One of the Fighters in my party has an AC of 21 at level 5. He wears chainmail which gives an AC of 16, has the Defense Fighting Style which gives a +1 to AC when wearing armor, and a +2 shield (found in an ancient cave) which adds an additional +4 to his AC. As the DM, I am having an issue with any number of creature hitting him. I understand that I allowed this to happen, but I'm starting to regret it. How can I at least give this Fighter an actual fight without being unfair?

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    \$\begingroup\$ @Pyrotechnical, the way I do treasure is I make one player roll a d10. I have a list of nine normal items with one magical item. He managed to get the one magical. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 22, 2017 at 3:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ (Re: "abnormally high":) I think it's worth noting that 21 AC is obtainable via completely mundane means for your fighter- since he has that fighting style, he'd only need plate and a shield. (Still a good question, just pointing out that 21 AC is something one might have to contend with even without the specific scenario of lucking into a +2 shield) \$\endgroup\$
    – CTWind
    Commented Jan 22, 2017 at 5:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ 21 isn't abnormally high. For a lot of characters a couple of magic items is enough to push them past 20. Now imagine your fighter has the Shield Specialist feat and can avoid damage from anything requiring a dex save and has taken a level of barbarian and halves a lot of the damage you deal. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 22, 2017 at 7:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also imagine he is a eldritch Knight and has the shield spell + a shield of faith from the cleric. AC beyond 25 \$\endgroup\$
    – findusl
    Commented Jul 1, 2020 at 23:04

8 Answers 8


Hit your fighter in the NADs1

AC isn't the only way to cause damage to a fighter.

  • Utilize creatures that force saving throws. High AC won't save you from a fireball
  • Give them hard choices. AC won't save you when you have to choose between helping the rogue or the wizard…and you only have time to help one
  • Talk to your players. Let them know the high AC is making things difficult for you, and you'd like to ratchet it back some. See if they'd be willing to trade in the +2 shield for an alternative magic shield with a property instead of AC bonus

The biggest thing to keep in mind is that AC isn't the end-all-be-all in D&D. Yes, it's important, but there are avenues around it.

1NADs = Non-AC Defenses. In D&D 4e you didn't have saving throws, rather you had static defense values: AC, Fortitude (Str/Con), Reflex (Dex/Int), and Will (Wis/Cha). A common reply to fighters with super-high AC was "hit 'em in the NADs!", meaning that a high AC usually meant a low Reflex and/or Will defense—fighters of course having a high Str or Con meant a good Fortitude defense.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Point 2 is very important. The Fighter has invested a significant amount of resources into increasing his AC, which means he hasn't been investing into offense. An opportunity attack from this Fighter isn't very scary and even dumb monsters should quickly realize they're wasting their time trying to kill him over the squishier party members. Enemy synergy is important too. A group of wolves can still knock him down with Pack Tactics. \$\endgroup\$
    – Doval
    Commented Jan 21, 2017 at 23:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'd advice against point 3 unless you have to, but the rest of the answer is solid advice. A high amount of armour does nothing against magical enemies. Put more of those in your encounters and your fighter's AC is a whole lot less useful. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mast
    Commented Jan 22, 2017 at 15:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ Smart NPC to his minions: "Kill the one in the dress!" \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 16, 2017 at 6:49

Design encounters to target a wider variety of defenses

Bounded accuracy in 5e means that previously small bonuses (like +2 AC from a magic shield) have a very large impact. If they are on already top-of-the-line items for some type of optimization (such as full plate are shield are for AC) this can become game breaking. From my experience DMing for a couple of PCs who've chosen the very tanky path the best way to keep the challenge up is to constantly mix in enemies targeting something other than AC.

Luckily you've got lots of options. Monsters that target AC can be easily converted to target a save without affecting their challenge rating by using table on DMG p.274. Simply look up their current attack bonus and substitute it for a save DC in the same row against an appropriate stat. Next re-fluff the attack so it makes sense story wise that the PC is working to resist something. Some examples:

  • An adult brass dragon's tail attack is normally +12 to hit. Instead ours will be wicked slap of the tail meant to send the much smaller PC flying. Save DC 21 dex to dodge out of the way or take the listed damage and be knocked back.
  • A nightmare's hooves are normally +6 to hit. Instead ours will be the soul crushing terror of the devil horse looming over you taxes your mind. DC15 intelligence save to keep your wits about you or take the listed damage (now psychic instead of bludgeoning).
  • A bone naga's bite is normally +5 to hit. Instead ours has a strange soothing pattern to its motions and only the most perceptive can recognize it is about to strike. DC14 wisdom save or take the damage.

