Last Updated on June 7, 2022
Welcome to our guide to the best magic armor for characters at every tier of play.
Your AC lets you weather incoming arrow fire and wade into melee with confidence, and a high, high AC can easily make the difference between staying alive long enough to land the decisive, encounter-winning blow and getting into death saves territory yourself.
As the name might suggest, your character’s Armor Class is largely determined by the type of armor they wear — although their Dexterity modifier and other factors can sometimes come into it.
Therefore, outfitting your character with the right armor at character creation and getting your hands on better armor as your campaign progresses is a pivotal part of staying alive in the heat of battle — whether you’re a stalwart tank clad head-to-toe in plate mail trying to block every incoming hit or a low-hp wizard for whom even one bad blow could be the difference between survival and bitterly rolling a new character while your so called “friends” argue over who gets to keep your boots.
In this guide, we’ve picked our favorite magic armor and divided it up by low (levels 1-5), medium (6-14), and high (15+) tiers of play.
There are some fun options to choose from scattered throughout the Dungeon Master’s Guide and various adventures.
Whether you’re a player browsing through a magic-item shop with a blank check from your DM or a dungeon master looking for that special something to give your party’s fighter at the end of the next dungeon, keep on reading for our list of D&D 5e’s best magic armor for every tier of play.
- Low-Tier Play: Incremental buffs, utility, and cosmetic effects
- Mid-Tier Play: Powerful, evocative options (small chance of getting cursed)
- High-Tier Play: Things get kind of ridiculous(ly good)
Types of Armor
All armor, magical or mundane, is either light, medium, or heavy.
Each category contains several different types of armor, and whether or not you have proficiency in that armor type determines whether you have disadvantage on all ability checks, attack rolls, and saving throws that rely on Strength and Dexterity and lose the ability to cast spells while wearing it.
While many types of magical armor are a template that can be applied to a few different types of armor, others — like Dwarven Plate or the Dragonguard (which is a breastplate) — are tied to a specific type of armor.
Proficient Classes: Artificer, Barbarian, Bard, Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Paladin, Ranger, Rogue, Warlock
Proficient Classes: Artificer, Barbarian, Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Paladin, Ranger
Proficient Classes: Fighter, Paladin
A Word About +1 Magic Armor
Now, I’m a big believer in magic items at any tier of play being interesting.
Sure, a +1 (or +2, or +3) magic sword is mechanically a very sensible buff that’s not going to throw off the bounded accuracy of the game too much, but it’s also almost always a total snoozefest.
Hence, I’ve omitted the +1, +2, and +3 magic armors from the list today as there’s not much I could say about them mechanically other than “yeah, more AC is pretty good, I guess.”
It’s not that you can’t or shouldn’t put +1 magic gear in your games. I just think that if you do, you need to do something to make it memorable for your players because they sure as hell won’t remember the modifier once it’s on their character sheets.
In my own games, I’ve done this by either giving a +1 item an interesting physical description, making it part of the world at large (giving it symbolic or political power rather than mechanical benefits), or giving it an active ability that is useful, weird, or interesting but doesn’t dramatically increase the potency of the item.
For an example that uses all three options, see below.
Armor of Saint Celine, Patron of the Order of the White Rose
Armor (platmail), rare (requires attunement)
This suit of bright silver plate mail grants a +1 bonus to AC and is engraved with an intricate design of roses and thorns. It never gets dirty or rusts.
The armor belonged to the knight who founded the Order of the White Rose, and one who is worthy of wearing it is worthy to lead the order — something many of its knights would happily kill for.
While attuned to this item, if someone other than you attempts to remove it from you, razor sharp vines and thorns sprout inside the armor and wrap themselves around your flesh, preventing the armor’s removal and inflicting 1d6 slashing damage to you each time someone tries to pull the armor off.
Magic Armor for Low-Tier Play
There are some great options for low-tier play magic armor that blend mobility and utility with fun cosmetic effects, not to mention some solid defensive benefits.
1. Armor of Gleaming
Source: Xanathar’s Guide to Everything
Armor (any medium or heavy), common
This armor never gets dirty.
Perfect for any noble or paladin whose squire recently got eaten by something awful and can’t persuade any fellow party members to clean monster guts out of their chain shirt for them.
Source: Lost Mine of Phandelver
Armor (breastplate), rare
While wearing this armor, you gain a +1 bonus to your AC.
This +1 breastplate has a gold dragon motif worked into its design, granting its wearer advantage on saving throws against the breath weapons of creatures that have the dragon type (including dragon turtles and sea serpents).
This armor is made of a single metal chest piece underlaid with supple leather.
It provides good protection for the wearer’s vital organs while leaving the wearer unencumbered, even if that means leaving their arms and legs exposed.
Armor and weapons that grant extra bonuses against specific types of monster are a very old-school sort of design, and I’m into it, especially in a traditional fantasy campaign where dragons (and dragon type creatures) are more common than you’d think.
3. Glamoured Studded Leather
Source: Basic Rules
Armor (studded leather), rare
This studded leather armor grants its wearer a +1 bonus to AC.
While wearing this armor, you can speak its command word as a bonus action to cause the armor to take on the appearance of a normal set of clothing or some other kind of armor.
The armor’s color, style, and accessories are up to you, but the armor retains its normal bulk and weight. The illusory appearance lasts until you use this property again or remove the armor.
Underneath its illusory appearance, the armor is made from tough but flexible leather reinforced with close-set iron rivets or spikes.
For sneak thieves, assassins, and infiltrators who need to change their clothes in a hurry but don’t want their AC to take a hit, this is one of the best low-level magic items you could ask for.
