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D&D 5E What armor can druids wear? Is there a way to get a decent AC?


Goblin Queen
It's not a matter of handwaving... we all know we can just ignore it all and not put any thought into it. The question has always been in these last few posts for myself and Charlaquin whether there's an actual logical explanation for what is happening in the fiction to explain why cover and shields do not work with barkskin... until they suddenly do work with barkskin and override it. They claimed there was... I said there wasn't.
I'll give you the benefit of the doubt that this was not intentional, but you are misrepresenting my argument here a little bit. I do not claim that there is an in-fiction explanation for "why cover and shields don't work with barkskin until they suddenly do work with barkskin and override it." My claim is that there is an in-fiction explanation for the mechanics of barkskin, which as @Harzel eloquently put it, is that barkskin offers a separate "layer" of defense to normal AC, and that cover and shields apply to the latter layer, not the former.

And I've noticed that no one has tried to counteract or counterclaim the math I put up explaining how shields, DEX, and cover don't work and have no effect at one AC point but then suddenly pop into reality when enough of them get combined together and reach a new AC point.
That math is accurate. I only disagree with your view of what fiction that math reflects.

The only explanation has been to remove the math and bonuses of what protections actually have in their entirety, and wait until after a hit has been declared to then explain away why stuff now suddenly "works":
I don't follow?

If the druid only has a shield, then the druid has an AC of 16 and every hit is only of the "really hard" type that gets through barkskin... and the shield never not once comes into play (because if it did, it should have contributed to the AC of the druid.) But since the spell somehow keeps a shield from ever getting in the way of any attack and instead they are all really hard... it doesn't.

But if the druid has the shield and and is behind 3/4ths cover (and now the AC of 17)... then now all of a sudden the shield does start getting in the way and helps protect the druid. And now every hit somehow changes over to only the "accurate" ones that get by the shield deflecting, and the cover blocking. But no more worrying about the really hard attacks.... those don't happen anymore since the druid moved behind cover. Funny that... outside of cover every attack is hard, which is why shields don't work.. but behind cover every attack is now accurate and thus the shields have an affect on the AC. And never the twin shall meet. We will never an accurate attack out of cover, and never a hard one behind it.
D&D 5e does not distinguish between "hard" and "accurate" attacks. Every attack that is accurate is hard. Every attack that is hard as accurate. Both force and precision are represented by to-hit bonus. However, AC does not always represent both evasiveness and toughness. In particular, an inanimate object's AC only represents toughness, as an inanimate objects has no ability to evade. My argument is that the AC granted by Barkskin is akin to the AC of an inanimate object.

In order to hit hard enough to penetrate barkskin, an attack roll must be forceful enough to exceed AC 16. We can imagine this is the same AC an oak tree might have. If between any armor the druid might have, whatever the druid's Dexterity bonus may be, whatever cover the druid may be behind, and any shield the druid may be using, if that number is still below 16? It still takes an attack roll of 16 to harm them, because their skin is like the bark of an oak, and an oak has 16 AC representing the force required to pierce that bark. However, if between the druid's armor, Dex mod, cover, and shield, their AC is greater than 16? Well, it's possible that an attack roll that would be high enough to damage an oak tree might still not harm the druid. Because unlike the oak tree the druid can dodge.

Put another way, hand an oak tree a shield, and its AC doesn't increase. Strap a breastplate to it, its AC doesn't increase. Stand in front of it, its AC doesn't increase. Build a wall around it with a slit wide enough for a sword to fit through, its AC doesn't increase. Barkskin makes a druid's skin work like that. But to get to the druid's skin, you have to get past the druid's armor, shield, and cover, and since a druid can move, that offers a separate layer of defense that must be overcome before you can compare your attack roll to the AC of their oaklike skin. It just so happens, because D&D combines accuracy and force into one number, if the armor/dex/cover/shield layer adds up to more than 16, any attack that can beat that can also beat the AC of the bark layer. If it adds up to less than 16, any attack that can beat the bark layer's AC can also beat it.

