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Will One D&D Patch Up The 5e Armour Table?

While fantasising about what changes 6th edition One D&D might bring to Dungeons & Dragons, I put buffing leather armour on my ‘nice to have’ list of changes and noted that the whole 5th edition armour table could do with revisiting.

There’s some stuff that doesn’t really make sense there (what is the point of ring mail?), plus it feels like there should be some penalties for performing certain adventurous activities, besides stealth, in heavier suits of armour (I would much rather try to sneak around in splint mail, than attempt a backflip or try to shimmy up a rope in it, for example).

Typical mountaineer’s outfit in the Forgotten Realms

D&D players tend to have a fair bit of selective realism when it comes to their characters’ armour decisions, rarely stopping to think that climbing a mountain in full plate might not be the smartest idea, or that going for dip in a raging river in a 55 pound suit of chain mail is going to cause any problems. And I like to call them out on their fuzzy logic.

Anyhow, before starting my latest campaign (more on that another time), I decided it was finally time to tackle the 5e armour table and tidy up some of its weird disparities; while also throwing in a few penalties that will at least pay lip service to realism and force players to make some choices, based around the trade off of protection vs. practicality.

I created my new table in a shared Google spreadsheet, which you can check out here, and I’ll embed a screenshot now. Differences to the Player’s Handbook are in red, while you can find the logic for my changes below the image.

No More Scale Mail! Ring Mail moved to Medium Armour

Now that you’ve seen my revised D&D Armour Table, the first thing to note is I’ve effectively done away with scale mail… from the description in the Player’s Handbook it reads exactly like splint mail (metal scales/strips over leather), so I think we should consider them one type of armour. Scale goes, splint stays. Ring mail, from the description in the Player’s Handbook and from some Google images, I imagine similar to studded leather, but with rings that offer more metal coverage per square inch of leather than studs, and perhaps a skirt. It now sits in the Medium Armour section of the table, where it fills the gap left by Scale Mail. (It’s previous presence in the Heavy Armour section rendered it almost completely pointless).

Leather Armour is Buffed

Secondly, I’ve buffed leather armour (and therefore studded leather). It has always annoyed me that leather armour only reduced your chance of taking damage by 5%, when I think it should be quite a lot better than that (presumably at least some of it is boiled, making it extremely tough). It’s also annoying that adding a few metals studs doubles its effectiveness in 5e. By shifting leather up to AC 12, and studded leather to AC 13, I’ve dealt with both those annoyances. Also what is leather if not hide? So it makes sense that there’s parity in protection between leather and hide armour. I imagine leather to be treated and fitted (and hence more expensive) and hide armour to be just thicker layered (hence heavier).

I was tempted just to get rid of padded altogether, but now it has a different AC to leather it serves a purpose as a very cheap alternative for hard-up villagers etc. (I don’t see why sneaking around in it should be so much harder that a penalty is enforced, so I did away with that).

How Much Metal is on Your Leather?

In buffing leather, I’ve had to move all of Medium Armour options (other than hide) up one AC as well. But I’m ok with that. In my adjusted table, I’m effectively creating an AC hierarchy based on how much metal protection is added to your leather armour.

None? Your AC is 12.

Some strategically placed studs/rivets? Your AC is 13.

Lots of rings over the entire leather suit? Your AC is 14.

A sheet of metal on the torso (but nowhere else)? Your AC is 15.

Well-placed sheets of fitted metal all over? Your AC is 16.

How much metal your armour contains more or less determines its weight and cost as well.

Dex Modifier Modifications…

Next I’ve played around with the Dex. modifiers. For me Dexterity bonuses to your AC are as much about parrying, as physically moving out of the way of danger, so I’ve been a little more generous than the RAW about gaining the benefits of a good Dex. modifier for Chain Shirt and Breastplate, given that wearing this armour shouldn’t obstruct ones shoulders too much.

Following that logic, I’m even allowing Dex. modifiers to be added to Heavy Armour ACs, in a very limited way.

Chain Shirt Makes The Grade… Just!

I toyed with getting rid of chain shirt, as it doesn’t add much in the way of options at all, once I moved ring mail down to Medium Armour. Also, it’s hard to see much of a conceptual difference between someone with a heavily metal-enforced torso but only leather covered limbs, and someone with more or less the same metal reinforcement, but spread more evenly over the body.

