The Heavy Armor Master feat is one that a lot of D&D players swear by and even build their character around. If you’re a player who loves clerics, fighters, and paladins then you are probably very familiar with this one.
The heavy armor master feat is a strong 5th edition feat that not only boosts your strength but also gives precious damage resistance that can really up the defense on a tanky character build. This feat is especially popular with clerics, fighters, and paladins.
Can the heavy armor master feat cap off the perfect heavy armor build, or is it one of those overrated feats that gets a little bit more love than it deserves?
Breaking Down the Heavy Armor Master Feat
The 5E heavy armor master feat has been a mainstay of the armored melee classes, but is it as necessary as some players make it out to be? Let’s start out with the from the book definition of this feat to see how it looks. Keep in mind this is a feat with a prerequisite, as a player must have heavy armor proficiency before taking the feat.
Directly from the Player’s Handbook:
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 non-magical weapons is reduced by 3.
Player’s Handbook p.167
So how do these benefits actually work when we break down further?
Benefit #1: Add +1 to Strength up to a maximum of 20.
This makes up for at least part of the lost ability score boost that comes from choosing a feat versus an ability score improvement during level up. This isn’t a great bonus just because it’s more damage control because of the loss of a +2 or +1/+1 ability score raise, however since this feat is clearly aimed at melee fighters, that does mean that Strength will always be one of the most important ability scores.
This makes the +1 ability score here slightly more valuable than the other feats that offer some +1 boosts because it’s an ability score that will be directly useful and necessary to virtually any build the feat is designed for.
Benefit #2: Reduce damage from non-magical bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage by 3 per hit.
Damage reduction is a common mechanic in Pathfinder and was common in previous versions of D&D, but it is very uncommon in 5th edition. The closest thing, off the top of my head, is damage resistance and as a feature the closets thing would be the barbarian’s Totem of the Bear.
This is an incredibly powerful feat at low and middle levels. Considering how many enemies have a d6 or d8 in damage, reducing that by 37-50% is a really big deal. Considering this damage reduction is taken off of every hit, enemies that are dangerous because they attack 3-4 times also are slightly less scary to fight since that -3 off damage comes from every single one of those attacks.
While this is dulled a bit at higher levels when there’s more magic and more dice per attack, but even then minimizing every bit of non-magical damage you take from attacks is still a good bonus. If your armored melee fighter is standing with single digit hit points at the end of a campaign, then it’s a pretty safe bet this feat did just enough to keep them on the feet.
5E Classes That Should Take the Heavy Armor Master Feat
There are three martial melee classes that are armor based, and all three of them should be eyeing the heavy armor master feat as pretty much a must-have. Those three classes are fighters, paladins, and clerics.
Those classes are built for heavy armor (there are some medium armor clerics, but even most of those builds multi-class or feat up to heavy armor), built for melee, and built to tank. This makes any feat that improves their ability to tank a major boost to what most parties want those class characters to be able to do.
The damage reduction from non-magical slashing, piercing, and bludgeoning attacks added to heavy armor AC really helps these three classes tank. All of them should have the heavy armor master feat right up towards the top of their list of “Must Have” feats.
While narrow in focus, the heavy armor master feat does serious work to boost a character’s power level and survivability.
5th Ed Classes that should always take the Heavy Armor Master Feat
5E Classes That Should Consider Taking the Heavy Armor Master Feat
There aren’t too many “maybes” with the heavy armor master feat. Either your class is built around using heavy armor or it is not. There are very few middle grounds on this one.
Potentially there are two where if your heart was really set on one of these builds, though it would be sub-optimal. Which is fine, but if you want to know what classes might want heavy armor master 5e feat outside of those on the “must” list there are two that come to mind.
Melee Ranger (with Mithril Armor)
The melee ranger would be one who could use the damage reduction, especially if built for wading into hordes. This would require taking the heavy armored feat just to become eligible, which isn’t ideal, or a dip into multi-classing into Paladin, Cleric, or Fighter, which with the Ranger’s relative weakness as a class means in a high-level campaign you don’t lose out on much by multi-classing.
