How to Calculate Armor Class in D&D 5e

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D&D 5e is a game of chance, where the dice determine the fate of all those within the world of the game. Damage dealt by handfuls of dice is detrimental to your character’s longevity and your sanity. Thankfully D&D 5e has built in the Armor Class feature so that you can find enjoyment and success while wearing cool types of armor. Don’t let yourself be caught flatfooted without armor; follow our quick start guide to see what armor type is perfect for your next character! 

How Does Armor Class Work in 5th Edition?  

Armor Class (AC) is your number that an enemy has to roll equal to or higher than to hit you and deal damage. If it’s a hit, then your enemy rolls again to determine how much damage you take. You want to have as high of an armor class as possible (for most builds), because the higher the number, the lower the chance that you will get hit.  

Obviously, it can’t be this simple; there are trade-offs. For example, having a high armor class might mean that you’re not as mobile and must sacrifice some of your speed. Alternatively, you could increase your mobility at the cost of taking more damage when you’re hit. For some magic users, wearing armor will impede your ability to cast spells. The important thing is finding a balance that works best for you. 

How Important is Armor Class in the 5th Edition? 

Armor Class is important, but not to the extent it used to be. You will still want a high armor class number (and work on raising it as you level up), but if one of your characters ends up with an armor class below 15, it isn’t necessarily something you need to worry about. 

This change stems from having combat-oriented spells that can pierce armor. 

1. Rogues – Rogues rely on their high dexterity scores and finesse weapons to do the most damage. They also have a variety of abilities that help them avoid taking damage, making them very effective at low armor class values. 

2. Monks – Monks are another class that relies heavily on dexterity, making them very effective at low armor class values. In addition, they have several abilities that make them difficult to hit, making them very survivable. 

3. Wizards – Wizards are not typically known for their combat prowess, but they can be quite effective when equipped with the right spells. A few well-placed spells can easily take down an enemy while they’re still trying to get through your low armor class. 

4. Clerics – In addition to having a high armor class, their armor class can be further increased by equipping heavy armor or certain spells. This makes clerics an interesting combination of having a high armor class while also being able to take a good deal of damage when they get hit. 

5. Arcane Tricksters – Arcane tricksters rely on their spells to do the most damage, but they still have a number of abilities that make them very effective at low armor class values. 

6. Rangers – Rangers gain high ability scores and can use medium and heavy armor and shields. This makes rangers highly survivable and formidable opponents in combat even if their armor class isn’t as high. 

How to Calculate Your Armor Class in 5e  

Base Armor Class for the unarmored character is 1. You then would add your Dexterity Modifier to the base score for your total Armor Class. 
 
If you wear light or medium armor, replace the 10 with the Base Armor Class of that Armor Type, though you still add your Dexterity Modifier to this number.  
 
For the heavy armor user, Dexterity bonuses do not apply, therefore your Armor Class is the Base Armor Class of that Armor Type.  
 
Don’t be dismayed if your Armor Class seems low right now, there are many ways to gain advantages in D&D 5e. 

Class Differences 

Two basic classes gain bonuses to their defense when they aren’t wearing armor. These are the Barbarian and the Monk. 

Barbarian Unarmored Defense 

When a Barbarian is not wearing armor, their Armor Class is 10 + DEX modifier + CON modifier. Barbarians can still use shields without losing this benefit.  

Monk Unarmored Defense 

Like Barbarians, Monks have an altered calculation for their Armor Class. While they aren’t as “tanky” as the barbarian is, their mobility in combat allows them to hold their own on the front lines. When a Monk is not wearing armor, their Armor Class is 10 + DEX modifier + WIS modifier. However, unlike Barbarians, Monks cannot use shields and still benefit from Unarmored Defense. 

Types of Armor  

The Player’s Handbook includes a table of 13 non-magical armors and 1 shield for your use at any time. With your Dungeon Master’s approval and supervision, you should find these at any garden variety shop. 

Light   

Padded Armor provides you with more protection than a paper bag coming in at a Base Armor Class of 11+ Dex Modifier, with a typical cost of 5 gold pieces. This armor is great for high dexterity-based characters since there isn’t a limit to how much your Dex Modifier can be. Though for the stealthy build, this armor does provide a disadvantage on any stealth rolls. 

