In Dungeons & Dragons, the Monk is an agile melee-damage class that focuses on unarmed combat and combat with special weapons with which Monks get bonuses.
Monks get bonuses to their defenses and attacks when they’re unarmored, so it’s in their best interest to bolster their Armor Class with magic items since they will be taking on enemies up close and personal.
Here’s the scoop on the Bracers of Defense. What are they? Are they good? Most importantly, are they the ultimate Monk item?
Bracers of Defense: Errata
- Adventuring Gear (Wondrous Item, arms)
- Category: Items
- Item Rarity: Rare
- Modifiers: Ac +2
- 5,000 GP
- Requires Attunement
While wearing these bracers, you gain a +2 bonus to AC if you wear no armor and use no Shield.
The Bracers of Defense are classified as “Adventuring Gear” and are considered a Wondrous Item that one wears on the arms.
They’re a rare item, so, using 5e errata, they cost around 5,000 GP to buy at a shop if you can find one that stocks wondrous things.
Once a character has tuned to the Bracers of Defense, they grant the attuned character +2 to AC while they’re wearing the Bracers and not wearing armor and using no Shield.
The Bracers’ bonus does stack with Unarmored Defense and allows the Monk to reach up to 22 Armor Class by stacking this bonus on top of a fully stacked Unarmored Defense.
Bracers of Defense vs. Barrier Tattoo
At first glance, Bracers of Defense and Barrier Tattoo can appear similar. They both grant bonuses to unarmored characters that aid in defending them from peril.
However, a critical writing difference between the two influences how they interact with the player’s Base AC.
Bracers of Defense states that “while the player is wearing the bracers,” they “gain a +2 bonus to AC” if “they are wearing no armor and using no shield,” meaning the player’s base AC gets an additional 2.
But when we look at Barrier Tattoo, it states that the tattoo “grants you an Armor Class based on the tattoo’s rarity.” So, it changes the player’s base AC to the new value; in the case of Barrier Tattoo, the value is based on rarity.
Which Is Better: Bracers of Defense or Barrier Tattoo?
Barrier Tattoo and Bracers of Defense are like apples and oranges. Barrier Tattoo is called an AC calculation, meaning the item applies a new method of calculating your base AC.
Calculations can’t stack with other calculations. So, a player can’t benefit from Unarmored Defense, another AC calculation, while also getting the benefit of Barrier Tattoo.
AC Bonuses stack with any single calculation and other bonuses.
So, Bracers of Defense and Barrier Tattoo stack; you can get a Barrier Tattoo and still get the Bracers of Defense bonus, which gives you a maximum AC of 20 when using the highest rarity tattoo with the Bracers.
However, this won’t always be the best option.
Barrier Tattoo is designed to be used by squishy damage dealers that rely on magic and aren’t getting a beefy Dexterity bonus to their Armor Class.
Some mages can also use a small shield, which can stack with Barrier Tattoo but not Unarmored Defense.
Monks vs. Barrier Tattoo
To say Monks don’t need Barrier Tattoo would be an understatement. Barrier Tattoo isn’t just “not good” on Monks; it’s actively harmful.
Getting a Barrier Tattoo as a Monk actively lowers your Armor Class. So, it’s ill-advised at best to get a Barrier Tattoo as a monk.
The key here is in what the Barrier Tattoo changes. Barrier Tattoo changes the base AC rather than adding a bonus to the base AC. So, it overwrites Unarmored Defense with a new value.
Since Unarmored Defense uses both the Dexterity and Wisdom scores with no cap (versus the 18 cap for Barrier Tattoo), the Tattoo thus has a lower threshold than Unarmored Defense.
Monks vs. Bracers of Defense
On the other hand, Bracers of Defense stack Unarmored Defense, making them the perfect addition to the Monk’s repertoire.
By attuning to the Bracers of Defense, the Monk can increase their Armor Class beyond the glass-ceiling of 20.
Unarmored Defense grants the Wisdom Modifier to the Armor Class in addition to the Dexterity Modifier, allowing an additional 5 points to be added to the AC barring access to items that grant other issues above 20 to the Dexterity and Wisdom Ability Scores.
