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Consider a character with a heavy shield (equipped) and a versatile weapon (equipped one-handed). I'd like to know whether they can, in the course of a single turn, forgo the shield and attack with the weapon two-handed; even if it means not having the shield equipped for some time after, or even if there's some other penalty involved.

The Player's Handbook (p289) says that equipping or stowing a shield is a standard action, which rules out stowing the shield and then attacking. The same page also says that dropping "held items" is a free action, but does an equipped shield count? Or is there some other way to achieve this?

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Yes, of course there is. You can easily do that by using an action point. Now this really isn't the answer you was expecting, right? –  Zachiel Aug 19 '13 at 11:53
    
@Zachiel - well, it's an answer, but it would not get the check over one that could be used more than once :) –  detly Aug 19 '13 at 13:07
    
You're talking about using a versatile weapon, two-handed, that you already are wielding 1 handed correct? See my answer. –  Joshua Aslan Smith Aug 19 '13 at 15:59
    
@JoshuaAslanSmith - Yes. AFAIK that's more-or-less implied; a heavy shield means you can't wield anything in your shield hand. I've clarified it anyway. –  detly Aug 19 '13 at 21:42
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up vote 3 down vote accepted

Unequipping your shield is a standard action, according to the Rules Compendium's section on Shields (p267):

To use a shield, a creature must strap it to the forearm. Doing so is a standard action unless otherwise noted. Removing a shield is also a standard action.

Unfortunately, this means you won't be able to use a standard action for an attack in the same turn unless you spend an action point.

Once your shield is removed, your options are these:

  1. Drop your shield (free action), equip your weapon (minor action). If you want to attack, spend an action point for another standard action. This, however, risks someone else stealing your shield if you leave it unattended.
  2. Stow your shield (standard action), and equip your weapon (minor action). That's a second standard action! You'll need to bust out action points to make this quick, or prepare yourself to use this method over the course of two turns.

I'm not aware of any feats to speed up this swap!

Getting the shield back after dropping it

If you do #1, you'll need to recover your shield at some point. Picking something up is a minor action - this does not equip it. Once it's in your hand, it will take a standard action to either stow it away on your back (or somewhere out of the way) or equip it. Being a shield, it seems you can't simply stow it away as easily as other items, which normally take a minor action.

Where is this all from!?

This is sourced from various excerpts from the Rules Compendium's explanation of a Standard Action, quoted verbatim below. You should pick up that book, since it contains the most recent version of all of 4e's rules, complete with all errata and updates released since.

Equip or Stow a Shield

  • Action: Standard action.
  • Requires Free Hand to Equip: The creature must have its shield hand free to equip a shield. If the shield is a light shield, the creature can later pick up and hold another item in that hand while still using the shield, but a heavy shield requires the use of the shield hand.
  • Ready for Use: A creature can take a stowed shield and make it ready for use by taking this action. Once the shield is ready for use, it grants its shield bonus to AC and Reflex (if the creature has proficiency with the shield).
  • Stowed: A stowed shield is attached to a backpack or slung out of the way so that the creature’s hands are free to hold or manipulate other objects.

Draw or Sheathe a Weapon

  • Action: Minor action.
  • Requires Free Hand to Draw: The creature must have a hand free to draw a weapon.
  • Ready for Use: A creature can take a sheathed or otherwise slung weapon and make it ready for use by taking this action.
  • Sheathed: A sheathed weapon is in a sheath at the creature’s belt or on its back, or otherwise slung out of the way so that the creature’s hands are free to hold or manipulate other objects.

Drop a Held Item

  • Action: Free action.
  • In the Creature’s Space: A creature can use this action to drop an item it is holding. The item lands in the creature’s space. If the creature’s space is larger than 1 square, the creature can choose what square the item lands in.

Pick Up an Item

  • Action: Minor action.
  • Within Reach: A creature can use this action to pick up an item that’s within its reach or in its own space.
  • Unattended: A creature can’t use this action to pick up an item in an enemy’s space, unless the enemy is helpless. Similarly, the creature can’t use this action to pick up an item that another creature is holding or an item on another creature’s person, unless that other creature is willing or helpless.

Retrieve or Stow an Item

  • Action: Minor action.
  • Easily Accessible: A creature can use this action to retrieve an item from someplace on its own person, most commonly in a belt pouch or a backpack, or to stow an item in such a location.
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You can do, but its costly

(assuming you are already wielding the weapon in question with one hand)

Standard Action: Remove Shield

As BESW pointed out

Rules Compendium page 267: "To use a shield, a creature must strap it to the forearm. Doing so is a standard action unless otherwise noted. Removing a shield is also a standard action."

Free action: Wield your longsword with two hands instead of one.

As per Wizards FAQs page for 4e:

I wield a longsword. When I change from one hand to two (or vice versa), what type of action is that? Changing the number of hands you are using to hold a weapon can be done as a free action."

Granted the customer FAQs are not on the same level as the Compendium, but everyone I've ever played with has played it this way and the Char Op Boards on Wizards also tend to suggest this is a-ok per the rules.

So perks to this is that your shield is stowed vs. on the floor since removing it and then dropping it is stupid when it takes the same action economy to simply stow the shield.

Alternatives

Assuming you are using a light shield, you can get a +1 bonus to AC (But not to reflex as with a light shield) by wielding a defensive weapon in your off-hand. Now a normal defensive weapon like a parrying dagger would take up your hand completely not letting you benefit from the two-handed wield of the versatile weapon. However, the Gauntlet Axe lets you keep your hand free:

This heavy bracer holds two light crescent blades, turning the forearm into an axe while keeping the hand free. The weapon can also serve as a light shield. A gauntlet axe can be enchanted as either an arms slot item or as a magic weapon. When enchanted as a magic weapon, it does not occupy a character’s arms slot.

Thus:

Free Action: Wield longsword two handed (gauntlet axe is not a weapon and you don't gain the defensive property while doing this)

Attack

Free Action: Wield Longsword one handed (gauntlet axe functions as another weapon and you regain the defensive property).

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taking a shield off your arm is a standard action. –  wax eagle Aug 19 '13 at 16:15
    
Rules Compendium page 267: "To use a shield, a creature must strap it to the forearm. Doing so is a standard action unless otherwise noted. Removing a shield is also a standard action." –  BESW Aug 19 '13 at 16:17
    
Incorporating that part I overlooked and editing to add an alternative suggestion. –  Joshua Aslan Smith Aug 19 '13 at 16:17
    
It looks like this isn't possible in the general case without spending an action point. But @BESW's citation makes it seem more by design rather than a weird edge case. –  detly Aug 19 '13 at 21:59
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@detly Pretty much yes. The curious absence of feats to speed up the swap from shield to weapon makes that doubly likely. –  Jonathan Hobbs Aug 20 '13 at 3:20
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