Leather Armor provides the same Base Armor Class as Padded Armor, 11+ Dex Modifier, and with the stealthy builds in mind, doesn’t cause a disadvantage on stealth rolls. It costs 10 gold pieces. 

Studded Leather Armor is the superior basic armor for the Light Armor Type, providing a Base Armor Class of 12+ Dex Modifier, no disadvantage on stealth rolls, and can be bought for 45 gold pieces. Depending on your starting equipment decisions and your background, this may be an early protection upgrade necessity.  

Armor Name Armor Class Strength Stealth Weight Cost 
Padded 11 + Dex Mod – Disadvantage 8 lb. 5 gp 
Leather 11 + Dex Mod – –  10 lb. 10 gp 
Studded Leather 12 + Dex Mod – – 13 lb. 45 gp 

Medium  

Hide Armor, at a low cost of 10 gold pieces, provides the least protection of all medium armors at a Base Armor Class of 12+ Dex Modifier (Max 2). The Max 2 means that even if you have a higher Dexterity Modifier you can only apply 2 to your Armor Class value while wearing that armor.  

Chain Shirt Armor provides better protection than Hide Armor at a value of 13+ Dex Modifier (Max 2); however, it is more expensive, costing 50 gold pieces. 

Scale Mail, at 50 gold pieces as well, provides better protection than the chain shirt at 14+ Dex Mod (Max 2), yet causes a disadvantage on stealth rolls. 

Spiked Armor at an increased cost of 75 gold pieces, provides the same protection as Scale Mail at 14+ Dex Mod (Max 2) with a disadvantage on stealth rolls. However, clearly it is the “cool” factor that leads to the higher cost in the local shops. 

Breastplate, for 400 gold pieces, is a basic armor must-have upgrade for any medium armor user. With a Base Armor Class of 14+ Dex Mod (Max 2) and no disadvantage on stealth rolls, this armor affords sensible protection and builds versatility while not completely emptying the player’s pouch of gold. For most players a few encounters will provide enough resources to make this the preferred protection power-up. 

Half Plate is the basic version “gold standard” for most powerful damage builds. With a Base Armor Class of 15+ Dex Mod (Max 2), this armor for 750 gold pieces will afford your character the peace of mind in survivability while focusing the rest of your build on powerful offensive items. Most stealth-based characters should steer clear of this because of the disadvantage to stealth, but it can be helpful to lessen the impact of a heavy damage encounter. 

Armor Name Armor Class Strength Stealth Weight Cost 
Hide 12 + Dex Mod (Max 2)  – – 12 lb. 10 gp 
Chain Shirt 13 + Dex Mod (Max 2) – – 20 lb. 50 gp 
Scale Mail 14 + Dex Mod (Max 2) – Disadvantage 45 lb. 50 gp 
Spiked Armor 14 + Dex Mod (Max 2) – Disadvantage 45 lb. 75 gp 
Breastplate 14 + Dex Mod (Max 2) – – 20 lb. 400 gp 
Half Plate 15 + Dex Mod (Max 2) – Disadvantage 40 lb. 750 gp 

Heavy  

Ring Mail is often the starting armor for most “tanky” builds. It provides a Base Armor Class of 14 with no bonuses and disadvantaged stealth rolls while costing 30 gold pieces. Pair this with a shield for better protection early on. 

Chain Mail provides a Base Armor Class of 16, disadvantage on stealth, and a character must have a Strength Attribute score of 13 to wear it. Typically, most shops will charge 75 gold pieces for this armor. 

Splint Armor provides the superior early game protection of a Base Armor Class of 17 with disadvantage on stealth rolls and no bonuses. It requires 15 strength to wear and costs a bargain value of 200 gold pieces. This will be the basic armor most early to mid-game characters build. Pairing with a shield will allow very few attacks to break through your defenses.  

Plate Armor is the best basic protection gold can buy at a whopping cost of 1,500 gold pieces. It affords a Base Armor Class of 18 with disadvantage on stealth rolls and no bonuses, while only needing 15 strength to wear. When paired with a shield for an Armor Class of 20, most attackers will need to roll critically high to scratch you! 

Armor Name Armor Class Strength Stealth Weight Cost 
Ring Mail 14 – Disadvantage 40 lb. 30 gp 
Chain Mail 16 Str 13 Disadvantage 55 lb. 75 gp 
Splint Armor 17 Str 15 Disadvantage 60 lb. 200 gp 
Plate Armor 18 Str 15 Disadvantage 65 lb. 1,500 gp 

Shield  

The common shield is a necessity for many builds. With an armor bonus of +2 to your Armor Class and a low cost of 10 gold pieces, if you have a free hand, it should be holding one of these. The protection bonus makes it a worthwhile pick. 

