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If I'm reading this right

AC = Armor + Shield + Dex (with cap from armor)

Attacks = Proficiency (increases by level) + (DEX, STR, etc)

If attack bonuses increase by level and AC doesn't then wouldn't you be easier to hit at later levels?

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5 Answers 5

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Sort of.

It doesn't automatically get easier to hit you

Because you don't automatically face ever-increasing threats. Not if your GM is running 5e as 5e.

Part of the fundamental design elements of 5e is that threats at 1st level are still meaningful threats as the PCs' level increases. A consequence of this for the DM's job in creating adventures and encounters, a consequence that is very easily overlooked, is that the threats that face a party should not "track" their level. The design of 5e is meant to enable every sort of creature to remain useful and get used as the party becomes more powerful. The window of useful threats, instead staying narrow and just advancing along with the party, gets wider as the party advances, with one end always anchored at the "1st level" threats.

So yes, your AC doesn't level up with you, but no, that doesn't mean you are automatically easier to hit. When you have a mix of threats in your future, your AC is still just as good against them all as it ever was. An orc is still a threat to a 10th-level fighter because her AC isn't (that much) higher than it was at 3rd level, but the orc is also not better at hitting now than it was before; and a manticore is still as easily able to overcome your AC as it could before... but at 10th level you're otherwise better equipped to face it.

AC isn't the way you deal with higher-level threats anyway

AC isn't as significant a resource for dealing with higher-level threats, not the way it is in some editions. AC is useful, but other things are more useful.

That manticore above would chew up a 3rd-level fighter, but a 10th-level fighter stands a much better chance even with the same AC. Why? Resilience and effectiveness increases in other ways than AC. More HP, more healing after, more chance to execute her tactics of choice effectively.

Most importantly, all that extra resilience and effectiveness means that she has a buffer to play with, which she can use to pull off tactics that would have been suicidal at 3rd level. She can take a bit of a kicking (er, spiking) and keep on with the four-round attack plan she cooked up to deal with the manticore, while she had little hope of surviving past round 1 at 3rd level, and little chance of pulling off her attacks and maneuvering anyway even if she lived long enough.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't think this ir right. It is very clearly the case that the to hit bonus of monsters increases with their Challenge Rating, and as you level up you will be facing increasing CR monsters with increasing to hit, meaning you will be hit more easily. It may be true that this does matter much less, due to other resources that do scale, like hp, spell slots and levels for healing, etc. But you still are easier to hit, on average. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 27, 2022 at 4:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GroodytheHobgoblin This answer simply disagrees with that assertion that threats are supposed to increase in lockstep with level in 5e. I lay that out at the beginning of the answer. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 18, 2022 at 19:28
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Yes, you are reading that right.

There are two factors that you're not considering though.

  • The progression of proficiency is slow (it caps out at about +9 with the tarrasque which is a pretty small increase across 30 levels of CR).
  • Magic Armor and other bonuses will allow your AC to be boosted up past the limits you discuss.

But, basically, to-hit, HP and damage scale automatically, AC does not. Whether or not this means you're easier or harder to hit at higher levels will actually depend. Monster stats are not exactly consistent across levels, they are always built from the same formulas that PC to-hit is built from, Str/Dex + Prof. So if a monster is not strong, but has a reasonable proficiency bonus and relies on str based attacks, then no they won't be hitting you more often.

But if a monster, like the Tarrasque has a +10 str and a +9 proficiency bonus, then yes, they'll be more likely to hit your L20 character than that CR .25 goblin was to hit your L1 character.

It's also important to recognize that this is all part of the design intent of the system. They wanted relatively little scaling of to-hit and AC (to-hit gets some 30%ish over the life of a character, AC gets none by default, and due to equipment or stat upgrades maybe a 10-15% jump over the life of your character). They want CR .25 or CR 1 characters to continue to be a threat in vary numbers at every level from 1-20. So if your L20 character is attacked by a village of goblins, they have to care about that (Even if it's not very much).

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Your AC not climbing is does not inherently result in being hit more often as you level up.

AC is the primary determinant of how hard you are to hit, but not the only one. The ability to find cover, to get into or out of reach, to hide... these all increase with level in various classes. And they all affect whether or not one is attacked effectively. (Cover affects AC. Hiding prevents being attacked at all. if you're out of reach, they have to pursue you to hit you, which may result in other allies getting Opportunity Attacks on them.)

Note that the primary defense in 5E is hit points.

Note that, for a given opponent, you do not get easier to hit as you level up. You stay just as easy or hard to hit, assuming you aren't actively using abilities that affect cover or AC.

Also note: In 5E as written, there is no real requirement to increase the threat level of opponents faced as characters level up. Low level threats remain threats, because they can still hit one, and thus are still worth XP. Players have reason to fear massed groups of commoners - yes, they can kill them left and right... but they are no longer immune to being hit.

So, in general, if facing a threat of your own CR, yes, you're easier to hit, but so are they.

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You do not get easier to hit as your level goes up. Your enemies may get better at hitting you as they level up, just like you get better at hitting them. But that's a function of the level of whomever is doing the hitting, not the level of whomever is being hit. Your average zombie will not find it easier to hit a 10th-level character than a first-level character.

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It is true that you can hit more at higher levels, but you also have more hit points.

One important difference in D&D 5e is that hit points are not actual physical damage. They are described more like battle fatigue or stress than actual damage. The Player's Handbook says:

"When your current hit point total is half or more of your hit point maximum, you typically show no signs of injury. When you drop below half your hit point maximum, you show signs of wear, such as cuts and bruises. An attack that reduces you to 0 hit points strikes you directly, leaving a bleeding injury or other trauma, or it simply knocks you unconscious."

In effect, your ability to remain in combat equals your Armor Class + Hit Points, and that's how it adjusts as you go up in level.

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    \$\begingroup\$ That hit point definition is not actually a difference. Most previous editions have made the same conceit: HP is an abstract measure of health, endurance, energy, and luck. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 16, 2014 at 18:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ Ok, but then more than half your post is a distraction from that point. Just cut out the middle part and leave the (important) idea that your ability to remain in combat equals your Armor Class + Hit Points. \$\endgroup\$
    – starwed
    Oct 16, 2014 at 19:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ From the old TSR Player's Handbook '...a significant portion of hit points...stands for skill, luck, and/or magical factors...' \$\endgroup\$ Oct 16, 2014 at 19:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Gothnog The 5e section is pretty much exactly how 4e put HP too. (and it had way more scaling of...everything) \$\endgroup\$
    – wax eagle
    Oct 16, 2014 at 19:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MikeRiverso yes previous editions stated that but the healing and rest rules never reflected it in the way that 5e does. That the big change that the fatigue/skill aspect of hit point has both flavor and mechanical support. \$\endgroup\$
    – RS Conley
    Oct 16, 2014 at 19:58

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