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Playing 5e with a Rogue. To make a long story short: In my possession I have both Studded Leather armor and a Breastplate. With my 18 Dexterity, My AC with Studded Leather is 16 (12+4). But if I don the Breastplate, my AC is the same: 16 (14+2). Since neither have any disadvantage on stealth or DEX throws - what confuses me is what the difference is. My character has the money to pay for training and doesn't need cash to the point where I need to hawk the Breastplate for coin. Nobody in the party needs it, and so the question remains:

Is there really a difference between them at this point?

Is the choice cosmetic now? Between a Rogue wearing spiked leather padding all over - or a dense plate with free-flowing arms and legs otherwise? It can't be this simple, there has to be another angle to it that I'm unaware of. There's no reason for a piece of medium armor and Light armor to be statistically identical.

Is one truly wiser a choice than the other? If I swap out my Studded Leather for a shiny new Breastplate, is there anything else for me to worry about other than another 7lbs on my person?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ are you using the variant encumbrance rules? \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Feb 24 at 3:50
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Right now, they're the same. But at some point, you're probably going to want to raise your Dexterity up to 20, and at that point, the studded leather will be worth 17 AC (12 + 5), whereas the breastplate will still be worth 16 (14 + 2).

More generally, as you say, there's no reason for a piece of medium armor and Light armor to be statistically identical. But in general, they're not. They're identical for you, currently. For a character with 14 Dex, the breastplate is superior. For a character with 20 Dex, the studded leather is superior.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Dec 1 '17 at 17:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ To add this as well: this only includes the strict mechanical benefit. Leather is much easier to conceal/hide in a diplomatic setting, as opposed to walking around with a big metal breastplate on. Leather may also fit the flavor of your character much better. \$\endgroup\$ – Lynx Brutal Dec 1 '17 at 17:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ "I hate Rogues when they are too crunchy" - Smaug \$\endgroup\$ – Jens Schauder Dec 4 '17 at 10:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ @LynxBrutal I'd hold the opposite. Thick leather clothing covered everywhere in rivets ... vs chest-only armor and cloth on arms and legs. \$\endgroup\$ – Yakk Dec 4 '17 at 13:52
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There are two differences off the top of my head that may be relevant:

  • Donning medium armor takes 5 minutes; light armor is just 1 minute.

\$\begin{array}{|l|c|c|} \hline \textbf{Category} & \textbf{Don} & \textbf{Doff} \\ \hline \text{Light Armor} & 1\,\text{minute} & 1\,\text{minute} \\ \text{Medium Armor} & 5\,\text{minutes} & 1\,\text{minute} \\ \text{Heavy Armor} & 10\,\text{minutes} & 5\,\text{minutes} \\ \text{Shield} & 1\,\text{action} & 1\,\text{action} \\ \hline \end{array} \$

  • The breastplate will be vulnerable to shocking grasp:

Lightning springs from your hand to deliver a shock to a creature you try to touch. Make a melee spell attack against the target. You have advantage on the attack roll if the target is wearing armor made of metal. On a hit, the target takes 1d8 lightning damage, and it can't take reactions until the start of its next turn.

Additionally, the hard cap on Dexterity bonus for the breastplate means it may not be as useful as studded leather on subsequent levels, but it does have a better resell value. If you're playing with encumbrance, it also matters that the breastplate will be heavier.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for pointing out the other mechanical differences apart from AC that can distinguish armor types. \$\endgroup\$ – azurefrog Dec 1 '17 at 19:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ its not just shocking grasp. Rust monster, druids, lots of times that metal might be suboptimal, and very few where leather is a problem. \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Dec 1 '17 at 22:15
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Yes. There is definitely a difference.

If you do not have the proficiency in Medium Armor, which Rogues do not start with, you will incur penalties such as

If you wear armor that you lack proficiency with, you have disadvantage on any ability check, saving throw, or Attack roll that involves Strength or Dexterity, and you can’t cast Spells. - D&D Basic Rules pg. 44

As Miniman's answer states, the AC is identical to you currently due to your dex mod.

