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Is there a rule or rules clarification about the location (or change of location) of an object during the object interaction / Use an Object action?

E.g.:

  • stuff some food into your mouth or drink all the ale in a flagon - Does this have to be in your hand or can it be on a table?
  • turn a key in a lock - does the key have to already be in the lock or your hand? Or can it be in a pocket or on a chain round your neck?
  • hand an item to another character - Can I draw my dagger and pass it as a single interaction?

If these things have to be in your hand (or a lock, etc.) there's some really big timing differences in the examples the rules give, e.g.:

  • The fighter can draw and ready the huge sword strapped to his back.
  • The wizard can rummage in his backpack for his wand of pigeon summoning.

In the same time it takes to:

  • Pop some bread that is already in your hand in your mouth.
  • Turn your wrist 45 degrees.
  • Pull a dagger from your belt.

And as silly as it may make this question sound: The objects that can be used to attack (Oil, Holy Water, Acid, etc.) don't state if they need to be in your hand or if drawing them is like ammo (part of the action you're already taking) or like a sword (an object interaction). If they need to be "drawn" does it matter if they're in a backpack or a belt pouch? Or are all (non-ammo) containers on your person "your backpack" by the rules?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ drawing a weapon has specific rules and is just going to confuse the question. \$\endgroup\$
    – John
    Aug 4, 2022 at 15:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ @John you’re right!they do have specific rules that don’t apply to objects. And that is exactly why I was confused and asked the question! There’s plenty of people who think objects need to be draw/wielded to be used. Since researching answers here I’ve found that this isn’t true. I go on to say as much in my own answer to this question. \$\endgroup\$
    – clueless
    Aug 4, 2022 at 17:59

3 Answers 3

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The rules are unclear and don't actually make sense.

First off, some of the things you listed aren't even object interactions. "Turn your wrist 45 degrees" is not anything. "Use an accessible key to unlock the door" is a free object interaction.

The rules do specify that the DM can require you to use an action if something seems like it's more than a simple interaction:

The DM might require you to use an action for any of these activities when it requires 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.

That said, the rules as written aren't entirely coherent. It specifically says that pulling "a potion from your backpack" is a free object interaction, but I really don't agree with that, and I think this specific example has caused more problems with "what constitutes a free object interaction?" than any other.

Like, the point of a belt pouch, which holds 1/5 cubic foot of stuff, is to keep a handful of small important items (like say potions and oil) at your fingertips instead of putting them in a pack you'd have to dig around in. It seems like a pouch, pocket, bandolier, or other small holding space should be the correct location for quick access, not in a backpack.

This goes along with the Handy Haversack's problems, where it costs an action to pull items out despite the item you want always being on top -- a Haversack should be easier to use than a normal pack, or at least the same, not harder.

How I rule this, going against RAW

In my games, I ignore the rules-as-written on this topic, and instead rule that an item in your pack or other secured container takes an action to access. Anything you want to access for free needs to be in an easily accessible location. Any item in a Handy Haversack can be accessed as a free object interaction -- you just can just reach in without looking and it's right there. (Arguably this should only apply to the side pockets, but whatever.) Finding an item in a Bag of Holding takes potentially even longer, as you have to rummage through the huge pile of junk inside it. I might call for 1d10 rounds to locate something in a full bag, if it ever matters, maybe less if there's not much in there at the moment. (So far it hasn't really come up because the price of even one action is enough that everyone keeps their important stuff accessible.)

Going by that ruling, drawing and throwing a flask of oil/acid/etc is doable in one turn provided you've prepared by putting those items in your pouch or other accessible location, but not from your backpack.

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    \$\begingroup\$ We do the same thing (except for the Haversack, which has no made an appearance in our games yet). We also have a houserule that you can only have 3 + the highest ability bonus of Str, Dex or Con items in such quick access locations that allow you to draw them with free object interactions, to avoid people having ridiculously overstuffed bat-belts. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 3, 2022 at 17:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ So far it's never been an issue in my group that required limitation. If somebody wants to have a bandolier of six daggers because throwing knives is their schtick, I don't have a particular problem with it, as long as they track their ammo supply. The main thing is the size limitation. You probably can't have most toolkits in a belt pouch, for example. You might be able to cram a healer's kit in one, but it probably takes up the entire pouch. If you wanna walk around looking like a 1992 Rob Liefeld character with four oversized weapons and dozens of pouches, I dunno, that's on you. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 3, 2022 at 19:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ "Turn a key in a lock" from the question is a specific example from the PHB, which sparked the "turn your wrist 45 degrees" comment from the poster. "Use an accessible key to unlock the door" has no strict RAW support that I can find (although I agree that your ruling is reasonable). \$\endgroup\$
    – Matt Rick
    Aug 4, 2022 at 17:14
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There unfortunately is no such clarification

All the information we have on the free object interactions is on page 190 PHB, and while the list of examples shows some with objects that are on your body, and some with objects that are in your environment, it consists entirely of specific examples and has no general guidelines on this.

What is clear from the examples and from the description of Use an Object is that drawing an object like Oil, Holy Water, Acid requires a separate object interaction1. By the rules it makes no difference if they are in your backpack or in a pocket or under your belt.

Your observations are correct - some of these actions appear to be quite time intensive. For example, it strains my credulity that in six seconds you could run 30 feet, and then retrieve a potion from within your backpack on your back which you'd need to take off and unlatch to get inside, uncork it and administer it to a dying comrade as your action. We rule that retrieving something from your backpack requires a full action, but that is just our table's ruling.

The exact interpretation of what is covered by a free object interaction and what requires your action when it comes to object interactions is left to the DM to determine on a case-by-case basis (PHB p 190):

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.


