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In D&D 5E, does natural armor stack with Unarmored Defense? We have a level 2 player character who wild shaped into an animal. The player said they could stack its natural armor with Unarmored Defense, getting effectively 10 + natural armor + WIS + DEX = a super high AC. Does this work?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ [Related] How does Mage Armor interact with Unarmored Defense? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie May 27 '15 at 0:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ I would just like to ask, how is the character getting unarmored defense and wildshape at second level? Druids do not get unarmored defense, so they'd have to be multi-class, but wildshape is a second level druid ability. \$\endgroup\$ – J Nason Oct 8 '16 at 20:03
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Sort of, but no.

Unarmored Defense does not provide a bonus to AC. It provides an alternate means of calculating it.

So, your druid has two AC calculations available to him:

  1. AC provided by beast form.

  2. 10 + Dexterity Modifier + Wisdom Modifier

You don't get to add the two together, because they both set AC to an absolute value. A brown bear has an AC of 11. It does not have a +1 natural armor bonus.

Likewise, a Monk using unarmored defense has an AC of 10 + Dexterity Modifier + Wisdom Modifier. He does not simply add Wisdom to his AC.

Your Druid can use Unarmored Defense in beast form, but he has to choose between that and the fixed AC of the form. For a brown bear, his options are:

  1. 11

  2. 10 + 0 (Dex) + Wisdom Modifier

The Unarmored Defense will probably give him better AC than the bear had, but less than a typical monk has (due to the low dexterity).

For more detail on 5e's armor notation, see this answer.

Natural Armor

Instead of using a flat AC of 11, you can use the bear's natural armor calculation. This allows you to calculate the bear's AC in cases where its dexterity or other stats change.

The armor calculation for natural armor can be found in the January 2016 rules answers:

Natural Armor: 10 + your Dexterity modifier + your natural armor bonus. This is a calculation method typically used only by monsters and NPCs, although it is also relevant to a druid or another character who assumes a form that has natural armor.

[...]

Similarly, a druid/barbarian who transforms into a beast form that has natural armor can use either the beast’s natural armor or Unarmored Defense [...].

In this case, you have the choice of either of two calculations:

  1. 10 + Dexterity Modifier + Wisdom Modifier (Unarmored Defense)

  2. 10 + Dexterity Modifier + Natural Armor Modifier (Natural Armor)

You don't get to mix and match between these two formulas; you have to pick one.

Thanks to Aviose for finding this.

See Also

Jeremy Crawford has tweeted about Unarmored Defense and Wildshape, stating that you must choose either the beast's AC calculation or the Unarmored Defense calculation.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ As a side note, typically the AC of a beast form is based on its current stats (including dex) so if dex were to increase it is still logical that AC would improve for that creature. \$\endgroup\$ – Aviose Dec 23 '14 at 14:58
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  • \$\begingroup\$ @Dyndrilliac That doesn't really answer the question of whether Natural Armor is part of the armor calculation (like unarmored defense), or functions as a bonus like a shield. See the Caveat Emptor section. \$\endgroup\$ – AceCalhoon May 26 '15 at 14:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AceCalhoon Actually, the Rules Answers for January states: Natural Armor: 10 + your Dexterity modifier + your natural armor bonus. This is a calculation method typically used only by monsters and NPCs, although it is also relevant to a druid or another character who assumes a form that has natural armor, so option 2 is accurate. Doesn't change that no armor stacks with it, but it is an important clarification. dnd.wizards.com/articles/features/rules-answers-january-2016 \$\endgroup\$ – Aviose Feb 27 '17 at 16:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Aviose Nice find! That actually completely sinks the possibility of stacking unarmored defense and natural armor, because it clarifies that natural armor is a full calculation rather than a flat bonus (it also gives an explicit example, which is nice). \$\endgroup\$ – AceCalhoon Feb 27 '17 at 16:52
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No.

Natural armor is armor thus it doesn't stack with unarmored defense.

From the Monk's unarmored defense:

while you are wearing no armor and not wielding a shield.... (PHB p78 emphasis mine)

You cannot benefit from unarmored defense while you have natural armor from your beast form.

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    \$\begingroup\$ It specifically says "wearing" no armor, though. Technically, a bear does not "wear" any armor. \$\endgroup\$ – user3735278 Dec 23 '14 at 15:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ @user3735278 true, Ace's answer does a better job of tackling the intricacies here, but ultimately, the argument comes out the same. having natural armor counts as "wearing armor" for the purposes of this calculation. \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Dec 23 '14 at 15:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ This answer, to me, makes me think you can't benefit from Unarmored Defense at all. Ace's answer says that you can choose to benefit from unarmored defense, and such an interpretation makes more sense to me. \$\endgroup\$ – user3735278 Dec 23 '14 at 15:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ @user3735278 still pondering that. beginning to wonder how mage armor and natural armor interact. If mage armor replaces natural armor than you should be able to select unarmored defense instead of natural armor. If it does not work (ie the target is considered to be wearing armor), then it wouldn't work. \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Dec 23 '14 at 16:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ Since this answer was posted, the January 2016 rules answers was published. It includes: "a druid/barbarian who transforms into a beast form that has natural armor can use either the beast’s natural armor or Unarmored Defense (you aren’t considered to be wearing armor with natural armor)." \$\endgroup\$ – AceCalhoon Feb 27 '17 at 22:39
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Ultimately it is up to your DM to decide if any rule will unbalance his game. I've been having a lively debate with my friendly neighborhood rules lawyer and I will throw in my input as well as my thought processes and references. (I must always provide her rulebook and page numbers. :)

I may paraphrase things unless I feel that phrasing is important then I will quote. You will have exactly where to look so you can read yourself to decide what is important. I will also try to explain my reasoning as to why certain rules exist and how they meld or clash.

