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In comments under an otherwise persuasive answer, KRyan mentions that armor proficiencies are always by category, i.e. armor proficiencies only come as light, medium, and heavy armor proficiency.

This is in contrast to weapon proficiencies, which come as simple, martial, and exotic, but also come as monk weapon proficiencies, elf weapon proficiencies, and others, as well as any number of individual weapon proficiencies.

I can't think of any counterexamples or of anything explicit: Is there good evidence as to whether armor proficiencies are always by category?


KRyan comments:

Races of Stone does introduce another subcategory of armor, “exotic.” Exotic armors are still light, medium, or heavy, and you need both the proficiency for the weight category, and Exotic Armor Proficiency. If I recall correctly, Exotic Armor Proficiency does apply to a specific armor and not a category, but since it’s orthogonal to the weight question (and you still need the proficiency in the weight category too), it seems like not what you’re asking about...

Exotic armor appears to me to be introduced as a special case. I am open to answers which reason from there to say that you could have (say) proficiency in only studded leather armor, but I think there is a non-trivial explanation that has to come with that.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm all for idle curiosity and all for research for research's sake, but I'd still like some context. What difference does it make? I mean, if one creature in the entire D&D 3.5 canon does have proficiency with just hide armor or whatever, why does that matter? Even If you're trying to homebrew something strictly according to the rules—counterintuitive as that may seem—, you giving your custom class proficiency with just hide armor is fine because you're creating the class. (I use this as an example because I literally can't think of any others; more—and enlightenment—appreciated!) \$\endgroup\$ Nov 20, 2023 at 0:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan That's fair. The entire context is the linked question, and that this aspect of it seemed unfair for a comment-exchange there. Since then, the answer was updated to moot this aspect of it, but I'm still curious. \$\endgroup\$
    – fectin
    Nov 20, 2023 at 3:40

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Yes.

Without the help of Races of Stone (which has some special Exotic armor options that you can become proficient with one at a time), it is 100% true that "armor proficiencies are always by category".


Yes if core-only, and No if you include certain extension(s) to your campaign.

In 3.5e core, there are only three feats for Armor Proficiency:

  • Armor Proficiency (light)
  • Armor Proficiency (medium)
  • Armor Proficiency (heavy)

And exotic armors simply do not exist in core. So we can safely say that it is just by category in normal cases.


Just did some further research, and I found a simple fact: in Core 3.5, there's nothing that allows you to be proficient with a specific armor (e.g. studded leather armor) without being proficient to the whole type of armor (light/medium/heavy) and any other armor that is lighter than that type. In the Monster Manual, we can see a lot of things like this:

(Fey) proficient with whatever type of armor (light, medium, or heavy) that it is described as wearing, as well as all lighter types. Fey not indicated as wearing armor are not proficient with armor. Fey are proficient with shields if they are proficient with any form of armor.

(Ooze) proficient with no armor.

Since the only way for a PC to gain armor proficiency is via feats (as long as you don't allow them to use monster characters), the only possibility to encounter an exception is from monsters. But even among monsters, the game designer still follows the rules of feats: they are either proficient with all armors within or lighter than a type (light/medium/heavy), or they are not proficient with any armor.

And I can confirm that no example exists in any other materials (other than Races of Stone) that has any creature that is able to be proficient with a specific armor (rather than a type of armor and anything lighter than that).

Hence, without the help of Races of Stone, we can be 100% sure that "armor proficiencies are always by category". There's absolutely no exception. And yes, this is in contrast to weapon proficiencies, which appear to be a completely different system.

PS. However, there's still some room for argument, if you really look into it. For example, the Shapechanger Subtype says:

Proficient with any armor mentioned in the creature’s description, as well as all lighter forms.

That's no longer "type of armor" but just "armor". Which means, potentially, you can say that there's possibility for a shapechanger to "only be proficient with leather armor and anything lighter than that", without allowing it to be proficient with other light armors like chainmail shirt.

That's the only arguable exception I found btw. Also, I have no idea what "all lighter forms" mean in this situation, which is clearly different from "all lighter types" as the fey example I took earlier.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Does Dwarven Armor Proficiency cover the light/medium/heavy proficiency requirement, too, or just the Exotic Armor Proficiency requirement? If I recall correctly, it’s the latter, which means those armors are still covered by the weight category proficiencies, they just also need specific additional proficiencies (that you can get through Exotic Armor Proficiency or Dwarven Armor Proficiency). Doesn’t seem like the same thing as weapons. As for the second half of the answer, you are responding to a character-limited comment that was forced to abbreviate; there was no confusion there. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Nov 28, 2023 at 13:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan It has a prereq of heavy armor proficiency, so you will need to be proficient with heavy armors anyway before you can take it. It provides the proficiency for several different exotic armors (battle plate, interlocking plate, interlocking scale, and mountain plate), but all of them are heavy armors so it doesn't matter. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 28, 2023 at 19:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ OK, well. I’m downvoting because 1. “we can safely assume that it is just by category in normal cases,” is untrue—that core never includes any way to become proficient in, say, half-plate without also becoming proficient in full-plate, does not mean that nothing ever does something like that; 2. I think Dwarven Armor Proficiency and Exotic Armor Proficiency are red herrings here; and 3. I think the bulk of the answer (about weapons) is irrelevant and based on a misreading of the original comment. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Nov 28, 2023 at 19:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan Good point, I will add that to my answer. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 5, 2023 at 9:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ This answer is close to core-only, which to me seems just about useless. Yes, core doesn’t offer any way to do it. That doesn’t mean much of anything in a game as expansive as 3.5e. Nothing in core makes it impossible. Also leaving out officially-sanctioned options (such as monster characters) again reduces the search space and potentially leaves out valid examples. I don’t think this question can be answered in this manner. The only way to answer this question, really, is either 1. with a valid example, or 2. with “I have literally read everything, everywhere, and there is no example.” \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Dec 5, 2023 at 16:42

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