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If you are wielding a shield, is that arm/hand available to be used to hold another item or object? Or is that arm/hand completely occupied by the shield?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Hold another item or wield it? \$\endgroup\$
    – Szega
    Commented Apr 6, 2018 at 17:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ Let's go with hold, since if you're wielding you're already holding. But you could be holding but not wielding. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Commented Apr 6, 2018 at 17:17

5 Answers 5

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RAW, Your hand is occupied.

The description of a shield in the PHB states...

Shields. A shield is made from wood or metal and is carried in one hand. Wielding a shield increases your Armor Class by 2. You can benefit from only one shield at a time.

Emphasis mine from PHB p144

Thus, the PHB seems to be referring to shields that are 'held' with the hand, not simply 'strapped' to the arm.

In the medieval era, this was the norm. You'd either have a handle you gripped, a handle + a strap, or two straps (but you'd hold one of them in your fist). If you just strap a shield to your arm and don't have it mechanically affixed to your armor or something...the first time something hits it, it's just going to spin, hit you in the face or legs, and then be useless...because there's nothing holding it in place.

So, the back of your shield probably looks like this

or like this

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'd propose that the hand is occupied only if wielding the shield i.e., deriving its benefit, namely the +2 AC. If simply holding the shield (strapped on but useless), then one could also hold an item in that hand. Thus one could instantly drop the item and wield the shield at zero cost. Definitely not RAW, but reasonable for medium or large shields. \$\endgroup\$
    – Phlucious
    Commented Apr 6, 2018 at 20:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ From personal experience, you can hold something in the gripping hand of the shield; you lose a little bit of stability, but it's not a huge deal. \$\endgroup\$
    – Sarah
    Commented Apr 6, 2018 at 21:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ Considering that proper use of a shield requires carefully angling the shield to deflect blows, rather than accept the direct impact, holding something in your hand is what you absolutely do not want to do. \$\endgroup\$
    – nijineko
    Commented Apr 7, 2018 at 2:55
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Not by RAW.

PHB 144:

A shield is made from wood or metal and is carried in one hand.

Based on this wording, a shield is carried in your hand, which means that you cannot carry another object in your hand.

As a DM making a ruling, I would probably allow some leeway, but the wording is pretty clear.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Mike Mearls has said here that you can maybe carry something, but not use it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Szega
    Commented Apr 6, 2018 at 17:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ Not official with mearls :) I'd be wary of leeway, too. Otherwise it's a workaround for not stowing a weapon(instead of the riskier drop if you are taking out another item) or even if the hand is free enough to hold something you can perform a somatic component. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Commented Apr 6, 2018 at 17:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ Allowing to carry but not use a small object would be reasonable. Most shield grips would let you hold say a javelin, axe or other small-diameter item without much trouble and this is/was commonly done by fighters expecting to open combat by hurling a ranged weapon and then switch quickly. It might grant an attacker advantage depending on how far the item sticks out from behind the shield though. \$\endgroup\$
    – Perkins
    Commented Apr 6, 2018 at 20:32
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Yes, of course.

Clearly a character can't use both items at the same time, but holding a small object in the shield hand is easy. Just ask this authentic Viking...

enter image description here

I know the rules don't explicitly state you can, but I don't think that's how 5e was intended to be read or played.

But I'm likely wrong.

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    \$\begingroup\$ 5e is not a simulationist system so many things you could do in real life are impossible in 5e \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 7, 2018 at 12:15
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Actually if you study combat by Scottish fighters, they held a dagger in the hand with the shield strap while using a basket-hilt sword in the other hand. They performed a 3 tier attack: hit one opponent with the shield and sliced across the opponent's throat/chest with the dagger, punched the next opponent with the basket hilt part of the sword, and then stabbed or sliced a third opponent with the sword blade. So carrying or using a small rod of power in the hand securing the shield is definitely a possibility as shown by the Scots.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The D&D group tends to be strict. They often want official rulings from the game even if they don't tag it as RAW (rules-as-written). And then they like to know how a house-rule worked in your game -- did it make warriors too powerful? Is there a feat that does the same thing but better? There's a ton of stuff you can do for real that you can't do in D&D, and vice-versa. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 6, 2021 at 23:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ More specifically, we expect answers to guide people through using the relevant TRPG. What some people have done in real life is only relevant to D&D 5e insofar as D&D 5e makes it relevant — at which point it's appropriate to talk about what is available in D&D 5e and what we should be doing to make this work, not to start and end at real life discussion. Random history isn't helpful for helping people use the system until the answer actually guides people on how to use the system. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 7, 2021 at 0:00
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Regarding RAW, D&D is a game for social enjoyment, not a set of laws for the purposes of oppression. For my group, if a player comes up with an innovative variation of the game rules that enhances game enjoyment while maintaining game balance, everyone wins.

An example of this is ruling an object can be held and even used by the shield hand but only if it somehow becomes part of the wielded shield (either permanently or temporarily) and the RAW definition of the item allows it to be used "passively". That is, not as a weapon or requiring targeting. For instance, a standard shield can be modified by an appropriate crafter to enhance the shield grip with attachments for a Rod of the Pact Keeper. This would allow the Rod's abilities to be used by a shield-wielding Hexblade warlock.

HOWEVER..

To provide game balance,

  1. the attachments must be created and permanently incorporated into the shield by a professional crafter with time and cost required for the work,
  2. attaching/detaching the Rod to and from the shield requires a full minute not under stress,
  3. the hand holding the shield/Rod combo grip must not be covered in any way that would interfere with the use of the Rod (as defined by the RAW), and
  4. dropping or otherwise losing possession of the shield also results in loss of the possession of the attached Rod.

Other requirements can be added, like requiring the shield material to be the same as the Rod, the shield becomes unusable without the Rod as part of the grip, or the shield cannot itself be magical. But my DM wasn't quite that stingy.

It turned out that the shield/Rod combo was useful to the character without throwing off game balance in any way yet it made a simple basic wooden shield that much more precious to the player while draining a bit of the player's funds and allowing the group to make friends with a wood-carving NPC. Everybody won something by way of a simple innovation.

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