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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.
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5 Answers 5

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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.

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@Shalvenay So basically, have them hold a holy symbol that just happens to have a shield glued to it. That gets heavily into the realm of individual DM rulings. So now that's it's a personal-judgement hypothetical, at best I-as-the-DM would say sure, but it wouldn't function very well as a shield; and at worst I'd say it's an attempt to rules-lawyer away an inconvenient rule and I'd dismiss it as bald BS. Depends on the player. Here though, where I'm not making a ruling as DM but answering a question about what the rules say: no. –  SevenSidedDie Nov 28 at 0:32
    
@Shalvenay I've seen it and I don't buy it—the tweet exchange doesn't convince me that the dev understood what the exact point of contention was, but it's being taken as evidence anyway. So, flimsy and unsupported by the book, I reject it, and I've had the luck to have already left an answer to compete with it, so I don't need to leave a new one. :) –  SevenSidedDie Dec 4 at 4:07

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.

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That ruling on druids seems...strange. What stops a druid from cleverly tucking a sprig of mistletoe in their shield-hand? –  Shalvenay Nov 28 at 0:26

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/

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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.

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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.

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1  
@GMNoob I not sure your first Raw answer is correct. The text on pg 203 regarding somatic gestures says "...must have free use of at least one hand..." Free use, not use a free hand. That's a small but important semantic difference because free use just means the hand can't be hindered, tied up or occupied by something other than casting the spell such as holding a shield. However, it doesn't mean it has to be empty. That means holding a focus or components in the hand while using for the somatic gestures is permissible since doing that doesn't hinder or interfere the casting of the spell. –  Chryckan Aug 27 at 8:44
    
@Chryckan Maybe if you have a wand, your hand can be used, but if you are holding a crystal ball, I don't see how you can say it's not hindered. Even a shield you can "strap to your arm" and say your hand is free. I don't think the semantic difference is relevant here, unless your table wants to play it that way. "Free use" generally means its not currently doing something else, like holding an item. –  GMNoob Aug 27 at 8:49

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