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In Dungeons & Dragons, many sentient beings or devices could learn spells &/or rituals. But it's unclear who is able is able to perform somatic components normally done by a humanoid of 3' to 6' height. For example, these concern me:

  • Oozes: they're, well, oozes. Can they perform spell gestures? If they're ambulatory and have pseudopods, is that enough?
  • Fae: if they're only 3" tall (6-7 cm) are their hands still large enough?
  • Magic items & animated parts: would an animate embossed cameo within a ring, necklace or coin be enough?
  • Sentient and Awakened creatures: octopi, trees, wolves or squirrels: do paws, branches & tentacles count?
  • Do gesturing images within mirrors (possibly up to full humanoid size) also count?
  • Handicapped: how many fingers/thumbs can one lose and still cast spells?
  • Is giving this ability to illusions, be they permanent, programmed or projected, a logical yet terrible precedent?

Obviously these are all answered just by knowing how much one needs move to trigger somatic components. I cannot find this answer, even in previous versions of D&D.

All these concerns do, in the end, lead to the following question: What appendages does any monster need to provide somatic components for its spells?

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Monsters technically need hands to provide somatic components

Let's start by cutting off some categories: Magic items and (most) Psionics don't need somatic components at all:

Some magic items allow the user to cast a spell from the item. The spell [...] requires no components, unless the item's description says otherwise.

Dungeon Master's Guide, p. 141

A monster that has [the psionic] tag typically doesn't require any components to cast its spells.

Monster Manual, p. 10

For any other monster, check its spellcasting trait. For instance, the Deva's Innate Spellcasting says it only needs to provide verbal components, while the other angels only get a pass on material components.

For monster's which need to provide somatic components, they follow the PHB rules. Specifically the chapter on spellcasting includes:

Different character classes have distinctive ways of learning and preparing their spells, and monsters use spells in unique ways. Regardless of its source, a spell follows the rules here.

Player's Handbook, p. 201

And those rules say on somatic components (emphasis added):

Spellcasting gestures might include a forceful gesticulation or an intricate set of gestures. If a spell requires a somatic component, the caster must have free use of at least one hand to perform these gestures.

So a pedantic reading would conclude that a creature must have at least one hand in order to provide somatic components for their spells. Any creature without those can't.

However, that's silly and awkward. The creature stat blocks in the MM are supposed to just work (MM p. 4), without having to check components and appendages. For example, Juiblex — an oozy demonlord with no apparent hands — has an Innate spellcasting trait which only removed the need for material components and only spells which require somatic. A literal reading of the rules would render that spellcasting trait useless.

This is probably just an artefact of the PC-centric wording of the PHB and solidly where the DM is expected to use their discretion to decide whether an appendage is sufficiently hand-like to work. They do the exact same for wearing magic items (DMG p. 141).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Let us continue this discussion in chat. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Commented Jul 16, 2020 at 18:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Someone_Evil Thanks for resurrecting my question - and a valuable, useful answer as well. That was almost a full party wipe. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 17, 2020 at 14:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ Possibly relevant: the Guardian Naga and Spirit Naga have an unusual Spellcasting feature that requires verbal components only (it's not Innate Spellcasting). This is presumably because they have no hands, as their illustrations show. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mark Wells
    Commented Jul 17, 2020 at 16:35

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