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I have a monk player that multiclasses into a barbarian. Since his constitution is higher than his wisdom he wants to use the barbarians unarmored defense feature. According the PHB page 164

If you already have the Unarmored Defense feature, you can't gain it again from another class.

Is there a balancing reason for this rule?

To me it seems like allowing him to ignore this rule results in a slightly higher AC which is not really game breaking.

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The impact on game balance would be minor

Both features set your AC, and any gains from switching would be minor — mostly the benefit from switching to barbarian is that you can use a shield. And while +2 to AC is a real boost, it costs you the use of one hand. It would be an upgrade, because the barbarians AC, if optimized, can be one of the best in the game.

There is also an indirect penalty from this multiclassing approach vs just going Monk or Barbarian straight on, in that you would want 3 high Attributes - Wisdom and Dex for the monk, Constitution and Dex for the Barbarian, and unless you rolled your attributes and got lucky, it is hard maximizing even two, never mind three. So you'll have to pay with worse AC earlier on if you skimp on Wisdom, or later on, if you skimp on Con.

I think from a balance standpoint, it would have been possible to instead say "If you already have the Unarmored Defense feature, you can choose which one to keep." I suspect the reason to avoid that is to keep things simple and reduce bookkeeping, which was one of the design goals of 5th.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The rules wouldn't even need to mention choosing which unarmored defense to keep, since pg. 14 of the PHB already mentions "If you have multiple features that give you different ways to calculate your AC, you choose which one to use." \$\endgroup\$
    – Journer
    Jul 1, 2023 at 17:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Journer yes, but in the general case you can switch as you like between those ways to calculate, while this would limit you into sticking with one. I agree that doesn't make much of a difference most of the time. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 2, 2023 at 11:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ Note that barbarians without high DEX+CON can just wear armor (e.g. a breastplate for AC=14 + dex capped at 2). That doesn't work well when multi-classing monk, though; only some monk features work while wearing any armor or using a shield, regardless of proficiency. (e.g. no Martial Arts, although you can Stunning Strike. And can still patient defense, step of the wind, or even flurry of blows and get 1 + str + rage damage, but not a martial arts die.) \$\endgroup\$ Jul 2, 2023 at 18:20

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