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Would it be acceptable to hold a shield without using your hands? For example use it as an adornment, chinese hat, tied back as a backpack, etc.

*Just hold without "donning" it?

I'm asking because I got an item called Shield of the Uven Rune and I'm not proficient with shields, but the item says:

While holding the shield, you benefit from the following properties.

So I was thinking if I can benefit from its magic properties by just holding it as a hat or an adornment.

I was thinking that after reading this post Can you hold a shield without donning it?

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Something can only be held if it is in your hands

Firstly, this is because of the definition of hold:

[with object] Grasp, carry, or support with one's arms or hands.

Furthermore it would be rather unintuitive if something requires that you hold it and you ended up balancing it on your head or foot. You can wear a hat on your head, or hold it in your hand.

There isn't any explicit mention of this because it isn't needed; fifth edition uses standard English when not using game terms and "to hold" is not a game term.

For a more extreme justification, imagine you could hold something by putting it on your back or head; what is stopping you from holding an arbitrarily large number of items that only need to be "held"? The number of items you can hold is meant to be limited by your number of hands (nearly always 2).

Another Q/A at least has an answer that follows this same logic:

While holding this wand, a creature gains a +1 bonus to spell attack rolls.

You don't need to use the wand as a focus or actually involve it in the spell in any way. Though one imagines that is the narrative intent, the rules only require that it's in your hand when you cast a spell. 

This answer assumes that in order for something to be held it must be in your hand; though this is, by no means, a form of evidence, since there aren't actual rules explicitly defining "to hold", we default to Standard English. To that end how people have actually understood the text is helpful - it's an example of it being interpreted as Standard English.


It was pointed out that we do use the verb "to hold" outside of just your hands (a dog can hold something in its mouth? You can hold a person on your shoulders? You can hold something between your toes?), and if you'd really like to allow your players to stockpile their mouth with wands or something similar, go right ahead. However, the rules never mention doing anything of the sort and it's quite clear that this is not how the rule/word is meant to be interpreted here.

Further evidence that holding something requires that it be in your hands

For ruther evidence that a held item must be held in the hand, we can look at the "Wielding and Wearing Items" section:

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.

This equates "the appropriate fashion of donning a weapon" with "holding a weapon"; clearly the appropriate fashion for a weapon is to hold it in your hand, and so we can see that holding things, at least in fifth edition dnd, means to hold things in your hands.

The section on "Material Components" states:

[...] A spellcaster must have a hand free to access a spell's material components -- or to hold a spellcasting focus [...]

This establishes that to hold a spellcasting focus you need specifically a hand. Though you could argue that this is unique to spellcasting foci - that to old anything else, you don't need to use your hand - I believe it's clear that this is meant to establish that the focus requires a free hand, whereas other items would require a hand, free or otherwise.

Finally, the Lingering Injuries Table includes the following result:

Lose an Arm or a Hand. You can no longer hold anything with two hands, and you can hold only a single object at a time. Magic such as the regenerate spell can restore the lost appendage.

It is clear that losing an arm/hand does not impact whether or not you can "hold something with your foot", and if losing a hand results in your only being able to hold a single object at a time, then it is clear that in order for something to be held, it must be held in your hand.


Evidence that holding something does not require that it be in your hands

The description of the Holy Symbol is as follows:

A holy symbol is a representation of a god or pantheon. A cleric or paladin can use a holy symbol as a spellcasting focus, as described in the Spellcasting section. To use the symbol in this way, the caster must hold it in hand, wear it visibly, or bear it on a shield.

If holding something already required that it be in your hand then there would be no reason to include the words "in hand".

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    \$\begingroup\$ this is silly. You can clearly hold something with your mouth or feet; to argue that holding is only with ones hands as a matter of language is just as completely untenable as arguing you can 'hold' something by balancing it on your head. Just because a dictionary gives a bad definition doesn't mean we have to ignore how a word is used. That said, the argument about designer intent is more grounded in reality-- it's pretty clear the rules don't want you trying to pull a Zoro) or picking up a magic item with your toes while standing on one foot! \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 27, 2019 at 8:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ To be fair, the description of the holy symbol including the words "in hand" isn't really evidence that "holding" can be done in other ways. There's plenty of redundant wording in the books. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Commented Dec 27, 2019 at 20:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast Yeah I just thought I might as well add it for completeness. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 27, 2019 at 20:50

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