I really enjoy working out rather unusual character builds, or taking a subpar character concept and try to make it work using min/maxing, point buy and having every level from one to twenty planned out before even starting the adventure (ability increases, feats, equipment, etc). My latest project is a wizard that is as tanky as possible (tanky meaning having high AC in this case).

To achieve this, my wizard would be a mountain dwarf (starting with light and medium armor proficiency), and have 14 Strength. Depending on how the campaign goes, around the time I'm getting close to having enough gold to buy a suit of plate armor I would forego an ability score increase in favour of the "Heavily Armored" feat (also giving me +1 Strength, raising that ability to the score needed to wear plate armor without getting a movement penalty.

Now, I would have an AC of 18, which is quite high for a wizard. But, as stated, my goal is for my character's AC to be as high as possible. Adding a shield to my character's equipment would seem like a cheap way to get an extra +2 AC for an impressive total of 20. But this is where I finally get close to my question.

Shields have a separate proficiency in 5E and wearing armor you are not proficient with not only imposes disadvantage on any ability check, saving throw, ar attack roll that involves Strength or Dexterity, but also makes it impossible to cast spells. Not being able to cast spells would make my wizard kind of pointless so in order to make this work I would somehow have to get proficiency with shields.

At this point there are two ways to get shield proficiency in 5E: multiclassing one level in a class that has shield proficiency or taking the "Moderately Armored" feat. Multiclassing isn't really an option for me since it would leave me unable to get the high level Wizard features. So I would have to take the feat just to get shield proficiency. Since I'm already proficient with medium armor this seems like a complete waste of a feat to me. If that is as it is intended to work I wouldn't take the feat.

So my question is: Is the Moderately Armored feat really the only way to get shield proficiency without multiclassing?

Because it sort of seems like an oversight. Now, the developers can't reasonably be expected to take in to account people like me creating stupidly specific situations like this: a heavily armored dwarf wizard who uses a shield (my character would still be able to perform the somatic components for spells even wielding a shield since he would not wield a weapon). For the vast majority of character builds this would never be an issue, but I really think shield proficiency should also be included in the "Heavily Armored" feat.

In my other wacky character concepts I have found that sticking to the rulebooks generally works out just fine. My DM also sticks to RAW and doesn't use any homebrew rules. Normally I'm all for sticking to RAW but this just seems kind of silly. According to the rulebook, my wizard could hold a chair in his left hand and would still be able to cast spells, but when he's holding a shield this is suddenly no longer possible.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I assume you are interested only in permanent ways to obtain proficiency in shields? Also what about optional rules such as Training? \$\endgroup\$ Jan 13, 2020 at 1:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ Related: Can a wizard ever use a shield? (And possibly duplicate) \$\endgroup\$
    – Theik
    Jan 13, 2020 at 8:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ Just incidentally, as a dwarf you don't actually need 15 strength to wear plate armour. The Speed trait for dwarves states that "Your speed is not reduced by wearing heavy armor." It's rarely relevant, and its ironic that the subrace it's most useful on gives +2 strength but there you go. \$\endgroup\$
    – Fledges
    Jan 15, 2020 at 14:28

3 Answers 3


You have to take the Moderately Armored feat to get Shield proficiency

It doesn’t matter that you have Medium Armor proficiency from your race; proficiency with Shields is a different proficiency and the Moderately Armored feat is the only way to get it without multiclassing.

This is not an oversight. The designers wrote it that way in plain English so that was what they intended to write.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "This is not an oversight. The designers wrote it that way in plain English so that was what they intended to write." - That's no guarantee. There have been a number of errata where what they wrote wasn't exactly what they meant. \$\endgroup\$
    – Adeptus
    Jan 13, 2020 at 5:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Adeptus true, but they’ve had many years to that by now and they haven’t. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dale M
    Jan 13, 2020 at 5:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DaleM: To be fair, not changing something in errata is not necessarily a strong argument that it was always written as intended. I agree with your answer's primary claim that this is how the rules work, but I don't think the current phrasing is strong evidence of designer intent either way. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Jan 13, 2020 at 10:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast it may be my professional background in dispute resolution but I find it much easier to default to the assumption that what people wrote down is what they meant at the time. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dale M
    Jan 13, 2020 at 11:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree with others that this answer would be strengthened by dropping the unsubstantiated RAI and sticking to the RAW explanation. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 14, 2020 at 1:14

But if this explanation was true, why does the heavily armored feat, which also builds on an existing proficiency with armor, not also include shield proficiency?

Because all classes with medium armour proficiency all start with shield proficiency seperately. The only case you'd not have it is if you were originally a class with light armour proficiency, and used these 2 feats (moderately and heavily armoured) to gain Heavy. Training to fight and parry with a shield is fundamentally different from training how to move in armour. You don't parry with your armour, it merely reduces the damage you take from a blow that you fail to parry after all.

Technicly the tanky wizard build would be best suited by a Bladesinger. You'd add Int to yor ac, so it would be mage armour+Int+Dex, so even without mage armour it'd be endstage 20ac (+5 int, dex) 23 with mage armour, 22 with studded leather. 27/28 with the shield spell. At L5 you'd gain extra attack and one of those can be a cantrip so you could shoot a one handed ranged weapon, and fire a cantrip in an attack action. Dragonborn could thus breath attack for one attack, cantrip attack with their cantrip attack, then cast a leveld bonus action spell all in one round... Sadly you're not a sorceress with Quickened spells... But then again there are some wizard spells that require concentration and do consistant round by round damage and are moved/controlled with a bonus action. Like summon spells in T.C.E. or spells similar to flaming sphere.

