Take the 2-minute tour ×
Role-playing Games Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for gamemasters and players of tabletop, paper-and-pencil role-playing games. It's 100% free, no registration required.

In 5e, the rules state the following regarding spells with somatic and material components:

Somatic (S)

Spellcasting gestures might include a forceful gesticulation or an intricate set of gestures. If a spell requires a somatic component, the caster must have free use of at least one hand to perform these gestures.

Material (M)

Casting some spells requires particular objects, specified in parentheses in the component entry. A character can use a component pouch or a spellcasting focus (found in chapter 5) in place of the components specified for a spell. But if a cost is indicated for a component, a character must have that specific component before he or she can cast the spell.

If a spell states that a material component is consumed by the spell, the caster must provide this component for each casting of the spell.

A spellcaster must have a hand free to access these components, but it can be the same hand that he or she uses to perform somatic components.

(5e Basic rules, p.79)

Now, I take this to mean that a hand holding a focus is considered free for the purpose of Somatic components, as the focus is serving as a replacement for the 'normal' components and the rule is in place that material & somatic components can use the same hand. I also assume this still applies even if the focus is a shield with a holy symbol inscribed on it, as is the case for Clerics and Paladins:

Holy Symbol.

A holy symbol is a representation of a god or pantheon. It might be an amulet depicting a symbol representing a deity, the same symbol carefully engraved or inlaid as an emblem on a shield, or a tiny box holding a fragment of a sacred relic. The Player’s Handbook lists many gods in the multiverse and their typical symbols. A cleric or paladin can use a holy symbol as a spellcasting focus, as described in chapter 10. To use the symbol in this way, the caster must hold it in hand, wear it visibly, or bear it on a shield.

(5e Basic rules, p.49)

However, I'm not 100% certain about that; The War Caster feat in the PHB (p.170) has a benefit of being able to perform the somatic components of spells even when you have weapons or a shield in one or both hands, and that's giving me a bit of doubt as to whether or not you can use a Holy Symbol shield to perform somatic components. That may be there just for if a non-Divine caster obtained a shield proficiency, however, and generally have no effects on divine casters.

Basically, my question is: Does the rule stating that you can use the same hand for material and somatic spell components extend to objects which replace the need for material components such as foci?

In more practical examples of the question:

If I were an arcane class that obtained a shield proficiency, could I have a shield and focus and cast spells with somatic and material components perfectly fine with no equipment juggling?

If I'm a cleric with a shield serving as a holy symbol & mace, am I perfectly fine casting spells without having to stow my weapon?

Update/Edit:

Based upon the responses thus far, it seems like the correct core question to ask should actually have been:

"When using a focus or a component pouch, does the focus remove the requirement of the (uncosted) material components, or is the focus now the (sole) material component?"

If the latter is true, then the rule of "A spellcaster must have a hand free to access these [material] components, but it can be the same hand that he or she uses to perform somatic components." extends to the focus, because it's no different from the material components that the spell normally specifies. It's literally just taking the place of the normal material components as a different material component. If it's the former, then the focus is an object that removes the need for material components, but it occupies a hand that cannot be used for somatic components as it itself is not a material component.

Given the specifc phrasing of the ruling of "A character can use a component pouch or a spellcasting focus (found in chapter 5) in place of the components specified for a spell.", I'm inclined to believe that the latter is true and the focus is acting as the material component in place of the normal components, but is still regarded as a material component by the rules.

Quite frankly, even beyond the above phrasing (which is the core of my beliefs on the subject), the latter being true seems like it's the one intended as:

  • It causes less item juggling and less needing to remember what is stowed.
  • It makes the waistbound component pouches and a focus functionally identical, which seems to be the intention given the fact that the description of the two under the material components section do not note any difference when mentioning their functionality.
  • It allows holy shield + weapon using divine classes to cast via gesturing with their shields without having to stow their weapons first every time.
  • If it were not true, it seems odd that foci such as wands (one of the typical arcane/nature focuses as indicated by the equipment section) are not meant to be gestured with for the somatic components.
  • It also seems odd that, were it not true, a held divine focus would be strictly worse than a worn one; A worn focus would only require a single open hand for somatics, and the other could be used for any purpose. A held focus would require one hand occupied for the focus and the other free for somatics.
share|improve this question
    
Aren't those 2 completely different questions? The first being if a caster can use a shield and focus, and the second being if a divine caster can perform somatic components with the shield that they are using as a holy symbol. –  Miniman Aug 18 at 1:28
    
