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Is there any written rule preventing magic items where the only activation-requirement is "while holding it" (such as the Wand of Magic Missiles for example) from being activated when stuck in/to something or held by someone else than the person attempting to activate it.

I am both interested in any general rule prohibiting or allowing this usage, but also more specific cases such as activating a magic item carried by an ally or an enemy, or an item carried in a scabbard/holster or simply stuck in another item. A general argument for why it should be allowed/disallowed and in what cases are also welcomed if no ruling exists.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch Basically it boils down to "what does the requirement to hold mean in respect to magic items". \$\endgroup\$
    – Jave
    Mar 3 at 15:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ The original reason for thinking of this question comes from playing as a druid and having to manage holding a shield, a druidic focus and a magic staff while also having a free hand for casting spells without components. Currently he has his focus tied to a string around his neck, so he can freely grab and drop it, and I wanted something similiar for the staff. But if he was allowed to simply tie the staff to his pack and touch it when activating an effect, this could lead to other silly effects as shown in the question and Davemans answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jave
    Mar 3 at 15:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ Actually, no. I mean, that knowledge i certainly good to have for the original problem (and as you say, there are already multiple questions about that), but this particular question is simply about holding magic items due to all potential shenanigans (running up to the BBEG and wasting all his staffs' charges, goblins trying to get ahold of a players wand and accidentaly throwing spells etc). \$\endgroup\$
    – Jave
    Mar 3 at 15:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ Let us continue this discussion in chat. \$\endgroup\$
    – NautArch
    Mar 3 at 15:22
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Unfortunately, there is little to no guidance on this.

There is a section in the DMG about activating a magic item:

Activating some magic items requires a user to do something in particular, such as holding the item and uttering a command word, reading the item if it is a scroll, or drinking it if it is a potion. The description of each item category or individual item details how an item is activated.

And as highlighted, it references there being a command word that needs to be uttered. So just grabbing an item isn't enough, you need to know the secret word/phrase. But if a character has seen the item in action, there is no reason to believe that they can't know and repeat the command word.

The description also says, "SOME magic items". So that doesn't mean all items that are held will also have a command word. In fact, as a rough estimate, there are (across all official books, modules, supplements, etc) a couple thousand items, but only a hundred or so use the term "command word". At first I thought it would be just those items that have multiple functions (command one does action one, command two does action two), but the descriptions were not that consistent with the phrasing.

So the next thing to examine is what does "holding" an item mean. Even there, we are left wondering. A phrase that pops up a lot is "worn or carried" as certain spells/actions do not work if an item is worn or carried. That question is answered (but not accepted). Basically, if it's listed on a character sheet, it's considered worn or carried. There is a question about what the difference is between "wearing" an item and "wielding" an item which has a clear answer. But not so with holding.

In fact, the closest I could come to finding anything about "holding" in general are holy symbols.

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 that seems to be the extent of rules regarding items that must be held "properly" in order for it to be effective. And even here, it's just "held in hand". It is a flimsy ruling at best.

Barring the Rule of Cool, as a DM, I would say that if a wizard is pointing a wand at you, you can't just grab it and activate it.

An example of another item that would have this issue would be if Character A uses a Wind Fan on their turn. A goblin, on their turn, reaches out and grabs the same fan (since it wasn't put away at the end of the character's turn) and just because it is now holding it, also uses the fan to blow back at the character. This would go against the logic of using such an item.

This does not preclude the goblin from using their turn to grab the fan and steal it as their Action and use it on their next turn. But just the act of reaching out isn't enough to be considered wielding the item.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Disarming is generally either an optional rule or a mechanic for the battle master. I don't think anyone else can do it at will. \$\endgroup\$
    – NautArch
    Mar 4 at 0:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch, I know disarming is optional, but if I didn't say it as a possibility someone else would remind me it exists. Damned if I say it, damned if I don't. \$\endgroup\$
    – MivaScott
    Mar 4 at 4:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ No damning! Just say that it's an optional rule and where it is so folks can find it. \$\endgroup\$
    – NautArch
    Mar 4 at 13:19
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I think for purposes of wielding or holding a magic item. An item is only considered to be wielded or held by a single creature.

Why? Because if you allow it you allow some VERY weird scenarios that obviously do not make sense.

Two-Handed. This weapon requires two hands when you attack with it.

Nothing says two of YOUR hands. So in our wacky fun world of multiple creatures wielding a single item, you can have yourself hold a great axe with your left hand, while your evil twin holds it with their right hand. Now both of you can make attacks with a great axe on your turn, while holding a shield in the other hand...

Similarly you can come across similarly silly defensive items.

While holding this shield, you have a +1 bonus to AC. This bonus is in addition to the shield's normal bonus to AC.

Now our great axe twins can both share the benefit of a magic greataxe and a magic shield at the same time. All while appearing to do some odd waltz around the battlefield.

Two creatures holding it would likely either be a contested check (if it was hostile), an item interaction to hand it off (friendly pass off) or just a second person touching an item being held by the first.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree with everything you write, it does not make sense for two different people to wield a weapon or wear a piece of armour at the same time. However, when it comes to items that logically do not require wearing or moving about in a specific way (such as holding a wand or a staff) and simply activate an effect I think it becomes more unclear. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jave
    Mar 3 at 15:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ Magic items triggering mechanism is left to to the dm. However one such potential option (and specifically indicated in certain items) is a physical switch, button, or trigger. And typical fantasy imagery usually involves aiming a wand or staff to direct the spell. It would be somewhat like having two people trying to use a gun. \$\endgroup\$
    – Daveman
    Mar 3 at 15:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think you generally cover the updated question, but may be helpful to directly answer if Creature A (holding a wand of magic missiles) is approached by Creature B. Can creature B 'grab' the wand and use it while Creature A is still holding it? \$\endgroup\$
    – NautArch
    Mar 3 at 16:15
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The rule says only "you" (the person with the item) can do it

These text for these items is clear that you, the person holding/wearing/having the item, are the only person who can activate it. Nobody else meets the criteria to activate it.

Examples (emphasis added):

Wand of Magic Missiles:

While holding it, you can use an action to expend 1 or more of its charges to cast the magic missile spell from it.

Medallion of Thoughts:

While wearing it, you can use an action and expend 1 charge to cast the detect thoughts spell (save DC 13) from it.

Pearl of Power:

While this pearl is on your person, you can use an action to speak its command word and regain one expended spell slot.

In most cases, this clearly limits it to one person. As one possible exception, conceivably, two people could simultaneously be holding a wand. Jeremy Crawford's position on the meaning of the word "holding" is that it has its ordinary English meaning ("'Holding' means holding.") A DM could potentially interpret that to allow it, because it might put the party at a disadvantage due to needing to be next to each other. On the other hand, it could be argued that "holding" requires control over it ("to have possession or ownership of or have at one's disposal" - Merriam Webster), and two people both grabbing an item doesn't constitute either of them "holding" it.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The examples at the start seems ambiguous, simply because if A grab the item that B was holding, A could also be said to be "holding" the item and would thus meet the criteria for activation. Your last sentence however (that holding implies controlling) presents a very good argument for why it should not be allowed. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jave
    Mar 4 at 8:43

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