Diablo 3 Gear Basics

Now that I understand D3 theorycraft a bit better, I’m going to try to boil down a few useful things that players might want to know to have a sense of how things work. This is a basic summary that should get most people going on picking sensible gear; anyone who wants more detailed info or formulas can ask me or look them up in various places.

Really short version

  • Use the weapon with the highest listed DPS (big number in the tooltip).
  • Value other items for offensive power simply by seeing how they affect the “damage” listing in your character sheet.
  • For survivability, stack Vitality as much as you can, but armor and resists are still valuable.*

*Edit 6/5: This point is out of date.  It’s still fine a low levels, but the situation at max level is a lot more complex.


1. Basic DPS Scaling

Diablo 3 tries to tie the damage of literally everything you do to one number. The goal was clearly to eliminate the complicated spreadsheeting of WoW in favor of a simple setup where any stat improvement would improve all of your skills exactly equally.

This number is the one labeled “Damage” on your character sheet. It shows the DPS you do with autoattacks (putting aside that you never autoattack in D3), taking into account weapon damage, speed, and crit chance. The logic goes like this–if a skill does a fixed percentage of weapon damage per hit, has the same attack speed as your autoattack, and the same crit chance and crit bonus as well, then its DPS will scale in parallel to this “Damage” value. If every skill in the game is designed this way, then you only need to look at one number to determine DPS upgrades, regardless if your skill setup.

So if you read no further, your takeaway is that simply equipping whatever maximizes that number will get you pretty far (also, when you mouseover any item, the tooltip will show whether your Damage will go up or down if you equip it). Below are some further details that should be helpful.

2. Weapon DPS

Your all-purpose Damage stat, roughly speaking, increases like the product of two numbers:
1) the listed DPS in your weapon tooltip,
2) your main stat (Int for Wiz/WD, Dex for Monk/DH, Str for Barb). Primary stats other than your class’s main stat do nothing for your DPS.

If this gives you the impression that your weapon slot is as important than all the other slots put together, you’re right. Finding a weapon whose “DPS” number is twice what your your current one has will give the same DPS as upgrading every other item to double their stats (note the difference from WoW, where spellpower/attackpower simply added to weapon or spell damage).

So the result here in practical terms is pretty simple to apply: you should be choosing weapons almost exclusively by their listed DPS. The “almost” refers to the following:

  • If the weapon has a socket, you can put in a Ruby for more DPS. When a Ruby is socketed, the tooltip will update to reflect that in-game, but not on the AH.
  • If a weapon has a huge amount of your main stat, it might outweigh a small reduction in weapon DPS. You can check the tooltip or equip it to see.
  • If the weapon has very useful other stats (high Vit or life leech), you might take a small DPS loss to get them. Be careful though–don’t equip a low-DPS weapon just to get good bonuses. No matter what, use a weapon with close to the maximum DPS of all weapons you have access to.
  • Some builds potentially will prefer slow weapons (see more below).

3. +Damage Bonuses

A few slots (rings, amulets, and offhands) can give bonuses that effectively give increased weapon DPS by adding to your weapon’s base damage (weapons can have these bonuses themselves too, but you can generally ignore them since it will be included in the tooltip). For similar reasons as above, these tend to be quite good. In particular, they are extremely good at low levels when your weapon’s own DPS is not very high yet. At low level, always use +damage rings (+2-4 damage is easy to find right away, including on vendors) and weapons socketed with a Ruby as soon as they become available. At higher levels it’s not quite as disproportionate on rings, but offhand bonuses seem to scale strongly. Leading to the next topic:

4. 2H, DW, MH/OH, MH/Shield?

Compared to WoW, D3 is designed so that every class has a somewhat free choice of weapon setup. Any class can viably use a two-hander, use a DW or MH/OH setup, or use a shield. A few things to know:

Roughly speaking, dual-wielding will effectively cause your weapon DPS to be the average DPS of your two weapons, increased by the 15% dual wield bonus. So unless you have two similarly strong weapons, you should not dual wield. This is especially true for Demon Hunters, who can use their best MH or 2H weapon and also use a quiver for 10+% bonus. similarly, Wizards and Witch Doctors can get a large +damage modifer from class-specific offhand frills.

Other than that, the only question is whether to use a shield. Just bear in mind that since any class is capable of using a one-handed weapon without severely hampering damage output, you always have the option. The section below on defensive stats might help clarify exactly what it gets you.

