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This is a theoretical situation, but I wanted public opinion on the ruling.

Heat Metal states (ignoring the "At Higher Levels" part):

Choose a manufactured metal object, such as a metal weapon or a suit of heavy or medium metal armor, that you can see within range. You cause the object to glow red-hot. Any creature in physical contact with the object takes 2d8 fire damage when you cast the spell. Until the spell ends, you can use a bonus action on each of your subsequent turns to cause this damage again.

If a creature is holding or wearing the object and takes the damage from it, the creature must succeed on a Constitution saving throw or drop the object if it can. If it doesn't drop the object, it has disadvantage on attack rolls and ability checks until the start of your next turn.

Emphasis mine.

So, strictly RAW, Benny the bard casts Heat Metal on Freddie the fighter's sword. Freddie drops it, either due to failing the save, or on his turn as a choice, or due to any other reason. First of all, it seems the spell would continue if concentration was maintained, because the spell targeted the sword, not Freddie. So if someone picked it up and held it, Benny could repeat the damage on the bearer (even a new bearer) with his next bonus action.

Suppose, though, that on Freddie's turn, he picks up his sword, attacks with it any number of times, then drops it (which doesn't require any action). Benny's turn comes and no one is holding the sword, so he can use his bonus action for anything else, and chooses to maintain concentration. On Freddie's turn, he repeats this, picking up the sword, using it (with no disadvantage, since he didn't take the damage on Benny's last turn, regardless of how the first save went), then drops it. Repeat for the full minute.

Even if Benny was choosing to use his bonus action on the spell every turn (and I think he could, because he's flaring up the object, and it's not the object's fault no one is in physical contact with it), I don't believe that Freddie would take any damage, nor would he suffer disadvantage, since he's not holding it on Benny's turn when the bonus action effect is triggered. And yet he'd get to use the sword normally each turn, subject to the normal limitations of action economy.

Yes, someone should probably move the sword. Yes, Freddie can't use it for opportunity attacks or any of his other off-turn tricks or abilities. Yes, yes, yes, all sorts of contingencies and ways this could be interrupted and issues with continuing the fight this way. I'm not looking for a viable strategy, I just want to see if there's anything missing from my reading of the spell that would make this gravity-boomerang method result in no further damage.

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Yes, you can’t be hurt if you are not in contact with the object on the caster’s turn

All this works as you describe.

I may be wrong but, as I read the question it seemed that there might be confusion about how concentration works. Concentration is not something you have to take a (bonus) action to maintain. If you want to “flare up” the sword you use your bonus action but you can maintain your concentration if you do or don’t and even if you use your bonus action for something else.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks. And no, I understand concentration. I just wanted to clarify that I recognized it not only required that Benny maintain concentration, but also that he was choosing to activate the spell every turn, so that there'd be no question that, if there was any chance for it to cause damage, all due damage was available. Hence, also, the "Benny can use his Bonus action for anything else AND maintain concentration" in the second paragraph. :) \$\endgroup\$ – Mister B Jul 3 at 15:22
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Dropping the sword does not prevent damage

Heat metal states:

Any creature in physical contact with the object takes 2d8 fire damage when you cast the spell. Until the spell ends, you can use a bonus action on each of your subsequent turns to cause this damage again.

It does not state:

Any creature in physical contact with the object takes 2d8 fire damage when you cast the spell. On each of your turns until the spell ends, you can use your bonus action to cause the object to become red-hot in this way again.

The important distinction here is that, when it comes to damage, the Heat Metal spell doesn't care who's in contact with the object after the spell is cast-- it's the people who were in contact initially that took damage and so it is they who will take damage when damage is dealt 'again'.

Dropping the sword does prevent disadvantage

While dropping the sword technically prevents the spell from making you drop the sword if/when you later take the damage, it does so only because you've already dropped the sword, so claiming that doing so is an effective preventative measure is similar to claiming that jumping off a cliff till you die from hp loss protects you from swords.

Those who are 'holding or wearing the object' when they take damage, however, and don't then drop it also suffer from disadvantage on several types of rolls until the start of your next turn. This last effect would be effectively neutralized by ensuring one does not hold or wear the object during the caster's turn.

N.B. This is a RAW answer, and not intended to describe how the spell ordinarily is run by most GMs, which I believe to be different.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ So, as I read your answer, you're saying that if the victim drops the object, by any reason, they still take 2d8 fire damage every turn [assuming caster uses the Bonus Action], whether they're holding it or not? Because your first section header says "[d]ropping the sword does not prevent damage". Am I correctly interpreting the first half of your response? \$\endgroup\$ – Mister B Jul 3 at 20:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MisterB Yes. This is obviously not how the spell is usually run, because that's not how it worked in previous editions and it seems kinda weird. But that's what the spell says, and the question is already about strict RAW stuff. \$\endgroup\$ – the dark wanderer Jul 3 at 23:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ This interpretation is interesting but problematic for me because it implies a creature is targeted (to cause the repeat damage) but the spell only explicitly states that the object is targeted. \$\endgroup\$ – Rykara Jul 3 at 23:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Rykara Neither any creature nor object is explicitly targeted. Targetting is, unfortunately, pretending not to be a keyword in 5e even though it totally is. \$\endgroup\$ – the dark wanderer Jul 4 at 1:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ "Target" aside, I think this reading requires a specific interpretation of "this damage". I think the straightforward interpretation of "this damage (to anyone in contact with the object)" is... straightforward. \$\endgroup\$ – mattdm Jul 4 at 3:55
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No, you only get one object interaction on your turn. Therefore you can choose to pick up your weapon at the start of the turn or drop it at the end, but not both on the same turn, unless you use your action to do so. If you did use your action, you could not then, under typical circumstances, follow up with an attack.

You can also interact with one object or feature of the environment for free, during either your move or your action. For example, you could open a door during your move as you stride toward a foe, or you could draw your weapon as part of the same action you use to attack.

If you want to interact with a second object, you need to use your action.

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    \$\begingroup\$ To clarify @Naut's comment (as I think it is intended), dropping a weapon is so trivial that it doesn't even make it to the "free object interaction" list. \$\endgroup\$ – Rykara Jul 3 at 17:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch Could you back this up with any citation of game text? \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor Jul 3 at 17:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ @enkryptor Is dropping a weapon free?. I think that covers that question, but it does rely on JC currently. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Jul 3 at 17:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch two answers there contradict each other. Also, an SE answer is not a game text. \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor Jul 3 at 17:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Rykara "So trivial that it doesn't even make it to the 'free object interaction' list" is an odd way to look at it. It's not listed as free, therefore it must somehow be even more free? \$\endgroup\$ – Mark Wells Jul 4 at 4:05

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