Or... Artificer 1, wizard 19. This would get you shield and med proficiency, with no loss of spell slots, merely a 1 lvl delayed spell progression for spells known. Both classes use int, and you could even taking the artificer initiate feat.

If you invested a little more to 3 lvls artificer and took armorer You'd gain heavy armour proficiency for free, and be able to make any suit of heavy armour don/doffable with 1 action instead of 10/5 minutes. It also no longer has any str requirement at all. If you become a battlesmith you'd get proficiency in all martial weapons instead, and only have shield and medium armour proficinecy, but all your magic weapons could now use your Int for attack or damage bonuses. Either option allows you to make said armour infused to +1 along with an infused +1 shield for a total ac of 22 for Full plate armourer or 18 for a medium armour battlesmith.

3 lvls of artificer would cost you 1 class level of spell slots as if a L19 wizard. (Artificer being 1/2 caster), and more delayed progression of spells known.. but upcasting is still a thing.

Keep investing artificer to L5, would grant extra attack but cost 2 class lvls of spells and would make you a very delayed wizard. Depends how martial you wish to be.

Finally... take 1 lvl cleric of life instead, and laugh as you gain all armour and shield proficiencies, and now your vampiric touch, wither and bloom and enervation spells suddenly heal you +5, +4, and +7 HP more respectively. Side bonus you also gain access to bless, and cure wounds. Technicly you can do this with Order, Twilight, War and Tempest domains too...


I offer an additional option for how your character could gain shield proficiency. The shield master feat seems like it could be viewed as confering proficiency with a shield.

I agree that any effective shield use requires proficiency with shields--the Classes chart gives shields as an Armor and Weapon Proficiency (PHB 45), for example.

There doesn't seem much doubt on that point.

However, conflicting references to shields confuse the matter. It's not surprising that questions arise.

One conflict is that monks' Unarmored Defense and Unarmored Movement (PHB 78) do not allow use of a shield, but Barbarians' Unarmored Defense (PHB 48) does do so.

Also, the feats lightly armored and heavily armored (both at PHB 167) don't mention shields, but the moderately armored feat (PHB 168) specifically grants shield proficiency.

The logic behind these feats including or not including shield proficiency isn't self-evident. My first thought: perhaps going from NO armor use to proficieny with light armor is a big step and adding shield proficiency on top of that is too much for a feat. On the other hand, once you learn the basics of armor use, going from light to medium armor is no biggie, so adding shield skills is possible.

(Note: This is my own flight of fancy. There is nothing in the rules to suggest this rationale.)

But if this explanation was true, why does the heavily armored feat, which also builds on an existing proficiency with armor, not also include shield proficiency?

Looking at the benefits gained from the different categories doesn't help in explaining this different treatment of armor in the feats: the Light Armor category only allows a max. gain of 2 steps (from 10 to 12) in AC, while both the Medium and heavy categories allows 3 steps (medium: from the top of light at 12 up to 15, and heavy: from the top of medium at 15 up to 18). (PHB 145)

Apart from the 3 armor feats' differences with regard to shields, the spell mage armor (PHB 256) is compatible with use of a (physical) shield but not with worn armor (https://dnd.wizards.com/articles/features/rules-answers-march-2016). This adds to the sense that shields could be viewed/managed as playing by different rules than worn armor.

Indeed, another Stack Exchange thread, Does Mage Armor stack with the Shield spell?, points out that armor provides a BASE for a character's AC, while a shield adds a BONUS.

(I don't see how that distinction sheds light on the differences between armor feats, but maybe someone else can point that out--?)

Lastly, there is the shield master feat. It doesn't require proficiency with a shield in the same way that the moderately and heavily armored feats do, but seems to provide significant skills with a shield: shoving opponents, and gaining benefits from shield use to 2 versions of saving throws. Could one have such know-how without also knowing how to move and angle the shield effectively against melee weapons? A 'yes' answer seems possible--but somehow stingy.

Clarification of

  • what shield proficiency involves
  • why similar feats grant it--or don't--and why,
  • how a bonus to AC is different from a base AC

would all be helpful.

I would suggest that in addition to the moderately armored feat giving shield proficiency, the shield master feat could also be assumed to do so. This would be a house rule, but it doesn't seem overly indulgent given the confusion around how shields interact with other aspects of the game.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Not sure why my username was mentioned in this answer (which I've edited out of the answer now); I was neither the author of the question nor the other answer - I just happened to edit the question last. Also, the Shield Master feat neither requires shield proficiency nor could be "assumed" to grant it; it just grants benefits related to wielding a shield. If it granted shield proficiency, it'd say so. Also, this answer is generally structured in an unclear way; it's unclear what the overall point it's making is, and it seems to go on a number of unrelated tangents. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Nov 17, 2020 at 3:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ V2Blast, Sorry--read it wrong and thought you'd made the original post. If my comment meandered/wasn't clear for you, sorry for that, too. My intended point was that the rules around shield use aren't consistent; I tried to make sense of them and didn't succeed. Shield use DOES require proficiency, but I see that inconsistency of the rules as justifying a house rule to say that Shield Master grants/assumes shield proficiency. I get that you don't see it that way. I'm just clarifying what my longer post was intended to convey. \$\endgroup\$
    – Schneb
    Nov 19, 2020 at 20:08

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