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Base Armor Class In D&D 5E [Understanding AC Calculations]

Base Armor Class
  Written By: Ashish Arya
Updated On: 11/10/2023
Est. Reading: 7 minutes

So, you’re delving into the magical world of Dungeons and Dragons 5e, huh? That’s awesome.

It can seem like a lot at first, with all the rules and roles to understand. But one of the key components that can make or break your game is understanding your “base armor class in D&D 5e.”

It may sound like an expert-level concept, but don’t let it intimidate you.

By taking time to grasp the basics of armor class, which I promise I have tried to make as straightforward as possible in this article, you’ll soon be able to master this integral part of gameplay.

Let’s break it down together so you can direct your character through menacing battlegrounds with newfound confidence.

What is the Armor Class in D&D 5E?

Let’s start with the basics. In the game of Dungeons and Dragons 5E, your Armor Class, commonly abbreviated as ‘AC,’ is a representation of how hard it is for opponents to land a successful hit on you.

What is the Armor Class in D&D 5E?

To put it in simpler terms, think of it as your character’s defense score. The higher your AC, the less likely you are to take damage when an enemy swings a sword or fires an arrow your way.

It may seem like a small detail, but trust me, understanding this little statistic can mean survival or defeat.

So, if you’re lounging around without armor (I wouldn’t recommend it), your AC starts at a baseline of 10.

Added to this is something known as your ‘Dexterity modifier.’ This modifier reflects how nimble and quick-to-react your character is, important factors that can help them dodge those pesky attacker blows.

Take these two components together – you’ve got your Armor Class.

In essence, Armor Class = 10 + Dexterity modifier.

Let’s provide some context with an example. Let’s say your character’s Dexterity modifier is +3 (you’re pretty fast on the draw).

Add that to the base AC of 10, which gives you an AC of 13 – not bad for lounging around armorless.

Every detail in D&D 5E comes into play at some point during the game; knowing how these details work together gives you much-needed knowledge that might just save your character’s life or win a really large treasure.

Also Read: Diseases In D&D 5E [How To Bring Realism To Your Campaign]

How does AC work in 5E?

In 5E, your character’s Armor Class (AC) functions as their protective shield in combat situations.

Whenever an opponent chooses to attack, they will roll a twenty-sided die (d20) and add any relevant modifiers for their attack.

This total number, often known as the attacker’s ‘to-hit score,’ is then compared to your character’s AC.

Say an armor-clad orc decides to swing its hefty ax at you, and after adding all its bonuses, the dice land on a sweet total of 17.

If your character’s AC is at or below that number, so let’s say it is 16 or lower, then the orc strike successfully connects with a satisfying thud. Your character takes damage.

On the other hand, suppose your character’s AC is higher than that orc’s total roll, in this case, above 17.

In that situation, you can breathe a sigh of relief. That big old ax swings over your head with a noticeable ‘whoosh.’ It misses entirely no harm done.

That’s truly the essence of how AC works in D&D 5E: When the ‘to-hit score’ equals or exceeds your Armor Class number, an attack hits; otherwise, it misses, and you live to fight another round.

How to Calculate Armor Class in 5E?

Calculating your Armor Class (AC) in Dungeons and Dragons 5E isn’t as hard as it looks. Let me break it down for you.

How To Calculate Armor Class In 5E

Step 1: Start with a base score of 10. This is the bare minimum, representing an ‘unarmored’ defense.

Step 2: Look at your character’s Dexterity modifier. This means the bonus points you get for your character’s skill as it dodges attacks. You can locate this on your character sheet in the Dexterity section.

Step 3: Add the Dexterity modifier to the base Armor Class of 10. Yes, it’s truly that simple.

But let me add an extra point here: Armor (that involves wearing protective apparel like padded clothes, chain emails, etc.) and Shields may affect the final AC value depending upon their respective bonus points.

Base Armor Class = 10 + Dexterity Modifier + Armor Bonus (if any) + Shield Bonus.

You’re well on your way to understanding key mechanics that will significantly amp up your gaming experience.

Increasing Your Armor Class in D&D 5E

When it comes to surviving goblin attacks, dragon’s breath, or sorcerer’s spells, a higher Armor Class (AC) can be your best friend.

Increasing Your Armor Class In DD 5E

As you dive deeper into D&D 5e, you’ll discover several ways to beef up your base AC of 10 and make your character tougher in combat.

Also Read: How Many Spells Does A Wizard Know In 5E D&D? [2023 Guide]

Armor Types and AC

Armors in D&D come in three classes: Light, Medium, and Heavy. Each type has its advantages.

Light armor is best for those dexterous characters as it allows them to add their full Dexterity modifier to their AC.

Medium armor is designed for characters with moderate Dexterity; this type allows a maximum of +2 from the Dexterity modifier.

Heavy armor ignores the Dexterity modifier but provides a high base AC ideal for characters with little reliance on agility.

Class Features

Your class offers unique features that can boost your AC. Monks exhibit ‘Unarmored Defense,’ adding both their Dexterity and Wisdom modifiers to their base 10.

Barbarians, similarly, enjoy this feature but use the Constitution instead of Wisdom.

