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I'm having trouble understanding the action economy of joining "melee combat" with "spellcasting".

Jon is a Hexblade warlock (Xanathar's Guide to Everything, p. 55) that likes using his Pact of the Blade Greatsword, or, if feeling down, a Pact of the Blade Rapier and a Shield. Basically, he's either going two-handed-mode, or sword-and-board. Jon, in his great sapience, took some useful spells, such as blur, and the War Caster feat to get advantage on his Concentration saves and also eliminate the need for a free hand on spells with somatic components.

However, this is not enough for Jon. He also took hypnotic pattern, which Jon believes to be borderline OP. However, hypnotic pattern has both material and somatic components, so Jon can't just whiff out spells through his weapon. So, how can Jon alternate between casting and attacking without dropping his awesome weapon on the ground for others to steal?

Jon thinks he should start by using a component pouch to avoid having to waste "free object interactions" to get his material components (as seen here). He thinks it might be possible, when in 2h-mode, to release one hand, cast whatever, grab weapon again.

He's not sure it is possible, in 1h+shield mode, to drop the weapon, cast the spell, and pick it back up. Is Jon correct?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Why isn't Jon just using some wood glue on the inside of the shield to glue a component pouch there? Would this still require the free action? (Not sure if this deserves its own question) \$\endgroup\$ – John Hamilton Jun 19 '18 at 7:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ Jon's pretty sure that doesnt really fit the rules \$\endgroup\$ – BlueMoon93 Jun 19 '18 at 12:18
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It's possible, but Kludgy.

When going Sword and Board, Jon has no free hands, and no easy opportunity for a free hand, to access their Component Pouch or Focus. The only way to access a material component would be to drop their weapon, access the Material Component, and then pick the weapon back up.

This is possible, as dropping an item has no interaction cost, it can just happen. That leaves Jon with the Object Interaction to pick up the blade after he casts his spell requiring the material component.

When going two-handed weapon, Jon can simply release a hand, cast, and grab ahold again. No cost penalty there.

Do also note that it costs a full action to Don/Doff a shield (in case Jon isn't sure if they're going to go into battle sword/board or two-handed...he probably needs to have made up his mind earlier.)

Beware of the Readied Action

If this becomes a known tactic of Jon, there may be an enemy out there at some time who waits for this opportunity and snatches up the weapon using a Readied Action triggered off it dropping (and therefore not giving Jon a chance to pick it back up.)

Worst case scenario here is that Jon uses his action next turn to create a new pact weapon.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ "The only way to access a material component would be to drop their weapon, access the Material Component, and then pick the weapon back up." Might be best to write that you can also use that same free hand to do the somatic component of the spell. \$\endgroup\$ – Premier Bromanov Jun 18 '18 at 19:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PremierBromanov They've got warcaster, so somatic is covered. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Jun 18 '18 at 20:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ Would mentioning Ruby of the archmage from Xanathars help the issue? That could be used for material components. \$\endgroup\$ – Jihelu Jun 19 '18 at 6:02
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All you need to cast spells with material components is a free hand.

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.

So can you cast spells with material components without dropping your weapon?

Sword and Board - Yes with Caveats

You can use your free object interaction1 to sheath your weapon. This leaves you a free hand to cast a spell with material components. This means you will have to end your turn with your weapon sheathed and if you make opportunity attacks you won't be able to use that sheathed weapon. Fortunately you have War Caster, so that is not much of a problem.

You won't be able to cast reaction spells with material components, unless you preemptively sheathe your weapon before the end of your turn. At the time of writing, the only such spells are Feather Fall and Soul Cage.

Bonus action spell with material components can be a bit problematic if you also want to attack with your weapon on the same turn. At the time of writing, the only such spells are Dragon's Breath, Flame Blade, Hex, Sanctuary, Shield of Faith, Shillelagh, and Swift Quiver. You need to pay attention to the order in which you act: if you start your turn with weapon in hand, then you can only attack, sheathe, and cast; if you start your turn with the weapon sheathed, then you can only cast, unsheathe, and attack.

You can avoid all these issues if you get the Improved pact Weapon invocation, which lets you use your pact weapon as a spell casting focus, among other benefits.

Two-Handed Weapons. - Yes without Caveats

According to the Player's Handbook errata:

Two-Handed (p. 147). This property is relevant only when you attack with the weapon, not when you simply hold it.

This means that you effectively have a free hand while you are not swinging your two-handed weapon, so you can use that free hand to cast spells with material components.

1. Notes - Really Understand Free Object Interactions

A 'free object interaction' is not it's own rule, rather it's short hand for one of the rules in Other Activity on Your Turn:

You can also interact with one object of feature of the environment for free, during either your move or your action. [...] If you want to interact with a second object, you need to use your action.

Technically, you can only sheathe or unsheathe your weapon during your action or move, but this isn't a problem in our case because you always do so at the beginning or end or your action, as appropriate. The primary take away is that you can only sheathe or unsheathe once per turn without wasting your action. The secondary take away is that you can't sheathe or unsheathe during bonus actions or reactions, unless they include movement.

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    \$\begingroup\$ If you end your turn with your weapon sheathed, remember that you can draw a weapon as part of your attack, although it has to be on your turn. Meaning no AoO. So sheathing your weapon doesn't mean your use your object interaction next turn to draw it, you simply draw it as the attack. Thought it would be good to add. \$\endgroup\$ – Premier Bromanov Jun 18 '18 at 19:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ Drawing a weapon as part of the attack is the free object interaction. "You can also interact with one object of feature of the environment for free, during either your move or your action. [...] If you want to interact with a second object, you need to use your action." \$\endgroup\$ – Ruse Jun 18 '18 at 20:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ ahh, my mistake \$\endgroup\$ – Premier Bromanov Jun 18 '18 at 20:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ You could still do Opportunity Attacks, but only with unarmed strikes. However, since I have War Caster, I have other options to AoO \$\endgroup\$ – BlueMoon93 Jun 18 '18 at 23:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ @BlueMoon93 yes, that's is what I meant when I wrote "won't be able to use it [the sheathed weapon] for opportunity attacks" I'll edit my answer to make it clearer. \$\endgroup\$ – Ruse Jun 18 '18 at 23:51
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With the Greatsword? Yes.