5. Weapon Speed

Revisiting the discussion in part one above, one caveat is that there’s one feature of your autoattack that doesn’t translate perfectly to all skills: the attack speed.

For a completely spammable skills, such as most classes’ signature or resource generator skills, the basic assumption of the D3 system holds (which makes sense, as these are essentially the autoattacks of D3). If I want to know how much DPS can I do with Magic Missile, I can rely completely on the Damage indicator on my character sheet.

But for a variety of skills, increasing cast speed doesn’t actually improve your DPS proportionally, for a variety of reasons: they have a cooldown, or are primarily resource-limited (Disintegrate, Meteor), or repeated casts don’t stack (Hydra, Blizzard). Whenever this is the case, a weapon that would produce slow, large hits is better than an equal-DPS weapon that produces fast, small hits.

I’ve not yet seen (or conducted) a detailed exploration of how Blizzard has attempted to correct for this. On the beta, it appeared that some cooldown-based skills actually got a multiplier for having a fast weapon, so that the final result was as desired: their damage would be equal for equal-DPS weapons, regardless of speed. So far though, I haven’t seen a list of what skills behave this way, or whether it would include skills that are not cooldown-based but would favor slow weapons for other reasons. If you’re using skills like that a lot, consider sticking with slow weapons until we know more.

Aside: note that weapon speed is notated in the opposite manner from WoW: here, a higher number means a faster weapon.


Continuing in the spirit of uniformity, armor in Diablo 3 is a flat percentage reduction against all incoming damage, physical and magical (don’t be confused by the similar terminology from WoW). After being reduced by armor, any incoming hit is further reduced by the appropriate resistance (either physical, or one of the 5 magical elements). Similarly, dodge change gives you a flat % chance to avoid nearly any incoming damage. In addition, Barbarians and Monks both take a constant 30% less damage than everyone else.

If you were familiar with how armor works in WoW, it is the same in Diablo 3: the mitigation percentage appears to give diminishing returns as you get more armor, but it’s designed so that your effective HP (the total pre-mitigation damage needed to kill you) increases consistently with each point of added armor. What’s new is that resistances now work the same way. So you can generally ignore the diminishing returns concept and think of these stats as continuously increasing your survivability by a constant amount.

There’s no great way to summarize the comparison between HP, armor, and resists, since it varies by situation. A few assorted facts:

  • 1 Str gives 1 armor, and 1 Int gives 0.1 to all resists. However, armor is scaled so that you need 10 armor for the same mitigation as 1 resist, so these wind up being similar effects.
  • 1 Vit (10 HP at low levels, more at high levels) increases your effective HP by far more than 1 Armor/Str or 1 Int. If you make heavy use of self-healing or blocking, you may derive some benefit from having a smaller HP pool and higher mitigation, but the difference is stark enough that you’re likely to be more survivable simply by favoring HP (while still taking armor/resist upgrades where you can).
  • Dex gives dodge by an odd diminishing formula that’s roughly designed to mimic the total damage reduction from similar amounts of armor/resist. The first 100 Dex does give you 10% dodge, so if you’re below that, one Dex item is basically some free avoidance.
  • The “protection” comparison in item tooltips includes armor and dodge, but not resists.
  • Blocking is a straightforward chance to reduce damage by a flat amount, applying after all other mitigation. You just read the block amount right off your shield.


This post didn’t get into the myriad situational bonuses available on Diablo gear (everything from runspeed to gold pickup range to magic find). There’s definitely no all-purpose comparison for these kinds of things, and I’m sure pages will be perpetually written on gearing options for every class and setup. The point was to give the picture of how basic damage and survivability are affected by all the various stats, so you can be informed when picking gear.

Hopefully this gets you going for everyday use. I may follow up at some point with more detailed analysis of specific things, and also my general comments on the game which I have to do at some point. For now though, feel free to ask on clarification for anything here.

4 thoughts on “Diablo 3 Gear Basics

  1. Saw this on the fantasystrike.com forums. Good info. I also wondered how weapon speed affected stuff like Hydra that doesn’t seem to cast any faster or slower based on weapon speed.

    The details on the protective benefits of Strength, Dexterity, and Intelligence are also super appreciated. Much thanks!

  2. Pingback: Mitigation and Survivability in Diablo III | It's Dangerous to Go Alone

  3. “The “protection” comparison in item tooltips includes armor and dodge, but not resists.”
    This is so odd and makes the tooltip for protection useless. I wonder why they left it out.

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