Finally, I kept both, and just made ring mail the cheaper more cumbersome twin of chain shirt (+ leather), potentially allowing players the little buzz of upgrading their equipment using any gold gained in their first adventure or two.

More Nuanced Stealth Penalties

Disadvantage on Stealth checks for padded armour? Come on, man. That’s crazy talk. Meanwhile sneaking around in Medium Armour really shouldn’t be that hard. I feel like something more nuanced is needed, so I’ve gone with scaling modifiers.

Mobility Penalties

Ok, and now for my little nod to realism. I’ve added a new column to the Armour Table called Mobility. Short for mobility penalties, this is a penalty to any mobility style skills checks, usually either Athletics or Acrobatics checks, that would clearly be significantly harder when attempted in armour weighing 30 to 65 lbs. You want to climb that crag wearing full plate… you can certainly try, but it’s going to be 25% more difficult.

(Note: if you’re playing the RAW jumping rules [5e], then you can use the modifier to subtract a number of feet from a characters’ long jump. Otherwise just use it as a penalty on a skills check made to jump over a crevice etc.).

Carrying a shield, meanwhile, gives you disadvantage on climbing checks (but not on jumping or Acrobatics checks). You can always sling it on your back of course, but if you get attacked mid-climb remember not to add +2 to your AC!

Swimming in Armour

Regarding Swimming, my rule is that – with the exception of leather and studded leather armour – if you fall/jump in a body of water while wearing armour you have to succeed on an Athletics check just to be able to use your movement (which in RAW is half your usual movement speed… but in my house rule is your Strength score). The DC of that check is the AC of the armour you’re wearing, i.e. DC 14 for swimming in chain shirt, and DC 18 for swimming in plate mail (if you want to be more realistic, you can enforce the mobility penalty as well as a kind of double jeopardy for splashing around in heavy armour).

Anyway, fail that swim check and you can’t move. Fail by 5 and you start sinking. I’m happy to improvise the rest… but the overall message is this: you can’t swim any sizeable distance in medium or heavy armour… the best you can hope for is to struggle back to the side of the river / lake etc. before you drown. Trying to do so with your shield gives you disadvantage.

(Hat tip to Old Dungeon Master, who helped inspired my swimming rules. He goes into more detail here).

Sleeping in Armour

Next I had a Sleeping column, but as Xanathar’s Guide handles this pretty well (stating that you can only regain a quarter of your hit dice – instead of the usual half – when you sleep in medium or heavy armour) I decided to stick with that. I wouldn’t penalise anyone for sleeping in hide however, while studded leather must make for a very uncomfortable sleep!

More Tankiness for Tanks

Ok, before someone has a meltdown in the comments section about ‘punishing martial classes’, I had better give some boons out as well. It has always felt unfair to me that the party tanks are the ones that take all the crits, and are forced to wonder around dungeons one-eyed, one-handed and with more horrible scars than they have body parts, despite the fact they are the best equipped to take some punishment. Aside from better protection in general (i.e. a higher AC), it feels to me that the main point of armour should be protecting you from truly deadly wounds. So my final column is called Lingering Injury Protection.

Now, Medium and Heavy Armour offers you a percentage chance to escape any nasty effects of the Lingering Injury Table. In my game, you would still take the double damage however, but – were you to adopt this idea – you could play around with this.

In any case, I really like this concept because it gives players a chance to actually survive a long battle or horde attack, when by sheer force of numbers the frontliners are just going to have to withstand the statistical certainty of being critted on… now well-armoured PCs can last up to twice as long, before sustaining serious injury.

Helmets Are a Thing Now…

Those proficient in Medium Armour may also choose to wear a helmet, or even a great helm if they are proficient in Heavy Armour. If so, they add a significant amount to their Crit Protection percentage, but suffer a penalty on all Perception checks and their passive Perception.

Right, as always, please let me know if you’ve made any of your own changes to the D&D armour tables, and whether you’d welcome an update in One D&D.

Merry Christmas

Apologies for any typos, but I’m going to hit publish as it’s getting late, and I fancy getting this out before Christmas (you never know who might need to escape for an hour or two for some D&D reading tomorrow!). Anyhow, feliz navidad , joyeux noel, wesolych swiat and all those festive greetings. I wish you a fantastic break, and speak to you in 2023!

