Let's talk about Armor at level 1-5.


Skills, Feats, Equipment & Spells


8 people marked this as a favorite.

One thing I've consistently noticed is that at low levels--particularly level 1, Heavy Armor feels extremely impractical, and at times downright harmful to those who use it. Armor choices, in general, seem to railroad players into picking the same (clearly superior) armor types. In particular, at level 1, all you will typically see is Leather Armor, Scale Mail, and Chain Mail.

Let's examine the armor system through six traditional "optimally" built characters who adhere to archetypal conventions (i.e. taking 4 cumulative boosts in their Key Ability for a +4 mod).

Light Armor
Character: a Rogue with 18 DEX.
AC: 16 = 10 + [DEX: +4][Leather Armor: +1][Trained: +1]
TAC Bonus: 0
Check Penalty: 0
Speed Penalty: 0

Character: a Ranger with 18 DEX.
AC: 17 = 10 + [DEX: +4][Studded Leather: +2][Trained: +1]
TAC Bonus: 0
Check Penalty: -1
Speed Penalty: 0

  • Padded: Cheap armor for characters who spent their silver on other stuff, or who don't have the STR to carry 1 Bulk of armor. A decent alternative to Leather.
  • Leather: The conventional choice. No penalties, low cost, high DEX cap.
  • Studded Leather: Gain +1 AC at the cost of 15 extra silver and -1 check penalty. A solid option for frontline skirmishers.
  • Chain Shirt: Same as Studded, but +1 TAC, costs 30 more silver, has double the bulk, and is Noisy. Literally no character, ever, will buy this. Period.

Medium Armor

Character: A Barbarian with 16 DEX.
AC: 17 = 10 + [DEX: +3][Scale Mail: +3][Trained: +1]
TAC Bonus: +1
Check Penalty: -1
Speed Penalty: -5

Character: A Cleric with 16 DEX.
AC: 18 = 10 + [DEX: +3][Breastplate: +4][Trained: +1]
TAC Bonus: +2
Check Penalty: -4
Speed Penalty: -5

  • Hide: The only Medium Armor with no speed penalty. Still has steep check penalties, but is less expensive. An okay choice if movement is important to you (or for Druids).
  • Scale Mail: Smallest check penalty of Medium Armors. Also adds +1 to TAC, a nice bonus, all for a relatively low price. A solid pick.
  • Chain Mail: Trades Noisy plus an additional -1 to checks for +1 AC (compared to Scale), similar to Leather vs. Studded. An okay choice if stealth is unimportant or you cannot afford a Breastplate.
  • Breastplate: Gain an additional +1 AC/TAC at the cost of Clumsy, and an additional -2 to checks (compared to Scale). Only worth it if you absolutely MUST have that extra TAC and don't mind failing just about every single DEX-related save.

Heavy Armor
Character: A Fighter with 14 DEX.
AC: 18 = 10 [DEX: +2][Splint Mail: +5][Trained: +1]
TAC Bonus: +2
Check Penalty: -3
Speed Penalty: -10

Character: A Paladin with 12 DEX.
AC: 18 = 10 [DEX: +1][Full Plate*: +6][Trained: +1]
TAC Bonus: +2
Check Penalty: -5
Speed Penalty: -10
*Obviously Full Plate is unavailable at level 1; this is simply for demonstration purposes.

  • Splint Mail: Lower check penalty than Half Plate (-3 vs. -4) at the cost of the Clumsy trait.
  • Half Plate: The "middle" or standard choice.
  • Full Plate: Gains 1 AC at the cost of an increased check penalty (-5 vs. Half Plate's -4), an additional 1 Bulk, and the Clumsy trait.

For these six archetypal examples, we can see that AC is more or less the same regardless of armor choice. For all intents and purposes, a Ranger in Studded Leather is about as hard to hit as a Fighter in Splint Mail. Obviously, this doesn't include the use of Shields, but that's not the focus here: we are simply comparing the armor archetypes and analyzing the costs/benefits of them in the current playtest. In that sense, it's clear that AC is approximately the same across types. What isn't the same, however, are the absolutely brutal penalties incurred by wearing progressively heavier armor.

Losing 10 feet of movement means your Fighter can no longer position himself on the battlefield or react to changing situations. Does your Cleric wearing a Breastplate need to climb down into the dungeon? Better take that armor off or take that -4(!!!) to Athletics!

