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We are playing a one-shot at Level 7. As DM, I allowed the players to choose 1 magic item of rarity uncommon and minor tier for their character. Also, they can have items worth 300 gp in addition to starting items.

One of the players asked me whether it is unbalanced/a loophole to choose plate mithral armor (DMG 182) as their magic item. Regular plate armor costs 1,500 gp and is therefore way out of reach for my players' starting gold; however, as plate mithral armor, it is an uncommon minor magic item (per XGE 141).

Since it is just a one-shot, I'm not so concerned about it, but in general, I think this might be a problem. For example, in a campaign, such a rule could allow new characters to have plate armor at level 7.

Is plate mithral armor an unbalanced choice to abuse such starting magic items? Or is it balanced to get this item at level 7?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Could you clarify how much you think mithril plate is worth? \$\endgroup\$ Nov 15 '20 at 1:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ Might as well allow them to start with a 5-pound diamond "crystal ball". After all, it's just a crystal ball, right? Want to bet your player will first thing run off to a market, sell that Mithral, and buy himself 2000+gp of other items? \$\endgroup\$ Nov 15 '20 at 10:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MarvikKitfox Selling magic items is not a thing I allow just like that. It's hard to find someone with that much gold. \$\endgroup\$
    – findusl
    Nov 15 '20 at 11:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Thomas Markov I'm not sure how to answer that. This question is about whether mitral plate is significantly more worth than other uncommon minor magic items, so the worth is kind of part of the question. \$\endgroup\$
    – findusl
    Nov 15 '20 at 11:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ Are you asking if it's unbalanced compared to thinks like the broom of flying, googles of night, headband of intelligence, etc, which are all considered extremely powerful? \$\endgroup\$ Nov 16 '20 at 4:47
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Its 'total value' is equivalent to other uncommon items

The value of magic

The 'value' of mithril plate mail (or admantine plate mail, also uncommon) is undoubtedly more than 1500gp. But looking at the value of just the normal item without the magic bonus is a bit of a red herring; it is not really the comparison I think you need to be making.

Take the broom of flying - also on the uncommon list. It has the value of a normal broom (minimal) plus the value of being able to fly - effectively having a permanent third level spell effect and a huge tactical advantage. What would the 'cost' be for a character to obtain unlimited scrolls of fly? Certainly more than 1500gp. So the comparison you should make is not, 'how much is the non-magic version of this worth', but 'what is the total tactical value of this compared to the other magic items on the list'?

Little value added for most builds

What is the value added of the mithril magic beyond a normal suit of plate mail? Not much - no disadvantage on stealth checks and no strength requirement to use. In a typically class-balanced party of 7th level, the advantage to the person wearing plate armor of no disadvantage on stealth rolls is minimal - they are not going to be the one sneaking most of the time. The advantage to the person wearing plate armor of not having a strength minimum is minimal - by 7th level they will more than likely already have a strength of at least 15. If the armor said "you can use this without having proficiency in heavy armor" - now that would be huge because it would open it for exploit by classes that normally don't have that good an AC. But the actual 'magical' properties of the armor will have little to no effect on your game. This is not unbalanced. It is not a loophole. It is a reasonable choice within the parameters you have set.

A fair comparison

Consider a player who chose non-magical splint armor, with a cost of 200gp, within your budget, and for their uncommon magic item, a shield +1.

Compare that to a player who chose mithril armor and a non-magical shield.

Both these characters will have an AC of 20. The only difference will be that the mithril player avoids the strength limit and stealth disadvantage, which are unlikely to come into play in any event. If you think the splint-and-magic-shield character is fine, there is no reason to think the mithril armor character is unbalanced.

What about a high Dex fighter?

In the comments, the OP explains that the player in question is playing a high-Dex ranged fighter. In this particular case, the value added of the mithril is considerably more - both the lack of penalty to Stealth and the lack of strength limit are relevant and specifically beneficial to that PC. It is clear that this particular player is astutely selecting their magic item to maximize benefit to their particular PC, and that they are aware of it, by asking in advance whether it is unbalanced.

