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I have found this Q/A explaining some items a Thief can use through their Fast Hands feature as well as this tweet (though now unofficial) from Jeremy Crawford saying that Fast Hands does work with a shield.
The Fast Hands feature's description states:

You can use the bonus action granted by your Cunning Action to... take the Use an Object action.

And then the "Use an Object" section states:

When an object requires your action for its use, you take the Use an Object action...

The DMG (page 141) states this about activating magic items in particular:

If an item requires an action to activate, that action isn't a function of the Use an Object action, so a feature such as the rogue's Fast Hands can't be used to activate the item.

Shields require an action to don or doff and "Shield, +1, +2, or +3" are listed under the "Magic Items" section of the DMG on page 200.
However, it is still unclear to me whether donning/doffing a shield counts as either "Using an Object" or "Activating a magic item", so I am wondering:

How does Fast Hands interact with mundane and magical shields?

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You can use Fast Hands to equip a shield.

In the Player's Handbook, on page 193, the Use an Object action says:

When an object requires your action for its use, you take the Use an Object action.

A shield is an object, and donning or doffing a shield requires an action, so it seems to fall under Use an Object, just like any other object use that requires an action (such as pouring out a bag of ball bearings). As such, it should be valid for Fast Hands to accomplish that as a bonus action.

Whether the shield is magic or not makes no difference.

Equipping a magic item is not the same as activating it. The Dungeon Master's Guide (p.140-141) discusses "Wearing and Wielding Items" and "Activating Items" as separate headings:

Using a magic item's properties might mean wearing or wielding it. A magic item meant to be worn must be donned in the intended fashion: boots go on the feet, gloves on the hands, hats and helmets on the head, and rings on the finger. Magic armor must be donned, a shield strapped to the arm, a cloak fastened about the shoulders. A weapon must be held in hand.

This makes specific mention of donning armor and shields, but no mention of it being anything more than the normal donning action.

Activation is an entirely different sort of action:

Activating some magic items requires a user to do something special, such as holding the item and uttering a command word. The description of each item category or individual item details how an item is activated. [...] If an item requires an action to activate, that action isn't a function of the Use an Item action.

and, under the item category listing for Potions:

Drinking a potion or administering a potion to another character requires an action.

So "activating an item using an action" is when the item's description or the item's category specifically calls out that activating it is an action.

Arguably, a magic weapon is activated when it is used to make an attack, and magic shields or armor are activated when the wearer is attacked, but whichever way you go on that, it still wouldn't stop Fast Hands from working with the item.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ You are wrong in your first paragraph, as a shield is explicitly called out to take an Action to don. Adding a quote from the relevant DMG passage to the 2nd paragraph would also be nice. \$\endgroup\$ – Szega Jul 30 at 18:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Szega An object interaction that requires an action (not your free one) is still Use An Object. I added a supporting quote. \$\endgroup\$ – Darth Pseudonym Jul 30 at 18:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ Regarding your last paragraph, such items are often always active - you don't "activate" the passive benefits of a +1 weapon or shield, it's just a trait that is always on for them. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Jul 31 at 4:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast I tend to agree, I think there was some phrasing to that effect in 4e that's still in people's heads. That said, if "Activating some magic items requires a user to do something special", that implies that other items activate without doing anything special. \$\endgroup\$ – Darth Pseudonym Jul 31 at 12:51
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There is no interaction - you aren't using it, you are donning it.

Using an object covers:

You normally interact with an object while doing something else, such as when you draw a sword as part of an attack. When an object requires your action for its use, you take the Use an Object action. This action is also useful when you want to interact with more than one object on your turn.

The question is does donning a shield equate to "requiring an action for its use". However, you aren't 'using' a shield with the action - the shield provides it's +2 AC when donned - there is no action to use it.

The action for donning is not using, but simply:

This is the time it takes to put on armor. You benefit from the armor's AC only if you take the full time to don the suit of armor.

The act of donning the shield takes an action - hard stop. It isn't 'using' the shield that would call it "using an object", it is simply the amount of time it takes which equates to approximately 6 seconds.

Because you're not using it and the donning rules are just to cover the amount of time it takes to put on or remove shields, you can't use "Use an object" to don or doff. You must use your action.

Another way of looking at this is that you wear a pair of pants. I don't think you say "I'm going to go use pants" in the morning. Wearing and using are different things.

This is supported by the language used in Chapter 5 of the PHB regarding armor. It's never about using, it's all about wearing.

Anyone can put on a suit of armor or strap a shield to an arm. Only those proficient in the armor's use know how to wear it effectively, however. Your class gives you proficiency with certain types of armor. If you wear armor that you lack proficiency with, you have disadvantage on any ability check, saving throw, or attack roll that involves Strength or Dexterity, and you can't cast spells.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I had just assumed armor and shields were separate like here: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/116248 \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 Jul 30 at 18:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ Related: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/78429/… \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Jul 30 at 18:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ What stops this argument from applying to all cases of "using an object", since there's always a more specific verb that could apply? "You aren't 'using' a candle, you're lighting it," etc. \$\endgroup\$ – Mark Wells Jul 31 at 4:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NahynOklauq "Attack" is explicitly defined as a separate action with its own mechanics. "Wear an object" is not. \$\endgroup\$ – Mark Wells Jul 31 at 13:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ @markwells I'm pretty sure the argument here is that don/doff are similarly separate actions with their own mechanics - that they are more specific than "Use an Object" \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 Jul 31 at 14:06
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Donning or Doffing a shield requires an action

Donning or doffing armor is separate from the "Use an Object" action. Notably, a shield is the only kind of "armor" that takes 1 action to don or doff. The rules for donning and doffing are pretty clear:

Don. This is the time it takes to put on armor. You benefit from the armor's AC only if you take the full time to don the suit of armor.

