In PHB, page 190, it explains about the free item interaction:

You can also interact with one object or feature of the environment for free, during either your move or your action. For example, you could open a door during your move as you stride toward a foe, or you could draw your weapon as part of the same action you use to attack.

At the top of the list of "Interacting with Objects Around You" it lists:

draw or sheathe a sword

It is generally understood (reading the various answers on this site) that if you want to switch weapon and attack on the same turn (let's say you are a fighter with a sword, bow and the Extra Attack class feature; you kill the enemy in front of you with your sword, then want to switch to your bow and shoot another enemy that you otherwise can't reach this turn) then you have to do this strange sequence of moves where you "drop" your sword so that you don't waste that precious free item interaction that you need to draw your bow. Then you have to pick it up again later (assuming someone else, friend or foe, doesn't do so before you).

Basically I think this sequence is a bit daft and think that it breaks the suspension of disbelief when the fighter suddenly drops his main weapon just so that he can use his bow this turn. I was thinking of just houseruling that you can draw and sheath a weapon as one item interaction, let's call it the "switch weapon" item interaction as opposed to the "draw weapon" and "sheathe weapon" item interactions (I'm just making up these terms to emphasise my houserule).

Now, I know that one gameplay-related concern might be the Dual Wielder feat, since they can draw and sheathe two weapons at once; as so not to weaken this feat, I'd still say that you need that feat to draw or sheathe two weapons at once, regardless of drawing and sheathing. So let's say this fighter actually has two swords drawn at the start of that scenario, I would houserule that it's only possible to sheathe one of those swords without the feat, similarly for sheathing the bow and drawing the swords again later; you'd only be able to draw one sword at a time without the feat, regardless of whether you are sheathing something or not.

So hopefully that still makes that aspect of the Dual Wielder feat useful, despite my houserule. So my question, finally, is what are the impacts of my houserule on combat tactics? Obviously this question isn't asking for approval to use this houserule or anything like that, since anyone can houserule whatever they like; this question is just about understanding the impacts of doing so with this particular houserule.

The answers below question my assertion that dropping a weapon doesn't make sense. On reflection, I agree with them and not my past-self. It's not dropping a weapon that's "daft", it's my lack of imagination for not being able to see why that would make sense and why it can create a more interesting battle. This is largely due to expecting everybody to do the "video game weapon switch", which I believe is actually the problem here. I need to unlearn video games' lesson that everyone can juggle weapons and re-learn that notion that IRL that's a bit more difficult and time consuming. And if ever someone can imagine a way that a certain character would totally be able to juggle weapons around, it can always be a homebrew feat, which is much better for balance than a houserule that lets everyone do this for free. Thanks to all who answered.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I do not understand why it breaks your suspension of disbelief that a PC cannot juggle his weapons in the middle of a fight or cycle them like in a video game. If you wanna switch, gotta pay the price. \$\endgroup\$ – Szega Nov 13 '17 at 11:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ I didn't vote, but I think that now I could write a nice, maybe long answer about action economy and viability of charging to kill archers etc, and don't really scratch the "encounter difficulty" aspect. "anything else" looks quite broad, too, including use of magic to throw unattended items around, fast rogues and possibly a lot of other things. \$\endgroup\$ – Mołot Nov 13 '17 at 11:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mołot Thanks, I think I wasn't really sure of how to word what I wanted to ask for. Your suggestion plus Szega's answer have helped me to focus on tactics, which I believe is what I wanted, I think the phrase "charging to kill archers" helped nudge my vocabulary. \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Nov 13 '17 at 11:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ Glad I could help, even if only a bit :) You already got my upvote here. \$\endgroup\$ – Mołot Nov 13 '17 at 11:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ A thought on this: a character could sheathe their weapon after their action for free and be unarmed until their next turn where they unsheathe either the same or other weapon. So shoot bow > sheathe > next turn > unsheathe sword > attack. \$\endgroup\$ – Matthew Green Nov 13 '17 at 22:56

As you also noticed, it will mainly impact those who employ different types of attacks: melee, ranged or spell (with Material and/or Somatic components). Normally someone with a ranged weapon at the ready is greatly inconvenienced by an enemy engaging them in close combat: either they keep attacking with the ranged weapon at Disadvantage or switch weapons which either takes a turn or forces them to drop their ranged weapon. If they can simply switch to a melee weapon, this drawback is lost. Ranged weapons already do damage on par with melee ones while granting the wielder the tactical advantage of distance. I would advise against eliminating their drawbacks.

