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I'm making a vampire player character, with a little bit of homebrew to give it some of the 5e vampire traits without being broken, and one of the traits that I'm carrying over is natural armor of 16. However, this character wears heavy armor due to background/story reasons, which only gives 13 AC + Dex Mod up to +2. With the shield, also important to the character, the armored AC becomes a total of 17.

Natural armor would be much better, given that her dex mod would give +3. However, I'm not sure which AC actually takes precedence or I would be able to choose, or whatever. How does this work? Also, would I be able to use a shield and still get the natural armor from the vampire trait, or does that count as clothing which negates the natural AC?

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    \$\begingroup\$ A related question \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Oct 3 '16 at 17:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ Can you confirm something? Is this a homebrewed player character, or a homebrewed monster/NPC? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Oct 3 '16 at 17:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ Sorry. I forgot to mention that this is a player character. The buffs player characters are given as a vampire are pretty broken, so I needed to homebrew it a bit. That being said, could I use the AC of the natural armor and bonuses while wearing plate armor with a shield for story/rp reasons, or would I have to use the AC of the Plate armor and shield? \$\endgroup\$ – Calliope Valor Oct 3 '16 at 18:24
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Since this has been clarified as a PC question and not as a Monster (albeit AC is AC regardless of who is involved) it might be wise to change the AC to simply be a +1 bonus for a PC Vampire so that it would work in the existing mechanics (which is sort of important so as not to break the AC normalization). Much like they did with the 5E Warforged.

If you do keep it as a Natural Armor it would and should not be allowed to stack with armor as detailed below to keep it in line with Monster building. Your mileage may vary at your table since you are playing high powered options it may not work for you.

On page 276 under building monsters it shows some insight on to how calculating AC should work when creating a monster.

There is also a series of Tweets from Crawford about this subject, basically indicating that they don't stack.

The way I interpret this system is that the Vampire's AC is 16 (Base 12 + Dex) much like wearing plate or scale or whatnot. So if you have the Vampire wear Scale his AC would be Base 14 + Dex (Max 2) which would be the same or AC 18 with Plate. Crawford also indicates that a shield would add since it is simply a bonus and not a flat base system. This helps normalize the AC system to prevent the astronomical silliness of 3.X/PF.

Note that breaking out the AC in the way that 3.X/PF does only is a tool I use it is pretty much obsolete as Flat-footed and touch ACs are a thing of the past.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Question has been clarified: this is not a monster and monster rules are not in scope. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Oct 3 '16 at 18:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie Do AC mechanics somehow differ between monsters and players? The quotes from Crawford also applied to many PC options. \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth Oct 3 '16 at 18:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ Maybe they do, maybe they don't — the answer is the place to say so. Starting by talking about monsters makes this answer contain off-topic material that distracts the voters/readers at best, and at worst may actually mean its logic is incorrect. Ideally, it would be edited to address the question directly, and not talk about irrelevant monster-making DMG rules at all. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Oct 3 '16 at 18:48
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The Player's Handbook is clear:

Some spells and class features give you a different way to calculate your AC. If you have multiple features that give you different ways to calculate your AC, you choose which one to use.

So you choose which sets your base AC and then add modifiers from your shield and Dex.

However, the examples in the PHB of these types of armor stipulate that natural armor only applies when you are not wearing armour (e.g. Sorcerer's Draconic Bloodline, Mage Armor). If you want to be in line with that then putting on armor kills your natural armor.

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