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16 Comments

  1. Rick Coen

    OMG, I love how you implemented Helms with a specific and quantifiable tradeoff that isn’t AC. And since (as you well know) I use Lingering Damage in my game as well, this is perfect! Take a Perception Penalty for a chance to avoid the non-HP extras of being Critically hit. Perfect! [We use different Lingering Damage ideas, so I’ll have to tweak a little, but still!] Wow, Merry Christmas to me! 🙂

    As for wholesale changing the Armor Table… I go back and forth on this all the time. Ease of use/play vs. more realism… I ended up coming in on the side of “keep the existing table, add special/material armors to flesh out / replace”. For example, Leather still sucks at AC 11, but Jendarran Leather is so light is can be worn without proficiency. Meanwhile, Jendarran Brigandine (what “studded leather” is actually in the real world) is AC 13. Shalemail (not a typo) is an alchemical stone armor made by the dwarves that tops the Medium Armor chart, and Stoneplate (chemically treated “royal marble”, also dwarven) is highly prized, extremely rare – and heavy – nonmagical AC 20 armor. Good luck finding one sized for anyone but a dwarf, though!

    Interested to see if OneD&D takes a shot at this long-standing frustration, or “not broke, don’t fix”…

    Merry Christmas, Duncan!

    • duncan

      Hi Rick, that’s a great idea… to fix the armour table through world building / new categorisations.

      I did also consider ‘exceptional’ or ‘well-crafted’ armour as a solution, but that starts to get a little messy.

  2. Tom Miskey

    Interesting! I like many of the changes you made and hope that One DnD makes some changes similar to yours. I have seldom used the Lingering Injuries table in the DM’s Guide but adding it to the Armor’s benefits seems like it would probably encourage its use more!

    For games that don’t use it, though, what about substituting it with a similar chance of Medium and Heavy armor turning an attacker’s critical hit into a normal hit instead? (And even if you do use Lingering Injuries, you could say that the heavier armors give a chance of turning a crit into a normal hit instead.) I wouldn’t use a percentile roll though, as this is the d20 system! What if the subject of the Crit can roll a d20, and if the roll is equal to or less than the AC – 10, the crit becomes a normal hit instead? (If your AC total is 18, on a roll of 8 or less the crit becomes a normal hit instead.)

    • duncan

      Hi Tom

      Yes that could work. Ignoring Dex modifiers maybe.

      The catch of my system, and your variation of it, is that you have to extend the same courtesy to monsters, but luckily few of them wear much armour.

  3. Jim

    for those that don’t use lingering wounds just have the armor negate a critical hit, either a % chance or # of uses before requiring repair.

    • duncan

      ooh, I rather like your second proposal actually. We could apply Tom’s formula above of AC minus 10, to determine how many crits your armour can shield you from before you have to replace it!

      Eg. Plate armour saves you from 8.

      I guess you would then apply a penalty to the AC after 8 hits (unless you render it unusable… although that’s a sharp decline!).

      I would say, once your Medium or Heavy Armour (only) has saved you from its allotted amount of Lingering Injuries / Crits (delete according to your game), its AC reduces by 2.

      I would also say once it has saved your from half that amount, its AC reduces by 1 (probably the time most adventurers will want to replace it!).

      So a suit of chainmail protects you from 6 crits… but after 3 it offers you AC 15 (not 16). Then after 6 it offers you AC 14 and no more crit protection.

      Cheers Jim!

      D.

      • Rick Coen

        Meanwhile, the DEX characters aren’t losing any AC from their armor? Maybe don’t do that. Hmmm.. would you rather have AC 18 (half-plate and DEX 14, or plate armor + STR 15) that degrades to 17 after 3 crits, and 16 after 6 crits, or straight up AC 17 (brigandine/SLeather and 20 DEX) that never degrades, never gets replaced, but never blocks crits? Replacement cost on plate armor will be significant.

        Essentially, how much value do you assign to blocking that crit? Adamantine Plate is only considered “Uncommon”; it blocks 100% crits, with no degradation. Given that STR is generally considered subpar, maybe simply allow “damaged armor” to be repaired with a Smtihing Tools check?

