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I've just read the D&D 5e basic rules, and I'm not sure I'm up to speed regarding casting spells while clad in armor. The only mention I can find about this (page 79):

Because of the mental focus and precise gestures required for spellcasting, you must be proficient with the armor you are wearing to cast a spell. You are otherwise too distracted and physically hampered by your armor for spellcasting.

Does this mean that a character who starts out with a single level fighter (or any other class with heavy armor proficiency) can from then on gain levels as wizard and forever more cast spells, without any penalty whatsoever, while wearing full plate?

I've played all editions of D&D, and this seems both a bit overpowered and very un-D&D-ish to me. Have I missed something?

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Wow! I was always under the impression that (with D&D) if you tried to cast a spell while wearing plate you'd end up turning yourself into a teapot! –  Paul Aug 22 at 9:16
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Also seems to me that certain types of dwarves can do this as well; as they get free armour proficiencies, so dwarf wizards forever! –  Rob Aug 22 at 9:26
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@Rob, thanks! Good point regarding Mountain Dwarf and medium armor! –  thomax Aug 22 at 9:29
    
Most memorable 5e experience for me yet was the Mountain Dwarf wizard (randomly rolled) running around in Medium Armor pretending to be a fighter. –  Cthos Aug 22 at 21:39
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Misread comments. Assumed above Comments from Paul and Rob were related. Briefly believed dwarves could turn into teapots in D&D 5th. Now disappointed that they can't. –  Hey I Can Chan Oct 28 at 9:35

2 Answers 2

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Yes. Any character who is proficient with a particular type of armor can cast spells while wearing that type of armor with no penalty.

There are two primary reasons for this.

  1. There are better ways for mages to get a decent Armor Class. For example, Draconic Sorcerers get permanent Mage Armor for free at 1st level, which provides 13 + Dexterity Modifier AC. That's equivalent AC to a Chain Shirt (except the Chain Shirt will only let you apply a maximum Dexterity bonus of +2), and the Chain Shirt costs 50 gp and weighs 20 pounds. If you take a mage with high Dexterity, then it only gets worse as the armor gets heavier. In addition, any mundane armor heavier than 20 pounds will give you Disadvantage on Stealth checks, and truly heavy armor won't let you apply your Dexterity Modifier at all. Chain, Splint, and Plate Mail all have Strength requirements as well.
  2. Arcane Spell Failure was a complicated and pointless mechanic. It only served to confuse newbies and slow down the pace of gameplay. Furthermore, the only spellcasters who have access to metamagic (which, aside from magic gear, was the primary way ASF was mitigated) are Sorcerers, which is also the class that needs heavy armor the least. Magic gear is much harder to come by now, so the likelihood of you finding a magic suit of armor made to be light and maneuverable is much more remote, thus removing yet another way of mitigating ASF.
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Thanks for bringing up the strength requirements on heavy armor! This will definitely prevent most munchkin wizards from dipping one level of fighter at the start of their career. Still, we have the Mountain Dwarf happily casting arcane spells without any disadvantage... oh well I guess I'll just have to adjust my understanding of this mechanic. –  thomax Aug 22 at 9:56
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I'd be more worried about them dipping a level of Sorcerer for Draconic Resilience. The downside to that however is missing out on the Wizard's Capstone ability at level 20, which allows the Wizard a free casting of two different 3rd-level spells per short or long rest. Also, keep in mind that unless you have an 11 or higher in Strength before racial bonuses, a Mountain Dwarf will still be unable to wear Chain Mail which has the lowest Strength requirement of the heavy armors (13). –  Dyndrilliac Aug 22 at 10:01
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Didn't notice the strength requirement for heavy armour - that's a nice mechanic idea! –  Rob Aug 22 at 10:45
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@Dyndrilliac - He could still wear the armor, his speed would just be reduced by 10 ft. That's the only effect of the minimum strength. –  Cthos Aug 22 at 21:45
    
@Rob It's the simplified version of Encumbrance. Traditional encumbrance, as used in previous editions, is now an optional rule. –  Adeptus Oct 28 at 23:57

You understand the rules correctly.

It is neither unbalanced nor a departure from D&D tradition.

It is not unabalanced because the there are many ways to increase the AC of a Wizard, from Mage Armor to bracers of defense etc. Armor is expensive, and it requires that the wizard invest in both the armor, and the strength to make use of the armor, as well as the strength or dex and int to multiclass in the first place. They will also suffer from a reduced spell progression table, and will be behind others in the party for stat progression. Ofcourse, you'd be better off taking 1 level of wardomain cleric, but the cost of dipping in regards to stat improvements or feats is still there.

It's not a departure from D&D tradition, because in all versions, if you picked the right combinations you could negate the arcane spell failures for all intents and purposes. The only people who missed out were those who lacked the system mastery to create the character concept. On the other hand, the generic wizard always had a hard time casting spells in various types of armor, and in this edition is is not merely difficult, but impossible to do so unless you choose the correct rule combinations, which allows you to do so. A wizard who is only a wizard, can not cast spells in heavy armor as has always been the case.

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Thanks for the answer, though I don't agree on your last point. The fact that there were dimly lit alleys thru the rules system which could grant a character wizard spells while wearing full plate does not change the spirit of the rules on this point. This spirit here being that casting arcane magic in metal armor is a fickle business :) –  thomax Aug 22 at 13:32
    
@thomax updated –  GMNoob Aug 22 at 13:38
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Since at least the oAD&D PHB elfish fighter/magic-users could cast spells in any armor. And all elf PCs in Moldvay’s Basic can do it (because they’re all essentially fighter/magic-users) without jumping through any hoops. –  Robert Fisher Aug 22 at 16:18

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