In D&D, armor is broken into three categories: Light, Medium, and Heavy. The choice of which type of armor to pursue is largely based on what your proficiencies are, as well as the resources you have available. Here are some quick tips for choosing the best armor available to you.
Light armors allow you to take full advantage of your dexterity modifier. If you're proficient in these types of armors, and you have a dex mod of +3 or better, these armors are definitely for you. If not, they still might be a decent choice, but I advise against using these with a negative dex mod, since that penalty will still be calculated in. So let's look at our options. The light armors available are padded, leather, and studded leather. Note, those are the only 3 choices. Medium and heavy armors have more options, so the variety here is a bit limited. Padded is pretty much worthless. It gets you 11+ AC for the cost of 5gp. But it confers disadvantage on stealth. Don't bother. Leather is much better, and it's still coming in cheap at 10gp. It's still only a 11+ AC, but without disadvantage on stealth. Studded leather is the optimal light armor, as it is a 12+ AC rather than a +1, and it similarly doesn't confer disadvantage on stealth. But it comes in at a cost of 45gp, which might be a bit much for some starting characters. Take studded leather if you can afford it. If not, leather is a passable budget option. It takes one minute to get in or out of light armor.
Medium armors protect more, but only allow you to benefit from a dex mod of up to +2 (treating anything higher as +2.) Note, if you have a negative dex mod, that still gets added in here. Hide is cheapest and weakest. For 10gp, it gets you 12+AC. No disadvantage to stealth though. Basically, you can sub this out for studded leather if you're proficient in medium armors, and have no greater than +2 dex mod. Doing so would save you 35gp, so it might be worth your time. Chain shirt is next, with a 13+ AC 50gp cost. No disadvantage to stealth. Not a bad take. Scale Mail is also 50gp, but comes in at a 14+AC. However, this comes with disadvantage on stealth. So make the consideration if stealth or protection is more important to you. Side note, it weighs 45lbs. So if your DM is tracking encumbrance, it might be a bit weighty. Breast plate is a whopping 400gp. So that's a big jump in price, and starting players won't be able to afford it. It has all the benefits of scale mail without any of the drawbacks though. So win-win, if you can manage the price. Lastly, we have half plate at a staggering 750gp. It gets you a 15+AC, but disadvantage on stealth and high weight are back on the table. It takes 5 minutes to put on medium armor, and a minute to take off.
Heavy armors are heavy. Weight will always be an issue here, so if you r DM tracks that, bear it in mind for literally all of these, though as a rule, the more protective it gets, the heavier it gets. Another thing to note is strength requirements. Most heavy armors have a strength score requirement to properly use. You can wear the armor without meeting the requirement, but your movespeed gets reduced by 10ft if you do. Also, everything here gets disadvantage to stealth, so don't bother worrying about being sneaky. That aside, heavy armor sets a fixed AC value. Dex mod is not factored in, so if you have a negative dex mod, you want to get heavy armor (if you're proficient.) Ring mail is 14AC, and costs 30gp. Not bad for a starting set. Also it's free of strength requirements to use, and is the only heavy armor that doesn't have one. Chain mail is 16AC for 75gp. Strength 13 required to use. If you're looking to start out with heavy armor, this is probably your best pick. Splint costs 200gp for 17AC. And it takes 15 strength to use. This is probably only going to be used by dedicated martial characters, and it's not something you're likely to start with. Lastly is plate mail. 18AC, but 1500gp cost and strength 15 to use. This is a reward to have in and of itself. It takes 10 minutes to put heavy armor on, and 5 minutes to take it off. This is also probbly the only place you'll want to make use of that little rule where having help getting in or out of armor reduces the time spent by half.
One final note I want to make is in regards to shields. For 10gp and the functionality of the hand holding it, a shield will grant +2 AC. This is on top of anythings, even things like heavy armor which sets your AC. So having a shield in full plate gets you 20AC for example. You can only gain this benefit once though, so tough luck to anyone wanting to become a, impenetrable walking wall of shields. Shields take an action to pick up or drop. Apart from shields, keep an eye out for magical bonuses or race and class features that can confer bonuses to AC. Weight carefully your needs when selecting armor, and choose the best protection option for you.
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- Draconick, Digital and Dice Contributor
I, Nick “Draconick” Johnson, am a writer and roleplaying enthusiast with over ten years of experience in various tabletop roleplaying games both as a player and as a GM. I am also somewhat involved in other forms of tabletop gaming such as wargaming, board games, and card games. It is my hope that by creating and maintaining this website that I can share my unique take on all things within our hobby and to foster a community of like-minded individuals.