6 Ways To Increase Your Armor Class In D&D

Highlights

  • Improving Dexterity is a straightforward way to increase a character’s AC, especially for characters not wearing heavy armor.
  • Upgrading armor or obtaining better armor can be an effective way to improve AC, with +1, +2, or +3 armor providing additional AC bonuses.
  • The Defense Fighting Style and the use of shields are two options that can directly boost a character’s AC in combat.

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When engaging in combat in Dungeons & Dragons, there are many mechanics that players need to keep track of in addition to their character’s ability scores and various class features. Whether a character is level one or twenty, a character’s Armor Class (or AC for short) is an important defensive element. Reflecting how well-armored or evasive a character is, a character’s AC is the total number another creature needs to roll to hit a character with an attack.

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This means that the higher a character’s AC, the more difficult they will be to hit. For this reason, it’s a great idea for players to be conscious of their characters’ AC and work to increase it throughout a campaign. So we’re going to examine the various ways that players can go about improving their character’s AC in Dungeons & Dragons.

Updated October 24, 2023 by Robert Patrick: As our understanding of 5th Edition D&D evolves, we discover new ways to improve our characters within the system. Whether that be new multi-class builds or spells, the game continues to advance.This list is updated to include new ways to improve your AC.

9 Improve Your Dexterity

D&D art of a Ranger in the mountains with a black panther companion
Drizzt Do’Urden art by Wizards of the Coast

Perhaps the most straightforward means of improving nearly any character’s AC is to improve your Dexterity ability score. For those not wearing armor or for those wearing light or medium armor, a character adds their Dexterity Ability Score modifier to their AC. This means that a wide range of characters can reliably improve their AC by simply improving their Dexterity as part of level-ups.

It’s important to note that a character wearing medium armor can only add this modifier to a maximum of +2 unless they have the Medium Armor Master feat that raises this cap to +3 instead. This option, unfortunately, doesn’t pertain to those utilizing heavy armor, as characters wearing such armor are unable to add their Dexterity modifier to their armor class.

8 Upgrade Your Armor

Two armorer artificers fighting against a horde of gnolls.
Armorer Artificers from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything by Brian Valeza

As one of the most common sources of an AC improvement is from a character’s armor, obtaining better armor or upgrading armor a character already has can be a straightforward means of improving AC. Characters with proficiency in heavy armor often start with chainmail, so obtaining the superior full plate is often a great step to getting a higher AC. Similarly, for those utilizing light armor, going from leather to studded leather is an affordable and worthwhile upgrade.

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Once a character is equipped with their optimal armor type, the clear path to obtaining yet even better armor is to attempt to get +1, +2, or +3 armor of those types. Providing an additional AC bonus of the respective number, these superior forms of armor are technically magical. The accessibility of such armor ranges greatly from DM to DM, as some will allow players to pay gold to have their armor upgraded into these superior forms, while others may have +1, +2, and +3 armor be a rarity that must be worked for.

7 Gain The Defense Fighting Style

Fighter Posing With Sword Over Shoulders And Lance With Spear In Off-Hand
Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook by Wizards of the Coast

One trait found between various martial classes such as Fighters and Paladins is the ability to gain a fighting style. Fighting styles are possible benefits that can offer anything from a bonus to a hit with a certain type of weapon or even access to cantrips in the case of Paladins and Rangers. While one of the most straightforward fighting styles, the Defense FIghting style states that as long as the character at hand is armored, they gain +1 to their AC.

While this fighting style can be gained with ease for most martial characters, thanks to the Fighting Initiate feat, a character of any class is capable of learning a fighting style. This means that if a character wants to focus on improving their AC, they can essentially spend a feat to improve their AC by +1.

6 Use A Shield

nadaar the dragonborn paladin in d&d
Nadaar, Selfless Paladin by Aaron Miller

Shields are a tremendously handy piece of equipment for anyone wanting an easy bump to AC. They add a flat +2 AC to your loadout when equipped. The main restriction is that you can only use one-handed items and weapons while doing so, making this a direct trade-off of 2-handed damage and more AC. A properly built mage can take advantage of this since magic is a one-handed action. Best of all, it opens up the opportunity to use magic shields.

The hardest part about taking advantage of this is that there aren’t many ways to become proficient with a shield. Certain classes will start with shield proficiency. Any other class will only have two options: Feats and Multiclassing.

