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The rules on dragons as innate spellcasters state (MM, p. 86):

Dragons are innately magical creatures that can master a few spells as they age, using this variant.

A young or older dragon can innately cast a number of spells equal to its Charisma modifier. Each spell can be cast once per day, requiring no material components...

No other components are waived.

This is a rare case where the specific spells that the creature can cast aren't specified. It has also been stated elsewhere that innate spellcasting only removes a requirement for components if there is text that says it does.

Now, I know that logically, most DMs would just rule that dragons can use their front front claws (which in most pictures of them do not resemble hands) to perform the somatic components of spells. But RAW, somatic components require the use of hands.

If a spell requires a somatic component, the caster must have free use of at least one hand to perform these gestures. (PHB, p. 203)

So according to the Rules as Written, can innate spellcaster dragons cast spells with somatic components? Or are they restricted to those few spells with only verbal and/or material components?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Could they not also cast Verbal/Material spells? (Since those spells don't require material components per the text). That leads to quite a large list. I'm not saying whether I agree that they can't use Somatic components, but even if they do there are lots of options. \$\endgroup\$ – David Coffron Oct 6 '18 at 23:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks @DavidCoffron . That's a good point. I've edited my question's final sentence to include that possibility. \$\endgroup\$ – Gandalfmeansme Oct 6 '18 at 23:19
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The rules don't say they can't cast spells with somatic components, so they can.

I can't find a direct quote that specifically says this but there are a few other examples of (innate) spellcasters that can cast spells with somatic components when they don't have "hands".

First of which is the Faerie Dragon, MM, pg.133:

Innate Spellcasting. [...] It can innately cast a number of spells, requiring no material components. As the dragon ages and changes color, it gains additional spells as shown below.

Red, 1/day each: dancing lights...

Second, there's the Ki-Rin from page 163 of Volo's Guide:

The ki-rin can innately cast the following spells, requiring no material components:

At will: gaseous form...

And the third example is the Morkoth which, while not an innate spellcaster, is a tentacled spellcaster, Volo's Guide, pg.177:

The morkoth has the following wizard spells prepared:

Cantrips (at will): acid splash...

There's probably plenty of other examples but from the above examples the idea seems to be that even though PCs require "free use of at least one hand to perform these gestures", monsters are not bound so strictly to this rule. They may require free use of at least one appendage but they don't require what we humans might traditionally call a hand.

It should also be noted that dragons as innate spellcasters is a variant rule. Dragons aren't listed with a specific set of spells because, by default, they can't cast spells and I assume creating a list of specific spells for each dragon would take up too much real estate for this variant rule. The bottom line, however, is that dragons aren't restricted to those few spells with only verbal and/or material components because it's not stated that they are.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I completely agree that if a creature's stat-block says that they can cast a spell, then they can. And certainly, these examples are good evidence that creatures without hands (and in the useful case of the Ki-rin without digits) can cast spells with somatic components. The thing that's holding me up is that dragons have no specific spells assigned to them. As such, the major RAW reason that these examples you mentioned can cast their spells (that their text says they can) doesn't apply to dragons. \$\endgroup\$ – Gandalfmeansme Oct 6 '18 at 23:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ Again, I think it's all good evidence (and have upvoted your answer): just pointing out a potentially problematic difference. \$\endgroup\$ – Gandalfmeansme Oct 6 '18 at 23:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Gandalfmeansme maybe that should go in the question. I don't see that as a "potentially problematic difference" at all but have attempted to address it in my answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Purple Monkey Oct 7 '18 at 0:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ "The rules don't say they can't cast spells with somatic components, so they can." - is it not actually the opposite of this? I should say I agree with your answer, but this is dangerous and I have been told off for saying it in my answers previously. \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Oct 8 '18 at 14:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm pretty sure the quote about monsters being allowed to replace Somatic components with something appropriate to their physique is in the monster manual. I'll look for it when I can reach my book. \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Oct 9 '18 at 11:27
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I have an opinion that somatic component does not mean that you need hands. Maybe somatic component is using jour tail and wings. Rule regarding somatic component from PHB would be applied only on humanoids from my point of view.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Can you point to any evidence or citations supporting your interpretation? \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Oct 9 '18 at 8:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast. Well, no. It's just my opinion. As already stated in comments to accepted answer, there are creatures that can cast spells, and they don't have hands (example is KI-Rin as Gandalfmeansme pointed out). In the end it's magic, spells are cast in different ways around the planes. I would even dare to say that spells have dialects and for sure they are not universal language. Anyway i wanted to give perspective how to reason that creatures can cast spells with somatic components altough they don't have hands. \$\endgroup\$ – tbalaz Oct 9 '18 at 8:52

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