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Is medium or heavy armor proficiency as racial feature more powerful (in general) than light armor, or is it just favoring different kinds of builds?

The intent is that I want to playtest some racial features in a restricted setup (the hobgoblin race which already has light armor proficiency) first, before using them in more complicated homebrew endeavors. Applying medium or heavy armor proficiency to this race seems like the easiest way to playtest medium / heavy armor proficiency as racial feature.

I'm looking for an understanding of how armor proficiency is valued across the types in terms of giving it as a proficiency to a race.

I intend to use the change with the optional rules from TCoE concerning the customization of ASIs. Therefore, the specific ASIs of the race should not be relevant for the analysis.

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Light vs Medium is mostly just a build choice; Heavy armor is somewhat more powerful.

Medium and Light armor both max out at the same point, AC 17. In Medium armor, that's achieved by the relatively simple means of having a +2 Dex bonus and wearing Half Plate armor (expensive but not ridiculous); in Light that's achieved by wearing studded leather and getting the maximum score of 20 in Dexterity for a +5 bonus, which may require many levels depending on your race and starting ability score. For the purpose of this discussion, I'm ignoring magic armor, which applies to all armor types equally, and effects that would allow a character to break the ability score maximum, which are typically what you might call "end-game content".

Medium armor is potentially "more powerful" than Light armor because it requires a smaller investment of resources to get to that maximum AC of 17. This makes "full AC" more readily available to a wider array of characters -- everyone has gold, and a 14 in Dexterity is available to virtually any character if they really want it.

For races that lack a racial bonus to Dexterity, such as the Hobgoblin, Medium proficiency is a slightly more valuable armor proficiency than Light. Without a racial bonus to Dex, reaching that maximum score of 20 will be more costly and time consuming, and if your Dex score is below 14, Medium armor allows for a better AC than Light armor does, both overall and dollar-for-dollar.

That said, Medium proficiency is already widely available. There are many classes that start with it, and if you're allowed to use multiclassing, a single level dip into the vast majority of classes will grant Medium proficiency if you really want it. In general, adding Medium proficiency instead of Light at the race level only really benefits a handful of classes, such as wizards, sorcerers, most warlocks, and some bards.

By contrast, Heavy proficiency is definitely more powerful than the others. While acquiring a suit of full plate is fairly expensive, the AC 18 that it grants is beyond what's available from any Medium or Light armor, and it's available to virtually any build. There is a minor price in speed if you aren't pretty strong or a dwarf, but assuming you're willing to deal with that, there's not much of a downside to wearing Heavy armor.

It's not accidental that Heavy proficiency is relatively hard to get. It's available to only a few classes to begin with, none of which offer it as a multiclassing proficiency. Gaining Heavy proficiency after level 1 requires a valuable feat slot, or the use of a non-obvious backdoor by multiclassing into one of a very small number of specific class options that will grant Heavy proficiency through a class feature (most notably, multiclassing into Cleric with an appropriate domain choice). I feel that the relative rarity of Heavy proficiency and difficulty of acquiring it is the developers telling us that Heavy proficiency is a meaningfully powerful class feature, and that in itself is a good enough reason not to simply hand it out to an entire species.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree. Giving Medium Armor prof. is only beneficial to characters with lower Dex, potentially giving more AC than Mage Armor. Allowing racial Heavy armor prof. will possibly out-balance caster classes, especially as concentration is meant to be a heavy balancing factor (affected by not being hit because of high AC). \$\endgroup\$
    – ChiMo
    Dec 16 '20 at 2:41
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Comparison of benefits by armor groups

Heavy armor ignores negative Dex modifiers for AC. This gives you a dump stat for a pure melee build. In addition, it provides the highest AC (full plate). Also, the Heavy Armor Master feat gives one of the few instances of damage reduction in the game.

Medium Armor is the best balance. Breast Plate is the best Stealth medium armor when not considering feats (14 + Dex, max 2). Half-plate is the best non- Stealth medium armor (15+ Dex, max 2) However, Half-plate is amazing with Medium Armor Master Feat. AC 15 Half-plate +3 Dex, and no disadvantage on stealth. My preferred armor.

Light armor. It weighs next to nothing. Even the best one is really cheap by comparison with medium / heavy armor. Unlimited Dexterity modifier is the big one here. If you plan on having a Dexterity of 20 for your character, Studded Leather is your friend.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for your post. I'm not sure how this answers the question. It seems like a collection of a few relevant points which is missing discussion of those points. \$\endgroup\$
    – Anagkai
    Dec 16 '20 at 7:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ Edited for clarity. I apologise. \$\endgroup\$
    – BaronV
    Dec 17 '20 at 1:20

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