        • Tom Miskey

          Pathfinder 2e has shields that are easily destroyed, and in our group, we hated the idea. Fighters had to carry 5 or 6 shields, swapping to a new one each time one was destroyed, and that was just a shield! Imagine having to carry around multiple sets of medium or heavy ARMORS, and taking the time to doff and don a new set when your old one degraded?

          I ended up creating a homebrew system that did not destroy the shield when it blocked some damage, and the group felt that it was a fair way to handle it. The shield block takes your off hand and your reaction, both of which could be used for other things (holding a 2nd weapon or a 2-handed weapon, and an Attack of Opportunity, specifically), so if your choice is to use it to hold a shield instead, you can reduce up some of the damage that you may receive (damage is split 50/50 between the shield and the wielder, until it has absorbed the shield’s resistance limit, then it goes 100% to the wielder after that. The limit was small for regular shields: 3 for a small wooden shield, 5 for a metal shield, more if it’s magical or special materials), so you had to decide if stopping up to 3 or 5 points of damage (if you were hit for 6 or 10 damage in a single blow), as your Reaction is worth it, or would you prefer holding a 2nd weapon or larger weapon and make opportunity attacks with your Reaction instead?

  4. Jose Garcia

    First of all, Merry Christmas!

    I come from a reenactment/HEMA (historical European Martial Arts) background, and this has always been an area of D&D that always has irked me. Obviously the creators of D&D had movies and general literature as inspiration, and they had never seen anybody wear or use armour in real life. D&D, like Holywood, gets many armour facts wrong.

    I am particularly glad about the fact that you decided not to take away padded armour… as it was ubiquitous in medieval times, and really effective! I’d say way more than leather (which is a very likeable fantasy trope, and modern series like Vikings love dressing everyone like Harley Davidson bikers ). I still don’t know (nor do any historians) what is D&D referring to as studded leather (and you are right to say that adding studs to leather does little more for protection).

    I think that what fantasy authors and D&D OGs referred to as studded leather is actual brigandines (which are completely missed on the list), where a vest-like garment is reinforced with layers of rectangular metal plates on the inside, with the studs showing on the outside. That, to my standard, should be a heavy armour (many knights shown in medieval art use it instead of breasplates) or at least medium, with better protection against cutting and piercing than chain mail.

    While D&D loves to focus on stealth, I think different types of armour should offer different perks against different kinds of attacks. I cannot see how chain mail shirt would give any protection against bludgeoning weapons (unless worn with padding underneath, as done historically, and this would be still very limited). I understand this is to simplify the rules, but still, I’d rather not receive a mace or warhammer blow to the torso wearing only mail.

    With regards to limitations to movement, you can check on youtube what a well fitted plate armour does to your movements. There is a guy that runs for miles, jumps over hurdles and trains with them on, and I could see him climbing hills no problem. Obviously he would do better without it, but I don’t think his times would be 25% better.

    But what D&D has always missed with heavy armour wasn’t dexterity limitations (which are some, but minimal if your armour is well fitted) but the time it takes to put it on properly. Without assistance, no one can get into a harness (a suit of armour) properly, and it would take a good half hour to a trained person to dress a knight in plate armour.

    And finally, if there is something that D&D has gone hand to hand with Holywood is on the lack of importance giving to helmets. I understand that in movies the facial expressions and recognition of the characters on set are key features, but in medieval times, if you only had money to buy one piece of armour, you bought the helmet first, for obvious reasons. Blows and impacts on the body are usually not lethal, or at least they tend to be way less often than blows to the head. These tend to be lethal, or put you out of action immediately at least.

    • duncan

      Hi Jose

      Merry Christmas… and now Happy New Year!

      Thanks for the detailed insights.

      Yes, I think it’s accurate to say that studded leather was the creation of someone misinterpreting brigandines, and I was tempted to swap the terms for my own table. The reason I didn’t was because – as you pointed out – the historical brigandine actually looks very bulky.

      It would be interesting to see a rule set where armour absorbs damage or specialises against certain types of damage, but at that stage you’re probably better just looking at different systems entirely, other than D&D. You’d also have to extensively redo weapons.

      Btw, I don’t doubt you could climb hills in plate, but I said mountains! In which case, you have to think that scaling a sheer surface would be at least 25% more difficult… esp. if you consider that gauntlets are part of the outfit. I am also a little suspicious of some of those videos, because the armour in some of them looks very rinky-dinky, and designed esp. for those very videos.

