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Assuming you are level 1 and have access to any item that you can afford at character creation rolling the maximum amount of starting gold, how high can your permanent AC become (permanently, not for any lesser set duration)?

Constraints:

  • Only official material, Unearthed Arcana is not legal for this character creation.

  • All common races listed are legal, all other races are illegal for character creation.

  • Items are those that you can purchase.

  • All skills, feats and abilities available to a player character are eligible.

  • A single player character has to achieve this AC on their own, without any help from allies (pet companions, PCs, NPCs etc.)

  • Starting attributes can be rolled (that includes all 18s down the line) or achieved by point-buy. I have no preference for either.


Heavily related: What is the highest possible temporary AC at level 1, without any help of others?

This linked question also includes temporary AC. My current question however, is only about permanent AC.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Related: rpg.stackexchange.com/q/149261/44723 \$\endgroup\$ – Akixkisu Jun 4 at 10:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ What is "official material"? Do you mean "AL-legal"? What about supplementary material? See also rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/144825/… \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor Jun 4 at 12:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ @enkryptor "official material" would be anything officially published by WotC, not including UA. See Where can I find the official rules for 5e \$\endgroup\$ – linksassin Jun 4 at 12:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ @linksassin ever wondered why "official rules" was quotes in that question? \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor Jun 4 at 13:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ Sorry, but what is meant by "common races"? As in: dwarf, elf, human, halfling? Or common in a setting (since Wayfinder's Guide to Eberron and Guildmaster's Guide to Ravnica each have their own common races) \$\endgroup\$ – David Coffron Jun 4 at 14:04
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21 Armor Class

A Forge domain cleric or a fighter can achieve 21 Armor Class if you are allowed to sell starting gear to buy others. Technically, the rules only allow you to buy starting gear if you substitute your gear for rolled wealth:

When you create your character, you receive equipment based on a combination of your class and background. Alternatively, you can start with a number of gold pieces based on your class and spend them on items from the lists in this section.

... However, I have never been at a table that didn't houserule permission to purchase additional starting gear with the money from your background, and most tables I've sat at allow for the selling of starting equipment (sometimes for full-price and sometimes for half-price) to purchase different gear.

If this is allowed at your table, you simply take the Inheritor background from Swords Coast Adventurer's Guide and select a piece of jewelry whose sell value is greater than 1,500 gp so you can purchase Plate armor. Note that the Inheritor background is very GM dependent, so you will have to get GM permission to inherit such a valuable item:

Choose or randomly determine your inheritance from among the possibilities in the table [which includes "A piece of jewelry"]. Work with your Dungeon Master to come up with details...

One such piece of jewelry mentioned in official rules that carries high enough value even at half-cost selling is the jeweled platinum ring found in the art objects listings in the Dungeon Master's Guide

The Calculation

Now that you have Plate armor, here is how you get 21 AC:

  • Plate Armor
    • 18
  • Shield
    • +2
  • Blessing of the Forge or Defense Fighting Style
    • +1

What if I can't get the jewelry or buy and sell starting gear

In this case, the best build relies on rolling two 18s via rolled ability scores and assign them to Dexterity and Constitution. Then you will have to play a barbarian of a race that gives +2 Constitution or +2 Dexterity. This hinges on the Unarmored Defense feature that barbarians get:

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.

I recommend the Beasthide Shifter in Wayfinder's Guide to Eberron as it provides +2 Constitution and also possesses a trait to gain an additional +1 AC for 1 minute once between rests:

Whenever you shift, you gain 1d6 additional temporary hit points, and while shifted, you have a +1 bonus to your AC.

The Calculation

Using this build here is how you get 21 AC:

  • Unarmored Defense
    • Base: 10
    • Dexterity and Constitution (in either order): +4 and +5
  • Shield
    • +2
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21 with the stats you give

Absolute max - 21

  • Race: Dwarf
  • Class: Barbarian
  • Equipment: Shield

Unarmed Defense means your AC is 10 + 4 (Dex 18) + 5 (Con 20) + 2 (Shield) = 21 AC

Note; this is not the only combination that can work. Any race capable of reaching +2 in either constitution or dexterity would have the same result.

Maximum armour based build - 20

  • Race: Any with a +2 to Dex
  • Class: Fighter
  • Equipment: Studded Leather, Shield

You don't have enough gold at character creation to buy any decent armour. Therefore the best we can get is studded leather with a dexterity based build.

12 (Studded Leather) + 5 (Dex) + 2 (Shield) + 1 (Defensive Fighting style) = 20 AC

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  • \$\begingroup\$ You could possibly choose the Inheritor background to get a piece of jewelry worth enough money to exchange for Plate armor. Although I don't think you can sell items to accumulate starting wealth at character creation with which to spend on starting equipment by RAW, it is an extremely common houserule. \$\endgroup\$ – David Coffron Jun 4 at 14:51
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20 AC (or 21 AC with a generous reading)

  • Race: Warforged (any)
  • Class: Fighter 1
  • Equipment: Shield

This grants you 18 AC from the Warforged Heavy Plating (16+2 proficiency), plus 2 from the shield.

If you consider that Heavy Plating counts as wearing armor, which is debatable, you can also pick the Defense fighting style for +1 AC bringing the total up to 21.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You could also play a Warforged Forge Cleric to get AC 21 by using their Blessing of the Forge on their Shield. \$\endgroup\$ – nick012000 Jun 4 at 12:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ @nick012000 That is a neat idea but I don't think you can use Blessing of the Forge on a shield unfortunately. The feature says "you can touch one nonmagical object that is a suit of armor or a simple or martial weapon" \$\endgroup\$ – Sdjz Jun 4 at 12:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm pretty sure you can, because Shields are listed as an item on the Armor table, under the Shield subcategory, and proficiency with them is listed with the other varieties of Armor proficiency in the class descriptions. \$\endgroup\$ – nick012000 Jun 4 at 12:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ @nick012000 It certainly counts as armor, but as a "suit of armor" I'm not so sure. Perhaps this question should be separately asked. \$\endgroup\$ – Sdjz Jun 4 at 13:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Sdjz I'm fairly certain when it says "You gain no benefit from wearing armor" that precludes the capacity that it counts as worn armor (as you would then just lose the benefit) \$\endgroup\$ – David Coffron Jun 4 at 14:27
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Tortle

Has a natural AC of 17 with a shield you have a 19 AC most of the time.

You can go into Shell Defense giving you another +4 for a total 23 AC, with the huge drawbacks that of prone, have disadvantage on dex saves, can't take reactions, and the only action you can take is to emerge from the shell.

Then take the spell shield from being a Wizard, Sorcerer, HexBlade Warlock (or later from Magic Initiate Feat). When attacked you'd be able to spike a 24 AC. This is of course not a permant boost.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The AC bonus from shield makes it not permanent. Also, how would you go into Shell Defense with shield active? \$\endgroup\$ – Someone_Evil Jun 4 at 14:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ You are right about not being able to get into Shell Defense with Shield active, now that I think of it. \$\endgroup\$ – J. A. Streich Jun 4 at 15:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ You should also address whether Shell Defense is "permanent" (I think a case can, but must, be made). You should also include the rather significant drawback of not being able to take actions (other than reemerging) while in Shell Defense, which rather limits your capabilities. \$\endgroup\$ – Someone_Evil Jun 4 at 15:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ related question regarding tortle sheild bonus + shell defense rpg.stackexchange.com/q/120032/25433 \$\endgroup\$ – Destruktor Jun 4 at 15:09

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