But of course, you're right... none of this actually matters in the slightest, but like I said originally I just enjoy debating the attempts to align fiction to mechanics in this case. Which as far as I'm concerned, I've still succeeded in proving that they ARE none. :)
This is not the kind of debate where one position can be "proven" or "disproven." We are each presenting our cases for interested parties to consider and draw their own conclusions.

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I'd just like to say, my Adventurer's League Druid from several years back has a Cert for Magic +2 Half Plate, that specifies it's made form petrified mushrooms and not metal, so Druids can wear it. This is an official item from an AL adventure with, again, a printed Certificate.

So, in other words, just because there isn't a side bar that says "Oh by the way you can make medium and heavy armor out of magic wood or something" doesn't mean you can't.

But if you're playing CoM Druid who cares because you're never gonna be using your own AC anyway.


I'd just like to say, my Adventurer's League Druid from several years back has a Cert for Magic +2 Half Plate, that specifies it's made form petrified mushrooms and not metal, so Druids can wear it. This is an official item from an AL adventure with, again, a printed Certificate.

So, in other words, just because there isn't a side bar that says "Oh by the way you can make medium and heavy armor out of magic wood or something" doesn't mean you can't.

But if you're playing CoM Druid who cares because you're never gonna be using your own AC anyway.
While true, it devolves into a rabbit hole of setting and deity specific lore that used to be for mechanical balance purposes back in 3.5 but all the mechanical reasons related to enhancement/deflection/natural armor bonus stacking mechanics is no longer an issue so the fluff of old is just imposing an attempt at badwrongfun on any other mold of fluff.


I'm amused this thread is back up, mostly because in the current game I'm playing I'm playing a very high AC circle of the moon druid. Did it with the original version of the warforged. I shouldn't have gone CoM given that they almost never change shape in combat. Level 8 now, AC 21 and generally as much a tank as the paladin (AC, hit points, and absorb elements goes pretty far). In fact I keep forgetting to shape shift as a backup plan...


Clearly that part of the sentence is the one that people who don’t want to interpret the spell as working according to RAI latch onto to justify their interpretation. And I agree that leaving that part off would have made the intent clearer. I don’t agree that there is any other logically consistent way to interpret the wording of the spell, but people aren’t always logically consistent.

I'll just note here upon reading further in the "Rules Answers" that I linked, it seems that Crawford himself provided a different (and incompatible) interpretation of Barkskin sometime previous to authoring that Rules Answers. I can't find the tweet with the previous interpretation, but from what he says it seems likely that it said that shields, at least, would stack with Barkskin. Furthermore, in the Rules Answers he characterizes his new ruling as "also supported by the text", implying that he views his previous ruling as being "supported by the text". FWIW.

I think you’re absolutely correct about this. In fact, I think this is the only reason the spell throws people off. If the spell’s function was more intuitively consistent with people’s view of the fiction, I don’t think the armor part would throw anyone off. The way the spell actually says it works doesn’t seem right to people, so they assume they’ve misinterpreted, and re-read looking for an alternative interpretation. The comment about armor gives them enough ammunition to construct a (logically flawed) argument, usually involving “it doesn’t say your armor can’t be higher than 16” and/or “why else would it mention armor and not shields or cover?” to convince themselves that it must work in a way that better fits their view of the fiction.

"Logic" can sometimes be overrated. Even if one's logic is impeccable, it is really one's assumptions that are the main determinant of one's conclusions. And it now occurs to me that a critical difference between your view of Barkskin and mine is that you seem to be assuming (correct me if I am mistaken) that "AC" or "Armor Class", when unqualified can be taken to mean, unambiguously, the armor class value with all bonuses and penalties included. Now on one hand it is true, AFAIK, that 5e does not give us any nomenclature for this value other than "AC". (Any of "effective", "total", or "final" might have done nicely as qualifiers in this regard; oh, well.) However, it is also true that there are numerous places in the rules where "AC" is used and they mean "base AC". So I think it is reasonable to assert that "AC" is ambiguous, and that it is a plausible assumption that "AC" might mean "base AC". And it seems to me that is a matter of judgement, not of logic.