The penalties imposed by Medium Armor seem absolutely draconian and completely imbalanced. It's already Bulky, limiting equipment choices; it impedes your movement significantly; and at level 1, it causes you to fail checks (on average) 20% more frequently than your lightly-armored cohorts. The worst part? It doesn't even give you a significant advantage to your AC. The same problems plague Heavy Armor, but are compounded even moreso by the sheer price. I understand that level 1 characters shouldn't run around in Full Plate, but Heavy Armor is such an iconic feature of the Paladin and Fighter classes, that restricting access at character creation robs them of a crucial element. Heavy Armor helps to distinguish a tanky, "come at me bro" Fighter from a damage-dealing "bro I already brought it" one.

Obviously, there are many ways to mitigate the penalties of Heavy Armor as the game progresses; however, many of these mitigating factors (class feats, access to items of expert/master/legendary quality, magical items, runes) don't appear until at least level 5. However, by that time, all the other armor-wearers have access to them too. This means that Heavy Armor is less "defining class feature" and more "how expensive do you want your flavor text to be".

I will say that I enjoy the mild variety within armor types. The choice between Studded or regular Leather; or between Scale and Chain, for example, are balanced trade-offs, I feel. However, as you shift to heavier and heavier armor, the "meh" increases in AC don't seem to compensate for the extreme penalties to your Bulk, wallet, and skill checks.

Am I missing something? I'd love to hear the community's thoughts on this, but I feel like the Armor system is in desperate need of a rework to better balance the different types.


3 people marked this as a favorite.

I already posted my own analysis elsewhere (see here). But generally I agree. Armor of choice has zero impact on your potential AC (except in that it is impossible to become legendary in light armor). The heavier your armor, the lower it's ability requirements, and the greater its other penalties; unfairly so.
If the math doesn't allow medium and heavy armor to have more potential AC than light armor, than armor should provide other benefits to even things out. I like the idea of various armors providing appropriate Resistances. Plate gives Piercing & Slashing (includes hard leather), Scale gives Piercing (includes leather scale), Chain gives Slashing, Padded & Leather/Hide gives Bludgeoning.


One correction though. Since I wrote that analysis I've discovered I misunderstood Clumsy. In the context of that analysis Clumsy isn't relevent as it doesn't affect the exemplar's statistics.

RPG Superstar 2015 Top 32

Theoricrafting aside, I saw about 25 characters while testing the system by now.

Zero picks on heavy armor at levels 1-5.

Medium armor is popular, choices vary, chain mail seems to be the preferred type in my group.

Light armor gets picked only by those who can't use medium armor.


I think that the design intent is that the heaviest armors are designed only to be viable if they're "masterworked" for a reduced ACP.

Whether they're successful with that intent is another matter entirely however... :|


My analysis linked above accounted for Check Penalty reductions from quality (as it was a best-potential-benefit-based analysis).


1 person marked this as a favorite.
Cantriped wrote:
If the math doesn't allow medium and heavy armor to have more potential AC than light armor, than armor should provide other benefits to even things out. I like the idea of various armors providing appropriate Resistances. Plate gives Piercing & Slashing (includes hard leather), Scale gives Piercing (includes leather scale), Chain gives Slashing, Padded & Leather/Hide gives Bludgeoning.

I hadn't run the numbers on max-level potential, and it's enlightening to see that even at that point, AC is still even across the board by type. I also agree that armor should provide damage absorption in addition to deflection. But there's already a great system in place to do so: Hardness.

The player's handbook already lists the hardness stats for basic materials (4 for leather, 9 for iron/steel, for example). Simply allow Heavy Armor to absorb damage. Here's a hypothetical way to calculate how much damage a piece of armor should absorb:

[Hardness] x [Proficiency Modifier] + [Armor Modifier]

Hardness is derived from equipment material and will increase as the game progresses.

Proficiency Modifier is 0 for Untrained, 1/2 for Trained, 1 for Expert, 1.5 for Master, 2 for Legendary.

Armor Modifier is -2 for normal-quality items, 0 for Expert, 2 for Master, 4 for Legendary.