This type of design also makes it very easy to provide effective on the fly results for improvised action. Just figure out what sort of save the victim should be trying to make and use roughly the attackers normal damage. I've also tried mixing in skill contests where the monster is considered proficient in whatever skill they are trying to attack with. This has a nice effect where PC skills matter more in combat and players, now reminded those skills are available, look for more chances to use them.

A word of warning this should not be done one every single monster in every single encounter. AC should still have its time to shine so leave smaller things like goblin crossbows and orc fists as simply targeting it. This lets that awesome magical shield the PCs found keep feeling awesome as it lets them shrug off all but the luckiest of the nuisance creatures.

Also remember turn about is fair play! PCs improvising actions should be given the same (and often better to encourage the practice) chances to target unusual saves in exchange for coming up with interesting interpretations of their attacks. In my games this has led to all around much more interesting combat.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This feels like an arbitrary rule change to circumvent one who is following the rules. There are plenty of non-AC targeting effects in the game. I'd howl if I spent my resources building a high AC, and the DM decided to change the rules to make that worthless. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 22, 2017 at 16:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ Well @keithcurtis, the truth is that these aren't rules that are being changed - they are stat blocks. All the stat blocks in every book are only suggestions of appropriate abilities and bonuses for a monster or NPC. The DM is encouraged to use them either as a quick way to build an encounter, or as a jumping off point for custom creatures and enemies. Deciding that a given monster's abilities should be tweaked isn't changing rules, it's using the rules fully. And you can justify it too - the monster tried an unorthodox strategy when it encountered a really hard to hit opponent. \$\endgroup\$
    – zeel
    Commented May 21, 2020 at 17:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ While it's not a bad thing to have some monsters with unusual attacks, doing it for all important monsters is as bad as doing it for all monsters. If AC only works on "nuisance creatures" then it's like status effects in a FF game - nearly pointless. \$\endgroup\$
    – Errorsatz
    Commented Nov 7, 2020 at 1:32


Seriously, you shouldn't "deal" with his armor class. Like, at all. As pointed by CTWind, "his AC is obtainable via completely mundane means". He got it. He could've get it anyway.

But even if he would get higher AC than normally possible, let him. Do not make the impression of "We don't need to care or prepare, if we'll find something good DM will nerf it anyway". That's very bad for morale. Making challenges challenging is all good and funny, removing hard/luckily earned advantage can ruin game for many players.

A good campaign will have many different challenges. Traps, magic, diplomatic issues. OK, one kind of challenges is now a bit less challenging for one player. That's not a problem. It'll even out in a level or two. Other characters will seek to get their defenses boosted, he'll start encountering tougher monsters. Big Bad Evil Guys will learn that their opponent is "this guy wielding legendary shield" and plan accordingly. Ultimately, +2 on 20 roll is just a 10% improvement / penalty. If there was ten guys with bows, now you need 11-12 to get roughly the same effect. Shouldn't be a problem, if you explain it in game and it is NPC sergeant who dealt with the problem, not you directly.

In the meantime, it is his reward. Let him enjoy it. If he became unstoppable for goblins, so be it, smile and make it a goblin legend! Just don't forget other players wants to be legends in their fields of expertise, too.

  • \$\begingroup\$ On the other hand, I don't think the PCs always have to know that the DM made a modification. If the next monster has a better hit bonus than the last, do the PCs know? The PC with the shield might be thinking "thank god I have this, it only hit me half the time, without it I would be dead!" when the DM is thinking "finally, he's taking some hits, glad I added +3 to this monster's hit modifier!" And if a new monster has a bunch of abilities that require saves, will the players actually realize that the DM planned this to get around the high AC? \$\endgroup\$
    – zeel
    Commented May 21, 2020 at 17:15

I have a similar situation, but also 30+ years experience with D&D, so let me pile on:

  1. Hit him in the NADs (as described above)... Saving Throws, Saving Throws, Saving Throws.
  2. Non-attack type combat actions. These are my favorite. Wearing heavy plate armor and a stack of enchantments? TACKLE!! GRAPPLE!! TRIP!! How about a net? Ever see a knight in full plate try to get up off his back?
  3. Environmental Hazards. Make it slippery. Make it freezing. Make it on fire. Make it sticky. He's HEAVY... make the ledge crumble from underneath him. Make him cross the rotting, rickety rope bridge over the chasm of doom.
  4. Drown him. Make him rue the day he was too arrogant to take OFF his heavy metal armor before he got on the boat. Mine (a paladin) went to the bottom of the ocean when he was washed overboard by a rogue wave during a raging storm.
  5. Use an exotic monster with an exotic effect. The mudtiger from the old "A0 Danger at Darkshelf Quarry" module was hilarious... an area-effect electrical shock like an electric eel, but it also randomly (and constantly changing) magnetizes metal. His metal armor, shield and weapons attract one second, repel the next... causing him disadvantage on attacks/saves/skills involving any of the magnetized metal.