The Moderately Armored feat grants proficiency with both Medium armor and shields, though it will require light armor proficiency first. Xanathar’s Guide to Everything offers a system for learning a new tool or language proficiency in their Downtime section. Shields aren’t under the PHB list of “tools,” though, and their classification is a commonly debated topic, so whether or not this option is viable is up to your DM.

5 Use AC-Improving Magic Items

A group of adventurers facing off against a horde of enemies in D&D
Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide Cover Art by Tyler Jacobson

In addition to your armor, other equipment such as magic items can be used to improve a character’s AC. While a character can only access three attunement slots (except Artificers), several great magic items can help bolster your defenses. Firstly, the Bracers of Defense is an attunable Rare magic item that can improve a character’s AC by +2 as long as they aren’t wearing armor.

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This makes them a stellar choice for a character such as a Monk or Barbarian with the Unarmored defense ability, or a Wizard or Sorcerer that lacks armor proficiency. Another Rare magic item, the Ring of Protection, can provide a +1 to a character’s AC with no strings attached.

4 Consider Species And Subclasses That Improve AC

Portrait of a Tortle in D&D
Tortle via Wizards of the Coast

While not an option for those already underway with a campaign, there are various options available to players amid character creation that can offer a character an improved AC. For those looking for specific subclasses that can offer an improvement to one’s AC, the Forge Domain Cleric, and Armorer Artificer each have means of improving their AC through the use of specialized traits. The Draconic Resilience ability from the Draconic Bloodline Sorcerer can help boost the already soft spellcaster.

For those looking to gain the benefit of natural armor through your species, potentially subverting the need for armor altogether, the following races provide a character with natural armor:

  • Lizardfolk
  • Locathah
  • Loxodon
  • Simic Hybrid
  • Tortle
  • Warforged

In addition to the species above, Shifters of the Beasthide variety gain access to a +1 bonus to their AC when shifted. Unlike the natural armor abilities of the previously mentioned species, this Beasthide AC bonus is even applied if the character at hand is wearing armor.

3 Take A Feat

A monk from Dungeons & Dragons uses a Ki Strike to attack an opponent
Ki-Fueled Strikes For Tasha’s Cauldron to Everything By Sam Keiser

One of the more versatile features of Dungeons & Dragons is the feat system. This decision allows players to sacrifice a stat improvement for an ability granted by a feat. While some feats require you to meet a prerequisite, such as Dragon Hide, many can be taken by any race. Quite a few of these feats can boost your AC.

The aforementioned Dragon Hide can grant any player using a Dragonborn an AC of 13+ their dex modifiers and a boost to their Strength, Constitution, and Charisma stats. Duel Wielder and Defensive Duelist are feats that can be taken regardless of race and grant a +1 to Ac if you’re using a melee weapon in each hand or a finesse weapon respectively.

2 Boosting Through Spells

Gargantuan monster looms over a sorcerer in this beautiful Dungeons & Dragons artistic rendering
Sorcerer In Space From Monsters Of The Multiverse By Greg Rutkowski

Not every class is proficient in medium or heavy armor. For the mages of the party, they’re often left a little defenseless. This is where their magic comes in as a variety of spells can make up for their squishy nature by boosting their AC in combat. Spells such as Shield can be used with your reaction to boost your AC by +5.

This increase can be a lifesaver in the middle of a fight as the increase may be just enough to survive an attack. If you want to support your allies with an AC boost, you could cast Haste instead, granting any player a +1 to their AC alongside other benefits. This pairs well with martial classes like Fighters as Haste doubles their movement and grants them an extra attack.

1 Taking Cover

A Dungeons & Dragons hellhound sprays fire from its mouth at a wood elf
WoodElf And Hellhound By For D&D Player’s Handbook By Craig Elliot

Sometimes a good player needs to know how to use their environment to their advantage. While you can do this by attempting to cave in your enemies or leading a creature without dark vision into a poorly lit room, taking cover is one of the most classic ways to keep yourself safe.

When in combat, you can choose to take cover behind any object that can shield your body, increasing your AC. Half-cover will grant an AC increase of +2, three-quarters cover a +5, and full-body cover will make you un-targetable in combat. Some specific spells can bypass this cover, however, so it is best to keep this in mind.

Next: All Dungeons & Dragons Fighter Subclasses, Ranked By Popularity

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