Bracers of Defense grant a bonus roughly equivalent to gaining four points in the Dexterity Ability Score up to a maximum of 24.
While the “bonus” is only applied defensively, that defensive boon is an undeniable power spike for a relatively common item.
Monks are designed to be a bit on the squishy side to compensate for their high damage output as a damage-dealing class. Bracers of Defense allows Monks to break the built-in glass ceiling imposed by Ability Score caps.
Are the Bracers of Defense the Best Monk Item?
The “best” Monk item will vary a lot based on your specific build, but it’s pretty safe to say that all Monks will benefit from grabbing the Bracers of Defense.
While there may be higher-priority items based individually on the specific Monk build, there’s no other Monk item that offers a benefit that’s as well rounded and safe as Bracers of Defense.
Any other thing you would take on your Monk would be relevant to the nuances of your character and build where Bracers of Defense is consistently above average but rarely unique or outstanding.
Are the Bracers of Defense Counted as Armor?
No. Bracers of Defense are classified as “adventuring gear,” as are the Bracers of Archery and Illusionist.
There are no common or uncommon items with “bracer” in the name, and the Bracer items are not classified as Armor.
So, there is no paradox created by the Bracers of Defense requiring the character to both wear the Bracers and not wear armor.
Bracers of Defense vs. Cloak & Ring of Protection
Bracers of Defense, Cloak of Protection, and Ring of Protection are all AC Bonuses and stack with each other.
Just as the Bracers of Defense are considered “Adventuring Gear” and “Wondrous Items,” so also are the Cloak of Protection and Ring of Protection.
These items are not considered “Armor.” The classification of Armor is particular and plainly stated. So, there’s no discrepancy here.
Monk vs. Cloak & Ring of Protection
Since the Cloak and Ring of Protection aren’t considered armor, they don’t interrupt the Monk’s Unarmored Defense feature or interfere with Bracers of Defense’s requirements.
By attuning to all three items, a Monk with 20 points in Dexterity and 20 points in Wisdom would be able to have an Armor Class of 23, making them quite beefy and hard to hit.
Monks reach the absolute maximum of AC they can go without wearing natural armor by attuning to all three items.
Generally, to run armor classes that are significantly above the 20 range, you’ll need to be wearing heavy armor. These items are intended to protect tanky characters from harm.
However, Monks can’t wear armor and get the benefits of Unarmored Defense. So, they’ll need to look into items that can bolster their defenses to help them stay safe while dishing out massive damage to their enemies.
Defensive Monk Build
Monks can increase their Armor Class naturally by increasing their Wisdom and Dexterity scores, both of which improve their overall damage output.
Monks who want to maximize their defensive stats will want to talk to the DM about pursuing a Tome of Understanding and a Manual of Quickness of Action.
These will allow the Monk to reach an unarmored Armor Class of 22 without a shield.
You’ll also want to pursue a set of Bracers of Defense since that will let you get up to an Armor Class of 24.
Cloak and Ring of Protection are options for further increasing your defensive stats, but they’re not the only options, as Ioun Stone of Protection can replace either.
These together will allow the Monk to reach 26 Natural Armor. For a defensive Monk, it’s imperative to go Way of the Kensei and wield a Kensei weapon in one hand.
Making an unarmed strike during your turn will activate Agile Parry and grant you an extra +2 AC until the start of your next turn so long as you’re wielding a Kensei weapon in one hand.
All in all, that’s an Armor Class of 26 for the Kensei Monk, which is nothing to sniff at, indeed.
It’s roughly on par with most tanks, though significantly less than a fullystacked tank, which is fine since Monks aren’t meant to be tanks to begin with.
Choose Finesse weapons like Rapiers, Shortswords, and Daggers for your Kensei weapons.
Finally, you’ll want to take the Defensive Duelist feat, allowing you to add your proficiency to your AC when hit with a melee attack while wielding a Finesse weapon.