In this case, I would say that it is a loophole, and is pushing the maximum benefit, but is still not unbalanced when fairly compared to other choices and uncommon magic items, principally because the mithril armor is still heavy armor, and thus removes one of the primary benefits to their Dex score, the bonus to AC. Consider that this PC could just as well choose non-magical studded leather and a cloak of protection, also an uncommon magic item.

If the PC's Dex mod was +5, this would result in the exact same AC and better saves, a strictly superior choice. Even with a Dex mod of +4, there is now a tradeoff between the 1 better AC with the mithril and the 1 better saves with the Cloak.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ In this particular case the strength limit is actually relevant because it is a ranged fighter with focus on dex. Usually it is a tradeoff between being hard to hit with attacks (AC) and being with dex saves (fireball etc), but in this case he would have both. \$\endgroup\$
    – findusl
    Nov 15 '20 at 19:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ @findusl Answer edited to address this case \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Nov 15 '20 at 21:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you, the point with the Cloak of protection is really good. \$\endgroup\$
    – findusl
    Nov 15 '20 at 22:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1, good find; when writing my answer I checked the rarity of a ring of protection and a magic armor, but did not check the magic shield or cloak of protection. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dan B
    Nov 16 '20 at 0:39
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It's a little bit of a loophole, yes

D&D 5e has a table for starting at higher level on p. 38 of the DMG. This table tells us that a 7th-level character should start with somewhere between 525 and 750 gold. That's not enough to buy a suit of plate armor normally.

The official D&D website also has a set of Wizards of the Coast-sanctioned pregenerated character sheets. In this list, the human paladin doesn't get plate armor until level 9 -- but the half-orc paladin gets plate armor at level 6. (The human fighter is stuck with splint armor all the way through level 10.)

So, if we assume the pregenerated half-orc paladin is an anomaly, your character wouldn't normally be able to start with a suit of plate armor. They also wouldn't be able to start with splint armor +1, or normal splint armor and a ring of protection, since each of those magic items is listed as rare.

(Note, also, that the plate mithral armor is a better item than the splint armor +1, since they have the same AC and the mithral armor is better for stealth.)


It's only a difference of 1 AC, though. It may not be worth making an exception for.

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I wouldn’t worry about it.

Level 7 is typically about the level when you’d start to see players buying plate mail anyway. If you’re starting your game there, and a PC wants to spend their starting magic item to buy a suit of it, I doubt it would break the game’s balance.

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How much does combat balance matter in your campaign?

As a general answer as to whether Mythril Plate Armour is a fair choice for an uncommon magic item, I think it really depends on how much emphasis you place on combat balance, and the expected balance of player characters. No matter what sourcebooks and items you allow or disallow, there's always going to be that one guy who will spend two dozen hours pouring over optimising their combat power. If that's an issue, you can limit what's available to players, or ask players to send their characters to you before the first session so you can veto anything too overpowered.

The cost of such an approach is that it cuts away at player agency, and start to cut into the things that some players enjoy most about the game. My recommendation would be to allow players as much freedom as the setting allows, and adjust the difficulty of challenges as needed. Does the ability to fly ruin your puzzle? Add flying debris, or aerial predators, or an anti-magic field. Does the Fire Bolt cantrip ruin your signal fire lighting quest? Surround the signal fires in glass, or put some magic-hating cultists nearby. Does having more AC on one character make fights too easy? Give your mobs an attack bonus, or increase the number of enemies. You can still let your players do cool things like flying and casting spells and wearing cool armour.

Also, keep in mind that the gp value of the starting equipment of different classes / backgrounds can vary significantly, and the richer classes aren't strictly better than other classes.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This is a very nicely written answer and has some cool ideas which I will remember. But it doesn't really answer the question at hand, whether Mythril plate Armour is a problem. You only mention that in a short sentence at the start and don't explain it. \$\endgroup\$
    – findusl
    Nov 18 '20 at 14:40

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