Doff. This is the time it takes to take off armor. If you have help, reduce this time by half.

It doesn't name any kind of action, it just says that this is how long it takes to don/doff the armor/shield. Notably, it stresses that you only benefit from the armor if you take the full time to don it. Donning or doffing a shield is mechanically the same as donning or doffing armor, with the only difference being the time required to do so. The fact that the don/doff time for a shield happens to be the same as the time required for Use an Object doesn't make it an instance of Use an Object.

Donning/doffing a shield is not "using" it

You use a shield by putting it between you and an incoming attack. Mechanically, the shield is automatically used every time something rolls an attack against you, and this use is represented by the static +2 bonus to AC. You can only use the shield in this way if you are wearing it (i.e. you have spent an action donning it). No action is required to use the shield in this way, so the "Use an Object" rules do not apply.

There are some features that give you ways to use a shield with your action, bonus action, or reaction, such as the Shield Master feat or the fighter's Protection fighting style. However, all of these are special actions on their own, not "Use an Object".

If you wanted to improvise the use of a shield to do something like using it as a lever to pry open a stuck door, that would be an instance of "Use an Object", since it is not covered by any of the specific mechanics of shield use.

Magic shields are no different, unless they say so

Donning or doffing a shield is not considered activating a magic item. The only time you can activate a magic item is when the item's description describes an action you can take to activate it, as described in the chapter on magic items (emphasis added):

Activating some magic items requires a user to do something special, such as holding the item and uttering a command word. The description of each item category or individual item details how an item is activated.

A standard +1 magic shield doesn't describe any way of activating it, so the rules for activating magic items have no bearing on it.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't believe you state your argument for why donning/doffing does not count as using an object, or rather, how the shield is not "requiring your action for its use" \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 Jul 30 at 20:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ The argument is that it's mechanically the same as donning/doffing armor, which can't be the Use an Object action because it takes longer than one action. The fact that the don/doff time for a shield is the same as the time required for Use an Object (1 action) is just a coincidence. I'll edit to make it clearer. \$\endgroup\$ – Ryan Thompson Jul 30 at 20:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think you're misunderstanding how 'Use an Object' works. Things don't say they are 'Use an Object'; 'Use an Object' says that any time you use an object and it takes your action, that's automatically the 'Use an Object' action. Even if donning and doffing somehow isn't an action even though it takes an action, which is a legitamate reading, though I disagree, features that say 'you can spend an action to do X using object Y' are Use an Object actions unless they specifically call out not being that because that's how Use an Object works... \$\endgroup\$ – the dark wanderer Jul 30 at 21:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ Shield master and Protection aren't because they use the wrong kind of action-- a bonus action or a reaction-- and not just because they are new options. Now, in 1st party material there are no UaO action options you get via class or feat, as far as I am aware, but that's a limitation on how features are worded not on how they could be worded. Objects, obviously, are often worded that way to make new UaO actions, see e.g. caltrops. \$\endgroup\$ – the dark wanderer Jul 30 at 21:09
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You can almost definitely doff all shields

So, all item-use-actions are Use an Object unless expressly stated otherwise, since Use an Object gives itself that super broad mandate you've quoted in your description. The question, then, is whether taking a shield off is 'using' it. It seems like it should be, because in-fiction you're using the belt dohickeys on the straps to release it from your arm, but maybe your having to take an action here has nothing to do with interacting with the shield at all in your DMs world, in which case it might not be a 'use'.

Magic Items, of course, do have an exception, as you've noted, but that exception is much more restricted than 'use': it's only for 'activation'.

Doffing a shield, even a magic shield, can hardly be considered an 'activation', even if it is an action taken to use the object. Magic Items do not have an exception for items that require an action to deactivate.

You can probably don magic shields, and definitely* don mundane ones

Donning a shield is definitely* using it, but now it might also be activating it. 'Activate' isn't typically used this way in English, so you are probably okay, but it's definitely closer than for doffing. Mundane shields, obviously, don't have an exception even if it is ruled to be an activation.


  • Okay, so apparently at least some people believe employing a shield defensively is somehow not using it. While I've never encountered this interpretation before, particularly given this tweet but also just how consistently the word 'use' is used with regards to the employing of shields in combat-- this Ngram puts 'using a shield' at mostly between a half and a seventh as common as 'ate potatoes' across the last 200ish years, and this Ngram puts it as about twice as oft used as 'wearing a shield'. But still, maybe your GM is weird, and you should definitely ask them if shields can be used in combat or not in their campaign.
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  • \$\begingroup\$ I do not know that I would call administering a healing potion an activation either, yet it is not allowed for Fast Hands \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 Jul 30 at 18:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Medix2 That's because the rulebook is bad and both pretends it is using words 'normally' but totally isn't doing that most of the time. In this case the issue is the rule: "Some items are used up when they are activated. A potion or an elixir must be swallowed [...]" from the DMG. This makes drinking a potion an activation (unless we take the second sentance as a non-sequiter), wheras with just the Basic Rules or the PHB it's not (though with the former you can Fast Hands just about anything so there's that too). \$\endgroup\$ – the dark wanderer Jul 30 at 18:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ I have now realized it also explicitly calls out "consumables" as an activated magic item category, my mistake \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 Jul 30 at 18:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ Your definition of "using" a shield isn't an action, it lasts from when you don the shield till you doff it. \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Jul 31 at 3:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Miniman Right, but you take an action to use it. Using it isn't an action, but it does require an action for its use. That is to say, there's an action you have to take in order to use the item, which is what the text cares about. Loading a firearm also isn't using it, but it's certainly an action that is required for its use! \$\endgroup\$ – the dark wanderer Jul 31 at 3:31

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