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A situation came up: someone wanted to take an object from their backpack and place it on the ground for someone else. They also gave instructions to a fellow character to come over and get it and how to use it. They wanted all this as a free object interaction. I said no, it's too much. Was I right?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Related: Can I get my friend's weapon in combat using my object interaction? \$\endgroup\$
    – SilentAxe
    Nov 13, 2021 at 10:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ It would help to include details like your comment on Carcer's answer to the question (you can Edit with the button just above here; you don't even need to note that it's an edit, just add the information in) \$\endgroup\$
    – Ifusaso
    Nov 13, 2021 at 14:38

2 Answers 2

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The action might have been allowable according to the rules

It is generally accepted that a character's one free object interaction on a turn can be used to draw an item from storage, such as a weapon from its sheath or an item from their pack - unless, of course, the item itself has specific rules about this (for instance, the bag of holding specifies that retrieving an item from it requires an action). However, in the general case, it is allowed that a character can retrieve an item from storage as their free object interaction.

From there it gets a little murky. It might or might not be permitted to drop whatever you're holding without any action requirement, as is queried in the question "Is dropping a weapon "free", in terms of action cost?"; as per the answers there, unofficial designer commentary suggests that dropping a held item doesn't take up your free object interaction, and that view is the general consensus of the community, though not everyone would rule that way. That does assume that the character simply drops the retrieved item where they are, however; it doesn't allow for them to throw it any distance, or place it with care if the item is fragile (though most adventuring equipment, including items like potions, is built to be sturdy and should survive a short drop unharmed). At any rate the general community consensus on this would be that you could unpack and drop an item in place on the same turn just using your one free object interaction, so that part of the proposed action seems valid.

However, it is up to the DM if a particular interaction requires such care or is sufficiently difficult that it requires the use of a normal action rather than just the free object interaction:

The DM might require you to use an action for any of these activities when it needs special care or when it presents an unusual obstacle. For instance, the DM could reasonably expect you to use an action to open a stuck door or turn a crank to lower a drawbridge.

So if your determination was that the item in question would be more difficult to remove from storage than the average item, and/or required more care in being placed than just dropping it on the ground, then the rules allow you to make that judgement and require the character's action to do it.

Then there is the issue of communication. The PHB, describing "other activity" that can be taken on a turn, states:

You can communicate however you are able, through brief utterances and gestures, as you take your turn.

You can also interact with one object or feature of the environment for free [...]

From this we can see that communication and free object interactions are entirely separate; talking doesn't require an object interaction, it's just something that you can do while you are taking whatever other actions you take on your turn. So it is not as if unpacking an item means you can't also talk to another character about that item.

However, communication is limited to "brief utterances and gestures", probably because a single combat round is meant to cover only about six seconds of in-world time. It is down to the individual DM's discretion how much conversation can actually happen in a single round (in my experience, most DMs typically allow a lot more in-character chatter than could realistically be achieved in six seconds), but the rules given suggest that it wouldn't be possible to communicate particularly complex ideas or instructions in a single round.

Without knowing exactly what the content of the character's speech was meant to be I can't tell you how I'd have ruled on your specific circumstance, but if it was as simple as "Take this, use it on Jim!" then I'd suggest that should be perfectly permissible. If it was "Take this, activate it by pressing the blue button on the top and turning the rings clockwise, then point it at Jim and say the command word 'shazam!'" then I would consider that to be stretching what's plausible.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The item was Marvelous Pigments which at the time I saw as a clay pot and a brush. Putting that on the floor is not the same as drop that weapon and draw another was my call. The convo was fair I thought. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ken Baker
    Nov 13, 2021 at 13:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ Context can be important, and it's ultimately up to the GM to adjudicate the rules based on what is happening narratively. It may help back up your ruling to point out they could have dropped it on the ground (and dealt with the repercussions) for free, but setting it on the ground is another Interaction. The rules do not overwrite the in-world narrative. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ifusaso
    Nov 13, 2021 at 14:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ I figured the character, a wizard would not be stupid enough to drop it but place it. He did also say place, not drop. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ken Baker
    Nov 13, 2021 at 18:59
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I can't give you a simple, clear answer to this question, because this is in the realm of the DM making calls on what's allowable. However, I've asked myself these kind of questions many times over years of DMing, and I can at least give you my thoughts on the situation and how I would handle it at the table.

At least for me, I rarely think it's worth getting too tangled up in what constitutes an object interaction. I always want to err on the side of the players; I think it's better to allow them to push the boundaries a bit than to block things that are questionable.

Why do I think this way? Well, ultimately, players are constrained by the system already. There's a list of "what I can do" in front of them on their character sheets, and that can easily become an unintentional limit on their thinking. If I don't go out of my way to encourage creativity and interesting solutions, the players are likely to default to only actions that are explicitly listed on their sheet, and that's missing a lot of the fun of the game. Every time I say "that's too much for an interaction, you'll have to use your action as well to do this", I'm essentially discouraging the players from thinking outside the box, so there needs to be an overriding good that I'm gaining in exchange for that. Unless the proposed interacting is completely absurd, I'm very likely to allow it.

Is putting down an object a separate object interaction from pulling it out? Is dropping something different from placing it? I don't think it actually matters. I say, let the players do their (potentially) clever thing. I'd rather have them finish a fight a little faster and get to feel smart than stretch it a little and teach them to stop thinking outside the box.

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