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A player in my group is interested in making a offensive shield build. They found that if you get a quickdraw shield and modify it with the throwing shield property, that you can don it, and throw it all as a free action. Then, if they put it on a blinkback belt, then it returns to their belt immediately after the attack is resolved.

Thankfully there is a rule that states you can only perform a reasonable number of free actions per turn... In this case... How many shield tosses would be a "reasonable" [mechanically balanced] amount?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Is there a balance issue this is causing, or is it just that it doesn't feel realistic? Throwing weapons in general are usually on the weak side in my experience. \$\endgroup\$ – John Montgomery Sep 28 '20 at 21:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ You can do all of these, including the throw, as a free action. The attack is a free action. The throwing shield property states you can unclasp and throw it as a free action. Then it blinks back because of the belt, and you can requip it as a free action because of quickdraw shield. \$\endgroup\$ – Erudaki Sep 28 '20 at 21:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JohnMontgomery while infinite free action attacks in a few hundred foot radius may not be a balancing problem for ALL games, they certainly are a problem for most. \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Sep 29 '20 at 6:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Pleasestopbeingevil At the time I posted that comment, I hadn't even considered the possibility of infinite free action attacks because I didn't interpret it to work that way in the first place, as I mentioned in my answer. \$\endgroup\$ – John Montgomery Sep 29 '20 at 17:09
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The answer to “what is the reasonable number of free-action attacks” is simply zero, because one should not get free-action attacks. Throwing Shield should never have been printed saying that you could.

Pathfinder has a standard way of having things give “extra” attacks, and that is through “bonus attacks.” And there are several things about bonus attacks that are worth bearing in mind here:

  • Bonus attacks represent attacking faster somehow. You are able to simply move faster than someone else (e.g. haste), or you are able to make simultaneous attacks (swinging a weapon with each arm at the same time, say).

  • Bonus attacks are good. They are considered valuable class features. People go out of their way to get them. That isn’t to say that every bonus attack on offer is worth it—levels and feats are very valuable after all—but it’s not because bonus attacks aren’t good that people quibble over the costs.

  • Bonus attacks are starkly limited. You get one from most sources that offer them. Getting more tends to require more investment—more levels, more feats, and so on. Some sources even block you from getting more from certain other sources—consider the haste spell and a speed weapon, for example.

  • Bonus attacks come at a cost. A −2 penalty on all your attacks for the turn is a common one (e.g. flurry of blows, two-weapon fighting), but a spell slot is another possibility (e.g. haste), and there could be other options. A speed weapon doesn’t have a cost to use beyond being a speed weapon, but as a +3 property it’s very pricey.

  • Bonus attacks can only be used in a full-attack. That means a full-round action, making it very difficult to move into position if you aren’t already, and it also makes bonus attacks incompatible with various other options, e.g. Manyshot or Vital Strike.

If you have any ability to attack as a free action, the last bullet point doesn’t come into play. That means we expect the feature to have very significant limits, and/or considerable cost to use, or maybe, be available only at very high level (and still have some limits and/or cost to use).

The throwing shield is available at low level for little gold, costs nothing to use, and offers no limitations. As such, it should never, ever be offering free-action attacks. And in fact, nothing about the throwing shield makes it any faster to attack with than any other weapon you might have in your hand—so it shouldn’t even be offering a regular bonus attack either. Nothing about the description of the throwing shield suggests it should be faster than another weapon—just faster than another shield that you would have to unstrap.

And on this, Paizo’s FAQ agrees... sort of.

Throwing Shield: The throwing shield says that it has special straps “that allow you to unclasp and throw it as a free action.” It seems likely that “unclasp and throw” means “unclasp in order to throw” but it could also mean “unclasp and additionally throw” which could give a character any number of extra attacks. Which interpretation is correct?

Throwing shield’s wording means you can unclasp as a free action in order to throw it; throwing it would requires its own action. The wording will be updated to disambiguate in the next errata.[1]

I say “sort of,” because Paizo attempts to worm their way out of responsibility for the error, by claiming that the text “could” mean that you get free-action attacks, and so the proposed errata would “disambiguate” things. This is an inaccurate description of the situation. The text not only “could” mean that, it quite simply does mean that—there is no version of the English language where “throw it as a free action” means “in order to throw it as a free action.” That’s not how the language works, and it is disingenuous of Paizo to claim that it does. There is no possible ambiguity here. So make no mistake, the text describing the throwing shield is simply an error. The proposed errata would be a correction, not a disambiguation. Unfortunately, this is a behavior that Paizo engages in often, and it is to the detriment of their audience because it makes us all a little less clear on what the rules are, and that the words they use mean what they say. Mistakes happen, it’s understandable and unavoidable, but they have to be clearly recognized, admitted, and corrected. This kind of weaseling out of that just makes things harder for us to play the game.