Since you’ve chosen finesse weapons as your Kensei weapons, you can get both Agile Parry and Defensive Duelist, which will allow you to get an extra +6 to your AC when using your maximum proficiency bonus.
Can You Multiclass Barbarian and Monk for Bonus AC?
No. Since both Barbarian and Monk gain a feature called “Unarmored Defense,” the buff cannot stack with itself due to Fifth Edition’s naming rule.
Other Options for Raising Your Armor Class
If you’re looking for other ways to increase your Armor Class and Bracers of Defense just isn’t hitting the spot, we’ve got you covered. There are many ways you can increase your Armor Class in Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition.
Here’s a comprehensive guide on ways to improve your Armor Class.
Classes That Provide Buffs to Armor Class
Barbarians get Unarmored Defense, and it allows the Barbarian to add their Constitution Modifier to their Armor Class so long as they aren’t wearing any armor.
It’s the Barbarian version of the Monk’s Unarmored Defense, and they do not stack.
Battle Master (Fighter)
Battle Masters can add their Superiority dice to their AC but only while moving.
Bladesingers can use Bladesong to add their Intelligence Modifier to their Armor Class and their Dexterity Modifier.
This bonus will only be active while they’re using Bladesong. So, unlike Barbarians and Monks, Bladesingers won’t get a flat, constant AC buff for existing.
College of Lore (Bard)
College of Lore Bards can use Bardic Inspiration dice to subtract a value from an enemy’s attack roll. This doesn’t directly influence the character’s AC, but the effect is the same.
College of Valor (Bard)
College of Valor Bards can add their Bardic Inspiration die to another character’s (not their own) AC.
Defense Fighting Style
The Defense Fighting Style is available to Fighters, Paladins, and Rangers and adds +1 to a character’s AC while wearing armor.
This is available only to Hunter Rangers, but it grants a bonus +4 to AC against the first attack in a multiattack.
Feats That Influence Defensive Stats
This feat allows you to add your Proficiency Bonus to your AC when you are hit with a melee attack so long as you’re wielding a weapon with the Finesse property.
War Mages can add +2 to their AC while concentrating on a spell at the 10th level. They can also add +1 to their AC as a reaction but can’t cast spells except for Cantrips on their next turn.
Spells That Influence Defensive Stats
You can also use spells to influence your defensive stats. Here are some bits your party can start casting to get more defenses!
Barkskin is a calculation that changes the character’s minimum AC to a value of 16, flat. They cannot carry a shield while using this effect.
Haste grants +2 AC among other benefits.
Mage Armor changes the target’s base AC to 13.
Warding Bond grants +1 AC to the target. If the target is the self, a successful save against a damaging effect will result in taking no damage.
If the target is another character, a successful save against a damaging effect will result in ½ damage with the remaining ½ going to the caster.
Items That Influence Defensive Stats
Armor (Light, Medium, Heavy)
Effect varies by item.
Re-calculates the wearer’s AC based on the tattoo’s rarity. Requires attunement.
Bracers of Defense
Grants the wearer +2 AC so long as they aren’t wearing armor or carrying a shield. Requires attunement.
Cloak of Protection
Grants the wearer +1 AC so long as they’re wearing the cloak. Requires attunement.
Ioun Stone of Protection
Grants the holder +1 AC. Requires attunement.
Ring of Protection
Grants the wearer +1 AC so long as they’re wearing the ring. Requires attunement.
Robe of the Archmagi
Re-calculates the wearer’s AC to start at a base of 15. Requires attunement. You can carry a shield while wearing this robe.
Rod of Alertness
It can be planted in the ground to provide +1 AC to friendly creatures within 60 feet of the rod.
The effect varies on the item.
Bracers of Defense might just be the best Monk item around. They synergise well with everything the Monk is about and provide them some much needed defensive stats so they can keep dishing out damage every turn.
As always, the most important part of any D&D game is that you and your party are having fun. Don’t be afraid to homebrew some new options to provide your party with a more enjoyable experience!
Good luck, have fun, and happy questing!