However assuming that you do have the Medium Armor Feat, the armor is still not identical. One is Medium and Metal the other is Light and Leather. There are some advantages to using one over the other. Here are some cases

  • Medium vs Light Armor - You get to add your full dex mod to your AC for Light Armor only, max +2 for Medium. Additionally, they require different times to don
  • Sleeping in Medium Armor - If using the rules in Xanathar's Guide on pg 77, you only gain a quarter of spent Hit Die and do not recover from Exhaustion. There is no penalty for sleeping in Light Armor.
  • Enemies that Target Metal - Rust Monsters and Gray Oozes can corrode that metal breastplate (However, for monsters that corrode any armor the Breastplate can take more hits)
  • Spells that Target Metal - Heat Metal can target the metal breastplate and shocking grasp will give advantage against it.
  • Roleplay Situations — Meeting with a druid sect that forbids metals; Breastplate is worth more than Studded Leather. This cosmetic difference could make you look better equipped or seem richer, thus influence situations when dealing with NPCs.
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    \$\begingroup\$ Breastplate that makes a character look richer would definitely be a cosmetic difference. \$\endgroup\$ – Tim Grant Dec 1 '17 at 23:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TimGrant Perhaps I fell into the trap of referring to something as 'cosmetic' as sometimes meant in video games where it doesn't matter. I changed some wording, does it read better this way? \$\endgroup\$ – KumosAgosta Dec 2 '17 at 1:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm not familiar enough with 5ed - but in previous editions, the weight difference meant wearing a breastplate will limit carrying capacity, and, for weaker characters, also higher armor check penalties for encumbrance. breastplate also has a greater basic armor check penalty, so skill checks based on STR or DEX will be harder with that armor... Not sure if any of these apply to 5ed, though. \$\endgroup\$ – G0BLiN Dec 3 '17 at 16:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @G0BLiN The armor check penalty doesn't exist in 5e like in 3.5e (haven't played other editions). Some medium armors give disadvantage when trying to Stealth but the Breastplate is an exception. Though without that medium armor proficiency all dex/str ability checks, saving throws, and attack rolls will have disadvantage. \$\endgroup\$ – KumosAgosta Dec 4 '17 at 0:18
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The breastplate is heavier and costs ten times as much, requires an armor proficiency you have to go out of your way to get, and leaves you vulnerable to certain spells and effects, but yes, if those don't dissuade you, it's basically cosmetic.

But your question is kind of approaching this from the wrong direction.

You said "There's no reason for a piece of medium armor and Light armor to be statistically identical." I mean, they aren't -- as mentioned by others, they would give you the same AC, but the same isn't true of, say, a bard who has a dexterity of 14 (for whom the breastplate is strictly better) or a rogue with the full 20 dexterity (where the light armor is superior).

But even beyond that, the idea in 5th edition is that everyone has the opportunity to get an AC in the same 14-17 range (depending on what stats they prioritize and how much they're willing to pay); they just do it in different ways.

For a rogue with high dexterity, they get cheap, light armor and use their full dexterity. For a fighter, they pay for heavy armor that relies on their strength to avoid getting encumbered by it and messes with their stealth. For those in the middle, they pay less and use lighter armor than the fighter, but don't get off as easy as the rogue.

But everyone is meant to end up in that same range, that's where the math all works out correctly.

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As it stands right now, they are very close. However, there are a few advantages that the studded leather has for you as it stands.

  • First of all, as Miniman said, you can improve your AC for the studded leather armor just by bumping up your DEX. (Something you may want to do as a rogue any way).

  • In addition, for those DMs that do have you keep track of encumbrance, 7 pounds less to carry is 7 pounds of extra loot you can take home with you!

  • Putting on your breastplate will also take you longer. This is usually not an issue, but once again, it is a small drawback.

  • You are also wasting potential income. You may not need it now, but misers like me like to have as much gold as possible compared to a bunch of gear they won't ever use.

  • There are enemies, such as rust monsters that specifically target metal, increasing the risk of losing your precious armor.

  • Finally, there are tons of spells out there to hurt metal, or those wearing it. For example, the Heat metal spell would absolutely hurt you if you're wearing the breastplate, but would have no effect on your studded leather.

So in conclusion, light armors tend to be better in almost very situation if you have the DEX score to use them, and you certainly seem to. However it is still a close call and the drawbacks right now aren't very large so either decision will work, so long as you have fun with it.

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