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One of the conceits of a campaign I am running is that in some areas classes like the fighter or paladin would not rely on heavy armor.

Is the following option balanced?

Unarmored Warrior

Prerequisite: Requires proficiency in Heavy Armor

You no longer have armor proficiency.

Choose Constitution, Wisdom, Intelligence, or Charisma. You may determine your AC using 10 + the chosen ability modifier + your Dexterity modifier. You may still benefit from a shield if you are proficient with it.

Note that this is not a feat, just a option that any character can choose to replace Heavy Armor Proficiency.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I’m going to assume you don’t mean for losing the prerequisite of the feature to stop the feature from working. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 17, 2022 at 3:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov, correct. That was more to clarify that you need it to start with. \$\endgroup\$
    – StarHawk
    Commented May 17, 2022 at 13:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ Is there a specific reason for omitting Strength as one of the options? \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 17, 2022 at 13:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ChristoferWeber, Strength and Dexterity seemed overpowered since you would be potentially increasing your ability to attack as well as defend, or gain double benefit for a single ability increase. \$\endgroup\$
    – StarHawk
    Commented May 17, 2022 at 20:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ Piece of advice: You can avoid the weird paradoxical recursion problems if, instead of "You no longer have armor proficiency.", you say "Instead of the normal benefits of armor proficiency, you receive no benefit at all". \$\endgroup\$
    – Ton Day
    Commented May 21, 2022 at 10:07

2 Answers 2

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You make the MAD, SAD

Simply put, by giving up Heavy Armor proficiency, the character no longer has to worry about a high Strength score. Instead they can focus on what would be their primary stat(s).

Consider a Hexblade Paladin: using this option, they no longer need invest large amounts in Strength. they can max out Charisma and Dexterity and achieve a comparable AC much quicker.

I see this as a very dangerous change

Let's do some math, using the pont buy system to keep things level.

You're basic distribution of points would give you 15, 15, 12, 12, 9, 8 (or 15, 15, 12, 10, 10, 9). These numbers can be tweaked slightly based on racial bonuses, but I'll stick with non-altered values to start with.

Without this option, you'd need 15 Str, 15 Cha, Dex 12, Con 12, and Int/Wis with whatever you feel like.

This is not bad. But the only reason to have that high of a Strength is to wear armor. Strength checks and saving throws are not used that often, and you're using Charisma for attack/damage. This means an average Dexterity and Constitution, and low Intelligence and Wisdom. But that low Dex is going to hurt as lower initiative, lower Dexterity checks and saving throws (which happen often), and lower Stealth checks (which you'll have disadvantage on from Heavy Armor).

With this option you change it to 15 Cha, 15 Dex, 13 Str, 12 Con, and 8 for Int/Wis. The 13 is purely for multiclassing. Now you still have the high Charisma for attacks/damage/spell casting. You also get a high Dexterity for checks and saving throws. Because you're not wearing heavy armor, you no longer have disadvantage on Stealth checks and will have a better bonus.

So the change is minor, but only because of need for a 13 Strength for multiclassing. But there are plenty of other cases where that won't be an issue like certain Cleric Domains.

Now let's look at better examples...

Artificers, Rangers, and Druids all get Medium Armor proficiency. If you're a Human Variant, or a Custom Lineage, you get a free Feat at first level. Use that feat to get Heavily Armored for Heavy Armor proficiency (and +1 Strength which might help with getting that 13 required for multiclassing). Now give up armor proficiency via this option.

Druids and Rangers can now completely focus on Wisdom and Dexterity to quickly max out their core abilities. Artificers can also do this, especially the Battle Smith's as they use Int for their attacks and damage as well as spells.

As for defense...

Using point buy, once you apply racial bonuses, you can easily get 16 in Dexterity and one of the other stats.

That means at level one your AC is 10 + 3 + 3 = 16. That is equal to the highest medium armor (breastplate = AC 14 + 2 for Dex).

By level 8, you could raise your primary stat twice to 20 making your minimum AC 10 + 3 + 5 = 18. That is equal to plate armor. While still being naked and not spending a single gold on armor. No disadvantage on Stealth, no way to "strip off" your AC, and not weighed down.

All the while, the character has maxed out their primary stat for better fighting, higher DC on their spells, and so on.

Other perks...

  • Aarakocra fighters can now use their flight feature since it doesn't work if wearing heavy (or medium) armor.
  • Druids will have a decent AC since there are so few non-metal high AC armor options.
  • People won't clank when using disguise self to look like a peasant.
  • No more getting caught with your pants down armor off, when a battle breaks out while taking a long rest.

