[RPG] Is a +1 chain shirt strictly inferior to a nonmagical breastplate


My character really likes chain shirts. He much prefers them to other armor, such as a breastplate.

I thought maybe I could make up for his tastes with a piece of magical armor, since usually magic items are considered stronger than mundane ones. But I'm realising that it's still not quite as good. There are two benefits to mundane armor that I can find, and no such relative benefits to magic armor (besides the AC bonus):

  1. Magic items can be suppressed by the antimagic field spell, and there seems to be no way to make non-magical armor not work that wouldn't also work on magic armor. With mundane weapons some creatures will be able to resist, so magic on weapons is great. Not so with magical armor, as far as I know.

  2. A Forge Cleric can use their Blessing of the Forge ability on nonmagical armor, but can't use it on magical armor:

    At 1st level, you gain the ability to imbue magic into a weapon or armor. At the end of a long rest, you can touch one nonmagical object that is a suit of armor or a simple or martial weapon. Until the end of your next long rest or until you die, the object becomes a magic item, granting a +1 bonus to AC if it’s armor or a +1 bonus to attack and damage rolls if it’s a weapon.

Is there anything a +1 chain shirt has that a mundane breastplate doesn't have?

Best Answer

There is a difference between a +1 chain shirt and a breastplate beyond the AC properties. Whether or not it's "strictly better" will be heavily dependent on the campaign, specific environment and party makeup

Depending on the situation and your campaign they have pros and cons, so neither is "strictly worse" than the other. I've put together a list of potential differences based on the rules text associated with magic items and the specific pieces of armor:

  • Magic Items are more durable due to their resistance to all damage. As a result if your DM is allowing for armor and weapons to become broken, magic items should fare better. Magic items will also be more likely to be usable if taken from a monsters body than the equivalent mundane armor.

    Most magic items, other than potions and scrolls, have resistance to all damage.

  • Breastplates are fitted to the user while Chain Shirts are not. As a result, scavenging a chain shirt from an enemy is easier than doing the same with a breastplate. Similarly, it is much easier to swap a chain shirt between party members than it is a fitted breastplate.

    This armor consists of a fitted metal chest piece worn with supple leather. [...]

  • Chain Shirts are more discrete and easier to hide than a Breastplate. This has potential roleplay implications (eg it's harder to justify turning up for a dinner in a breastplate, compared to a chain shirt hidden under your clothes).

    [...] a chain shirt is worn between layers of clothing or leather. This armor [...] allows the sound of the rings rubbing against one another to be muffled by outer layers.

  • The attacks of monsters like Oozes specifically damage nonmagical armor, so a +1 chain shirt is immune to these effects. Example from the Black Pudding:

    In addition, nonmagical armor worn by the target is partly dissolved and takes a permanent and cumulative -1 penalty to the AC it offers. The armor is destroyed if the penalty reduces it's AC to 10.

  • As a magic set of armor, the +1 chain shirt will be excluded from specific game effects that improve the armor, like the ones you have mentioned in your question. Not all parties will have access to these features however.
  • If your DM is playing with the optional lingering injuries rules they may decide losing an arm or a hand is easier when wearing a breastplate than a chain shirt as the breastplate explicitly leaves the extremities uncovered.

    [...] Although it leaves the legs and arms relatively unprotected, this armor provides good protection for the wearer's vital organs [...]