If you wish to add something like this to your game, I suggest making a feat that grants the ability to "switch" among other minor bonuses.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1; I can see that this might homogenise the various PCs and enemies, since an archer is now also a melee fighter, and everyone's roles become interchangeable. I also think your comment about video games is probably at the heart of this. I still think it odd that a fighter might casually discard his primary weapon, but on the other hand I suppose if it's that important to shoot that far-off enemy, then it's not really a casual discard as much as prioritising, or as you put it, "gotta pay the price". I also like the idea of the custom feat though, so it could be an optional ability at a cost... \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Nov 13 '17 at 11:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NathanS Imagine it like this: The fighter puts the sword through the goblin, killing it. Instead of pulling it out, he reaches for his bow and fires it. \$\endgroup\$ – Szega Nov 13 '17 at 11:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ That's a good point; not only is that a cool and believable narrative alternative to "he drops his sword on the floor", but for me at least it underlines just how much video games messes with creativity and imagination, since now people (including me) are so used to the "video game style weapon cycling" idea that anything else seems strange. And even though I like the idea of "if you must, make it a feat", I'm inclined to resist even that in favour of thinking more realistically. \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Nov 13 '17 at 11:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ Making people burn their actions to do stuff outside of tank-tank-heal-tank-slash-and-pawn is a good thing. Pace the action, make it more realistic. I'm against the feat, if you want to swap weapons fast, drop on the ground or burn a turn. \$\endgroup\$ – Mindwin Nov 13 '17 at 14:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ I like the idea of the feat, it gives you the option for trinity like hijinks but at a decent cost to make it something only certain people can do. Attaching a pre-requisite like a min dex would be a good idea. Trinity hijinks youtube.com/watch?v=Yd8TpzioY6k \$\endgroup\$ – John Nov 13 '17 at 15:44

Besides not being a good representation of the clunky process that sheathing a weapon is, combining drawing and sheathing weapons into a single free action on a turn trivializes weapon selection. As has been pointed out, a ranged character is less inconvenienced (although still plenty inconvenienced) by an enemy moving into melee threat range. But moreover, a melee character can switch between, say, a reach weapon or a high damage weapon without cost. Even if restricted to one-handed weapons, it lets a character move between sword-and-shield and two-weapon fighting without cost. And again, if restricted away from shields, it lets a character switch between weapons of different damage types without cost (for instance, in an attempt to overcome a resistance).

Finally, doing away with the existing cost for more complex weapon-switching behavior does away with the action-economic and timing differences between a character that does make the decision to drop versus a character that chooses to sheath.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Donning or doffing a shield requires an action (PHB 146), so you could not switch between sword-n-shield and dual wielding freely, even with the OP's suggestion. \$\endgroup\$ – Szega Nov 13 '17 at 13:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ See, then, "Even if restricted to..." following the shields comment. Further, the OP is recommending an alteration to the regular applicability of the "Use an Object" action, under which I would categorize the mid-combat donning or doffing of a shield, so I don't think it's unreasonable to point out some of the related interactions that normally preserve this kind of timing and action-economic relationship, as I did with two-handed polearms that don't have a proper "sheath." \$\endgroup\$ – doomtwig Nov 13 '17 at 20:50

Thematically I disagree with your statement:

"Basically I think this sequence is a bit daft and think that it breaks the suspension of disbelief when the fighter suddenly drops his main weapon just so that he can use his bow this turn."

