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I want to play a Hexblade Tomelock with a shield and rod without the War Caster feat. And I want to shoot sparklies out of my rod.

I understand the general rules of components and the examples of wizard & a cleric given in sage advice.

What I don't have neatly put together is this series of tweets by Mr. Crawford.

  • This one makes it seem that a hand with a focus is free when a spell requires only somatic (no material) components.

  • In this one, Mr. Crawford seems to make a distinction between a holy symbol (or other focus) and a symbol emblazoned on a shield.

So, can a Hexblade Warlock use one hand hold a shield, the other a rod, and still cast Eldritch Blast?

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You ask in the title: What's the mechanical difference (as related to somatic components) between a holy symbol on a donned shield and a focus held in the hand?

Answer: From the point of view of spellcasting, there is no difference.
(The shield has the non-spell-related advantage of providing a bonus to your AC, but can only be used as a focus by clerics & paladins.)

You ask at the end of your explanation: can a Hexblade Warlock use one hand hold a shield, the other a rod, and still cast Eldritch Blast?

Answer: You have it right there in your own background info.

The Sage Advice page that you linked says:

Another example: a cleric’s holy symbol is emblazoned on her shield. She likes to wade into melee combat with a mace in one hand and a shield in the other. She uses the holy symbol as her spellcasting focus, so she needs to have the shield in hand when she casts a cleric spell that has a material component. If the spell, such as aid, also has a somatic component, she can perform that component with the shield hand and keep holding the mace in the other.

If the same cleric casts cure wounds, she needs to put the mace or the shield away, because that spell doesn’t have a material component but does have a somatic component. She’s going to need a free hand to make the spell’s gestures. If she had the War Caster feat, she could ignore this restriction.

Eldritch Blast has no Material Component, so you'll need a free hand to make the somatic gestures. You'll have to put down either the shield or the rod.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I admit I was sloppy between what I asked in the title and what I asked in the paragraph. Thank you for answering both. By the time I noticed my error, there were already a couple answers, and I didn't want to edit substantially. \$\endgroup\$ – HenryWLee1066 Feb 19 '18 at 15:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ I picked this one because it answered both sloppily asked question in a way I could process. Thank you all for your response. \$\endgroup\$ – HenryWLee1066 Feb 19 '18 at 18:26
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If you don't have material components, you need a free hand or a focus.

Under material components in the PHB:

A spellcaster must have a hand free to access a spell’s material components—or to hold a spellcasting focus—but it can be the same hand that he or she uses to perform somatic components.

That free hand is being used to manipulate the materials (the focus in this case) and qualifies for somatic. The same hand used for somatic components can hold a focus. This may only be true for spells that have a material component to qualify for this criterion.

If you are weilding a shield that displays a holy symbol...

...then that shield counts as the holy symbol and therefore serves as the focus (if you are a cleric or paladin) so you would not need a free hand for somatic components if material components are used.

This is based on Jeremy's second twitter ruling that you quote.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Feb 20 '18 at 5:09
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You can use a hand wielding a shield emblazoned with a focus to cast somatic components if and only if the spell also requires material components.


Excerpting the relevant sections from the sources linked, we have:

If the spell, such as aid, also has a somatic component, [a holy symbol-emblazoned shield-wielding cleric] can perform that component with the shield hand and keep holding the mace in the other.

If the same cleric casts cure wounds, she needs to put the mace or the shield away, because that spell doesn’t have a material component but does have a somatic component.

(Emphasis mine.)

and

A hand with a material component, including a spellcasting focus, can perform somatic components

and

A holy symbol can function as a spellcasting focus even when it's on a shield.

Crawford's tweets don't dissent from the information given in the Sage Advice column (for once), remaining consistent. Shield w/ Holy Symbol == (non-consumed, no-cost) material component, material component + somatic component can always be done together regardless of what that material component is, and a hand with a shield cannot use a somatic component unless it is also fulfilling the material component.

In addition, in RAW only divine casters can "emblazon." So Warlocks are automatically left out.