Possibly, but the problem is I'm not sure. I don't see anything that says there is a mechanical difference between a shield holy symbol and any other kind of holy symbol (aside from the AC bonus, and with the possible other exception of War Caster), and I'm wondering if I'm missing something. If not, they're the same question. If so, they're different cases. –  CTWind Aug 18 at 1:39
2  
Appealing to fantasy sense rather than RAW... a druid incanting while gesturing with a totem of feather and bone, a sorcerer doing the same with a glowing crystal, or a cleric tracing a pattern in the air with her holy symbol... all of these seem perfectly right. Doing the same with a shield painted with a symbol, on the other hand, seems a little off. –  mattdm Aug 19 at 3:35
    
@mattdm As someone who played a Crusader in Diablo 3, my Shield Glare/Fires of Heaven animation disagrees with you :-P. But in all seriousness, yes, your examples are part of the reason I'm having a hard time being convinced foci aren't meant to be able to be gestured with. –  CTWind Aug 19 at 3:41
1  
@CTWind Your Crusader has the War Caster feat. ;) –  SevenSidedDie Aug 19 at 4:59

5 Answers 5

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Your shield isn't a holy symbol and you can't gesture with it in spellcasting

Your specific problem — the holy symbol on a shield — is the sticking point, and I'll focus on that. No, a shield doesn't count as a focus for replacing material components. Consequently, it does not benefit from the exception allowing the focus to occupy the same hand with which somatic components are performed.

Let's re-read that section, but highlight different parts:

A holy symbol is a representation of a god or pantheon. It might be an amulet depicting a symbol representing a deity, the same symbol carefully engraved or inlaid as an emblem on a shield, or a tiny box holding a fragment of a sacred relic. The Player’s Handbook lists many gods in the multiverse and their typical symbols. A cleric or paladin can use a holy symbol as a spellcasting focus, as described in chapter 10. To use the symbol in this way, the caster must hold it in hand, wear it visibly, or bear it on a shield.

Notice that it doesn't say the shield with the holy symbol is the focus, it says the holy symbol is the focus. The shield isn't a "representation of a god or pantheon", it's just the surface upon which that representation is borne. Only the holy symbol itself is the focus — the shield is just a piece of gear, not the focus, and your hand is not holding the focus because it's busy holding a shield. For the cleric, the focus is the holy symbol itself and must be held or worn to be used. It just kind of sucks that to wear a symbol painted on your shield, your off hand becomes occupied by a non-focus object. (Unless you sling it over your back, of course. That'd work, but then why have a shield you're not going to block attacks with.)

Wands are different, because the whole object in your hand is the focus. Amulets are different, because you don't need a hand to wear them — which leaves it ambiguous whether it's the symbol on the amulet or the whole amulet itself that's the focus, but that ambiguity doesn't need resolving because it's not occupying a hand and doesn't matter. That you're not holding the focus on the shield is underlined by the last sentence:

To use the symbol in this way, the caster must hold it in hand, wear it visibly, or bear it on a shield.

To make the holy symbol a focus you can bear it on a shield as an alternative to holding it. So if you're bearing it on a shield, you're not holding the focus as far as these rules are concerned, and the non-focus-item occupying your hand doesn't earn the exception that focuses do.

So gesturing with your shield is out, which makes sense from a close reading of the rules, and is consistent with the existence of the War Caster feat.

share|improve this answer
    
This is what I was getting at too. Great job explaining it. –  Bradd Szonye Aug 19 at 5:07

Can a Cleric/Paladin use a hand carrying a Holy Symbol Shield to perform somatic components?

Based on the information you have quoted, yes. As the shield is a holy symbol, holy symbols act as a focus, the focus substitutes for the material component, and a hand holding a focus can perform somatic components.

I'm not exactly sure what your second question is. If it is:

Can an arcane class with shield proficiency use a focus in one hand, a shield in the other, and still perform somatic gestures with the focus hand?

Then I would yet again say, that based on what you have quoted, yes. The shield is in one hand, and the focus in the other. The focus substitutes for the material components, and the hand holding the focus can perform the somatic component.

Update: As another answer points out, the designers recently gave a clarification that would seem to support this logic.

