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I had a player recently come to me about playing an Eldritch Knight character, and they had questions about their ability to cast spells while holding a weapon (or two), and were debating taking the Warcaster feat (PHB, 170) to mitigate specifically those issues. At my table, I try to take the somatic/material component requirements of spells seriously, so I want to make sure I have a grasp of what can or cannot be done when a spellcaster holding weapons tries to cast a spell, or return to attacking after having cast a spell.

One thing I'm especially interested in is the degree to which the character can "comfortably" do the actions listed. "Comfortably" in this context means that the character isn't taking certain actions which might be technically legal according to the rules of the game, but which might inconvenience them under common circumstances. A common example is a Two Weapon Fighting character who drops a weapon to the ground to grab their spellcasting focus for casting; if they have to move, they risk leaving their weapon behind on the ground, so from my perspective, this wouldn't qualify as a "comfortable" maneuver.

So, for the following builds, under what conditions is the character able to cast spells, and to what degree does the Warcaster feat improve their ability to do so?

  • Holding a one-handed weapon
  • Holding two one-handed weapons
  • Holding a one-handed weapon and Shield (neither Cleric nor Paladin)
  • Holding a one-handed weapon and Shield (Cleric or Paladin)
    • I'm separating these two out because Clerics and Paladins both get the ability to affix a Holy Symbol to their shield and therefore use their Shield as they would a Material Component. So I think the answer to this question is necessarily different depending on whether the spellcaster is a paladin or an Eldritch Knight, for example.
  • Holding a two-handed weapon
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Preface: War Caster and Material Components

Notably, War Caster only specifies that you may provide somatic components while holding two weapons or a weapon and shield:

You can perform the somatic components of spells even when you have weapons or a shield in one or both hands.

The rules for material components go on to state:

A spellcaster must have a hand free to access a spell's material components -- or to hold a spellcasting focus -- but it can be the same hand that he or she uses to perform somatic components.

This explicitly states that you must have a free hand to access the spell's material components. Rules-as-written, War Caster does not clearly create an exception to this rule, so it appears that RAW, you must still have a free hand to access material components, even with War Caster.

That said, I have ruled in the past that War Caster does permit the use of material components in the same way that it does somatic components - if the hand is "free enough" for somatic components via War Caster, it should be free enough for material components. This has never caused any balance issue at my table.

Nevertheless, going forward we will assume War Caster does not provide for material components.

Holding a one-handed weapon

No problem. Your other hand is free for performing somatic components and accessing material components.

Holding a one-handed weapon and a one-handed weapon/shield (Not cleric or paladin)

Problem. The rules for somatic components say:

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.

Solution - War Caster:

You can perform the somatic components of spells even when you have weapons or a shield in one or both hands.

As noted in the preface this does not give you access to material components while holding two weapons. Accessing material components presents a tangible inconvenience, such as dropping your weapon.

So in this case, War Caster helps with (S) spells, but not (S,M) spells.

Holding a one-handed weapon and a one-handed weapon/shield (cleric or paladin)

As noted in the question, Clerics and paladins can affix a holy symbol to a shield or wear it around their neck:

To use the symbol in this way, the caster must hold it in hand, wear it visibly, or bear it on a shield.

With this, a cleric or paladin with War Caster can cast any (S,M) spell while holding two weapons or a weapon and shield, except a spell requiring a costly component the symbol cannot provide for.

Holding a two-handed weapon

Just let go with one hand.

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  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ We even have a question on the houserule you use: "What are the impacts of allowing a Warcaster to cast spells with material components while wielding a shield and spear?" \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 Jan 8 at 19:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for having taught me something new about holy symbols. \$\endgroup\$ – Ben Barden Jan 8 at 20:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ Fun fact, if you are a cleric/paladin and your holy symbol is on your shield, you can use that hand to fulfil both S and M requirements (excluding costly components), since the rules explicitly exception that you can use the same hand that has an M component to perform an S component. \$\endgroup\$ – RevenantBacon Jan 11 at 14:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ @RevenantBacon S still requires a free hand. \$\endgroup\$ – Thomas Markov Jan 11 at 14:25
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We should first observe that the answer to this question depends on what components are required by the spell being cast. Since hand-use has no impact on verbal components, we'll ignore them and only consider the Somatic and Material Components. We will also assume that all Material Components can be replaced by a Focus or Component Pouch; or else that the [costed or consumed] components are small enough so as to be held and used in one hand.

In the following table, for each build and spell, we'll first answer if it can be done comfortably, and then explain why.