Wearing Armor without Proficiency 

Anyone can put on a suit of armor or strap a shield to an arm. However, only those proficient in the armor’s use know how to wear it effectively. Your class gives you proficiency with certain types of armor. If you wear armor that you lack proficiency with, you have a disadvantage on any ability check, saving throw, or attack roll that involves Strength or Dexterity, and you can’t cast spells. 

Additionally, if the armor table shows “Str 13” or “Str 15” in the Strength column for an armor type, the armor reduces the wearer’s speed by 10 feet unless the wearer has a Strength score equal to or higher than the listed score. Dwarves’ unique racial ability means they do not have their 25 ft movement speed reduced by wearing heavy armor. 

Do Not Add Proficiency Bonus to Your Armor Class 

Proficiency in an armor type only matters when it comes to wearing the armor. There is no bonus for being proficient in an armor type. 

Ways to “Improve” Your AC 

Never fear a “lower” than optimal Armor Class. Here are several ways to improve your Armor Class: 

  1. Buy new armor! It is okay to sell the 5 longswords in your inventory that you’ve been lugging around for a few sessions and splurge on some shiny new armor. You can also sell the armor you are currently wearing as well. 
  1. Increase your Dexterity when leveling up. Every 4 levels or so, characters will get some ability score improvements; add a point or two to Dexterity and increase your ability to not die! 
  1. Add a feat! As long as your Dungeon Master allows it, the rules provide the opportunity for you to add a feat instead of using your ability score improvements every 4th level up or so. 
  1. Use a spell! For those with magical affinities there are several spells to help raise your Armor Class or provide some protection for your character. 

Magic Items 

Black Dragon Mask. This legendary wondrous item lets you add your charisma modifier to your Armor Class while you’re wearing no armor. 

Ring of Protection. This magical ring can provide a bonus to your Armor Class of up to +3. 

Magic Armor. This ever-so-vague improved armor can give you anywhere from +1 to +3. Magic armor can be any armor, so the base calculation is the armor type.  

Arrow Catching Shield. This shield gives you a +2 to your Armor Class against ranged attacks on top of the normal AC bonus a shield provides.  

Cloak of Protection. This cloak gives you a +1 to AC along with a +1 to your saving throws. You can gain this effect on top of your normal armor. 

 


Racial Traits 

Natural Armor is a feature that some races have, like the Tortle or Warforged races. For example, the Tortle have a 17 for their armor class and gain no bonus from wearing armor, but may use shields. Warforged characters will also have similar rules. As stated before, Dwarves can wear heavy armor without a speed penalty if they do not meet the STR requirement. 

Feats 

Fighting Style. This feature is part of the class features for fighters, rangers, and paladins. Anyone who takes the Fighting Initiate feat can also choose a fighting style. A few of the fighting styles provide a boost to AC. The defense fighting style gives you a +1 to AC while wearing armor. 
 
Battle Master Maneuvers. The bait and switch maneuver and the evasive footwork maneuver both allow you to increase your AC by the number you roll with your superiority die. That can add up to a d12 bonus to AC! 
 
Bladesong. The core feature of the bladesinging wizard. While it’s active you get to add your intelligence modifier to your AC, no matter what your base AC calculation is. Since intelligence is the most important ability for a wizard, this is likely a large boost. 
 
Wild Shape. The druid’s wild shape ability allows them to take the form of a beast. One of the many benefits to this is that they take on the AC of the creature they transform into.  
 
Artificer Infusions. The artificer has two infusions that boost AC. They can give an armor Enhanced Defense or turn a shield into a Repulsion Shield. Both options give a +1 to the wearer’s Armor Class. 

Blade Flourish. The college of swords bard can add their bardic inspiration die to their AC when they make use of their defensive flourish feature. 

Defensive Duelist. This feat is excellent for any character with a minimum dexterity of 13 who uses a finesse weapon, like a rogue class build. The feat lets you use your reaction to add your proficiency bonus to your Armor Class when you are attacked. 

Dual Wielder. This feat gives you a +1 to Armor Class while using a weapon in each hand. 

