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I was DMing for a group of friends and one of them was wondering if he were to wear normal leather armor (11+dex), but wore scalemail (14+dex[max 2]) shin-guards, would a low sweeping attack at his shins have a different AC than normal. I ruled that it's whatever he was wearing more of, which was the leather armor. My real question is: Does it even matter that he was wearing shin-guards? Or is it not possible to "Mix-n-Match" armor?

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Welcome to the site. Take the tour. It appears there was a disconnect between the question's title and its original tags. Based on the description for determining your friend's Armor Class, I've changed the tag to Dungeons and Dragons 5E. If that's incorrect, feel free to edit the tags or the title. Thank you for participating and have fun. – Hey I Can Chan Jan 22 at 6:27
Scale Mail "consists of a coat and leggings..." Not shin guards exactly, more like pants. – Adeptus Jan 24 at 23:10
up vote 23 down vote accepted

Combat in D&D has never (except for options) had hit locations and armour class is an abstraction for how well protected you are overall.

You can wear shin guards if you want - they look cool but they won't make one jot of difference to your AC.

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"Never" is not strictly true (though generally true and true for 5e). D&D Blackmoor (p. 6-10, hit location and height differential to determine hit location) was an option. (it slowed the game down). Hit location rule in the AD&D 1e DMG (p. 53) for damage to wings in aerial combat is an exception to the general point you make, (see also AD&D DMG p. 61 on HP). Recommend opening sentence confine this answer to 5e (per the tag) and the AC as abstraction point (100% agree). – KorvinStarmast Jan 22 at 13:14
Why not use a modifier? Like "+1 against cutting"? It would still have some usefulness, but would be inferior to a standard +1 leather armor. – vsz Jan 22 at 17:56
@vsz one of the meris of 5e is that it did away with a lot of conditional bonuses, replacing them with advantage if neccesary. IMO they should be used very sparingly, and since an AC bonus against slashing may be relevant in any combat, I would avoid it – Martin Epsz Jan 23 at 2:13
@MartinEpsz : Because of the "wait, was that orc wielding a spear or a cutlass?" situation? Which isn't a problem in a computer RPG, but can become tedious in pen&paper? – vsz Jan 23 at 12:18
@vsz that, and the all-too-common remembering after the fact that you had a bonus that applied. Sometimes leading to rolling back action in combat, sometimes to frustrated players – Martin Epsz Jan 23 at 13:54

I think anaximander's comment on another answer is worth expanding into a new answer.

In short, there is no RAW for deciding the AC of custom armour combinations in D&D. Hit location and choice of target does turn up very rarely, most commonly for specific monster, trap or magical effects.

Rather than attempt to use hit locations more generally, which breaks away from a lot of core D&D assumptions, you could attempt to homebrew new types of armour based on your player's descriptions.

I can suggest a couple of rules of thumb:

  • Any custom armour type should be strictly no better than existing listed items, taking armour category, AC, max Dex bonus, stealth disadvantage and cost all into account. Another way of saying this is that a new homebrew variant should not be obviously superior and first choice for any type of character.

  • Where possible, categorise a player's armour description as a variant of existing armour type (armour is not made in factories all alike, there are very many variations). Metal shin guards added to leather armour sounds a lot like "studded leather" to me - it would be simplest to rule it exactly the same for all game mechanics, including cost.

There is very little room amongst the armour types already in the PHB to create something with different mechanics (all AC values, and most variations in other properties are already covered with cost separating otherwise clearly better options). So for most custom descriptions it should just be a matter of granting existing stats to a player's desired appearance or reasoning.

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As an aside, Runequest has (had?) an interesting armour model allowing free mix and match between types and hit locations, plus hit locations were core in the game. It is part of what gives the game a very different feel to D&D though - in my experience it also meant many characters were retired not because dead, but because they lost a limb. – Neil Slater Jan 22 at 16:03

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