  • MAD = Multiple Attribute Dependant; Requires a large number of attributes to be higher to make an "effective" build
  • SAD = Single Attribute Dependant; Requires only one (or two) attributes to be higher to make an "effective" build
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    \$\begingroup\$ @3C273, using point buy, you can easily get 16 in Dex and one other stat (say Cha). That means at level one your AC is 10 +3 + 3. Which is equal to the highest medium armor (breastplate = AC 14 + 2 for Dex). By level 8, you could raise your primary stat twice to 20 making your minimum AC 10 + 3 +5. That would be equal to plate armor. While still being naked and not spending a single gold on armor. No disadvantage on Stealth, no way to "strip off" your AC. Added this to the answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – MivaScott
    Commented May 17, 2022 at 21:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ @StarHawk, how would you limit it that would make it worthwhile? You're basically taking a well-regarded feature of Barbarian and Monks and giving it away to everyone. Basically, players will only use that feature if it gives them an advantage, but when it gives an advantage, it potentially swings the balance very far. Allowing a character to base their AC on two stats is on the scale of offering them +2 plate armor (18 + 2 = 10 + 5 + 5). \$\endgroup\$
    – MivaScott
    Commented May 17, 2022 at 21:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ @3C273, Hardly seems like a character unless they have been thrown in jail, a pit, or some other adventure where they start off without armor and weapons. \$\endgroup\$
    – MivaScott
    Commented May 17, 2022 at 21:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ @StarHawk to repeat what miva said another way. Mental stats are pretty much equivalent in this case. You only limit which claster classes becomes very efficient for the cost of a 1lvl dip into fighter/paladin/other. And you cheapen a gimmick of two classes who usually can't abuse it. \$\endgroup\$
    – 3C273
    Commented May 17, 2022 at 22:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ You've got an error in your argument here: You claim the Hexblade/Paladin saves 9 point buy points by being able to dump Str if they don't need to wear heavy armor. But they can't actually dump it completely, as you're not allowed to multiclass to or from Paladin unless you have a Str of 13 (and Cha 13, but you want Cha for both classes anyway). So you can't save 9 points, just 4 (the incremental cost of going from 13 to 15 Str). \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 18, 2022 at 3:17
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If you didn’t allow a shield, it would definitely be balanced

Without magic, armored defense maxes out at 20, for plate armor and a shield. This option would max out at 22, because you can have Dex 20, (other score) 20, and a shield. So nixing the shield would put you squarely into the realm of established precedent that we would balance with.

There is a case to be made for the shield too; getting Dex 20 and (other score) 20 can be really burdensome, so for a lot of characters the full plate is a lot cheaper. And for that matter, the barbarian can already do this, since they are allowed shields. Is +2 AC, and side-benefits for Stealth and “in a prison without your gear” situations, appropriate for the cost of getting the appropriate ability scores all the way to 20? I think it might be, but this is a harder case to make. Ultimately, I’d probably just playtest it, if it were me. Try and see how problematic it is.

But the MAD/SAD thing isn’t nearly that big a deal. The single most problematic case is the paladin/hexblade, because that build can dump Strength and gets free heavy armor proficiency. Except they need Strength 13 to multiclass paladin, so they cannot dump it that far. At that point, the 14 necessary to achieve AC 19 with medium armor and a shield is a very small cost. Is AC 20 worth finding another 6 points for Dexterity? Or even if we allow the shield, and can go to 22? It’s not obvious to me that it’s worth it. Best case we’re still looking at 2 ASIs to get that Dex 20, and that’s after using 1 to get Cha 20. Those are big costs.

And nothing else has nearly so strong a case to make here. A Dexterity-based fighter, I guess? But then where do you go with the other ability score? Constitution, I guess; fighters like Constitution. But it’s not like multiclassing barbarian is hard for a fighter, so that’s not really a big deal. I guess a Dexterity-based single-classed paladin is also possible and a decent use-case. But “decent” isn’t “overpowered,” I think.

Anyway, without a shield, definitely not overpowered. With a shield, maybe questionable, but at the very least it’s not clearly imbalanced. As I said, I’d playtest it.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Nitpick : "Other unarmored defense options (barbarian, monk) don’t allow a shield at the same time" Barbarians can. But a barbarian with 20dex/20con is not standard. (Viable but not standard) \$\endgroup\$
    – 3C273
    Commented May 17, 2022 at 22:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ @3C273 I did not realize that! Should have double-checked. Then yeah, even more on board with that. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented May 17, 2022 at 23:03

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