Build Somatic Material Somatic and Material
One-Handed Weapon Yes: The character simply reaches with their free hand to cast a spell Yes: The character simply reaches with their free hand to grab their focus and cast a spell Yes: The character simply reaches with their free hand to grab their focus, and with that hand also handling the Somatic Components (PHB 203) they may cast a spell
One-Handed Weapon w/Warcaster Yes: no change Yes: no change Yes: no change
Two One-Handed Weapons Yes: As their one free object interaction in their turn (PHB 190) they can put one weapon away and then use their free hand to cast a spell. Their other weapon is still available for War Magic or Opportunity Attacks No: Putting away their weapon and grabbing their focus would both require object interaction, thus requiring the use of their Action. They would have to drop their weapon on the ground to legally cast a spell this turn. No: Same as for Material alone
Two One-Handed Weapons w/Warcaster Yes: As above, but here they do not have to put either weapon away. No: no change No: no change
Non-Divine One-Handed Weapon and Shield No: They can put their weapon away as a free object interaction and cast the spell, but they would not be able to draw the weapon again in the same turn. So Opportunity Attacks, or an attack triggered by an Eldritch Knight's War Magic feature (PHB 74) would not be able to use the weapon. No: The character would be unable to grab their focus without dropping their weapon on the ground. No: The character would be unable to grab their focus without dropping their weapon on the ground
Non-Divine One-Handed Weapon and Shield w/Warcaster Yes: They can simply perform somatic components while holding their weapon or shield, as per the feat. No: They are still unable to grab their focus without dropping their weapon No: They are still unable to grab their focus without dropping their weapon
Divine One-Handed Weapon and Shield No: Same as for non-divine spellcasters, they can legally cast the spell but cannot do so without ending their turn with their weapon put away Yes: Their class feature allows them to use their [holy symbol affixed] shield to provide Material Components; or a worn focus on its own is good enough to cast spells Maybe: If their shield is providing the material components, the same hand can also perform the Somatic Components; but if they're simply wearing their focus (PHB 151), they won't have a free hand for the Somatic Components and are limited like the Somatic-only column
Divine One-Handed Weapon and Shield w/Warcaster Yes: Same as for non-divine spellcasters, this is explicitly allowed by the feat Yes: no change Yes: since the weapon can now be used for somatic components, this is always available regardless of whether the focus is affixed to the shield or worn
Two-Handed Weapon Yes: They can take one hand off their weapon (or hold it with one hand when not attacking with it) to perform Somatic Components No: Although they can grab their focus with their free object interaction and cast a spell, they would be unable to use their weapon for Opportunity Attacks or War Magic unless they drop their focus on the ground No: Same as Material
Two-Handed Weapon w/Warcaster Yes: They don't even have to take their hands off their weapon No: no change No: no change
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  • \$\begingroup\$ As noted in my answer, a cleric or paladin can simply wear their holy symbol, no need for a shield. So a cleric or paladin can dual wield weapons without issue. \$\endgroup\$ – Thomas Markov Jan 8 at 19:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Medix2 I separated them out just in case there was a difference between them. In fact, I've actually found a case where they are different, so I'm going to edit that in. \$\endgroup\$ – Xirema Jan 8 at 19:48
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You need to differentiate somatic and material components

You usually need a free hand both for material and for somatic components. With Warcaster you no longer do for somatic components, but it does not say anything about material components (also see here.

  • One-handed weapon is no problem, you have the second hand free.

  • Weapon / Shield as Cleric / Paladin is no problem since the Shield can be your focus.

  • Two-handed weapon is no problem since you can let go of the weapon with one hand while casting a spell (see here)

  • The other two (weapon / shield except for cleric / paladin; dual-wielder) are problematic because do not have a hand free and you can't easily get one free without dropping stuff. You can use Ruby of the War Mage to mitigate this.

No problem when no material components are needed

Not all spells require material components. For those that don't you have no problem no matter your equipment.

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It depends on what combination of Verbal, Material, and Somatic components the spell uses...

so I'm not going to focus on what is in your hand/hands except as necessary.

Verbal only

If the spell only has a Verbal component, then there is nothing to worry about. Just speak the words and the spell goes off.

Material only

I cannot find any official spells that qualify for this, but it would be the same as Verbal only; just do it.

As pointed out in the comments, this can be accomplished with (V,M) and (V,S,M) spells, if you use the Sorcerer Subtle Spell Metamagic.

Verbal and Material

This is what you see a lot of in the movies; the wizard raises their staff, says a few words, and POOF, magic happens. So long as the caster is still in contact with the Material component--be it bat guano, a rod, a holy symbol, or whatever--then the spell goes off without a hitch, and without War Caster.

Somatic only / Verbal and Somatic

These are the problem situations. In order to perform a Somatic component, you "must have free use of at least one hand to perform these gestures".

Now, if there was a Material component, then you'd be okay.

A spellcaster must have a hand free to access a spell's material components — or to hold a spellcasting focus — but it can be the same hand that he or she uses to perform somatic components.

So if the spell has both a S and an M, then you can use the same hand to hold your material spell component and still wiggle your fingers for the Somatic. These are the cases that need the War Caster feat comes into play.

You can perform the somatic components of spells even when you have weapons or a shield in one or both hands.

And there are a buttload of them.

Somatic and Material / Verbal, Somatic, and Material

As stated above, anyone with or without the War Caster feat, can use the same hand to do the Somatic component as they grip/touch/wield their Material component.

With all that in mind; how does being a Cleric/Paladin change things up?

These classes have an "out", at least when casting casting Cleric/Paladin spells1. They can use a holy symbol as their Material component and...

A cleric or paladin can use a holy symbol as a spellcasting focus, as described in chapter 10. To use the symbol in this way, the caster must hold it in hand, wear it visibly, or bear it on a shield.

So by wearing the symbol, or putting it on a shield, they can SOMETIMES bypass the need of an open hand.

If it's on a necklace, so long as it's visible (not hidden as part of a disguise, under the armor, in a pocket, etc) they can cast spells. Same with the shield (and this part is my interpretation), so long as they are actively holding it and it's not stowed away somewhere, then they can cast their spells.

Last wrinkle; Material components with a cost.

A character can use a component pouch or a spellcasting focus ... in place of the components specified for a spell. But if a cost is indicated for a component, a character must have that specific component before he or she can cast the spell.

Now, the description says the character must have the component, but it doesn't say they have to interact with it. So unless the spell specifically says the caster interacts with it (sprinkles, touches, holds, eats, whatever) the Cleric and Paladin are fine. But if it requires an action, then the necklace and shield are not enough; they still need a free hand to do something with the costly component.


1 You can only use the holy symbol to cast Cleric/Paladin spells. If you multiclass Druid, Sorcerer, Warlock, and so on, those class spells need their own spell focus.

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