Since melee rangers still want to stealth, you’ll want mithril heavy armor to cancel out the stealth penalty that comes with heavy armor.
A warlock with heavy mithril armor is actually something that I’ve seen before. Needing to avoid being slapped around every fight in our campaign, he asked to work out a story to have his patron allow him to commit to a god so he could dip into cleric to get heavy armor proficiency to don mithril armor, and then grab this feat.
It’s convoluted, but since so much of a warlock’s power comes from invocations, they can use that ability score improvement for a feat instead.
5th Ed Classes that should consider taking the Heavy Armor Master Feat:
- Ranger (melee with Mithril Armor)
- Warlock (Pact of Blade or Hexblade)
5E Classes That Should NEVER Take the Heavy Armor Master Feat
This is a long list, but that’s because most classes have nothing to do with heavy armor. In fact, the heavy armor master is responsible for a whole lot of multi-classing just because of the pre-requisites to take it.
So most traditional spellcasting classes, Druids (wild shape), classes that use unarmored defense like monks and druids, and most of the “default medium armor” classes aren’t going to be inclined towards this feat.
That doesn’t make the feat bad. If you’re never using ranged bow or crossbow combat, then you don’t care about Sharpshooter even if it is one of the strongest feats in all of 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons.
But that does mean you are pretty much skipping over the heavy armor master feat if you are an artificer, barbarian, bard, druid, monk, ranger, rogue, sorcerer, warlock, or wizard 99% of the time.
5th Ed classes that should never take the Heavy Armor Master Feat:
- Ranger (most builds)
- Warlock (most builds)
Final Feat Grade for 5E Heavy Armor Master Feat
Heavy Armor Master Feat Grade: A-
Is the 5E Heavy Armor Master Feat Worth It?
The heavy armor master feat is aimed at a narrow group of classes and builds, but it is an incredibly powerful feat that really moves the needle when it comes to durability and power. This loses a little bit of its clout at higher levels and the boss-type monsters or magic-wielding enemy NPCs but it is an overpowered monster of a feat at early to mid-levels.
Even at high levels it is still a very good feat that still reduces a lot of damage and keeps on letting that tanky frontline tank for the group. Like sharpshooter this is a feat aimed at a narrow group but it does a great job of making those characters much stronger. This is a feat that has earned its reputation as one of the best in 5th Edition D&D and it is a premium level feat.
If you’re a fighter, paladin, or cleric move this grade up to an A and make this one of your first targets. For those classes this feat is always going to be worth the investment.
Heavy Armor Master Feat FAQ
Is heavy armor master a good feat in 5E?
While limited to only a very few classes and builds in 5E, it is an incredibly strong feat that is a “must have” for anyone choosing those feats. With melee frontline combat heavy armor master is a great feat. For everyone else, it’s worth a pass.
Does heavy armor master stack with barbarian rage?
No. The way rage is written in the PHB is very clear that a barbarian cannot rage when wearing heavy armor, therefore they can’t stack. A barbarian is best leveling up his/her unarmored trait in most cases, anyway.
Does heavy armor master reduce magical damage?
Unfortunately for the heavy armor wearing melee fighters the answer is no. This feat does not affect magical damage, so if they are hit with a magical weapon that does bludgeoning, slashing, or piercing damage that is NOT negated.
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Proud to embrace the locally created moniker of “Corrupt Overlord” from one of the all time great Lords of Waterdeep runs, Shane is one member of the Assorted Meeples crew and will be hard at work creating awesome content for the website. He is a long-time player of board games, one time semi-professional poker player, and tends to run to the quirky or RPG side of things when it comes to playing video games. He loves tabletop roleplaying systems like Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, Werewolf, Fate, and others, and not only has been a player but has run games as DM for years. You can find his other work in publications like Level Skip or Hobby Lark.