In this case, I offer that explanation of the situation because I want it to be exceptionally clear to the reader that you are not reading this incorrectly. Rather, instead, this is a situation where Paizo has written it incorrectly.

  1. Since no errata has been released since this FAQ in March 2017, the “next errata” mentioned here does not actually exist, and given that it’s been three years and there is a second edition of Pathfinder now, it probably never will.
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    \$\begingroup\$ Rather than having the paragraph-long footnote in subscripted text, I'd suggest just adding a horizontal rule (if desired) and then including the footnote at regular size after that. Having a full-length paragraph of text be subscripted makes it harder to read; the currently subscripted text is almost as long as the entire rest of the answer (aside from the blockquote) combined. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Sep 29 '20 at 5:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also the footnote is, really, just a rant. I get why you feel that way and agree but in terms of answering the question I'm not sure it is necessary. \$\endgroup\$ – Lio Elbammalf Sep 29 '20 at 7:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast I’ll consider revising the formatting one way or another. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Sep 29 '20 at 13:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ @LioElbammalf It seemed necessary to me when other answers (at the time, the only answers) were saying that the querent was somehow reading the rules incorrectly, that you should somehow have been able to come to this conclusion based on the original text. That leads the reader to thinking that words mean something other than what they mean, which only leads to more questions that are unnecessary. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Sep 29 '20 at 13:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think the footnote is fine, but if you wanted to change it I'd recommend increasing rather than decreasing its prominence in the answer; it's pretty important to dispel misinformation in cases like this where a prominent source (Paizo, not the other answerers) is promulgating it, to the extent such correction is possible. \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Sep 29 '20 at 17:24
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Treat it exactly like a normal attack - they can do it once with a standard action, or as many times as their BAB allows with a full-round action.

While I can see how the text of the throwing shield is ambiguous enough to be interpreted that way, I can't possibly imagine it was meant to be a free action attack (and it should be noted it never explicitly says you can attack with it as a free action). Rather, all it should do is bypass the move action normally required to remove a shield, which is confirmed by the FAQ.

Even a single free attack with it would be unbalanced relative to other martial characters, especially considering the negligible cost. Even without the blinkback belt, there would be no reason for every character not to carry a few quickdraw throwing shields for free extra attacks.

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You are reading Throwing Shield incorrectly.

You can unclasp a throwing shield as a free action for the purposes of attacks; throwing it still takes an attack action. You could make multiple attacks with the shield, but only in the same way that you make multiple attacks with iterative attacks, two weapon fighting, etc.

FAQ here. Note that this is after the last round of errata.

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    \$\begingroup\$ No, they are reading throwing shield entirely correctly; it is Paizo who has written it incorrectly. Let’s be accurate about our statements here. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Sep 28 '20 at 21:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan 100% agreed. But I think this summary is the most informative. \$\endgroup\$ – fectin Sep 28 '20 at 21:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ It is objectively not, because it makes a statement that is objectively false. Just say that there is an error in Throwing Shield itself, rather than claiming (incorrectly) that there is an error in how the OP has read Throwing Shield. Doing that suggests that they should have been able to reach the conclusion here based on that text alone, which is patently impossible because that text does actually say you get free-action throwing attacks with the Throwing Shield. They weren’t incorrect; the text is. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Sep 28 '20 at 21:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ @fectin I think Kryan has a point. The rule clearly states allowing you to unclasp and throw it as a free action. You are correct in that the FAQ clarifies this, but even the FAQ falsely states Throwing shield’s wording means you can unclasp as a free action in order to throw it; throwing it would requires its own action.. I think this answer is spot on in it's conclusion, but as KRyan points out, the initial statement is incorrect and implies the OP could glean this information from the original text. \$\endgroup\$ – Wyrmwood Sep 28 '20 at 21:51

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