Last Updated on January 22, 2023
When diving into the dangers of Dungeon and Dragons, adventurers want to keep themselves protected. Warded in spells and clad in armor, they seek to uncover forgotten treasure and wonder in their dungeon delving.
For those that can wear heavier armor in D&D 5e, there’s another layer of protection you can use if your DM allows feats. The Heavy Armor Master feat could be what you need to take your frontliner from defensive to a bulwark.
What Does the Heavy Armor Master Feat Do?
The Heavy Armor Master feat is a defensive feat for those that wear heavy armor. This feat improves your armor’s ability to deflect attacks by lessening their impact if they manage to strike you. It also improves your Strength score, letting you wear heavier armor and strike back against foes.
If you haven’t seen this feat before, it can be found on page 167 of the Player’s Handbook. Here’s the text of the feat:
Heavy Armor Master
Prerequisite: Proficiency with heavy armor
You can use your armor to deflect strikes that would kill others. You gain the following benefits:
- Increase your Strength score by 1, to a maximum of 20.
- While you are wearing heavy armor, bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage that you take from nonmagical weapons is reduced by 3.
To put it another way, this feat increases the durability of your character by reducing incoming damage, as long as they wear heavy armor.
Normally, heavy armor is great for boosting your AC. Utilizing heavy armor and a shield is the only way to get to an AC of 20 without using class abilities, magic items, or spells.
20 is a respectable AC through almost all levels of play in D&D 5e. So, having this feat add extra defenses on top of what is the best armor category for AC is fantastic.
Damage reduction is a useful defense to have since it cuts back on damage your character takes. If you reduce your foe’s incoming damage enough, your character can take a larger number of attacks from that foe before going unconscious or needing healing.
For characters whose goal is to stay in the fight for as long as their allies need to take down the enemies, this feat is great.
The damage reduction this feat offers is great at low levels since the reduction doesn’t scale. Whether you take this feat at level one or level nineteen, this feat always reduces nonmagical weapon damage by three.
That means that, over time, there’s a chance that the static damage reduction might not matter.
Reducing a goblin’s damage by three can be a big deal, but reducing an ancient red dragon’s bite attack by three doesn’t change the equation much.
To top it all off, this feat also adds one to your Strength score. That means this feat is great for characters that want to round out an odd Strength score from character creation while still getting a benefit that can help their survivability.
There are quite a few feats in the Player’s Handbook that give a Strength bonus, but Heavy Armor Master is the only one that offers damage reduction as its benefit.
In general, this feat has the chance to be better than an ASI for a character, but it depends on the capabilities of that character. Taking this feat over a +2 to Strength means you get no boost to your modifier if you apply this to an even Strength score.
You’d then need to take another feat that boosts Strength or split your next ASI between Strength and another ability score. This may work out for you, but it’s also unlikely for players that don’t plan their characters out ahead of time.
Also, not all Strength-based characters want to be the frontline fighter of the party. Some Fighters and Paladins will use Strength to get into a set of heavy armor and then rely on Great Weapon Master or Polearm Master for their damage. Once you start adding other feats into the build, it can be tough to pick up Heavy Armor Master.
Some clerics will get proficiency with heavy armor at level one. However, some players will only boost their Strength to the point where they can wear plate armor and then go back to boosting their Wisdom.
Clerics are spellcasters first and foremost, so committing ASIs to feats like Heavy Armor Mastery is tough when Clerics only get five ASIs over their adventuring career.
Overall, this feat is great for characters that want to specialize as the party’s designated shield. The damage reduction lets them stay up and contribute longer, and makes healing effects matter more in combat.
Best Characters For This Feat
Because this feat requires proficiency in heavy armor, it’s hard to fit this feat onto many of the classes in the game. Without spending a feat on the Heavily Armored feat, Heavy Armor Master is relegated to the classes that start with heavy armor proficiency. This isn’t a bad thing, it just means that this won’t be a feat that is widely used. Here are the classes that can benefit most from this feat:
Clerics With Heavy Armor Proficiency
Not all clerics have the ability to wear heavy armor since that proficiency is granted by only some of the divine domains. However, the clerics that get heavy armor are generally the ones that want to be up in the frontline with a weapon and holy symbol ready.
Since melee-focused clerics need both Strength and Wisdom to function well, taking Heavy Armor Master helps these clerics get to either the 15 Strength needed to wear plate armor or to an even-numbered Strength score to increase their modifier.
If a cleric can manage to swing both of these by taking up this feat, they can add both defensive and offensive power to their character with one feat.
Clerics also benefit from the damage reduction in a way other characters might not. Since clerics rely on their spells, it’s common for a cleric to wade into battle with a Bless or Spirit Guardians spell taking up their concentration.
By reducing incoming damage with this feat, a cleric can reduce the DC they have to hit to keep concentration on these spells. For a frontline cleric, keeping their concentration spells going is a big deal, so reducing the DC means these spells are more likely to stay in effect!
Fighters are a quintessential melee class, so taking the Heavy Armor Master makes sense for them. Of course, this feat will matter most for fighters that are looking to use their Strength score and heavy armor for their defenses, so finesse and archery-focused fighters won’t bother with this feat.
Much like clerics, fighters will appreciate the Strength boost, allowing them to hit harder and more often if they can get an increase to their Strength modifier by rounding out an odd ability score.
The damage reduction can make class abilities like Second Wind, the Battlemaster’s Rally maneuver, or the Champion’s Survivor feature matter more.
As a class that draws inspiration from both the cleric and fighter, it’s not a surprise that paladins will do well with this feat at their disposal. Most paladins will use a one-handed weapon with a shield, bolstering their defenses to make themselves durable enough to handle monsters. The Heavy Armor Master feat plays into that style with no issues.
Much like the Fighter, the Paladin has healing capabilities that make the damage reduction matter more. All Paladins get Lay on Hands, and many others will prepare spells like Cure Wounds and Aura of Vitality to provide bits of healing to themselves or allies in combat.
Combining the Heavy Armor Master feat with a Paladin’s Aura of Protection feature means that your character is ready for almost any threat an enemy can throw your way.
Common Questions About Heavy Armor Master
Even though Heavy Armor Master isn’t a complicated feat, there are questions about how this feat works with other parts of the rules. Here are some of the common questions we’ve seen about this feat:
Is Heavy Armor Master Good?
Heavy Armor Master is good for a frontline character in heavy armor. Reducing damage is a great way to stay in the fight longer and the reduction helps a lot in the early levels of play. The feat does taper off in effectiveness as you get into high levels of play, though.
Does Heavy Armor Master Stack With Resistance?
Heavy Armor Master works with resistance, but make sure you apply them in the correct order. Heavy Armor Master is applied before halving the damage from resistance. So, if you take 21 points of slashing damage, you’d reduce it to 18 from Heavy Armor Master, then cut it in half to 9 damage from the resistance.
Does Heavy Armor Master Work Against Natural Weapons?
Natural weapons are considered weapons, so yes! However, some creatures in D&D have traits that cause their attacks to be considered magical, even if they use a natural weapon like claws or a bite. Heavy Armor Master only applies to nonmagical attacks, so watch out if you find an enemy with an enchanted weapon or magical claws.
Does Heavy Armor Master Reduce Falling Damage?
The text of Heavy Armor Master states that the damage reduction applies to nonmagical weapon attacks. Since falling damage is the result of the environment and not a weapon, the damage reduction would not apply if you take falling damage.
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I played the game a lot as a kid, back in first edition. Over the past few years since 5e was released, I’ve really started getting back into it. Currently, I run a campaign online for some friends and my brothers, and we also play a side-sesh just to mix things up.