Even if a DM allowed an arcane caster to emblazon, though, Eldritch Blast does not have a material component. Consequently, without some feat or circumstance that changes the casting rules, it cannot be performed by a Warlock with a mace or rod in one hand and a shield in the other.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ A holy symbol is a spell casting focus. A shield is armor. Does adding the focus to the shield turn the focus into armor-with-a-focus? Or does it turn the armor into a focus-plus-2AC? In other words, is there a difference between a holy symbol (or other focus) in the hand and a symbol emblazoned in a shield? \$\endgroup\$ – HenryWLee1066 Feb 18 '18 at 18:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ Nothing in the rules that says because the object is acting as your spell focus it changes any of the objects other properties. A shield being used as a focus functions both as a shield and a spellcasting focus. It is pretty clear this is the whole point of using a shield as your focus. \$\endgroup\$ – Steve Bauer Feb 18 '18 at 18:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ Am I reading this correctly that you can do 3 things with your hand (Defend, fiddle with components and complete somatic elements) but not 2 (Defend and complete somatic elements)? If so it may be RAW, but it is also nonsense. \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Feb 19 '18 at 9:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ No; you can't ordinarily manipulate material components with a shield. The focus replaces the component, though, and an emblazoned shield counts as a focus, sidesteppimg that rule. Crawford may mean that spells with material components have simpler somatic elements, since they are designed to be used with something in the hand already. \$\endgroup\$ – noneuklid Feb 19 '18 at 11:35
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So, I'll share my thought:

Any kind of focus (not attached to armor or a weapon) does not fill the hand for the purpose of somatic gestures.

The emblazoned shield fills the hand for the purpose of somatic gestures - not because it is a focus, but because it is a shield. (This argument could be extended to an arcane staff since it can double as a quarterstaff, but I'm not saying that right now).

Clerics and Paladins still have an advantage because one of their foci can be attached to their equipment, and other casters do not have that convenient option. War Caster works beautifully for them, where a wizard or warlock with shield proficiency would still need access to material components and could not just carry a sword and shield.

Criticism is welcome. I haven't heard or read this distinction yet.

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I think the official answer is No, you can't cast Eldritch Blast, to cast a spell with somatic and no material components you need a completely free hand.

You could cast Hex assuming your rod was your arcane focus as your rod hand can both hold the spell casting focus and be used to perform the somatic components of the spell.

I think all the rulings you referenced are consist, you said the second one might allow you to cast a somatic only spell with your spell focus in that hand but it doesn't say that, it says "A hand with a material component, including a spellcasting focus, can perform somatic components (PH, 203)." The spellcasting focus is not a material component for Eldritch Blast so can not be in the hand you use to perform the somatic component of casting Eldritch Blast.

That said, I would ask you DM, most groups I have played with ignored a lot of the spell casting component rules.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think implied in this answer is: the only difference between a holy-symbol-shield for a cleric and a wand for a wizard is +2AC. Am I correct? If so, your answer is consistent with most interpretations I have read. \$\endgroup\$ – HenryWLee1066 Feb 18 '18 at 18:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think pretty much an object could be accepted as a spell casting focus, the text is purposefully vague to allow player creatiity and DM discretion. Using a object as your focus does not change it's other uses, the shield is still armor and gives and AC benefit, A druid's staff could still be used as a quaterstaff. You obviously get a in-game advantage if your focus has a double purpose such as a Cleric's shield or a wizards wand that is also a wand of magic missiles. It is up to the DM if they want to restrict how far the players are allowed to take this. \$\endgroup\$ – Steve Bauer Feb 18 '18 at 18:40
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My group felt it necessary to clarify the rules further.

If a spell requires a somatic component, the caster must have free use of at least one hand to perform these gestures.

And

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.

And

A character can use a component pouch or a spellcasting focus (found in chapter 5) in place of the components specified for a spell.

All phb 203

We interpreted this to mean that the warlock would have to hold a focus in one hand and have a second hand free to do the somatic/component portion of the spell.

We felt this was too onerus. And home brewed the following rule to overcome raw:

Homebrew for casting spells: This differs slightly from SA-Compendium page 12 and PHB pg 203

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 or the caster must be holding an arcane focus or follow the rules of a holy symbol for clerics/paladins.

So for us, this now makes it so the warlock can hold a weapon or object in one hand and a focus in the other for casting. That focus could hang from a necklace to make it very easy to access. This eliminated the need for us to regularly verify how the warlock is managing this feat of spellcasting acrobatics.

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