No, for sure, it’s not illogical or unreasonable to want the rules to function in a way that intuitively aligns with your view of the fiction at all. It’s only unreasonable to expect that all rules will (or should) do so, because everyone has different views of the fiction and different opinions about the most intuitive way to reflect that mechanically, not to mention the fact that intuitive alignment with the fiction is far from the only factor that goes into designing the rules.

At least for the way I go about things, this seems backwards. I don't come to a new spell description with a "my view of the fiction" already set. (Does anyone do this? What would such a view of the fiction be based on?) I look at the fluff and the mechanics and if I can figure out a fiction that fits, I'm generally fine with that.

I guess there is a vague consistency requirement among the individual fictions for various spells and other rules. I suppose that imposes some sort of not very well-defined constraints. Maybe that's what you were getting at? The fiction for RAI Barkskin might not be strictly inconsistent with the fiction for everything else, but it is... novel.

Granted, this particular spell’s function is particularly unintuitive for a particularly large number of players, and I certainly empathize with people having a hard time wrapping their heads around it. If the argument is that the spell should work a different way because its current function is too difficult to align with the fiction, I think that’s a much stronger argument than claiming that the wording makes the RAI unclear.

In my view, both of those are going on, and that contributes to the discussion being challenging.

There does exist a term in the rules that describes what you’re calling “armor-based AC” though. It’s called “base AC” and it’s used in the wording of Mage Armor. The fact that Barkskin isn’t worded this way is an indication that it doesn’t work the way many people want it to. If that was the intent, they would likely have worded the spell like Mage Armor, setting your base AC to 16.

Yes, sort of. I wasn't really conscious of the fact that "base AC" is used several places in the rules, so thanks for pointing that out. Unfortunately, not only do they not use "base AC" everywhere they mean it, they actually never define the concept. The section on Armor tells you one way to calculate it, although they only use the term once, and then just use Armor Class or AC everywhere else in the section. And just to increase the degree of difficulty for anyone reading closely, we start out with this:

PH said:
The armor (and shield) you wear determines your base Armor Class.

And then this:

PH said:
If you wear light armor, you add your Dexterity modifier to the base number from your armor type to determine your Armor Class. [emphasis added]

Soooo, which of these is my "base Armor Class" again?

And, as you point out, Mage Armor gives us this:

PH said:
The target's base AC becomes 13 + its Dexterity modifier.

And that could make you wonder whether shields stack with Mage Armor, since in the section on Armor, shields seem to be part of "base AC", but Mage Armor doesn't mention them as part of "base AC". My point? The whole discussion of AC in the PH is a hot mess.

Fortunately, you can sort of bumble through all this and get the right answer with a bit of guesswork and use of context, and in that same Rules Answers Crawford clarifies base AC calculations fairly well. Even there, though, he just cannot seem to get himself to use the phrase "base AC" consistently.

But like I said, it's all sort of, kind of fine until they got to the place - Barkskin - where they really needed to make a clear distinction and where there was no context that could help, and they just didn't have the vocabulary to make their intent clear. Although, I suspect that another thing that probably was going on was an instance of the way language usage not only expresses the way people think, but also shapes it. Had they made the small extra effort to define "base AC" and whatever distinctive and unambiguous name you want to pick for the other thing - total AC, effective AC, whatever - and then used those terms consistently, when they got to writing Barkskin it would have been very natural to pause and think, "Say, what is it that I really mean here?" They would have had to choose between the terms, and, therefore, between the concepts. As it was, I think quite possibly they didn't really know what their intent was when they wrote it.
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