I was poking around answering for this question about the highest AC possible for a sorcerer and noticed something odd.

It doesn't seem to be possible except in the case of the Barbarian to naturally get your AC over 20 without the use of magic items.

Is there a way that I'm missing or is this a relatively hard and fast rule (with the noted exception of the Barbarian).

The Barbarian's exception lies in the fact that he gets to add Dex and Con to his AC, and his Level 20 capstone is a +4 bonus to CON (to a max of 24, which I'll assume here), which gives him a potential AC of 24 (Dex 5, Con 7, shield +2).

(Note: I'm looking for permanent solutions; if you want to delve into spells, they should have duration similar to mage armor and not require concentration.)


Dual-wielding Monk

A simple way is to be a Monk with the Dual Wielder feat, 20 Dex, and 20 Wis. This gives you a 20 AC from Unarmored Defense, with +1 from the Dual Wielder feat for a total of 21.

This can be increased by 2 in most combat rounds if you're a Kensei. If you use a kensei weapon and a monk weapon in your hands to count as dual-wielding, you can make unarmed attacks by kicking your enemies. Any round you kick using your Attack action gives you +2 to AC from the Kensei's Agile Parry feature, for a total of 23.

Defensive Style

A Fighter, Ranger, or Paladin can take the Defensive Style feature, which gives them +1 AC when wearing armour. This gives them a maximum of 21 (18 from plate, +2 shield, +1 style).

  • \$\begingroup\$ Why can't a dual-wielding Fighter take both the Defensive Style and the Dual Wielder feat? Multiclass with Monk or Barbarian for unarmed defense and you can have AC22. \$\endgroup\$ – linksassin Dec 13 '18 at 5:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ @linksassin Dual Wielder gives you +1, a shield gives you +2. Also, you need to be wearing armour to take advantage of Defensive Style, so that can't stack with Unarmored Defense. \$\endgroup\$ – DuckTapeAl Dec 13 '18 at 6:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ Ah, didn't know about the Defensive Style armor restriction. Thanks. +1 \$\endgroup\$ – linksassin Dec 13 '18 at 6:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ The monk got better with the release of Way of the Kensei in XGtE: after attacking with an unarmed strike, you get +2 AC. This can reliably triggered and should fulfill the "permanent" restriction imo. Just convince your DM that for a monk, a hand is a weapon (so you still get dual-wielding) or that you can kick someone (so you can dual-wield weapons, but still get an unarmed attack in). \$\endgroup\$ – DonFusili Dec 13 '18 at 8:17

An Air Genasi Barbarian can do better than 24 AC

Race: Genasi (Air) - Elemental Evil Player's Companion

  • Starting Stats: DEX 15+1, CON 15+2

Equipment: One-handed Melee and Shield - PHB

  • +2 AC

Class: Barbarian (Any) 20 - PHB

  • Unarmored AC of 10 + DEX + CON
    • Effectively +6 AC
  • 5 Ability Boosts
    • +2 DEX (18 DEX, 17 CON)
      • Effectively +1 AC
    • +2 DEX (20 DEX, 17 CON)
      • Effectively +1 AC
    • +2 CON (20 DEX, 19 CON)
      • Effectively +1 AC
    • Tavern Brawler (20 DEX, 20 CON)
      • Effectively +1 AC
    • Dual Wielder (20 DEX, 20 CON)
      • +1 AC from wielded Shield since it counts as improvised one-handed melee weapon
  • Primal Champion (20 DEX, 24 CON)
    • Effectively +2 AC

AC Calculation = 10 + 5 (DEX) + 7 (CON) + 1 (Dual Wielder) + 2 (Shield) = 25

Crux of how this was pushed further:

From Dual Wielder:

You gain a +1 bonus to AC while you are wielding a separate melee weapon in each hand.

Improvised Weapons are weapons. A shield isn't a weapon, but you can improvise it as one. If for some reason your DM requires you to be proficient in the weapons for them to qualify for Dual Wielder, you also have Tavern Brawler, which makes you proficient in improvised weapons.

This allows you to get both the +2 AC from the shield proper, but also a +1 AC from Dual Wielder. Otherwise, you would have to trade one for the other.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Does is have to be an air genasi? Or just any race with +2 Con? \$\endgroup\$ – linksassin Dec 14 '18 at 1:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ The Air Genasi is an easy example because I had it on hand. There are other races that can do it just as well as the Air Genasi are Elf (Sea), Goblins, and Halfling (Stout). Alternatively, you can achieve the same with a UA: Warforged with 22 CON but with a racial +1 AC. \$\endgroup\$ – Axoren Dec 14 '18 at 1:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ @linksassin: It looks like it does also have to have a +1 or 2 to Dex along with a +1 or 2 to Con. Others besides the ones Axoren mentioned in a comment that qualify are Simic Hybrid, Shadar-kai Elf, and Beasthide Shifter. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Dec 14 '18 at 1:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ My point was that mentioning that there are other options and the criteria for them would improve the answer. Not many people want to play genasi and may be put off by that requirement for this build. \$\endgroup\$ – linksassin Dec 14 '18 at 1:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also, improvised weapons aren't considered weapons at any time other than when being used to attack. See Crawford's tweet here: "An improvised weapon is, indeed, a weapon, but only the moment it's used as such. A chair/shield/etc isn't a weapon otherwise." It wouldn't qualify for the benefit of Dual Wielder. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Dec 14 '18 at 1:54

Several ways are possible to get better than 20 (if not by much): Draconic Sorceror or lizardman or Mage Armor, + 20 Dex = 18 AC. Or anyone in plate mail = 18 AC. Add a shield to any of those = 20 AC. Add defensive fighting style = 21 AC. On top of those, the Defensive Duelist feat lets you add your proficiency to your armor class as a reaction (using a finesse weapon).

As you note, there are several spells that can improve it briefly, or wuth concentration. Do you count obtaining a Shield Guardian as a magic item? I think that's worth +2 AC.

  • \$\begingroup\$ From the post: "(Note: I'm looking for permanent solutions, if you want to delve into spells, they should have duration similar to Mage Armor and not require concentration)." The Defensive Duelist feat doesn't quite meet this requirement. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Dec 13 '18 at 4:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ -1; Defensive Fighting Style requires wearing armor. Neither Mage Armor, Draconic Sorcerer's Draconic Resilience, nor Lizardman's Natural Armor are compatible. \$\endgroup\$ – T.J.L. Dec 14 '18 at 14:47

Heavy Plate/Shield gets you 19 Lvl 6 Forge Domain Cleric gets you +1 AC and access to Ceremony and Revivify and Shield (More on that later) Lvl 1 Fighter gives you fighting style Defender for +1 AC

Capture/pay/convince a small humanoid and perform Ceremony (Marriage) between you two for +2 AC for 7 days, provided you are within 30 ft of eachother.

At the end of the week "widow" yourself and cast Revivify on spouse's body, and remarry. Bonus points to Revivify for not regrowing limbs, tongues, ect so you can remove limbs for a silent, small quadriplegic that can easily fit in your backpack.

Also, you get the spell Shield, so you have a reactionary +5 AC in your back pocket (along with your spouse).

Keeping your spouse tied to you also gives you cover, so there's another +2 AC.

So, at level 7 you can have 25(30) AC.

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    \$\begingroup\$ From the post: "(Note: I'm looking for permanent solutions, if you want to delve into spells, they should have duration similar to Mage Armor and not require concentration)." The Shield spell, at least, doesn't meet this requirement. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Dec 13 '18 at 4:56

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