1You are citing ammunition as an example of weapons being drawn for free as part of the attack. The ammunition property states (p 146 PHB):

Each time you attack with the weapon, you expend one piece of ammunition. Drawing the ammunition from a quiver, case, or other container is part of the attack.

That is, the rules explicitly tell you that drawing can be done freely as part of the attack, if this is the case. There is no such language for the Flask of Oil, Flask of Alchemist's Fire, Flask of Holy Water or Vial of Acid. Hence, you cannot draw them freely as part of the attack.

About your question where the rules say that you have to hold or wield these objects to throw them: the rules do not need to say so. Mundane objects in the game, such as a flask of oil behave as we can expect them to in the real world. You cannot throw a flask of oil without putting it into your hand first in the real world, and hence you cannot do so in the game. If the rules tried to codify every interaction we know from the real world they would be unreadable. Use common sense for common objects. The flask is not somehow magically thrown from your belt or backpack without you first grabbing it to throw it.

(That incidentally is why spells only do what they say they do - they are magic, and do not have to adhere to real-world experience. A magical ability might well allow you to throw something from your backpack without ever touching it).

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No the rules do not require you to "wield" or "draw" an Object to Use it with a Use Object Action.

I'm going to try and answer my own question based on, and summarizing, the excellent answers here and elsewhere. As the answers here talk about rulings and involve what might be considered houserules (as well as clear citations of the rules as written) but the original question was about rules or rules clarifications/erratas.

  • There is no mention of "wielding" or "drawing" objects when taking the Use Object Action in the rules.
  • There's an actual example in the rules of using an object while having it stowed on your person: "withdraw a potion from your backpack". In this example from the rules the backpack is worn and is neither drawn, wielded nor in the characters hands but is used.
  • Removing the backpack example from the rules is a houserule some (many?) people use and without it there's no other instance of such an example in the object interaction rules. Without it there is still no written requirement to wield or draw the item but people houseruling away the backpack often seem house rule in this requirement.

The above ruling/houserule is done in the name of common sense and having objects in the game world behave as they would in real life. But it feels that what people are talking about here is: NARRATIVE SENSE. And it seems that this example is often houseruled away solely because the timing of it makes bad narrative sense, rather than because the backpack is not in the players hands when used.

The spirit of the rules do, and your GM should require that actions make narrative sense (see Groody's answer). So narratively during the Use of an Object the character will be required to use their hands, as such the character must have one or two available hands (depending on object) during the Use of the Object otherwise the action fails to make narrative sense. What's not required by a written rule is drawing or wielding that Object into the characters hands using another action.

One thing that I found while researching this was a tweet from J. Crawford that stated:

An improvised weapon is, indeed, a weapon, but only the moment it's used as such. A chair/shield/etc isn't a weapon otherwise.

I'm not going to pretend I know exactly how he intended this be resolved as he's made some rulings I feel make for very unsatisfactory narrative experiences (which I won't enumerate or debate here). As such I do understand that he and I are not always on the same page about rulings, and he's the authority and I'm just a person on the internet. That said here's my resolution of that having given the matter some thought based a very educational discussion with Groody:

  1. Character: Uses an oil flask from their pouch, knapsack, etc as part of a Use Object Action.
  2. DM: checks rules: No mention of an object needing to be in hand to use. Though this DM does state that if the item was stored somewhere less accessible, like a backpack, they would step in and make a ruling that using the flask from the backpack would require an additional action. They cite the example of "withdraw a potion from your backpack" from the rules as the upper limit of what can be done with a Use Object Action at their table.
  3. Character: makes an attack roll as per the oil flask usage entry.
  4. Narratively: the flask enters the players hands from their belt and is thrown (Only with more dramatic wording and flare).
  5. Oil flask becomes a weapon
  6. Oil flask hits target, breaks, and is no longer a weapon

In this procedure the Oil flask has been used while it is an object so adheres to the object rules.

As Groody points out it's incorrect to assume objects function like ammunition if there is no wording saying they do. And by that sound judgment it also seems incorrect to assume objects like ropes, backpacks, etc function like weapons if there is also no wording to that effect (There is in fact wording showing you don't need them in hand, see: "withdraw a potion from your backpack" example).

Objects that change classification during use are more complicated I guess. But I don't feel like the above take on the matter is a bad one as the classification changes when used (past tense), not before use.

As everyone has stated: the rules on this, as written, are vague and do call for DM rulings. But after I've thought about and discussed this with the very learned people here, it's apparent that there's no written requirement to have an object in hand to use it, though the DMG does imply that narratively there is a requirement to have enough hands (or appropriate appendage) available that the use of that object makes narrative sense.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ A quick clarification, of which you might be aware, but the wording felt ambiguous to me so might as well state the obvious just in case. J. Crawford did use to be an authority in how rules must be used and interpreted, especially through his tweets. Nowadays, though, his rulings are nothing more than that : explanations for how he would use those rules as a DM. They might give insight on what the rules intended to convey, but they cannot be used like you would use the rulebooks, for instance, since they're simply his personal thoughts on the system. \$\endgroup\$
    – Matthieu
    Aug 4, 2022 at 9:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ Of course, it doesn't mean that they are useless. We can always look at them informally for reference. They simply cannot be put on the same level as the written rules anymore. \$\endgroup\$
    – Matthieu
    Aug 4, 2022 at 9:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks, yeah I’m aware and thankful of this. Twitter is a bad medium for such a thing, and I really don’t like some of his takes even though I do appreciate his opinion when it’s delivered as such. I felt his tweet deserved a mention here as anyone researching this would probably come across it too and wonder how it’s resolution might be interpreted. \$\endgroup\$
    – clueless
    Aug 4, 2022 at 10:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ "he's the authority and I'm just a person on the internet". Ha! Except, he's not playing your game, and you are! I think you outrank him. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jack
    Apr 9 at 11:37

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