DnD 5e: How Armor Class Works

Since the very beginning, combat has been an important aspect of Dungeons & Dragons. Whether the party is fighting a couple of low-level goblins or the campaign's final boss, D&D's combat can be boiled down to two basic things: how hard a creature can hit and how hard they can get hit. In Fifth Edition, the latter is measured with the Armor Class mechanic.

In 5e, Armor Class has been streamlined for easier calculation without requiring complicated tables and conditions. Instead, a player character or enemy's roll to hit is compared to the target's AC. If the dice roll and any modifiers matches or exceeds it, the attack hits. However, while the results are fairly simple, that doesn't mean calculating AC is straightforward, nor is a player's AC set in stone at the time of character creation.

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How Armor Class Is Determined in DnD 5e

Typically, a character who isn't wearing armor starts off with an AC equal to 10 plus their Dexterity modifier. There are a few exceptions to this rule, namely the Barbarian and Monk classes, which possess the Unarmored Defense class feature. Some races have their own formulae for calculating their Armor Class, such as the Lizardfolk and Locathah. Tortles also have special rules for their Armor Class, though theirs is a flat AC rather than a formula.

Most characters can increase their base AC by wearing armor. 5e splits its armor options into three main categories: Light, Medium and Heavy. Each has its own benefits and drawbacks, so make sure to select whichever one is best for the character and play style. Most classes can wear Light Armor, which provides a small boost to the character's base AC without penalties to movement or stealth. It also allows a player to add their full DEX modifier to their AC, making it ideal for characters like Rogues who maximize their Dexterity to sneak around undetected.

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Medium Armor provides a higher base Armor Class with a limited benefit from a player's DEX modifier, capping it at +2. This can be beneficial for characters who don't prioritize Dexterity, including Druids, who can't wear metal armor. However, some Medium Armor options causes Disadvantage on Stealth checks, so it's important to choose carefully between the various options.

Finally, Heavy Armor provides the highest base AC out of all three options, though the wearer does not get any bonuses from their Dexterity. It also comes with some drawbacks. A character who doesn't have the necessary Strength score to wear heavy armor will have their movement speed reduced by 10 feet. Additionally, wearing Heavy Armor causes disadvantage on Stealth checks. This makes it ideal for characters with a high Strength, but little to no Dexterity. Plus, if a character has a negative Dexterity modifier, Heavy Armor won't penalize them for it.

In addition to armor, a character with proficiency in them can choose to sacrifice wielding two weapons or a two-handed weapon in favor of grabbing a shield. Regardless of what the shield is made of, equipping one provides an +2 AC.

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How to Raise Your Armor Class in DnD 5e

Outside of selecting armor or raising a character's Dexterity, there are many other ways to increase Armor Class. Some feats provide additional bonuses to armor class or remove some of the penalties of wearing armor. For example, Medium Armor Master removes the disadvantage to Stealth checks and increases the Dexterity cap to +3.

There are also spells that can enhance a player's AC. One great option is Mage Armor, which alters the calculation for the target's unarmored AC to 13 plus their Dexterity Modifier. Clerics can craft floating shields using the spell Shield of Faith, which provides a +2 to the target's Armor Class. Druids and Rangers can use Barkskin, which raises a character's minimum AC to 16, regardless of the armor they are wearing.

Additionally, Dungeon Masters may also sprinkle in pieces of magical armor that grant additional benefits to AC when worn or attuned. Players should always be on the lookout for upgrades and weigh the pros and cons of their options carefully.

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Joshua Roberts (2 Articles Published)

Joshua Roberts is a fanfiction author and novelist with nearly ten years of writing experience. He's worked as a professional Dungeon Master, and currently hosts a Dungeons and Dragons stream on Twitch. In addition to D&D, he enjoys board games, archery, video games, and is an advocate for Autism awareness.

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