Last Updated: September 27, 2023
Armor is a big part of most characters’ AC, and protects you from attacks. Many things contribute to your AC, including shields, and it is often a good idea to wear the best armor that you are proficient with. The Armor and Shields table details the following important information for armor and shields.
The full list of armors and shields is available on the Armor page of the Pathfinder SRD.
The cost in gold pieces of the armor for Small or Medium humanoid creatures. See the Armor for Unusual Creatures table for armor prices for other creatures, such as horses or other animals.
Each type of armor grants an armor bonus to armor class (AC), while shields grant a shield bonus to AC. The armor bonus from a suit of armor doesn’t stack with other effects or items that grant an armor bonus. Similarly, the shield bonus from a shield doesn’t stack with other effects that grant a shield bonus. In each armor category (light, medium, or heavy), the armors are listed in order from worst AC bonus to highest AC bonus.
Maximum Dex Bonus
This number is the maximum Dexterity bonus to AC that this type of armor allows. Dexterity bonuses in excess of this number are reduced to this number for the purposes of determining the wearer’s AC. Heavier armors limit mobility, reducing the wearer’s ability to dodge blows. This restriction doesn’t affect any other Dexterity-related abilities, including attacks and skill checks. A dash indicates the armor does not affect a character’s maximum Dexterity bonus. If wearing heavier armor gives you a better AC, but your Dexterity is higher than the Maximum Dex Bonus, that’s perfectly fine. Your objective is always to get a higher AC.
A character’s encumbrance (the amount of gear carried, including armor) may also restrict the maximum Dexterity bonus that can be applied to his Armor Class. Many games will choose to skip the weight rules because they take a lot of time out of the game, but check with your GM. If weight is ever a problem, buy a mule to carry your heavy stuff around for you.
Shields: Shields do not affect a character’s maximum dexterity bonus, except for tower shields. If you use a Tower Shield and wear armor, use whichever maximum dexterity bonus is lower.
Armor Check Penalty
Any armor heavier than leather, as well as any shield, applies an armor check penalty to all Dexterity- and Strength-based skill checks. A character’s encumbrance may also incur an armor check penalty.
Shields: If a character is wearing armor and using a shield, both armor check penalties apply. If you are using Weapon Finesse (common for characters with lots of Dexterity but not a lot of strength), your shield’s armor check penalty applies to your attack rolls. You may not use most shields while using a two-handed ranged weapon like a Longbow, but you can still use a buckler.
Nonproficient with Armor/Shield Worn: A character who wears armor and/or uses a shield with which he is not proficient takes the armor’s (and/or shield’s) armor check penalty on attack rolls as well as on all dexterity- and strength-based ability and skill checks. The penalty for nonproficiency with armor stacks with the penalty for shields.
Sleeping in Armor: A character who sleeps in medium or heavy armor is automatically fatigued the next day. He takes a –2 penalty on strength and dexterity and can’t charge or run. Sleeping in light armor does not cause fatigue. Because of this, many paranoid adventurers sleep in a chain shirt in case they are ambushed in the middle of the night.
Arcane Spell Failure Chance
Armor interferes with the gestures that a spellcaster must make to cast an arcane spell that has a somatic component. Arcane spellcasters face the possibility of arcane spell failure if they’re wearing armor. Bards, Magi, and Summoners have class features which allow them to wear certain armors or even shields without incurring any arcane spell failure chance for casting spells from their class spell list.
Casting an Arcane Spell in Armor: A character who casts an arcane spell while wearing armor must usually make an arcane spell failure check. The number in the arcane spell failure chance column in the Armor and Shields table is the percentage chance that the spell fails and is ruined. If the spell lacks a somatic component, however, it can be cast with no chance of arcane spell failure. Because of this, arcane spellcasters like Sorcerers and Wizards generally do not wear armor or use shields. Instead, they rely on spell like Mage Armor, or wear armor with no spell failure chance like Haramaki, or they may simply abandon hopes of having a good AC so that they can focus on casting spells, and rely on their allies to protect them.
Shields: If a character is wearing armor and using a shield, add the two arcane spell failure chances together to get a single arcane spell failure chance.
Medium or heavy armor slows the wearer down. The number in the Armor and Shields table is the character’s speed while wearing the armor. Humans, elves, half-elves, and half-orcs have an unencumbered speed of 30 feet. They use the first column. Dwarves, gnomes, and halflings have an unencumbered speed of 20 feet. They use the second column. Remember, however, that a dwarf’s land speed remains 20 feet even in medium or heavy armor or when carrying a medium or heavy load.
Shields: Shields do not affect a character’s speed.
This column gives the weight of the armor sized for a Medium wearer. Armor fitted for Small characters weighs half as much, and armor for Large characters weighs twice as much.
Masterwork armor is armor of exceptional quality. Master armor and shields function like the normal version, except that its armor check penalty is lessened by 1. You cannot upgrade mundane armor into masterwork armor without the masterwork transformation spell. Most masterwork armor is crafted as masterwork item.
A masterwork suit of armor or shield costs an extra 150 gp over and above the normal price for that type of armor or shield.
Armor/Shield Spikes: Heavy armor and shields can have spikes added which help you attack with your armor/shield. These spikes must be made masterwork separately from the armor/shield at the normal price of 300 gp for a weapon, and must be magically enchanted separately from the armor/shield just like a normal weapon.
Special Armor and Weapon Materials
Armor and Weapons can be made from a variety of special materials which can improve their effectiveness for additional cost. For the full list of special materials, see the Special Materials page of the Pathfinder SRD. Here are some examples of special materials which you will commonly see in Pathfinder campaigns:
- Adamantine: Adamantine armor adds damage reduction (DR), though it is very expensive. Most materials can only be used for weapons or armor; Adamantine is one of the few that is used for both.
- Mithral: If you have seen/read Lord of the Rings, you know what Mithral is. Mithral makes armor lighter, allowing the same degree of protection while allowing a greater Maximum Dexterity Bonus, and reducing both armor check penalty and arcane spell failure. A Mithral Chain Shirt (often called a “Mithral Shirt”) is a common armor choice for Rogues, archers, and other Dexterity-dependent characters. A mithral buckler is a great choice for characters who aren’t proficient with armor or shields like Sorcerers and Wizards because it has no armor check penalty and no arcane spell failure.