This answer explains why, but in brief you just let go with one hand and hold the greatsword in the other for a moment (it's only attacking that requires you to use both hands).

With sword-and-board? Yes, via the method you describe.

Dropping the rapier is not any kind of action. Then, casting the spell is an action, which the component pouch usage is included in, and finally Jon can as part of his movement use a free object interaction to pick the rapier up.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Which answer are you talking about? \$\endgroup\$ – MrHiTech Jun 18 '18 at 18:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MrHiTech Good point, I have now linked to the accepted answer rather than the question. \$\endgroup\$ – Vigil Jun 19 '18 at 9:34
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If you have a rapier, shield, and component pouch, you can cast hypnotic pattern by dropping your rapier, casting, and then picking it back up--which can be done in a single turn. Some alternatives that require additional items or character features include:

For the material component:

  • Acquire a magic rapier or shield that doubles as an arcane focus. I believe this would need to be homebrewed, as no such rapier appears to exist in official materials.
  • Acquire a Dark Shard Amulet or a Ruby of the War Mage (both magic items from Xanathar's Guide to Everything). Both are of common rarity and require attunement, with the amulet having the advantage of not preventing you from using a more powerful magic rapier.
  • Get the Improved Pact Weapon eldritch invocation, which you qualify for as a Pact of the Blade warlock. This allows you to use your pact weapon as an arcane focus.

For the somatic component:

  • Get the War Caster feat:

    You can perform the somatic components of spells even when you have weapons or a shield in one or both hands.

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You have options!

Warlocks with Pact of the Blade (and Sword Bards) both have a way to count their weapon as their spellcasting focus. Warlocks can take the Improved Pact Weapon invocation to allow weapon-as-focus for Warlock spells, while College of Swords Bards can use any melee weapon they're proficient with for Bard spells. There's also the Ruby of the War Mage that can turn any weapon into a focus, too.

With minor power comes minor complications...

If the spell has non-expensive material components, the hand you have the focus in can also be used for somatic components - the focus substitutes for the material components, and you wave the focus around instead of finger-wiggling. However, you can only combine them if the spell has both somatic and non-expensive material components. You're out of luck for somatic-only spells (or somatic+verbal).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Are there any options for a sword+shield EK with War Caster to cast spells with material compoents, or alternatively the same EK multi-classed into wizard (thinking e.g. quarterstaff as a focus?) Or is the only choice drop and pick-up? \$\endgroup\$ – Blaise Jan 28 at 10:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Blaise Ruby of the War Mage. \$\endgroup\$ – T.J.L. Jan 28 at 23:05
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A few minor things first:

He's not sure it is possible, in 1h+shield mode, to drop the weapon, cast the spell, and pick it back up. Is Jon correct?

As far as I know, this is incorrect RAI (but not RAW): Dropping an item does NOT count as an Item Interaction*, so Jon could still pick up their sword as a Free Object interaction during his move.

* Apparently the original tweet, and thus the related Sage Advice entry, has been deleted. At one point, there was a direct ruling that a player could drop + pick up their weapon in the same turn without using an action. I don't know if that ruling was contested, or if the tweet just isn't available anymore.

As DM, personally, I'd probably roll to find out if the sword rolls away or falls on his toes though, so that's not an ideal solution under those conditions (not RAW, though).

Jon thinks he should start by using a Component Pouch, to avoid having to waste "free-object-interactions" to get his Material Components (as seen here). He thinks it might be possible, when in 2h-mode, to release one hand, cast whatever, grab weapon again.

With a 2handed weapon, this isn't necessary. It's perfectly legal to hold a 2handed weapon using one hand; most of these weapons aren't that heavy. The requirement for these weapons only applies when actually using them. So releasing one hand, grabbing your focus, and casting, is perfectly legal, regardless of the circumstances:

A Spellcaster must have a hand free to access [material] components, but it can be the same hand that he or she uses to perform somatic components.PHB, section on Material Components in Spellcasting Chapter

Note that there is no need to have a Component Pouch. Incidentally, Component Pouches don't meaningfully change the rules for spellcasting; they just function as flavor to make Spellcasting more interesting.

So, how can Jon alternate between casting and attacking without dropping his awesome weapon on the ground for others to steal?

As mentioned, for two-handed weapons, Jon is covered. And for Sword + Shield, Jon doesn't usually need to worry about anyone swiping his weapon (beware of readied actions, though!)

A better solution would be to not have to drop it in the first place:

You can perform the somatic components of spells even when you have weapons or a shield in one or both hands.PHB, page 170, Warcaster Feat

You can use any weapon you summon with your Pact of the Blade feature as a spellcasting focus for your Warlock Spells.Xanathar's Guide to Everything, page 57, Improved Pact Weapon Invocation

If they already plan to take the Warcaster feat, then they would only need to take the Improved Pact Weapon Invocation to be able to perform Somatic + Material components of their spells without needing to drop or even let go of their weapons. So Jon might consider just swapping one of their Invocations for IPW next time they level up.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Link is dead :/ \$\endgroup\$ – BlueMoon93 Jun 18 '18 at 19:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ Whoops, deleted the link. \$\endgroup\$ – Xirema Jun 18 '18 at 19:54

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