You and I wouldn't fight fair if we were faced with a guy in metal armor and razor-sharp weaponry. Your adversaries shouldn't either (assuming they are intelligent). But make sure it fits in the storyline why these High-AC Countermeasures are here. And again, don't use these techniques in EVERY engagement against him... let his high AC work for him most of the time. Use these ideas every once in a while to keep him challenged.

Happy Adventuring! -- DM Mike

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for the environmental aspects. We had a new DM that threw AC19 enemies at lv1s, and we were rolling terribly. Luckily there was a river nearby so we gave up trying to hit them and pushed them into the river to drown. \$\endgroup\$
    – Baergren
    Commented Dec 12, 2017 at 16:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ "Ever see a knight in full plate try to get up off his back?" - Yes. They didn't seem to have much trouble. \$\endgroup\$
    – 8bittree
    Commented Sep 30, 2019 at 20:40

Attack the rest of the party

The fighter has chosen to be hard to hit, and in doing so chosen not to be as damaging as, say a fighter with a two-handed weapon and style. Monsters are less penalised leaving his reach, so can go past him and attack the squishy back row characters.

But what if the party utilises tactics and positioning to prevent that?

Let him shine at doing what he chose to be good at

So the party uses a doorway to stop monsters getting around the fighter - they wail ineffectually at his AC21. This is a good thing, presumably the sort of situation that the player wanted to get into.

Mix things up (but not too much)

The other answers do a good job of suggesting ways of threatening the fighter personally, but I recommend only doing this sparingly if the players are enjoying having a meat shield


Chainmail? Oh I love heavy metal!

Heat Metal

2nd-level transmutation/Casting Time: 1 action/Range: 60 feet/Components: V, S, M (a piece of iron and a flame)/Duration: Concentration, up to 1 minute

Choose a manufactured metal object, such as a metal weapon or a suit of heavy or medium metal armor, that you can see within range. You cause the object to glow red-hot. Any creature in physical contact with the object takes 2d8 fire damage when you cast the spell. Until the spell ends, you can use a bonus action on each of your subsequent turns to cause this damage again.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Is he the only one with metal armor in the party? Even if he is, using the spell once or twice will not solve anything, using it more will feel like harassment. \$\endgroup\$
    – András
    Commented Jan 22, 2017 at 7:47

Many of the other answers address how to handle this through alternate combat so I'll focus on non-combat options for your situation.

Give the shield a yet undiscovered downside.


  • its cursed and it attracts undead

  • when it blocks a natural 19 from an opponent it lets out a loud ear splitting ringing which can be heard for a long distance

  • in the presence of goblins it shines like daylight

Being a +2 shield it must have some story behind it. Use it as a Macguffin.

It is famous and draws attention (both good and bad) wherever they go.

It is infused with the essence of some ancient bad guy. It needs to be destroyed in a volcano (insert your own trope here).

Other people have been questing for it and don't believe the character is worthy to have the item and demand it be surrendered.

Give the player a reason to swap the shield for something else

Returning it to the local king grants the player a small keep/plot of land/noble title/etc. (Also fits in the Macguffin category.)

If he finds a good magical two-handed weapon (which no-one else in the party can wield) then he can give the shield to someone else in the party to use.


Rust Monsters in 5e are CR 1/2 with an attack that targets worn armors/shields and requires a DEX saving throw. Each failure causes a permanent -1 AC, until eventually the armor/shield is destroyed. This would not work on that specific +2 shield (as it is magical and thus immune to this monstrous ability), but it would force the fighter to either return to town or continue a dungeon with nerfed chainmail. And if the chainmail is destroyed, the Defense Fighting Style would be suspended because it requires worn armor.

Just pretend that you rolled for them "randomly" on your wandering monster table.

  • \$\begingroup\$ And after the third rust monster encounter, what do you suggest? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 24, 2017 at 22:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ Offering to pay for the pizza. EDIT: I thought you were suggesting that the players would mutiny. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 24, 2017 at 22:32

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