Making Armor Scarier

Assumption: Heavy armor is barely differentiated from light armor in 5e.

Desire: make armor feel like it is scales with tier.

Suggested change: armor grants half its armor class as damage reduction against slashing, piercing, and bludgeoning damage.

Strength doesn’t nearly benefit a character as much as dexterity. This should further make armor have different benefits over dexterity.

That would make sense considering you could in theory get a dex based character in light armor could in theory out AC someone in plate armor.

It would certainly do something to make someone in medium or heavy armor more of a threat to be reckoned with.

It would certainly give more value to the more expensive armor and help to prioritize targets. It might further set them up as damage sponges for magic users since physical users know they wouldn’t get nearly as far in a fight against them.

The Heavy Armor Mastery feat would suddenly grant 7 damage reduction for physical damage, which is a lot when you consider a dagger + just dexterity could do 9 damage on a hit, in general, at max. It could be something that’s negated on a critical hit or when surprised to better simulate the idea of getting between the plates. Making a dagger ineffective wouldn’t best reflect the realism of the small blade being stuck between plates.

The main thing to me it would do is counteract some of the penalties of heavy armor while offering a little more benefit than just an extra few points of armor class; granted, armor class in D&D 5e is more potent than previous versions. It would make magical armor that much more interesting, too. Would the magic bonus be factored into the damage reduction or not? I would think yes.

I think armor is fine as is. Though damage reduction is attractive, it may be overbearing.

Light armor very good when you have higher level characters (from ability score improvements and such) and scale with DEX modifier.

Medium armor also scales with DEX modifier, but limits the benefit gained.

Heavy armor truly shines by having great base values without scaling off of ability scores.

Also in proper context, many DEX build characters do not go with a shield. Instead, they typically go for two-weapon fighting or perform actions that require both hands available. Oppositely, many heavy armor characters opt in for shields, so they frequently get another +2 without any ability score scaling.

Heavy armor characters are very scary at low levels. I recall a low level campaign where the party was mostly fighting small bands of goblins who were rallying for an annual cataclysmic event. The goblins stole plate armor from merchants they had burglarized, and our 5-man party of Level 3 characters were routed by 4 plate armor Level 1 goblins and 2 archers. These goblins would die in a single hit when we actually damaged them (they had like 10 hp each), but the sheer difficulty of actually dealing the damage is what was scary. Our 25-40 hp characters could not stand up to these 20AC Level 1 goblins because we couldn’t deal damage to them, but they could deal damage to us.

All valid points.

What would you think then in comparison to higher levels? Obviously players have more abilities, more magical gear—that helps them to scale. Does that set them up well in that regards?

I don’t think a system change to benefit high levels vs low levels would be the most elegant.

TL;DR - The gap in power between lighter and heavier armors begins to close as players approach higher levels. A simple and effective solution is to provide homebrewed improvements or enchants as a setting-specific remedy, rather than making changes to the generalized armor system.

As players get higher in level, as well as the challenge rating of their foes, heavy armor’s effectiveness changes, depending on the kinds of challenges that the players are facing.

At higher levels, heavy armor tends to be good in settings where there is heavy humanoid vs. humanoid combat (i.e. military campaigns, city brawling, etc.), but fall off in high fantasy adventuring and big monster battles. And this makes sense too. Why would an adventurer traveling many many miles to foreign lands, fighting dragons, and crossing chasms, be wearing heavy armor? It’s stupidly heavy and slows them down.

I dub this phenomenon (literally just now) the “Fantasy Armor Corollary”, which states “the effectiveness of higher grades of armor holds an inverse relationship with the game’s level of fantasy”.

Jokes aside, yes, heavy armor does lose out at higher levels, but that’s because we’re relying on a generalized system to be suitable for an excessively wide range of game varieties. In-game enchants can be a great way to improve armor in a game so that it is more appropriate for the given setting, which would be a great way to implement damage reduction for a specific player’s heavy armor set.

Boom. I would say that should be sufficient.