      Good point about donning / doffing armour, and also helmets.

      • Tom Miskey

        Back in D&D 1e (and before that in Chainmail) armor did have adjustments by weapon type as an optional rule. It was very seldom used in my experience, because it was too fiddly/detailed. Here is an article discussing it: http://deltasdnd.blogspot.com/2021/03/the-big-mistake-in-weapon-vs-armor.html

      • Jose

        Happy New Year, Duncan.

        Climbing mountains (or any rock face)in plate would be ridiculous indeed, and I would consider serious penalties due to weight, balance and cold, and not only to plate, but any kind of armour that is not padded (and maybe leather? I fall again in the fact that it was very rare back in the day).

        There are several accounts from medieval records of knights running miles in full armour. Sadly, nobody timed them. But believe me, fighting in full gear for hours at a time was done in battles, and that is way more tiring than trotting along. At least doing some running nobody tends to hit you with weapons.

        One last issue, regarding comments from other readers, is durability and repairs. Even though I can see the point of giving armour a number of critical hits they can resist before being repaired, I think setting up that as a rule could be very arbitrary. I think it should be left at the discretion of the DM to request warriors to get their equipment repaired/resharpened once in a while for a few gold coins, or after some chemical damage like acid or rust. I believe Rust Monsters have a mechanism that could be easily transferred over to other kinds of damage (although I disagree on shields, as most of them would be wooden).

        • Rick Coen

          Brainstorming with a fellow DM/player, we were thinking “AC-10″/2 is how many “preventions” a given piece of intact armor can provide. We decided no penalty when this number is “used up”, it just doesn’t help any more. (Helmets *always* work.) Repairing each “prevention” is a Smithing Tools check, and an hour. The DC = the AC of the armor –> full plate is harder to repair than a simple detachable breastplate. Nat 1 = the “dent” can’t be repaired without a full smithy, and the expense of some gold.

          So basically a suit of full plate can handle 4 preventions, and then would require a minimum of 4 hours of work to fully repair, with each check being DC 18. No loss of AC while damaged; no gold cost to repair unless a Nat 1 is rolled.

          (I keep saying “prevention” because IMC, the armor and helm will only prevent the nasty side effects of critical hits, not the critical hit itself. Others might choose to have it block the extra damage… YMMV.)

    • Panos

      Tha you for your detailed article Jose, you are very true indeed. As a martial artist also (specializing in striking but have years of practice in weapon fighting), I can confirm that what you say is valid. We have many house rules in our table to make the game more realistic because we like it. Some things that Wizards of the Coast designed are completely off-realism and make by head hurt.

  5. Duncan Idaho

    I always enjoy looking at different takes on armor as it certainly feels to me like there are problems and gaps (or at least missed opportunities for interesting decisions) in the 5e armor table. Two other sources I’ve enjoyed looking at are Eric Diaz’s “5e Manual of Arms: Armor & Shields” (https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/291153/5e-Manual-of-Arms-Armor–Shields) and the “Level Up: Advanced 5e” approach (https://www.levelup5e.com/news/armor-amp-materials.)

    I keep considering lowering the AC of cloth / unarmored. That would give some more breathing room for Padded and Leather.

  6. Rick Coen

    Hey Duncan, another thought (one we’re implementing at our table):

    Characters with the Unarmored Defense trait should be treated as wearing Medium Armor of the same AC as that provided by Unarmored Defense. I.e. a starting WIS 16 Monk would be equivalent to wearing improved Hide; WIS 18 would be Ringmail, and WIS 20 would be a breastplate. And yes, that applies to the Barbarian’s AC 14 from 18 CON as well. (the DEX mod doesn’t apply to this rule). the Barbarian can shrug off the occasional serious injury, while the monk learns to roll with the blows, occasionally succeeding in mitigating a gut-shot to a hip-graze. [You might want to restrict this rule to *not* apply to Bladesinging or other options.]

    The other things we’re adding is “Heavy armor is 10% better (i.e. +2) than medium armor at shrugging off blows,” and “magical plusses also increase the chance by 5% (+1).” So AC 16 breastplate+1 is 30%, but AC 16 chainmail is 40%. The best defense short of admanatine armor is full plate, with a great helm, for +14 / 70% chance to avoid the Lingering Injury aspect of the critical hit.

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