Scale Mail 5e: The Sturdy Armor of Fearless Dragon Slayers

Scale Mail 5e Featured

Armor is one aspect of Dungeons and Dragons you should always look to upgrade because it’s a passive way to keep your hero alive. You spend the money once, and it protects you for as long as you wear it. Scale mail in 5e provides a great balance between light armor and heavy armor, but it has downsides and it isn’t meant for everyone.

Scale mail is leather covered with overlapping pieces of metal so that the armor looks like the scales of a fish (or a dragon). The armor consists of a coat, leggings, and perhaps a separate skirt of leather covered in the same overlapping pieces of metal. Usually, the suit includes gauntlets.

There are 12 standard armor sets in 5e, which fall into three categories: light, medium, and heavy armor. Light armor is best for characters with high Dexterity and/or those who rely on stealth. Medium armor is best for characters with average Dexterity because the armor partially restricts movement and some sets confer disadvantage on Stealth checks. And heavy armor is best for characters on the front line of combat because it’s heavy, allows for no Dexterity bonuses, and confers disadvantage on Stealth checks.

This article will discuss everything you need to know about scale mail armor in 5e:

  • What is scale mail armor?
  • What are the properties of scale mail in 5e?
  • Where can you find scale mail in 5e?
  • What classes benefit most from scale mail in 5e?
  • Does magic scale mail in 5e exist?

What Is Scale Mail Armor?

Scale mail in 5e is a type of medium armor that grants the wearer an Armor Class equal to 14 + your Dexterity ability modifier up to a maximum of 2. Scale mail provides 1 more AC than chain shirt armor and 2 more AC than hide armor. The tradeoff, however, is scale mail in 5e confers disadvantage on Stealth checks while chain shirt and hide do not.

Scale mail in 5e has a weight of 45 lb. It is more than twice as heavy as chain shirt armor (20 lb), and almost four times as heavy as hide armor (12 lb). It’s also more than twice as heavy as breastplate (20 lb), but breastplate armor doesn’t penalize Stealth checks so it is an expensive upgrade from scale mail. Arguably, (and unfortunately) most DMs don’t require players to track weight, so the weight of various armor sets is only an issue in realistic campaigns.

Lastly, you can purchase scale mail in 5e for around 50 gp (gold pieces), according to page 145 of the Player’s Handbook. Every class aside from the monk starts with an average amount of gold greater than 50 gp, so ask your DM if you can spend your starting gold to start with scale mail. That is, if you’re proficient with medium armor.

A warrior riding a horse chasing a dragon to slay and harvest for scale male in 5e
Art by R-Tan

Scale Mail 5e Properties

  • Medium armor
  • Armor Class: 14
  • Stealth: Disadvantage
  • Weight: 45 lb

Where Can I Find Scale Mail Armor?

Artificers, clerics, and rangers have the option to start with a set of scale mail. Additionally, those four classes and barbarians, bards of the College of Valor and the College of Swords, druids, fighters, and paladins all have proficiency with medium armor. So talk to your DM about spending your starting gold to purchase scale mail for 50 gp before the campaign starts.

If you want to find scale mail in 5e during your adventures in the Forgotten Realms, your best bet will be cities. Most small towns won’t have a blacksmith capable of creating a set. And if you want to make the acquisition of this armor challenging, talk to your DM about sending the party on a quest to acquire the scales of a mythical beast to craft the armor. Maybe you’ll get some bonus effects with it.

What Classes Benefit Most From Scale Mail?

Scale mail in 5e is best suited (ba-dum-tsch) for classes that have proficiency with medium armor, jump in and out of combat, and don’t rely on stealth. So artificers, bards, clerics, and druids benefit most from scale mail. And both artificers and clerics have the option of starting with scale smail. If you want scale mail for your bard, choose the College of Swords or College of Valor to gain proficiency with medium armor.

Barbarians have proficiency with medium armor but they also receive the Unarmored Defense feature when they are not wearing armor. Unarmored Defense confers an AC of 10 + DEX modifier + CON modifier. So if your DEX and CON bonuses combined is less than +6, you’re better off with scale mail.

Rangers also have proficiency with medium armor but rangers tend to lean toward the sneaky side of existence. If your ranger doesn’t rely on Stealth checks, scale mail is a good choice, especially since rangers can start with scale mail in 5e.

Fighters are proficient with all armor types so scale mail is a decent option if you don’t care about Stealth checks. But fighters have the option of starting with chainmail which has an AC of 16 with disadvantage on Stealth checks, so scale mail is a downgrade unless you started with leather armor.

Dragon scale mail 5e
A beautiful set of dragon scale mail

Does Magical Scale Mail in 5e Exist?

You can obtain scale mail in 5e of a magical nature. Scale mail is leather covered with overlapping pieces of metal so that the armor looks like the scales of a fish… or a dragon. If you are brave enough, warrior, you can acquire the scales of a mighty dragon and craft a set of dragon scale mail in 5e.

Dragon scale mail must be made from the scales of one type of dragon: black, gold, red, etc. Gathering enough dragon scales for a single suit of armor is no easy feat. But I believe in your warrior. Bring glory and honor to your ancestors and descendants by slaying a great beast and proving yourself a king of mortals.

Dragon scale mail grants you a +1 bonus to AC. Additionally, you gain advantage on saving throws against Frightful Presence and the savage breath attacks of dragons. And because you assemble the armor from the scales of a dragon, those scales grant you resistance based on the type of dragon you harvested the scales from.

For example, black dragon scales grant resistance against acid and bronze dragon scales grant resistance against lightning.

Lastly, dragon scale mail in 5e allows you to detect the distance and direction of the closest dragon of the type the armor is made from. This ability is limited to detecting dragons within 30 miles of you and can only be used once per day. It resets every dawn.

Art by scarypet

Medium Armor In Combat

Medium armor is meant to protect vital parts of the body from injury while allowing the wearer to maintain some mobility. This is different from light armor which doesn’t restrict the user’s mobility. And it’s different from heavy armor which restricts mobility but protects the wearer head to toe.

What difference does this make in combat?

If a rogue engages an orc in mortal combat, the rogue relies on his agility prevent injury because light armor doesn’t offer much protection. If the orc doesn’t roll high enough to land an attack, it is likely because the rogue dodged the attack or parried it. And it is less likely that the rogue’s weak armor deflected the orc’s weapon.

That is in contrast with a fighter in full plate armor who engages the same orc. The fighter doesn’t have the mobility to dodge attacks like a rogue in light armor does. So, if the orc doesn’t roll high enough to land an attack, it is likely because the armor absorbed or deflected the blow, or the fighter deflected it with his shield or parried it with his weapon. It is less likely that the fighter dodged the orc’s attack.

Medium armor then fits nicely between. If you’re the DM, have fun with describing how enemies land and miss attacks on characters wearing medium armor like scale mail.

A brave warrior in scale mail 5e fighting an angry white dragon
Art by PReilly

Scale Mail 5e FAQ

What is the AC of scale mail?

Scale mail in 5e provides its wearer with an AC equal to 14 + your Dex modifier (up to a maximum of 2).

Is scale mail better than chainmail?

Scale mail is better than chainmail if you have a decent Dexterity ability score and don’t have the Strength ability score to wear chainmail. Chainmail requires a Strength ability score of 13 while scale mail in 5e has no Strength requirements.

What kind of armor is scale mail 5e?

Scale mail is medium armor.

Do you add Dex to scale mail 5e?

Scale mail allows you to add a maximum of +2 from your Dexterity ability modifier. If you have a greater Dexterity modifier than +2, look at studded leather armor instead

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