There are many films or tv shows, for instance, where a character is presented with a situation where the weapon they are holding is the incorrect one and they do not have the time to do anything but drop it to get the required one out. The most dramatic is perhaps the scene in the Matrix where Neo and Trinity go to rescue Morphius and go through a whole series of weapons, dropping them rather than taking the time to stow them or to re-load (though I recognise that that is not a fantasy setting I don't think there is a significant difference for this purpose).

Given that this is the key point around which the rules change you propose:

"I was thinking of just houseruling that you can draw and sheath a weapon as one item interaction"

I think it has an important role in answering your question:

"what are the impacts of my houserule on combat tactics"

in that it will significantly change the combat tactics used and choices made by a character for a thematically incorrect assumption, that the rules as they stand hurt the suspension of disbelief less than the house rule does. What you will see is characters relying on their ability to make super-fast weapon changeovers with little or no consequences (such as losing their primary weapon) and such things as characters able to reliably sheath their sword, take a bow from across their shoulders, load an arrow and shoot accurately, perhaps more than once with extra attack, all in a six second time frame which is just too much to believe. Take one of those things out and it becomes more believable, and of course you have the rules as they stand.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Since Szega's answer, also backed up by doomtwig's answer, I am now also disagreeing with my own statement. Your answer also backs this up, and the Matrix example works nicely to further illustrate that (even though those weapons were out of ammo and therefore now useless, but that's just nitpicking, and either way dropping them was still faster than reloading or "switching weapons" as per my houserule). \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Nov 13 '17 at 13:51

I think what you rather want is for Extra Attack feat to also act as if it provides a weapon draw/sheathe action.

If I draw my sword during my move, use it to attack and kill an enemy, then sheathe it as part of the Action and get an Extra Attack from it (with a house-ruled draw/sheathe extra action), I can just draw my bow and use it to attack or draw my sword again and use it to attack still.

It does make it somewhat more powerful but not by too much if you just limit it to a "draw/sheathe action" when the characters get an Extra Attack.

If you don't limit it to a draw/sheathe action, someone could just open a door during their action, shoot an arrow to kill someone, then shoot another one and then close the door. That would make it way too powerful in my opinion.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I think you might be missing my point; the Extra Attack was simply included as an example of a situation where someone might want to swap weapon. Another, equally valid example is a Wizard who has two different staves, he wants to switch to a different staff to the one he was holding previously and use it, all within one turn (let's assume that he didn't realise that he'd need it at the end of the previous turn). That still shows that the houserule could just allow that Wizard to sheathe one staff, draw the other staff, then use it to attack, all in one turn. Nothing to do with Extra Attack. \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Nov 13 '17 at 13:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NathanS That's why I'm saying you should restrict it to the extra attack feat or similar stuff. If you just let them use an extra free sheathe draw at each Action, that would be too much. Tie it down to a Feat that gives an Extra Attack or an Extra Spellcast (if there's such a thing, I'm not really familiar with the entirety of 5e). I had assumed you were going to tie it down to a Feat, but if you're not, again, that's just too much for a character to do in one action. Imagine I could just use a 2H weapon to attack, then sheathe it and draw my shield. That would be a bit too OP imho. \$\endgroup\$ – John Hamilton Nov 13 '17 at 13:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think I might have missed your point. I didn't see the word "feat" on my first reading of your answer. I was thrown by your use of "Extra Attack", since that's the name of the Fighter class feature. In that case, I agree that tying this proposed rule of mine to a Feat rather than a free-for-all would help make it more balanced. \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Nov 13 '17 at 16:23

Mike Mearls uses this houserule, therefore must believe that it doesn't affect combat too much

Although I don't intend to change the accepted answer, since I believe the frame challenge was the correct response, I have stumbled upon this tweet in which Mike Mearls houserules as I was proposing to do, at least some of the time for certain situations.

Therefore, if someone did want to houserule this, even though I probably won't now thanks to Szega's answer, it seems that even the designers don't seem too concerned with this particular sequence of events.

This, however, doesn't nullify the points Szega and others have raised about how this does influence the choices of weapons and which enemies to engage. It is simply interesting that the designers (or Mike Mearls, at least) doesn't feel that this impacts combat tactics or affects balance that much...


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