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Now the wording in the spell description is extremely vague and ambiguous making the spell effect up for interpretation.

It just says:

... the target's AC can't be less than 16, regardless of what kind of armor it is wearing.

Right off the bat you have to ask what AC is it referring to? Total AC, Base AC or just armor AC?

Now from the text you would be inclined to think it refers to armor AC since that's the only reference that's included in the text.

So in other words on interpretation could be that unless you are wearing an armor that equals or exceeds 16, such as full plate, your armor now have an armor AC of 16.

However the description mention the target's AC and not the armor's AC so a more likely interpretation would be that unless you are wearing an armor that equals or exceeds 16 your total AC is 16. So regardless if you run around in leather armor or buck naked you have an AC of 16.

But that just brings modifiers into the questions.

Like can you add you dex bonus to AC like you do to you base AC?

Now unlike the Mage Armor spell the Barkskin's spell description doesn't mention any dex bonus so a strict interpretation of the rules as they are written would say no. Fair enough Barkskin apparently doesn't just make you look like a tree it also makes you stiff as one too. (Which in all honestly is a kind of cool flavor effect, though I doubt it was intentional.)

Yet that makes things very strange when you get characters with very high dexterity.

A character with maxed out dex will have a total AC 15 if he/she runs around naked which means the Barkskin spell will improve his/hers armor. However, if that character puts on any armor its AC will equal or exceed the 16 which means if you interpret the description literally that the spell no longer has any effect. So then you wonder why it mentions armor in the way it does?

And it gets even stranger if you start adding other modifiers like that from shields for example.

If the buck naked maxed out dex character picks up a shield its AC suddenly is 17 which invalidates barkskin.

But that's not the weird thing because that's probably the wrong interpretation of how Barkskin works.

Because since the spell description doesn't mention modifiers, dex bonus or otherwise, a literal interpretation is that once you cast the spell your AC is 16 regardless of modifiers.

Which means that Barkskin invalidates the existence of shields. In other words while under the effect of Barkskin it doesn't matter if you use a shield or not unless it pushes your total AC over 16.

The same is true for any feat, such as dual wielder or defensive duelist, or other effect, such as evasive footwork, that in some way modifies your AC.

In fact a strict interpretation of Barkskin as written has the spell invalidating every single rule about how AC is calculated and modified. Use the Barkskin and your AC is 16, no more or less regardless how skilled, agile or equipped your character is. Unless of course you manage to get a better AC which in all honestly is kind of hard not to do.

Now all this seems freaking weird because the result is that Barkskin breaks the spirit of the rules if not the letter. Because instead of treating AC as the total sum of a character's skills, abilities and equipment Barkskin treats AC as a condition. Cast the spell and you have the condition of having AC 16, unless you break the spell.

And all because the wording of the spelldescription is so vauge.

Which has me asking if this is the way Barkskin really is meant to work?

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2 Answers 2

up vote 14 down vote accepted

I couldn't quite follow your logic, but this is how barkskin works.

  • If your AC is less than 16, it is now 16.
  • If your AC is greater than 16 it is not changed.
  • If your AC was less than 16 before you cast barkskin, so it is currently 16, and then something changes to improve your AC further, then you calculate your AC with the new item ignoring barkskin. If the new AC is still less than 16, it's now 16. If the new AC is greater than 16, barkskin has no effect and you can stop concentrating on it.
  • If your AC was higher or equal to 16 before casting barkskin, but then something happens which causes your AC to go below 16 while the spell is still active, your AC is 16.

What this means is that other factors are more relevant than the thickness of your skin, once you go above an AC of 16. To explain further, your skin is your "last line of defense". If you have a shield and armor, and those combined do not yet equal 16, then an attack that gets past your shield and armor gets to your skin, which because of the spell is a 16. However, your skin does not increase your effectiveness in using your shield and armor, so if your AC before the spell is greater than 16, your skin offers no extra protection beyond this. Since AC is an abstract concept which involves your many different ways of defending yourself, that which protects you best is the defining characteristic of your AC.

Being that this is a second level spell only available to Druids and Rangers and Nature Domain Clerics, the odds of having a dex of 20 to get a +5 to your dex modifier is very low, for at least another 5 levels. (This spell only becomes available at 3rd level)

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You might want to add in that if you are subjected to some effect that reduces your AC that was higher than 16 to less than that, it's still 16 –  wax eagle Aug 26 at 10:07
    
@waxeagle Thanks. Done. –  GMNoob Aug 26 at 10:12
    
Can you help rationalize (at least) why shields don't add to the 16? –  mattdm Aug 26 at 17:23
    
@GMNoob Yes, and especially the part underscoring the abstract nature of "AC". –  mattdm Aug 26 at 17:33
    
So it works exactly as I thought. I still think it's a stupid spell because it invalidates all equipment, feats and abilities that player has given a character. As a player you want your choices to have meaning. This spell robs the meaning of your all choices until you amass enough AC through different means to exceed 16 and until you do you might as well just run around naked with a greataxe. It's just bad game design. (Though running around naked with Barkskin and a greataxe would make for an awesome character concept. =D ) –  Chryckan Aug 29 at 11:26

I can see how this would be confusing, especially if you're coming from other editions of D&D. Part of the design of 5e is getting rid of all of the little fiddly situational modifiers, and the new Barkskin is definitely designed to work with the new spirit of the rules. If you look at the D20 version of Barkskin:

Barkskin toughens a creature’s skin. The effect grants a +2 enhancement bonus to the creature’s existing natural armor bonus. This enhancement bonus increases by 1 for every three caster levels above 3rd, to a maximum of +5 at caster level 12th.

The enhancement bonus provided by barkskin stacks with the target’s natural armor bonus, but not with other enhancement bonuses to natural armor. A creature without natural armor has an effective natural armor bonus of +0.

Good grief - it's a +2 bonus, which stacks with some other bonuses, but not others, and you need to know the definitions of "enhancement bonus", "natural armor", and "natural armor bonus" to even make sense of what it does.

By comparison, the 5e version is delightfully-simple:

"Is your armor class below 16? Not anymore."

That's really it - no need to look up definitions of terms, argue about which bonuses stack with each other (except maybe cover bonuses - I really wish they'd gotten rid of those), etc, etc.

Yes, there are potential edge-cases, like someone whose armor class is already close to 16, who picks up a shield later, or gets some other effect that increases their armor class.

However, and this is important - if you happened to cast Barkskin on someone with AC 15 who later picked up a shield, it really doesn't matter if you remember to recalculate their AC, because at most, it'll be one or two points off.

In general, you should find better things to do with a spell slot than wasting it on Barkskinning someone who's already got a decent armor class.

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