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Specifically, would using it inhibit a monk's unarmored defense? And does it require proficiency with shields to use?

I would say that logically a floating independent shield does neither, and that the phrase "as if you were wielding it" says no, but I'd like a second opinion before I make any rookie assumptions about the nature of magic items.

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The Animated Shield says that it

protects you as if you were wielding it.

This strongly implies that you aren't wielding it.

The Monk's Unarmored Defense feature works

while you are wearing no armor and not wielding a shield.

So the use of an Animated Shield shouldn't interfere.

As for proficiency, the only requirement for using an Animated Shield is that you're attuned to and holding one, so this shouldn't be an issue. There is an argument against this, though:

The Animated Shield protects you as if you were wielding it.

Luckily, wielding a shield with which you're not proficient doesn't affect how it protects you; all it does it give you a bunch of penalties to other things.

Since the Animated Shield "protects you as if you were wielding it", and doesn't "give you penalties as if you were wielding it", this isn't an issue.

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According to this sage advice, using an animated shield counts as weilding it for mechanical purposes.

Andrew Cole ‎@andrewphillipc1

@mikemearls Do you think using an animated shield counts as wielding it for the purposes of bladesong armor restrictions?

Mike Mearls ‎@mikemearls

Yes - you have a free hand, but still need to use tactics that account for it.


The answer was given in regard to Bladesong, but considering the wording of the two features, we can safely assume that it applies to a monk's unarmored defense as well.

Bladesong

Starting at 2nd level, you can invoke a secret elven magic called the Bladesong, provided that you aren't wearing medium or heavy armor or using a shield.

Unarmored Defense

Beginning at 1st level, while you are wearing no armor and not wielding a shield, your AC equals 10 + your Dexterity modifier + your Wisdom modifier.

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2  
I almost want to put in a footnote on the fifth word, clarifying for readers that it's a twitter account named "sage advice," but it's not actual sage advice coming from Jeremy. That is, public statements like this by Mike aren't binding, while those by Jeremy are. But that felt a little much to edit in on my own, so I'll throw it out there for your consideration. – nitsua60 Mar 23 at 18:53

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