A divine focus can be emblazoned on a cleric’s shield, enabling the cleric to wield a weapon in the other hand and still cast spells. A wizard can hold an arcane focus in one hand and a weapon in another and still cast spells. A druid must hold mistletoe as an arcane focus, so druids must either stash their shield or their weapon to cast.

http://dmdavid.com/tag/9-more-fifth-edition-dd-rules-questions-answered-by-the-designers/

share|improve this answer
1  
Do you have a source for "a hand holding a focus can perform somatic components"? Because I was unable to find one, (which made me sad) –  GMNoob Aug 18 at 6:57
2  
If you are holding a shield, you are not holding the holy symbol. The symbol is merely borne on the face of the shield, like wearing it around your neck. –  Bradd Szonye Aug 19 at 3:45
    
The passage quoted says that a hand holding material components may perform the somatic components. Since the a focus may be used to substitute for material components, I feel it is implied that hand may perform the somatic the same way it would with the normal material components (the wizard gestures with the focus instead of the materials). –  Michael Campbell Aug 19 at 5:46
1  
"To use the symbol in this way, the caster must hold it in hand, wear it visibly, or bear it on a shield.". This suggests that it you may use it by bearing it. Heck, it reads as if you can just put it on a tabbard and use it that way. –  Michael Campbell Aug 19 at 5:47
2  
Yes you can use a holy symbol, without a hand free, if you bear it on a shield. However if you do that then you are not holding your focus (you are holding a shield) and you do not have that hand free for somatic components. See Seven's answer for an excellent explanation of why. –  Bradd Szonye Aug 19 at 7:10

There's recently been a response by the designers on the topic of how foci occupy hands, and it sounds like the other responses here about holy symbol shields still occupying a hand may not be the intended interpretation.

A divine focus can be emblazoned on a cleric’s shield, enabling the cleric to wield a weapon in the other hand and still cast spells. A wizard can hold an arcane focus in one hand and a weapon in another and still cast spells. A druid must hold mistletoe as an arcane focus, so druids must either stash their shield or their weapon to cast.

Specifically, this seems to be confirming the implication that foci count as material components for the purpose of the "material & somatic components can use the same hand" rule, and that the entirety of holy symbol'd shields count as a focus the same way a wand would for a wizard.

Admittedly, it doesn't completely specify "for spells that have all 3 component type requirements", but I think that's a safe interpretation based on the tone and the fact that they're not too worried about the specifics of spellcasting with full hands.

share|improve this answer

You still need a hand free for the somatic component, but it’s not usually a problem.

Here are the general rules for somatic and material components (BD&D p. 79):

If a spell requires a somatic component, the caster must have free use of at least one hand to perform these gestures.

A character can use a component pouch or a spellcasting focus (found in chapter 5) in place of the components specified for a spell. . . . A spellcaster must have a hand free to access these components, but it can be the same hand that he or she uses to perform somatic components.

You don’t generally need to carry your spellcasting focus in hand. You just need a free hand to use it while casting spells that require it. This makes perfect sense when you consider the nature of most spellcasting focuses. Crystals, orbs, and sprigs are small items that you can keep in a pouch or pocket like any other material component. Rods and wands are specifically designed for quick handling and gesturing. Staves are no longer strictly two-handed.

Somatic components only become a problem when using holy symbols, which allow you to wear them instead of touching them. Here’s the specific rule (BD&D p. 49):

To use the symbol in this way, the caster must hold it in hand, wear it visibly, or bear it on a shield.

This means that you can easily get in a situation where you do not have a hand free for a somatic component. Note that bearing a holy symbol on a shield means attaching the symbol to the face of the shield. The specific rule allows you to do this and still use the symbol as a spellcasting focus, even though you are not touching it as generally required. However, if you also wield a weapon, then you will not have a hand free for somatic components.

share|improve this answer
1  
But the general rule states that you can use the same free hand to access material components & do somatic. The specific rules for foci indicate that they are used in the place of the normal specified material components. If the focus is now the material component, doesn't the general rule that you can use the same hand to access the material and perform the somatic components still apply? I don't see the difference between "Hand holding [original specified component(s)] can also perform the somatic components" and "Hand holding [alternate component] can also perform the somatic components". –  CTWind Aug 19 at 3:19
    
Sorry for not being more clear; I was speaking on the topic of foci in general, not specifically about holy shields. –  CTWind Aug 19 at 3:30
    