  • Thus, a level 1 Paladin wearing Splint would gain absorption equal to:
    [Hardness: 9] x [Trained: 1/2] + [Normal: -2] = 2.5 (rounded down to 2)

  • A level 10 Paladin wearing Expert Half-Plate made of Cold Iron:
    [Hardness: 9] x [Expert: 1] + [Expert: 0] = 9

  • A level 15 Paladin wearing Master Full Plate made of Adamantine:
    [Hardness: 14] x [Master: 1.5] + [Master: 2] = 23

  • A level 20 Paladin wearing Legendary Full Plate made of Orichalcum:
    [Hardness: 18] x [Legendary: 2] + [Legendary: 4] = 40

Obviously this would be physical damage absorption, perhaps with rune inscription options to "split" the absorption between magical/physical at higher levels. Clearly, the final case is an extreme: Legendary Orichalcum Full Plate would be exorbitantly expensive to craft; not to mention it would require a character who specifically picked up Legendary training in Heavy Armor. However, thematically, it makes sense: you are basically wearing a suit of "no don't touch me" at that point; 40 damage absorption seems reasonable.

My only concern is how it would scale throughout the game; I feel like it may become over- or under-powered at various points and would need to be smoothed out. Again, due to it being just physical damage, I don't worry about it being over as much as I do about being under.

What do you folks think?


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber

I think you have effectively identified why Heavy Armor does go to legendary proficiency and light armor does not. Heavy Armor needs the AC boost. My read of the class design is that the fighter probably is waiting until level 11 to make the jump from medium to heavy armor, but they don't have to make the jump to stay at peak effectiveness. By level 17 however, unless the fighter is a Dex based fighter, Heavy Armor is going to be the optimal armor.

They can get these proficiencies earlier if they want with the gray maiden archetype (which the hell knight will probably come around by the CRB so it will be more evenly distributed, or the paladin archetype may allow it as well). But it does take the fighter feat dedication to get it.

This lets the paladin be the literal knight in shining armor and the only character that is going to be most effective in heavy armor but still probably not before level 7.

However, heavy armor took some levels to get into in PF1 as well, so I don't think it has been made completely irrelevant.

For a lot of fighters and paladins, Armors will be a progressive upgrade where they use different equipment at different times in their career depending on whether they choose to boost Dex of spend money on new armors. I like this. It is unfortunate, in my opinion, how much weapon groups make it unlikely for martial characters to switch weapons as they level up.


The chain shirt seems to be a case of overcompensation; it was the best light armor in PF1, so it got nerfed - and as usual, the nerf was to hard. This is so common, especially in MMOs. To add to this, the mithral chain shirt removes the noisy drawback, so mithral chain shirt is still the go-to light armor at higher levels. I would have preferred some variety here, some reason for rogues to actually stay with leather.

That characters get higher skill proficiencies in certain armor just seems artificial, it would be better if heavy armor's base stats were better. Then at least some characters might adopt them early. To have A Dex fighter option, but only give the best proficiency in heavy armor just looks bad.


They needed a small nerf to make the other armors more appealing. The nerf also aren't as bad as people make them out to be.

Now Chain Mail isn't the end all light armor because of its noisy trait. However if Stealth isn't super important to you Chain Mail is the best Light Armor. The same with Breastplate. If your Dex is higher than 3 you definitely won't want to use Breastplate. If it's lower than that clumsy trait doesn't matter.

Now Heavy Armor is in a weird place. The speed reduction, high ACP and Clumsy make almost all Heavy Armor useless with the exception of Half Plate. So it's sort of the same problem as last edition. If all Heavy Armors suck except Half Plate then why use the other two? I think the Heavy Armors need some tweaking but the medium and light armors seem good.

A other weird thing is that Heavy Armor is a level treasure higher than medium/light. I don't understand that at all and hope it changes.


1 person marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber
Starfox wrote:


That characters get higher skill proficiencies in certain armor just seems artificial, it would be better if heavy armor's base stats were better. Then at least some characters might adopt them early. To have A Dex fighter option, but only give the best proficiency in heavy armor just looks bad.

How is it artificial that some characters get higher skill proficiencies in some armors than others, but not artificial that some classes get higher weapon proficiencies than others? Or that Rogues get so many more skill proficiencies than other classes?

It really seems like the complaint here is that people do not like that the only thing armor proficiency does is increase the AC, It doesn't enable you to unlock any special armor abilities. Even Fighters and Paladins who get special abilities with armor only do so as a class ability, not a proficiency ability.

