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As I have looked over the D&D 5e combat it seems that whether or not one can hit someone with an attack has no relation to whether or not that person or monster is holding a weapon, because holding a weapon doesn't affect one's AC.

Put differently, there is no way to "block" an attack with a weapon in D&D 5e. If Alice swings a sword at monster Bob, monster Bob can't block her swing with a sword he is holding. He can only "take it like a man" and hope his AC is sufficient.

Do I have that correct, or am I missing something important?

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Unequivocally, yes, AC is independent of wielded weapons.

Unless any of the following are true:

  • They have a feat that grants them extra AC in certain circumstances that is dependent on a weapon (e.g. Dual Wielder or Defensive Duelist)
  • They have a magic weapon that adds to their AC. (Staff of Defense)

As Theo says, AC measures so many more things than the ability to block an attack. For instance, many characters use their DEX as part of their AC, indicating that their ability to dodge attacks is more important than their ability to block or absorb them. Note that a bow wielding character's AC is the same as a sword wielder. If it was meant to factor in your weapon, you'd get an advantage with certain kinds of weapons.

This brings us to an important point. You can rule differently on this. Though I'm not sure you'd want to. Remember that D&D is not intended to be a RL combat simulator. It's a game with many abstractions. If you want to remove one in favor of a more verisimilitudinous approach, that's probably fine. However, you will need to be consistent across the whole subsystem. You're going to need to bolt on rules for how a weapon aids AC. Does it simply prevent an opponent from having advantage against you? Would there be a weapon that can do one better and inflict disadvantage? Does it provide some kind of mysterious bonus to AC (perhaps what takes you to a starting 10?), would not having a weapon and wearing cloth with a Dex of 0 only mean an 8 AC. These are the kinds of questions you should ask, and more, study hard, before you make a ruling on something like this that has pretty broad implications.

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Absent an ability to the contrary, it doesn't matter whether 'Bob' is holding a weapon or not. AC represents much more than the ability to block with a weapon, or have your armor absorb the impact. Among other things, it also represents the ability to duck or twist out of the way of the incoming blow.

In fact, over the course of combat, low damage rolls might represent the punishment a target takes repeatedly blocking very solid blows. Doing that will wear you down pretty quickly, making it that much easier to eventually put in the finishing blow. (Represented by slowly whittling away at the target's HP, and then eventually knocking them to 0 HP.)

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You're missing one small (but vital) item.

Page 173:

The DM can also decide that circumstances influence a roll in one direction or the other and grant advantage or impose disadvantage as a result.

The 5E rules don't spell out every little thing. They use that bit of page 173 to leave it to the DM.

Therefore If you, as the DM, feel that the target being disarmed has made them significantly less likely to be able to defend themselves, you can grant advantage to their attacker. It's a judgement call, and its the DM's judgement call.


It is worth noting that players may expect this to hold true as a general principle. If you decide to use it, you may wish to be consistent about it, and maybe even make it an explicit house rule.

Thanks to Clara Onager and SevenSidedDie for the reminders.

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That is correct: the act of wielding a weapon has no effect on AC.

However, some feats (Defensive Duelist, Dual Wielder) can grant bonus AC for wielding specific weapons. One can infer that 5e takes the stance that proficiency with a wielded weapon does not meaningfully contribute to your ability to avoid attacks, but with special training in a defensive fighting style a weapon can contribute meaningfully to AC.

Remember that the granularity of hit chance is 5%. Lore-wise, you could explain that a user wielding a weapon does have a better chance to defend herself, but not a full 5% better, so it has no mechanical effect.

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