Can a character have a magic shield and benefit from its magical effect but not its use as a shield when they do not have shield proficiency?

Like wear the shield on their back or something?

If it helps, the item I am thinking about specifically is the Sentinel Shield, which gives advantage on initiative and perception checks.


2 Answers 2


In the description of the sentinel shield it says "While holding this shield..." (DMG page 199) so you must be holding the shield, not just have it on your back. From a quick glance, many other shields have this condition also.

However, you CAN still use a shield that you aren't proficient with but "you have disadvantage on any ability check, saving throw, or attack roll that involves Strength or Dexterity, and you can’t cast spells" (PHB page 144)

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ "holding" isn't the same as "wielding" tho. PHB calls it wielding - "Wielding a shield increases your Armar Class by 2" (PHB page 144) \$\endgroup\$
    – enkryptor
    Commented Sep 9, 2017 at 15:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ @enkryptor yes but in the sentence before that it says a shield 'is carried in one hand' (PHB page 144). Hold and carry are the same and the only difference between them and wield is that wield implies use or intent to use \$\endgroup\$
    – J4m0nT045t
    Commented Sep 9, 2017 at 16:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also may be worthwhile to note that donning/doffing shields requires a full action and you can't quickly drop it as a free action should you need that hand (for casting, components, attacking, etc.) \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Commented Sep 9, 2017 at 16:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ "Hold and carry are the same" - no they aren't. PHB uses the word "carry" both for wielding and having an item in a backpack. - "Your Strength score limits the amount of gear you can carry. " (p. 14) \$\endgroup\$
    – enkryptor
    Commented Sep 9, 2017 at 19:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ Moreover, the PHB explicitly distincts "holding" and "carrying", see page 236 - "If another creature is holding or carrying the item ...". I suppose "to hold" means (in context) "to have it in your hand(s)" and "carry" means "to have it in your inventory". \$\endgroup\$
    – enkryptor
    Commented Sep 9, 2017 at 19:10

The shield must still be worn in the intended fashion.

Magical shields in particular must be worn properly to benefit from their magical properties:

Using a magic item’s properties might mean wearing or wielding it. A magic item meant to be worn must be donned in the intended fashion: boots go on the feet, gloves on the hands, hats and helmets on the head, and rings on the finger. Magic armor must be donned, a shield strapped to the arm, a cloak fastened about the shoulders. A weapon must be held in hand.

So the Sentinel Shield must be donned properly to benefit from its magical properties, which you can do without being proficient, but you will suffer the penalty:

If you wear armor that you lack proficiency with, you have disadvantage on any ability check, saving throw, or attack roll that involves Strength or Dexterity, and you can't cast spells.


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