mod. So right there these are equal. And if a character is not willing to invest to improve their AC, why should their AC be the same as characters who are investing to improve it?

Heavy armor is a bit different - it does require the 15 STR, but it also requires the rarest proficiency and gold costs that will delay it's ultimate AC for a number of levels compared to the others, and disadvantage on Stealth vs. light armor. Those two offsets aren't as big a deal as saving an ASI, but they are still something.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
So medium armor is best for people who don't care about armor? That's a lot like saying light crossbows are the best weapon for wizards. Even if it's true, it doesn't really matter.

Every single character cares about AC. If you want to pretend that only front-liners do, then cross off all the ranged attackers whom light armor gives a good AC as well, all the casting clerics with heavy armor who want to be protected, etc. But I can tell you we often have squishies in the back line targeted, be it to kill them off or to break concentration.

It isn't at all the same as weapons for non-weapon wielders - those get used infrequently while every character gets attacked.

As it stands, for anyone who cares about armor, light armor is better than medium armor. The only time where medium armor is superior is if you don't care enough to invest in using light armor to its full potential.

You are exactly right, now follow your statement to it's conclusion.

Unless your character build invests heavily in DEX, Medium Armor is superior to Light Armor. Your valor bard who's boosting CHR, your clerics who's domain don't grant heavy armor and will never have have a reason to increase DEX - but are still up there casting spirit guardians (or just don't want to be hit to keep up concentration buffs), and so on. There are plenty of classes that are not served by pumping all of their ASIs into DEX but still don't want to be hit.
 

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