There are several members of my 5E party who use versatile weapons, such as the warhammer, which does 1d8 damage normally but can do 1d10 damage if wielded with both hands.

One of these members also has a shield, which gives +2 to Armour Class. Shields are carried in one hand, and as such cannot be used at the same time as two-handed weapons.

However, when in combat, is there any reason why my player cannot at the start of her turn put away/drop her shield, attack with her versatile weapon two-handed, and then take her shield back out/pick it up? To me, this feels like a loophole with versatile weapons and shields that allows her to always benefit from both the AC bonus of shields and the damage bonus of using weapons two-handed.


2 Answers 2


It's not that easy. Donning or doffing a shield costs an action: see the table on Player's Handbook page 146. Therefore most characters cannot don a shield after making an attack or doff the shield before the attack - they need a second action to do one of these, and two extra actions to do both.


Since the question hasn't specified rules as written I want to include my own interpretation which I have used in my own games.

While the rule as written in the book says it takes a full action to don or doff a shield. Myself and my group has always interpreted 'doffing' as not only taking it off, but also stowing it. As a group we came to a consensus that throwing down a shield shouldn't take a full action unless the shield was expressly strapped to ones arm. This is where we looked into real life and shield design to get our inspiration, what we found is that there are 2 main types of ways to hold a shield:

  1. One that includes strapping it to your arm as well as holding a handle.

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  2. A 'punch' shield, or one that only has a single handle.

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The rules we have now say: While it will take a full action to drop a shield that is strapped to your arm, a simple punch shield can be easily dropped without taking a full action. This allows the character with a versatile weapon to drop a punch shield, change their grip on their versatile weapon, and attack 2 handed in the same action.

Picking the shield back up and re-wielding it still takes a full action.

In our experience this rule has still felt balanced and allowed for further combat flexibility. Allowing a character to naturally throw off a shield sacrificing some of their protection to hopefully deal a little more damage, and still leave them with needing to invest an action to reequip that cast off protection.

It has happened more than once that a character who throws down their shield takes a few strong hits that would have otherwise been blocked, and suddenly realizes the mistake in their action.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is an interesting house rule, but you should probably preface it with that. In 5e, there is only one type of Shield, and it requires an action to don/doff. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 16:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch Fair enough. I figured since the question didn't specify RAW they where open to other interpretations. \$\endgroup\$
    – onewho
    Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 17:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm concerned by answering a question about "how does this mechanical interaction with shields work" with "here's something I'm making up based on real life shields and not stuff in the rules". I don't think this meets our homebrew standards posed like this; the homebrew in this answer doesn't appear warranted to answer the question. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 18:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch Yes, I have used this rule, and it hasn't seemed to negatively effect game balance. If anything it feels more natural than having to spend a whole action to throw down a shield. Plus, it's a trade-off, the players are actively losing AC in-order to, hopefully, output more damage. Since it still takes a full action to reequip the shield it the character still has to invest an action to get the AC from having the shield back. \$\endgroup\$
    – onewho
    Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 18:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ @onewho At a minimum you should include in the post description of your use of this in real games. (That's what differentiates "an idea I thought of" from expertise-based answers.) I'd also suggest that these answers become best when framed (a) here's what the rule in system is, (b) here's what we felt it was missing and so homebrewed (c) this homebrew, which had (d) results. \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60
    Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 18:27

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