Medium Armor Master. This feat changes the max dexterity bonus to medium armor at +3 instead of +2.  

Spells 

Shield. This 1st level spell can be used as a reaction, which you take when you are hit by an attack or targeted by the Magic Missile spell. It allows you to have a +5 bonus to AC, including against the triggering attack, and you take no damage from Magic Missile. 

Shield of Faith. This 1st level spell creates a shimmering field that surrounds a creature of your choice within range, granting it a +2 bonus to AC for the duration. 

Haste. This 1-minute 3rd level concentration spell allows you to choose a creature that you can see within a 30-foot range until the spell ends; the target’s speed is doubled, it gains a +2 bonus to AC, it has advantage on Dex saving throws and it gains an additional action on its turns. After the spell’s effect ends the target can’t move or take actions until its next turn. 

Mage Armor. This 1st level spell allows you to set your Base Armor Class at 13+ Dex Mod (Warlocks also gain the ability to cast this on themselves without burning spell slots by taking the Armor of Shadows eldritch invocation). 

Barkskin. This 2nd level spell allows druids, rangers, and nature domain clerics to touch any creature and keep their Armor Class from going below 16, regardless of any current armor they are wearing. It can function as both a buff to a low Armor Class character or a protection from any Armor Class-lowering effects in play. 

Armor of Agathys. This 1st level spell lasts for 1 hour (or if the spell effect is broken). A protective magical force surrounds you, manifesting as a frost that covers you. You gain 5 temporary hit points for the duration. If a creature hits you with a melee attack while you have these hit points, the creature takes 5 cold damage. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 2nd level or higher, both the temporary hit points and the cold damage increase by 5 for each slot. 

 


Interesting Armor to Look For 

Adamantine Armor (can be any medium or heavy, but not hide). This suit of armor is reinforced with adamantine, one of the hardest substances in existence. While you’re wearing it, any critical hit against you becomes a normal hit. 

Armor of Invulnerability (Plate armor, legendary that requires attunement). You have resistance to non-magical damage while you wear this armor. Additionally, you can use an action to make yourself immune to non-magical damage for 10 minutes or until you are no longer wearing the armor. Once this special action is used, it can’t be used again until the next dawn. 

Other Related Questions 

Ranger Armor Class 5e 

Rangers gain the ability to select a fighting style and can select a fighting style that will increase their Armor Class by 1. Otherwise, their Armor Class is decided by their current armor.  

Base Armor Class 5e 

All characters, unless changed by racial features or game rules, will have an Armor Class of 10+ Dex Mod, when not wearing any armor. 

Leather Armor 5e 

Leather armor is perfect for the early game sneaky builds. With a Base Armor Class of 11+ Dex Mod, there is no better early game option for the stealth-based dexterity fighter. 

What Happens in an Armor Class Tie 5e? 

Let’s say that you find yourself in a fight between your character, who is a 1st level fighter named Jimmy and a random goblin he found in the woods. The goblin surprised Jimmy and gained the better initiative and struck first with their spear. Jimmy has an AC of 17 and the goblin’s attack roll also happens to be 17. The attack would still land and the goblin would roll for damage. This is why having a higher AC is vital to some characters.  

Dwarf Armor Class 5e 

The dwarves of D&D 5e have some fun features that make them the perfect Armor Class tank. Depending on the sub-race of Dwarf they gain Dwarven Toughness (they gain extra Health Points on leveling up) and Dwarven Resistance (some sub-races resist certain magical effects or have advantage on certain saving throws). Additionally, most Dwarves have proficiency in heavy armor from 1st level onward. 

Wrapping Things Up 

Armor Class is an important rule in 5th edition D&D, though understanding the rule and all of its crazy components can get difficult. No matter what type of character you are planning to play, always be sure to think ahead and understand what will help you survive in the chaotic world of the 5th edition. Understanding where and what your character is good at and how to protect them well will allow you and your party to tackle challenging encounters and have fun. Always be on the lookout for better upgrades and don’t feel bad about selling unused inventory to buy better upgrades. Finally, don’t forget to tip your shopkeeper generously. 

Rob Benson

Rob Benson

Author

Rob has been invested in the gaming world since the first Nintendo Entertainment System came out. After being introduced to Dungeons and Dragons in middle school, he decided to grow his passion and a lifelong love for tabletops. His favorite part of D&D is watching players come alive as they learn how to play the game!

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