Also, I love it from a DM’s perspective because, as it’s not limited to a number of uses per day, there’s nothing to stop its player from using this all the time.
4. Mariner’s Armor
Source: Dungeon Master’s Guide
This magical armor is decorated with motifs of fish and shells. While wearing Mariner’s Armor, you gain a swimming speed equal to your walking speed.
Also, if you ever start your turn underwater with 0 hit points, the armor causes you to rise 60 feet toward the surface.
Mariner’s Armor should be compulsory for any underwater adventurer worth their salt. I also love this item from a design perspective as it not only provides a consistent, tangible mechanical benefit but also a really fun, unique effect that could just save your life.
Magic Armor for Mid-Tier Play
Mid-tier play is where I’m convinced that magic armor shines. The options here blend interesting thematic design with cool utility options and some serious defensive benefits.
Also, your players’ characters are starting to get to a high-enough level that a cheeky curse or two probably won’t kill them. It’ll just be interesting.
1. Armor of Resistance
Source: Basic Rules
Armor (light, medium, or heavy), rare (requires attunement)
You have resistance to one type of damage while you wear this armor. The damage type is either chosen by the dungeon master or randomly determined from the options below.
There are some seriously great options here, and depending on the adventurer you’re going on, having resistant to a particular damage type can be a huge advantage (having resistance to necrotic damage in a haunted pirate tomb, for example).
2. Dragon Scale Mail
Source: Basic Rules
Armor (scale mail), very rare (requires attunement)
While wearing this armor (which is made from the cast-off or harvested scales of a single type of dragon), you gain a +1 bonus to your AC, you have advantage on saving throws against the Frightful Presence and breath weapons of dragons, and you have resistance to one damage type that is determined by the kind of a dragon that provided the scales (see the table).
Additionally, you can focus your senses as an action to magically discern the distance and direction to the closest dragon of the type of armor within 30 miles of you.
This special action can’t be used again until the next dawn.
This basically takes the benefits of a Dragonguard, mixes them with Armor of Resistance, and dials it all up a bit.
Definitely something I would give to a PC after either performing some great feat for a dragon or slaying on in a brutal, grueling battle.
3. Serpent Scale Armor
Source: Candlekeep Mysteries
Armor (scale mail), uncommon
While wearing this suit of magical, shimmering scale mail, you can apply your full Dexterity modifier (instead of a maximum of +2) when determining your Armor Class.
In addition, this armor does not impose disadvantage on your Dexterity (Stealth) checks.
This is a massive game-changer for Dexterity-based martial characters everywhere.
Assuming your Dexterity modifier is your primary ability score, it’s going to be +4 or even +5 by the time you get your hands on a set of Serpent Scale Mail.
As a result, your AC in this armor can go as high as 19, which is huge for someone who doesn’t have to lumber about in full plate.
4. Scorpion Armor
Source: Tomb of Annihilation
Armor (plate), rare (requires attunement)
This suit of plate armor is fashioned from giant scorpion chitin. While wearing this armor, you gain the following benefits:
- The armor grants you a +5 bonus to initiative as long as you aren’t incapacitated.
- The armor doesn’t impose disadvantage on your Dexterity (Stealth) checks.
- The armor doesn’t impose disadvantage on saving throws made to resist the effects of extreme heat.
Curse. This armor is cursed. Whenever you don or doff it, you must make a DC 15 Constitution saving throw, taking 100 (10d10 + 45) poison damage on a failed save or half as much damage on a successful one. Only a Wish spell can remove the armor’s curse.
Even with a curse that might one-shot you every time you go to the bathroom, this armor is almost worth it.
No stealth disadvantage in plate mail and the same initiative bonus as the Alert condition (I feel that if my tee shirt had a chance to jam a poisoned needle in my heart if I moved wrong, I’d be pretty alert as well) are amazing.
The heat resistance thing is meh, but it’s still a nice thematic touch.
Magic Armor for High-Tier Play
All three of these options have the potential to really mess up encounter balance in your game and should be dispensed with care.
Still, if you want a player to feel like an unbelievable badass, forget magic swords: these are the items they want.
1. Armor of Invulnerability
Source: Dungeon Master’s Guide
Armor (plate), legendary (requires attunement)
While attuned to this armor, you gain resistance to nonmagical damage.
Once per day, use an action to become immune to nonmagical damage for 10 minutes or until you remove the armor (or it’s removed for you).
If you ever need to feel like a superhero (or villain) as you wade through a tide of enemies, this is the armor for you.
2. Dwarven Plate
Source: Dungeon Master’s Guide
Armor (plate), very rare
While wearing this armor, you gain a +2 bonus to AC.
Also, if something moves you against your will along the ground, you can use your reaction to reduce the distance you are moved by up to 10 feet.
Not only is a base AC of 20 pretty freaking great, but the ability to ground yourself against being moved just feels thematically dwarven.
Probably the least crazy high-tier option here, but it’s still highly impactful for a frontline tank.
3. Efreeti Chain
Source: Dungeon Master’s Guide
Armor (chain mail), legendary (requires attunement)
While wearing this armor, you gain a +3 bonus to AC, you are immune to fire damage, and you can understand and speak Primordial.
In addition, you can stand on and walk across molten rock as if it were solid ground.
Well worth a trip to the Elemental Plane of Fire. Fire is probably the most common damage type in all of D&D 5e, and being able to negate it completely is huge.
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I played my first tabletop RPG (Pathfinder 1e, specifically) in college. I rocked up late to the first session with an unread rulebook and a human bard called Nick Jugger. It was a rocky start but I had a blast and now, the better part of a decade later, I play, write, and write about tabletop RPGs (mostly 5e, but also PBtA, Forged in the Dark and OSR) games for a living, which is wild.