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Holding the Sentinel Shield provides the follow benefits:

While holding this shield, you have advantage on initiative rolls and Wisdom (Perception) checks.

While I wield the Sentinel Shield, can a nearby ally grab and hold on to the shield, to also gain advantage on initiative rolls and Perception checks?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Seems like that duplicate target directly addresses this question, since it explicitly mentions a Sentinel Shield as an example, and the answer explains that 'yes you can, and here are the downsides'. In other words, if two people are holding the shield in their hands, they both get the benefits, but would suffer from other obvious downsides, like they can't move during combat, have at least one hand busy, etc. \$\endgroup\$
    – TylerH
    Aug 10, 2021 at 21:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TylerH: This question isn't about proficiency, which is what the first linked question is about. This question is about multiple creatures holding onto the sentinel shield to try to both gain the benefits from it. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Aug 10, 2021 at 21:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TylerH: That still doesn't make it the same as this question. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Aug 10, 2021 at 21:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is why we can't have nice things. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 29, 2023 at 3:23

2 Answers 2

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Holding the Shield is the only requirement to benefit from the shield

You can benefit from a Sentinel shield without donning it, and the plain English meaning of "hold" does allow multiple characters to hold something simultaneously. Multiple characters can benefit from Sentinel Shield or similar magic items simultaneously, so long as they can fit into the space around it.

The general rules for Magic Items are clear

Sentinel Shield's type is Armor (Shield)

The rules under Magic Item Categories: Armor state

Unless an armor’s description says otherwise, armor must be worn for its magic to function.

Here we are told the default is "armor must be worn" but that if an armor's description contradicts that to follow the item's description.

Sentinel Shield's description states:

While holding this shield <...>

The section of the rules under Wearing and Wielding Items is a reminder that if it must be worn, it must be worn properly (rings don't go on ponytails, hats don't go on your feet, cloaks can't be wrapped around your legs), and does not contradict the specific rules in the Magic Item Categories section.

Using a magic item’s properties might mean wearing or wielding it. A magic item meant to be worn must be donned in the intended fashion:

To determine if a magic item is meant to be worn you follow the instructions in the Magic Item Categories for the general rule applicable to each type of magic item, or to the item description.

If a shield's effect requires wielding, it will say so

A shield that must be wielded will say so.

The Arrow Catching Shield says

You gain a +2 bonus to AC against ranged attacks while you wield this shield.

"While this item is held" is not just "standard language"

Most weapons include this language because Magic Item Categories: Weapons does not specify that weapons must be held or wielded as a general rule, so items which require being held are always called out in the description. However there are many notable (and sensible) omissions so it's clearly not just a standard template

For example, Staff of Charming does require being held, but a +1 Javelin or Vicious Dagger weapon does not.

Ruling all wearable/wieldable items must be worn/wielded to use their magical effects breaks more things than it fixes

The +1 Javelin or Vicious Dagger would lose their magical properties instantly upon leaving your hand and not apply to thrown weapon attacks.

The Javelin of Lightning would be impossible to use, as the command word must be spoken after you hurl the item.

The Animated Shield would be completely useless (and silly). You'd have to spend an action donning the shield properly, speak the command word, and then you'd no longer be able to benefit from its magical properties the instant it left your arm. Even if it didn't turn off, it's silly to think they meant you to take an action to properly don a shield AND spend a bonus action to activate a shield. The main benefit it provides is that you can get a shield to protect you with only an object interaction to pull it out + the bonus action to activate i.

The Weapon of Warning (whose language is clearly non-standard and intended to allow you to use its effects without wielding it) would need to be wielded. There is no reason for language like this to exist on weapons if the rules under Wearing and Wielding Magic Items trump the conditions specified in the item description.

There are actually very few abuse cases

Items like Rod of Pact Keeper and Staff of Charming cannot be abused because they also require attunement, in addition to holding the item.

Of the extremely limited set of magic items which can be used while simply being held and do not require attunement, the strongest is probably +3 Shield, however even that's not necessarily overpowered. Grouping together to share this bonus makes you a sitting duck for any AOE effect and greatly restricts your parties movement and tactical options to continue benefiting from it. Even at level 1, enemies can simply run away and ready actions to attack the first party member who leaves the shield.

