Some actions require a free hand such as grappling and casting:

Using at least one free hand

p. 195 PHB

Simply how is a free hand defined? For example is a hand with a gauntlet on able to cast somatic components of spells? Or are you able to use the hand holding a pistol to reload a Matt Mercer gunslingers gun?

  • \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast would the homebrew tag not be needed for the homebrew example? or is that not related to the question enough? \$\endgroup\$
    – rpgstar
    Nov 12, 2018 at 6:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ Tags are meant to describe what the question itself is about, not simply something mentioned in the question. If your actual question was about the gunslinger situation, that should be asked directly. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Nov 12, 2018 at 6:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Rubiksmoose The [terminology] tag is for RPG-specific terms and jargon. This isn’t that; it’s a question about English meaning (no tag) of a passage in the rules (D&D 5e tag). \$\endgroup\$ Nov 12, 2018 at 18:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie: To be fair, it seems like rpgstar is asking specifically because they're assuming "free hand" has a game definition (or they don't know whether there is one). It seems like your approach suggests that the appropriateness of the tag here is determined by what the answer to the question is. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Nov 13, 2018 at 0:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast I don’t think [terminology] has been used much for game-specific terms. It’s mostly for role playing games terminology rather than specific-games terminology. I’m very leery of it getting used on every question about what a game term means, since that will drown out the till-now primary use of the tag. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 13, 2018 at 7:51

2 Answers 2


"Free hand" has no special definition or game meaning. In the absence of such a definition, D&D 5e defaults to interpreting such terms using natural English language.

In this case, it matches definition #8 from Dictionary.com's entry for free:

not occupied or in use

A gauntlet doesn't really "occupy" or use your hand; it just protects/covers it. A pistol (or any other object) held in that hand would, in fact, occupy it.

  • \$\begingroup\$ could it also be interpreted RAW as beind definition #39? "to make free; set at liberty; release from bondage, imprisonment, or restraint." Which would mean if the hand isn't shackled or tied in some way it is free? If not then what makes one definition more RAW than the other? \$\endgroup\$
    – rpgstar
    Nov 12, 2018 at 7:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ @rpgstar This isn't about what's "RAW"; it's about reading in context. See, for example, the Animated Shield, which hovers in front of you, "leaving your hands free". Or the Monk's Deflect Missiles ability, which lets you catch the missile if you have a free hand--implying that you can deflect the missile even if your hand is not free in this sense. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mark Wells
    Nov 12, 2018 at 7:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ @rpgstar “A free hand” is a centuries-old idiom that can’t be interpreted as “an unshackled hand” without a joke involved. It means simply a hand that is available to use, in the same way that “a free moment” is having one available to use for something. It’s synonymous with “a spare hand”. Or in other words: if you don’t understand a phrase and ask others to explain it, don’t turn around and tell them that you know better. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 12, 2018 at 9:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie i meant no disrespect i was just wondering what made one definition more correct since they are both from the same source. \$\endgroup\$
    – rpgstar
    Nov 12, 2018 at 10:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ Definition 39 is a verb. In "a free hand" it's an adjective. One definition is better than another because one is the wrong part of speech. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 12, 2018 at 12:20

I think that this one might require a case-by-case ruling, which is what the DM is generally for. V2Blast does a good job of just pointing out the common English definition of a "free hand", but depending on how realistic the game is being run, there may be some things that you can do without a free hand.

For example, I can hold several bags of groceries, a phone, a waterbottle, and also use that hand to unlock and open a door, even though neither of my hands are free. But I probably couldn't reload a gun or do anything precise, and I certainly couldn't attack with a sword, at least not without dropping all my eggs. I might be able to make minor gestures to cast a spell, although not competently.

  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 because it seems like a good RAI answer except it doesnt really say how to apply this at the game table. possibly ending it with "basically up to the dm" or something similar at your discretion because i find the answer feels incomplete. either way great answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – rpgstar
    Nov 18, 2018 at 2:03

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