People like the idea of proficiency in something being significant, but, especially with level factoring into your AC now, a +1 for proficiency doesn't really seem to justify a proficiency system for armor. At this point, it would be just as easy to limit all characters to trained or untrained with armor and then give fighters and paladins access to a feat that increased AC when wearing heavy armor (a feat factored into dedications like Grey Warden) and then no one would feel like their character was being treated unfairly because those feats didn't exist for light armor, and Light armor characters could have access to mobility feats that only work in light armor. This would accomplish the same thing as proficiency without feeling so jarring.


2 people marked this as a favorite.

I really wish that the proficiency ranks reduced Armor Check Penalty and other negative consequences of wearing armor, like Armor Training did in PF1. Being able to run around and do backflips in full plate would be a lot cooler than just getting +1 to AC.

Because everything in the game is balanced against the assumption that the players have the highest possible bonus for their level, every monster attack is going to be calculated to hit the character with expert/master/legendary armor prof 50% of the time, which means that anyone who isn't a fighter/monk/paladin is going to get hit a lot more.

And I really don't like the idea that fighters and paladins only get higher proficiencies in heavy armor. I'd rather choose what armor is best for my character than have it chosen for me. Not to mention that the fighter gets expert heavy armor at 11th level. By that point the fighter has gotten two stat increases. Even if they started at DEX 12, they're probably at DEX 16 by then, so heavy armor doesn't even fit them anymore.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

To add to that:

The +1 potency rune for heavy is inexplicably 1 level higher.

What that 1 level means though is TWO levels with - 1 to both AC AND saves compared to light and medium armors because at item level 4 (where heavy armor potency is) it's also the weapon potency rune.

And since the game basically forces you to never skip weapon potency the way it works, you'll have to delay until level 6 until you can pick up a heavy +1

To add insult to the injury, you can't even use a +1 medium at 4th level and scrap the rune for a heavy later since heavy potency is (again for no reason even lore wise) a completely different rune than light/medium armor runes (which, again are somehow the same item, but they don't like to play with heavy armor (it stinks?))


3 people marked this as a favorite.

Proficiency ranks need to increase the Max Dex as well, if heavy armour is to remain remotely relevant. Not that the increases come along soon enough to make any difference, if at all. AFAICT, only paladins and fighters ever get better with armour or shields.

Another thing. Suppose our 20th level paladin, legendary in both heavy armour and shield, gets ambushed in the middle of the night. He's now unarmoured, so drops to merely Trained in armour. Because of this rule

Playtest said wrote:
If you’re using both armor and a shield, apply the lower of the two proficiency modifiers

our noble paladin forgets how to use his shield and is now merely only Trained in the thing.

Seriously, that there is a stupid rule.


Mudfoot wrote:


Another thing. Suppose our 20th level paladin, legendary in both heavy armour and shield, gets ambushed in the middle of the night. He's now unarmoured, so drops to merely Trained in armour. Because of this rule
Playtest said wrote:
If you’re using both armor and a shield, apply the lower of the two proficiency modifiers

our noble paladin forgets how to use his shield and is now merely only Trained in the thing.

Seriously, that there is a stupid rule.

The rule is not really stupid. It actually does a fair job of preventing armor proficient but not-shield proficient characters from boosting their AC with a shield. The stupidity happens due to the Paladin having far inferior proficiency in all non-Heavy armors. The actual problem is that the Paladin loses their ability to defend themselves with out Heavy armor.


I'm not sure why shields even have proficiency ranks in the first place. Because of the way the rules are designed, your shield proficiency will never apply.


2 people marked this as a favorite.

Paladins and fighters need to gain equal proficiency in all armors.

It's like fighters gaining proficiency in Martial weapons but not simple weapons.

Unreasonable and unreasonably restrictive.


1 person marked this as a favorite.
shroudb wrote:


It's like fighters gaining proficiency in Martial weapons but not simple weapons.

I'd argue that it's even worse than that, because martial weapons are at least ostensibly better than simple weapons (putting aside oddities like the lack of a martial finesse bludgeoning weapon), but what armor is best for you is entirely dependent on what your Dex bonus is, and heavy armor is arguably the worst of the bunch because it has a high ACP and speed penalties.

Community / Forums / Archive / Pathfinder / Playtests & Prerelease Discussions / Pathfinder Playtest / Player Rules / Skills, Feats, Equipment & Spells / Let's talk about Armor at level 1-5. All Messageboards

Want to post a reply? Sign in.
Recent threads in Skills, Feats, Equipment & Spells
Clothing