The Defence fighting style reads:

While you are wearing armor, you gain a +1 bonus to AC

Is a shield considered armor for this purpose?


4 Answers 4



In the Monk Unarmored Defense section it is specified that

Beginning at 1st level, while you are wearing no armor and not wielding a shield...

and in the Barbarian Unarmored Defense

While you are not wearing any armor, your Armor Class equals 10 + your Dexterity modifier + your Constitution modifier. You can use a shield and still gain this benefit.

Which indicates armour and shields are considered separate.

Ultimately, due to some very unclear descriptions of armor and shields, Jeremy Crawford tweeted his personal ruling:

Q: Does wielding a shield count as wearing armor [for the defense fighting style]?

A: No.

Which I think is a strong confirmation that unless specifically called out, shields do not count as armor in game terms, and were referred to as armor in a more plain English sense, mistakenly.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Technically, when it says "You can use a shield and still gain this benefit." That does not work either for or against your argument since it could be a case of exception beats general. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 26, 2018 at 17:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ I realize it could be understood that way, but I think in combination with the other passage as well as the passages linked by other answers it's clear that it intends to say that shields are not armour. Odd that they phrased it this way however. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 26, 2018 at 18:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ You have picked two great examples, but how do you counter that Shields are listed under Armor in terms of proficiencies? \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Feb 27, 2018 at 13:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch That's tricky to counter. In the equipment section it says "The Armor table collects the most commonly available types of armor found in the game and separates them into three categories: light armor, medium armor, and heavy armor. Many warriors supplement their armor with a shield." Which again implies a separation but then "Shields" are present on the "Armor" table which implies they are not. The most definitive answer is the J.C. response. Should I add that to my answer? \$\endgroup\$ Feb 27, 2018 at 14:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SirCinnamon: Adding on to your comment, that rules section is titled "Armor and Shields", which also suggests that shields are a separate thing from armor (otherwise they could just title the section "Armor"). Likewise, even for classes proficient with light, medium, and heavy armor, as well as shields, they list shields separately in the armor proficiency line: "All armor, shields". So I think that ultimately, a shield is not considered armor, but it's under the "armor proficiency" category for the purposes of proficiency with it. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Nov 13, 2020 at 1:39

No, wearing a shield does not count as Armor

Shields are in the Equipment section (Chapter 5) of the PHB, but are not classified under the Armor section when determining Light, Medium, or Heavy Armor.

The posted Sage Advice also contains some details differentiating Shields from Armor:

These methods—along with any others that give you a formula for calculating your AC—are mutually exclusive; you can benefit from only one at a time.

What about a shield? A shield increases your AC by 2 while you use it…[k]eep in mind that some AC calculations, such as a monk’s Unarmored Defense, prohibit the use of a shield.

This was further clarified via Twitter by Jeremy Crawford

Does wielding a shield count as wearing armor [for Defense fighting style]?

Jeremy Crawford: No.

There is another complimentary Tweet from Jeremy Crawford that states the same:

The Defense fighting style is intended to work with a suit of armor you wear, not with a shield alone

Confusion is understandable!

If you look at Character Class options and review the listed Proficiencies, you'll notice something at odds with all of the above in my answer. As an example, let's look at the Fighter (PHB, 71).

Armor: All armor, shields

This does make it look like Shields are a subset of armor and would be permissible under the current written rules of the Defense Fighting Style. And, as @Goodguy5 answer states, it's not likely a huge issue for someone who invests in a 2 level dip to get the +1 AC who wields a shield without wearing armor.

*Big Thanks to @Christopher for their answer here in help supplying the content of this answer.

  • \$\begingroup\$ To me the distinction is quite clear but I agree that the confusion is indeed very understandable. Shields are part of the "Armor" Table, not the "Armor and Shields" Table. In classes details, Shields are listed under "Armor" proficiencies, not the "Armor and Shields" or the 'Defense" proficiencies. But the opposite amount of hints that they are separate is much bigger. The "Armor and Shields" section (not the "Armor" section alone) of the Equipment chapter, clearly lists Shields outside of the three Light/Medium/Heavy Armor subsections, Armor Proficiencies lists "All Armor, Shields". \$\endgroup\$
    – Pat
    Aug 13, 2020 at 14:13

No, wielding a shield does not count as wearing armor

Rules As Intended

Jeremy Crawford has clarified:

Q: Does wielding a shield count as wearing armor [for the defense fighting style]?

A: No.

and again here:

The Defense fighting style is intended to work with a suit of armor you wear, not with a shield alone.

Rules as Written - Shields and armor are different

Considering that shields are not listed in the armor section in the PHB, but are instead listed in the equipment section, I'd say that it is clear that shields are not intended to be armor in the rules.

There is supporting evidence also in the description for a monk's unarmored defense ability:

Beginning at 1st level, while you are wearing no armor and not wielding a shield...

This ability makes clear that armor and shields are considered separate and distinct. The Sage Advice Compendium confirms and elaborates a bit about this:

Shields are grouped with armor in the equipment rules in the Player’s Handbook, but various game features distinguish between the armor you wear and a shield you wield. Take a look at the monk’s Unarmored Defense feature and compare it to the barbarian’s version. In the monk’s version, you must both forgo wearing armor and forgo wielding a shield if you want to benefit from the feature, whereas a barbarian must only forgo wearing armor. (Sage Advice Compendium p.16)

Taken together I seems clear that the interpretation above is pretty well supported by RAW as well even if it is not as explicit as it could/should be.


Shields aren't armor, but the GM could house-rule otherwise

It's possible to make a call in your game (or request the GM to make a different call) based on what you're going for.

Personally (as a house rule), I'd update the phrasing to resemble something like: "While you are wearing armor or wielding a shield, you gain a +1 bonus to AC".

I can't think of a realistic scenario where I (as a GM) would be upset with the +1 ac you get. The obvious concerns are "Unarmored Defense" or "Mage Armor" or some such. But, if a character wants to take a one or two level dip to snag +1AC, so be it.


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