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A recent discussion in my friend group about bronze to classical age cloth armor and what'd it compare to in D&D terms brought up the idea of a breastplate or even half-plate that is not metal. We then tried to think of reasons why you'd wear metal armor when it makes you more vulnerable to heat metal or shocking grasp. I'd like to get some help compiling a list of effects that'd influence, mostly to figure out if there's any benefit from wearing metal armor if the option not to exists.

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    \$\begingroup\$ How is it that neither answer mentions that Druids will not wear metal armor even if available? \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Commented Oct 12, 2022 at 14:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Kirt, For me it was because the question is why you would want to wear it, and what the effects are that influence you when wearing it. I did not see how to include the druid in the answer, as they would not want to wear it to begin with. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 12, 2022 at 16:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Kirt: Unlike previous editions of DND, in DND-5E wearing metal armor has no druid-specific mechanical implications. See Sage Advice: What happens if a druid wears metal armor? \$\endgroup\$
    – Brian
    Commented Oct 12, 2022 at 20:33

2 Answers 2

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Metal armor implicitly affords you a higher base AC

If you look at the armor table on page 145 PHB, all armors that have a base AC better than 12 are made from metal. This is not explicitly due to them being made of metal (i.e. there is no separate mechanic that tells you a metal armor will have +x more AC), but it is implicitly so. The ACs model the historical fact that against medieval weapons, metal tended to provide better protection.

From a pure games mechanics standpoint, you can get to nearly as high ACs with other game features, such as Dexterity, magical leather armor, or benfitting from AC boosts from Wisdom or Constitution if you have the right class. You still will have a hard time competing with someone in +3 Shield and +3 Full Plate, and possible armor enhancing game features like Defensive fighting style, but as magic items are gated by the DM, these items are not guaranteed.

I think your observation is correct -- there is no inherent benefit to wearing metal, and indeed quite a few game features make doing so less desirable, probably to challenge high AC characters wearing such armor:

  • heat metal (Magma Mephits, Lizardfolk Shamans and Arcanaloths also have this)
  • shocking grasp
  • Grey Ooze
  • Rust Monsters
  • Lava Children (who get advantage against someone in metal armor)
  • Electicity traps in published adventures also can impose disadvantage on someone in metal armor trying to make their Saving Throw (for example, the lightning trap in Area 21 of level 14 of Waterdeep, Dungeon of the Mad Mage).

The DMG lists Armor Classes for Objects made of different substances on page 246, and there metal items all have an AC of 19 or better, while organic materials do not get above AC 15, and paper (which historically had very good protective power as armor) only has AC 11. So in the rare situation where you would not be wearing your armor, and someone would aim to damage it, metal would be more resilient. However, that is such a fringe case that the benefits are dwarved by the disadvantages listed above.

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There are very few mechanical things in the game that care about the material something is made of. You've already named heat metal and shocking grasp.

Additionally, there's a few oozes that react with specific materials. Metal armor might be safe from interactions with certain oozes, while alternative materials might not. Or it might be the other way around.

Finally, as objects, metal armors tend to have pretty high AC, so anything trying to break your armor might have a harder time cracking a metal breastplate over a leather one.

But that's about it; it's all pretty unlikely to come up. The main thing the game cares about is what AC you get from your armor, and whether that's a metal shell, a magical barrier, or just a thick layer of chest hair (or whatever Barbarian's Unarmored Defense is trying to model by using your Con in the calculation) doesn't really factor in all that much.

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