Jeremy Crawford Ruling

Jeremy Crawford's ruling supports this interpretation. On twitter he was asked:

@JeremyECrawford Sentinel Shield says, "While holding this shield", you get it's benefits. Does that mean wielded or just "holding"?

and he replied with

"Holding" means holding. #DnD #English

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    \$\begingroup\$ Yes. Also, while you would get the +3 from a +3 shield for just holding it, since "This bonus is in addition to the shield's normal bonus to AC." and to get the normal bonus you would have to wield/don it, at most one character has the +5, while all the others have +3. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Jun 29, 2023 at 3:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KirtnoQA4mewhilemodsstrike Also, you've all just imposed the Grappled condition on yourselves. But most of all, you've embarrassed yourselves so hard that every hostile creature seeing you would have to roll a Wisdom save or suffer 1d6 hp psychic damage from secondary cringe. \$\endgroup\$
    – biziclop
    Jun 29, 2023 at 9:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KirtnoQA4mewhilemodsstrike also "You can benefit from only 1 shield at a time". I'd rule you can take the +3 from holding the team shield, or benefit from your own, but you can't combine base AC from your shield with +3 from a team shield. So that "+3" is really +1 over what any team member could get from a totally mundane shield wielded by themselves using the same hand theyve dedicated to touching the team shield, and no better at all than an uncommon +1 shield they are wielding. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 29, 2023 at 11:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ @stevenjackson121 I think you have misunderstood me. One PC is wearing the shield 'properly' and thus gets +5 (+2 because it is a shield, +3 from the enchantment). As many other PC's as can hold the shield get the +3 as the item description explains. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Jun 29, 2023 at 14:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ @biziclop Like this? \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Jun 29, 2023 at 14:07
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Magic items must be worn properly to gain their magical benefits.

The rules for wearing and wielding magic items state (emphasis mine):

Using a magic item’s properties might mean wearing or wielding it. 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 creature grabbing onto a shield someone else is wearing properly cannot gain the magical benefits of the shield.

“While holding” is the standard language for magic item effects, not an exception to the rules for magic items.

If you look at the magical items available, a pattern will emerge:

While holding this magic item…

One may object and say that “while holding” indicates that it is an exception to the rule quoted above. The problem with this is that the language is so common it should be the rule, or the exception. If we permit that you only need to hold the Sentinel Shield in any fashion, here are some other effects that we can cheese:

Rod of the Pact Keeper: While holding this rod, you gain a bonus to spell attack rolls and to the saving throw DCs of your warlock spells. The bonus is determined by the rod’s rarity.

In addition, you can regain 1 warlock spell slot as an action while holding the rod. You can’t use this property again until you finish a long rest.

Staff of Charming: While holding this staff, you can use an action to expend 1 of its 10 charges to cast charm person, command, or comprehend languages from it using your spell save DC. The staff can also be used as a magic quarterstaff.

If you are holding the staff and fail a saving throw against an enchantment spell that targets only you, you can turn your failed save into a successful one.

The list goes on. The point here is that “while holding” isn’t anything exceptional among magic items, it’s just how magic item effects are usually described. So the general rules for needing to properly wear a magic item still apply, if they didn’t, it means that most magic items are an exception to the rule. But we can check one more particularly relevant item - Shield +3:

While holding this shield, you have a +3 bonus to AC. This bonus is in addition to the shield's normal bonus to AC.

New tank strategy: everyone just hold the Shield +3 so everyone gets +3 AC. This is so very obviously an exploit. This allows everyone touching the shield to get +3 AC despite the shield being totally unusable in the narrative (how can I block with it if two of my allies are also holding it?)

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    \$\begingroup\$ "Magic armor must be donned, a shield strapped to the arm" seems pretty straightforward. \$\endgroup\$
    – Steve
    Aug 10, 2021 at 21:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think allowing one-offs of those things is okay. I had a party "group up" behind the paladin's magic shield and hold together into it to block the last-ditch hyperbeam-like plasma breath of a crystalline Dragon. The dragon died, the day was saved, the group leveled, and everyone was happy. And I would happilly allow them to do the same again, within reason - against superpowered boss attacks? Go for it. To battle Mook #27? That's a bit too much. \$\endgroup\$
    – T. Sar
    Aug 11, 2021 at 18:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ How can you cheese Rod of the Pact Keeper or Staff of Charming? Those both require attunement. "The list" of items which can bee cheesed does not "go on", it's vanishingly short once you account for attunement. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 29, 2023 at 1:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also many magic items should clearly have effects while they are not being wielded. A vicious Javelin (thrown) would have no effect if it couldn't apply when not in your hands. The Dwarven Thrower and +1 darts have the same problem. Could you address how you'd handle those cases? \$\endgroup\$ Jun 29, 2023 at 1:17

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