That's fair, I was not originally considering the possibility that the shield itself might not technically be the focus. The phrasing does seem to indicate that it is the emblem on the shield that's the holy symbol, and it doesn't really elaborate about whether or not that status extends to the entire shield. (And I'm just using 'holy shields' as shorthand for 'shields with holy symbols engraved/inlaid on them') –  CTWind Aug 19 at 3:52
1  
Thanks for your feedback. I heavily revised my answer to cover more than just holy symbols on shields. –  Bradd Szonye Aug 19 at 4:16
    
By the way, in the holy symbol rules I interpret “hold it in hand” as meaning the same thing as “have a hand free to access these components.” That is, the rule only loosens the usual restrictions, it doesn’t tighten them. But loosening the restrictions is exactly what can get you into trouble (with somatic components). –  Bradd Szonye Aug 19 at 4:21

Does the rule stating that you can use the same hand for material and somatic spell components extend to objects which replace the need for material components such as foci?

No, RAW, there is nothing which says that Foci can be held in the hand used for somatic gestures.

If I were an arcane class that obtained a shield proficiency, could I have a shield and focus and cast spells with somatic and material components perfectly fine with no equipment juggling?

No, however the equipment juggling is not as difficult as you might think. As part of your action, you may use the focus for your material components and then afterwards put the foci away, thus doing the somatic gestures with an empty hand. On your next turn, you may use your empty hand for the somatic gestures, and then grab your foci and use it for the material components. What this does cost you however is the ability to cast a spell which requires both somatic and material components as a reaction.

If I'm a cleric with a shield serving as a holy symbol & mace, am I perfectly fine casting spells without having to stow my weapon?

No, you will need to stow your weapon as part of your free action, thus losing your weapon for reactions during your turn.

In general, you can use your empty somatic hand to get components, but you can't use your filled focus hand to do somatic gestures.

This is one of the purposes of the warcaster feet. It allows you to find in melee and cast spells to full effectiveness. This is also one of the reasons why the quaterstaff was turned into a versatle weapon, so that Wizards could hold the staff in one hand while using the other for somatic gestures.

This may seem to make foci items to be an extra cost to spell casting over the component pouch, and in a way it does. The reason for this, is that foci often will have other magical properties. Foci that function as other items, such as a magic wand, or a shield with a holy symbol should be seen as a means to enhance the "realism" of the story, by allowing you to not worry about collecting various material components and worrying about how to keep track of that. Instead, you may have your foci.

These rules also prevent a spellcaster from using two foci at once, or being able to both spell casting and melee fighting unless it comes as a class feature or feat, just as a martial character needs to choose between doing ranged or melee tactics, but not both without a reduced cost in damage.

It's advised that you don't worry about these details too much unless they are causing some clear imbalance in your game however. The rules are there to clarify how these things work, not to restrict reasonable actions.

share|improve this answer
1  
Wouldn't that make a Component Pouch strictly better than a focus, then? "A component pouch is a small, watertight leather belt pouch that has compartments to hold all the material components and other special items you need to cast your spells, except for those components that have a specific cost (as indicated in a spell’s description)." It seems like you could have a waistline component pouch, an empty hand, and a shield and be fine for spellcasting, and for the most part the rules seem to treat foci and component pouches interchangeably, so it seems weird a focus would act differently. –  CTWind Aug 18 at 5:00
    
It also makes the situation around the holy symbol odd as they don't even need a 'focus hand'; they can get the benefit of it as a focus simply by "wearing it visibly". If you are correct, then using a held focus would force their other hand to be empty for somatic components, when they could wear a focus instead for the same benefit while only needing one hand devoted to spellcasting instead of two. –  CTWind Aug 18 at 5:39
    
I've updated the original post to clarify the question a bit more (and to add the RAW tag), but it's still the same as it has been. My followup comments here have been thoughts raised in the event that your answer is the correct one, as it seems to raise some unusual cases. In addition, the phrasing behind "A character can use a component pouch or a spellcasting focus [...] in place of the components specified for a spell" seems like it could be more directly interpreted as "All spells with uncosted material components can optionally use an appropriate focus as the material instead" –  CTWind Aug 18 at 6:08
    
@CTWind I've deleted my comments as they are no longer relevant. –  GMNoob Aug 18 at 6:39
    
You're right about shields, but I don't think you're right about focuses. The material component rule is the only place I saw that says you even need to touch a focus, and it explicitly allows you do to it in conjunction with somatic components. –  Bradd Szonye Aug 19 at 5:12

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.