So I will start with the rule in the Players Handbook (PH) that specific rules trump general rules (PH pg7) and the general rule for without armor is base AC = 10 + Dex mod.(PH pg14) If wear armor or carry a shield see chapter 5 . To me this makes sense. A standard 10 plus how quick you can get away from an incoming strike.

The next general rule is, "Some spells and class features give you a different way to calculate your AC. If you have multiple features that give you different ways calculate your AC, you choose which one to use." (PH pg14) This rule is to prevent the AC stacking we have come to know and loathe. So you can now only choose either Mage Armor "The targets base AC becomes 13 + its Dexterity modifier." (PH pg 256) or Unarmored Defense (seen below) for their "base AC".

Since the debate is about the stacking of the Monks Unarmored Defense with the Druids Wild Shape ability let's look at those rules which are specific rules.

The Monks Unarmored Defense says "... while you are wearing no armor and not wielding a shield, your AC = 10 + Dex mod + Wis mod." (PH pg78) This is your new "base AC". This class feature is definitely better than base AC without armor from above. The wisdom modifier is due to the training the monk has. This lets the monk use his insight to find a place where the incoming attack misses. (At least that's my interpretation.) It's a good day to be a monk it seems. You get the Dex mod and the Wis mod as long as you're not wearing armor. "Wearing" is an operative word.

Wild Shape says, "Your game statistics are replaced by the statistics of the beast, but you retain your... Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma scores." (PH pg67) It also says that, "You retain the benefit of any features from your class, race, or other source and can use them if the new form is physically capable of doing so." So far this allows the Unarmored Defense features base AC equation from above and changes the base stats of the character to fit with the beast chosen.

Finally to this equation you add bonuses. Bonuses are benefits that be acquired by many means such as magic items, racial or class features, feats, etc. They are consistently signified in specific rules by the word "bonus", ie: base weapon damage with a +2 bonus to damage. This means that there is something added to the base stat, ie: proficiency bonus added to skills, etc.

Many beasts have a "natural armor" bonus: "A monster with a thick hide generally has a natural armor bonus of +1 to +3. The bonus can be higher if the creature is exceptionally well armored. A gorgon, for example, is covered in steely plates and has a natural armor bonus of +9." (DMG pg276)

This additive effect is explained in the Dungeon Masters Guide (DMG). Insofar as AC is concerned it says, "A monster that doesn't wear armor might have natural armor, in which case it has an AC equal to 10 + its Dexterity modifier + its natural armor bonus." (DMG pg 276) Note that word "wear" in there folks.

So if you can keep your features (Unarmored Defense) and use the right stats for the situation then add your bonuses you have the following equation: AC = Base AC + bonuses

So I just threw a bunch of stuff at you without any context so I will show you an example.

Elowin is a 2nd lv human moon druid and she wants to take her first level in monk. Her stats are (and this is no way optimized just so you know) Str: 9 Dex: 14 Con: 15 Wis: 16 Int: 13 Cha: 11

Her stats fall in the multiclassing rules (PH pg163-164) and she takes the plunge. Now she has both Wild Shape and Unarmored Defense. Whatever shall we do? Since she wears armor she doesn't even use Unarmored Defense until she shapeshifts. When she does she chooses a Brown Bear (PH pg304) absorbs her armor and gear as per the rules and takes its stats. Her new stats are: Str: 19 Dex: 10 Con: 16 Wis: 16 Int: 13 Cha: 11

So to determine our AC we look at our equation: AC = 10 + Dex mod + Wis mod (our base AC) + bonuses AC = 10 + 0 + 3 + 1 (natural armor bonus) Elowin's AC is now 14. Not an overwhelming change from the bears base AC of 11 or the Unarmored Defense of 13. Just a touch more survivable.

A couple of caveats: 1. This is based on my understanding of the three basic books available now and doesn't cover future expansions, house rules, etc. 2. Your GM has final say on all the rules including this one. Hey, the fact is if you're playing with the GM you trust that you're going to have a fair game. Unfair GMs end up with no players. 3. Everyone likes to optimize. Talk with your GM about what you want to do. State your case. You might be pleasantly surprised. The inverse of the above rule applies as well. Unfair players end up with no groups.

I hope this puts another perspective on the issue that helps.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You've created an artificial difference between AC and "Base AC". \$\endgroup\$ – Jack Stout Aug 18 '16 at 0:24
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I don't see a reason not to calculate it as NA + WIS+ DEX. Couldn't you argue that a characters natural amour is 10, so when in beast mode no you don't get 10 plus NA but your base NA goes up. So a druid in Dire wolf form would be 14 + Wis + Dex, and it would be the dex of the wolf because you don't keep Dex but you do keep WIS. That still seems like a boost but a reasonable one.

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