As much as I want to believe otherwise, the integrated protection trait of warforged is too strong as it is. Giving a race the ability to ignore an equipment slot is one thing, but to make the trait grant the most powerful progression of the equipment slot is another. There are a few ways you could balance the trait to make it fall in line with the rest of the races in D&D. I will present all of them along with the one I use.
Make Integrated Protection a Racial Feat
This is the way I rule the trait. This method ultimately results in a slight boost of the trait but it also costs the player a valuable feat. You could reduce the base AC provided for each mode by 1, but I think the cost of a feat offsets the minor buff enough.
Replace the integrated protection trait with the composite plating trait from the UA warforged (composite plating provides a +1 bonus to AC). Then, create the following racial feat:
- Increase your Constitution score by 1, to a maximum of 20.
- Your body has built-in protective layers, which determine your Armor Class. You gain no benefit from wearing armor, but if you are using a shield, you apply its bonus as normal.
You can alter your body to enter different defensive modes; each time you finish a long rest, choose one mode to adopt from the Integrated Protection table, provided you meet the mode’s prerequisite.
Integrated Protection Mode Prerequiste Armor Class Max AC @ 17 Darkwood core (unarmored) None 8 + your Dexterity modifier + half proficiency bonus (add full proficiency bonus if proficient with light armor) 16/19 Composite plating (armor) Medium armor proficiency 12 + your Dexterity modifier (maximum of 2) + your proficiency bonus 20 Heavy plating (armor) Heavy armor proficiency 15 + your proficiency bonus; disadvantage on Dexterity (Stealth) checks 21
Note: The AC of Darkwood core has been reduced by 2. This makes having proficiency in at least light armor almost required to utilize the feat. It also makes Darkwood core < Composite plating < Heavy plating. The table also does not factor in the +1 AC granted by composite plating, so the actual warforged AC would be +1 with whatever value is calculated using the table.
Reduce the AC
This method simply reduces the base AC provided for each mode. Reduce the AC provided by Darkwood core and Heavy plating by 2 and Composite plating by 1. This results in all armor types granting a maximum AC of 20 once the characters reach 17th level.
Reduce the Proficiency Bonus
I’ve seen this suggested in a few places, but I think it overbalances the core problem with the trait. This method grants half proficiency, rounded down, to the AC formula used for integrated plating. This results in a maximum AC of 18 for Darkwood core and Heavy plating and 17 for Composite plating at levels 17 and above. This AC is a bit too low at that point of the game and hardly provides any scaling throughout.