Artificers who favor the Armorer specialty get bonus points for creativity. They can craft magical armor, providing impressive protective qualities.

Warriors familiarize themselves enough with armor that they gain increased protection from wearing them. They attain proficiency with all kinds of armor and even shields.

Magic Items

Spells aren’t just about fireballs and healing. Some magic items significantly up your defense game, too.

Specific Armors available in rare loot or bought by saving hard-earned gold pieces offer a better AC than regular armors they’re Enchanted.

Shields can also bear magic enhancements, but remember that donning a shield uses one of your character’s hands.

The ‘Cloak of Protection’ graces you with an advantageous +1 bonus to your AC. It also gifts you a +1 to all saving throws, a must-have for any adventurer keen on survival.

Racial Traits

Your race isn’t just about aesthetics and lore. It can bolster your performance in battle, too.

Tortles, turtle-like humanoid creatures, score big points here. They sport natural armor that sets their base AC to 17, irrespective of what they carry or wear.

Warforgeds, constructs designed for warfare, have a built-in composite plating that provides a sturdy base AC of 11 + their Dexterity modifier, a race custom-built for defense.


Feats offer unique abilities and can often provide an AC boost. By taking the “Defensive Duelist” feat, you can add your proficiency bonus to your AC while wielding a finesse weapon.

Dragonborn characters using the “Dragon Hide” feat receive a natural AC of 13 plus their Dexterity modifier.

Selecting the “Shield Master” feat grants extra benefits when using a shield, offering more opportunities to block deadly incoming attacks.


If you started a spellcaster class or have access to magic abilities, leverage those spells.

The Barkskin spell sets your base AC at 16 – perfect for druids or nature domain clerics vulnerable in combat.

Mage Armor offers an impressive defense boost, setting an AC equivalent to 13 + Dexterity modifier if you’re unarmored.

All-time wizard favorite The Shield spell provides the casters with a tremendous +5 AC until their next turn as a reaction to getting hit.

Its quick casting makes it one of the best defensive spells in D&D 5E.


The cover is one of those elements that’s easy to forget but can considerably affect survival in battle scenarios, especially against multiple ranged enemies.

According to the rules of D&D 5e, half-cover adds a +2 bonus to your AC; three-quarters cover gives a whopping +5 bonus; and being completely out of sight (total cover) means enemies cannot directly target you.

Utilize battlefield elements for tactical positioning, and remember: It’s not bravely running away. It’s tactically retreating behind the cover.

Also Read: When Do You Get Feats In 5E? [Plan Your Character Progression]

Why Doesn’t AC Automatically Rise Alongside Character Levels?

When you level up your character in D&D, you might expect everything to get a boost.

More power, more resilience – why not more defense, too, right? Yet, the Armor Class (AC) doesn’t rise along with character levels. Here’s why:

  • The game relies on a system known as Bounded Accuracy. This mechanic ensures that even lower-level characters can potentially hit higher-level opponents.
  • The Bounded Accuracy system also caps AC at low 20s to maintain balanced gameplay and create strategic depth.
  • Targets such as the Armor Class remain relatively static (mostly between 20-30). This limited range encourages tactical thinking rather than a simple power race.
  • As characters progress and face higher-level threats, their tools for dealing with these threats increase, but not necessarily their raw AC value.
  • With Bounded Accuracy in play, your party’s chances of besting an Adult Black Dragon or other formidable enemies won’t significantly diminish if they aren’t top-tier levels.

This design choice helps to ensure that everyone stays involved in combat and that every attack roll is meaningful.

It’s all about staying sharp with your tactics and making the most of the resources at hand rather than chasing massive stat boosts.

That said, there are numerous ways to augment your Armor Class beyond its base value using spells, magical items, and cover mechanics, which we will discuss further.

Also Read: How To Calculate Proficiency Bonus 5E? [Boost Your Performance]

FAQs About base armor class in D&D 5E

What does Armor Class indicate in D&D 5E?

Armor Class (AC) represents how difficult it is for your opponents to land a successful, damaging hit on your character.

Does my Dexterity affect my Armor Class in D&D 5E?

Yes, a character’s Dexterity modifier is added to their base Armor Class (10) when not wearing armor.

Why doesn’t my Armor Class increase as my character levels up?

Due to the Bounded Accuracy system in D&D 5E, Armor Class values stay consistent to ensure balance in gameplay, meaning they won’t automatically rise with your level.

Can I increase my base Armor class beyond 10 + my modifier?

Yes, Wearing armor, using shields, certain class features, and spells can all increase your Armor Class beyond the base number.

Is having a high AC always beneficial in D&D 5E?

While a higher AC means better defense against attacks, having it too high can limit the opponents you face and overshadow other aspects of gameplay.


  • Ashish Arya

    I'm a tech enthusiast and lifelong gamer, hailing from the beautiful city of Chandigarh. My passions range from immersing myself in worlds like GTA V, COD, SIMS, Roblox and Minecraft to exploring the latest innovations in laptops and technology. Armed with a Bachelors Degree in Computer Application, I love sharing my insights through writing and engaging with fellow enthusiasts. Join me on my journey through the ever-evolving realms of gaming and tech!