Breakthrough Armor

by pitycrit

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Breakthrough Armor For 5E D&D

Design Principles

This is part 1 of a series designed to question or amend game mechanics in 5th-edition Dungeons & Dragons. If some OSR homebrewer or 3rd-edition grognard finds something useful, so much the better.

The Case Against Armor

There is plenty to dislike about armor rules. The "choices" are meaningless. Everybody wants the heaviest armor that they can afford and are allowed to use. Oddly, it stands out as the only core mechanic in 5e that is balanced by cost. Worst of all, armor bores me.

Failed Fixes

Many armor rewrites already exist. Historical armor, piecemeal armor, so-called gritty combat armor, armor as damage reduction, armor versus damage type, etc. Variously, these wed complexity to boredom, cause subsystem bloat, and slows down combat.

The Breakthrough

Here's the deal. There are two kinds of armor: medium and heavy. Medium armor is something in the vicinity of a chain shirt. Heavy armor is something like full-body chain, banded or plate mail. Shields are also a thing. Anything less than medium armor is not worth tracking, nor is shield differentiation. Assume that the shield here is on the larger side.

Medium Armor (150gp)

+4 AC and resistance against any piercing, slashing, or bludgeoning damage source that inflicts 10 damage or less. Additionally, add half your Dex Mod to your AC.

Heavy Armor (300gp)

+7 AC, resistance against any piercing, slashing, or bludgeoning damage source that inflicts 15 damage or less. While wearing heavy armor, your suffer -5 speed, Dexterity does not improve your AC, and stealth-related checks are made with disadvantage.

Shields (5gp)

+1 AC. As a reaction to suffering damage, you can splinter your shield. This destroys your shield and reduces the incoming damage by a flat 10 points. This subtraction occurs before any resistances are considered.


The idea here is that any damage insufficient to pierce your armor is of reduced effectiveness. It glances off. But anything that can actually pierce the armor will mess you up.

  • Does this mess with bounded accuracy? Yep. I'll cry no tears at the funeral.
  • Does it fail to scale with increasing monster damage? Also yes, though monsters should be dealing damage in ranges where the resistance will matter until probably 10th level, three levels past when most campaigns end. You could also introduce elite armor for higher levels.
  • Is heavy armor too good for low-level characters? That's why it costs so much.
  • What about Strength requirements? Low strength is plenty bad enough.
  • Doesn't this obviate the need for other sources of resistances, like priest spells? Maybe. Is that really so important?
  • Won't warriors and priests just bring a herd of mules laden with shields everywhere they go? First, monsters love eating draft animals. Second, shields are bulky and I don't think a mule can carry an unlimited number. Third, players should be able to improvise shields, e.g. pot lids and chairs. Fourth: if you hate splintering shields so much, don't use that part.

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