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My understanding from the Rules Compendium page 7 is that retrieving an item either from a bag or from a pocket is a move action and I have not found any way to make this a swift or free action.

In my group the two rogue players claim that using sleight of hand to make a standard action a free action (-20 penalty) should be applied not only to draw a hidden weapon but also to retrieve any small item that the character has concealed (where "concealed" means anywhere that is covered, either in a bag, a backpack, a pocket).

Is this correct?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Related, possibly duplicate: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/205084/… \$\endgroup\$
    – From
    Mar 8, 2023 at 8:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ Are you the DM? Does the campaign use the Rules Compendium as the main source of information about how to play the game, supplanting even the Player's Handbook? \$\endgroup\$ Mar 9, 2023 at 18:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan yes I am, yes we use the rule compendium as main source and if it is considerably different from the PHB we usually have a discussion as a group. \$\endgroup\$
    – Digius
    Mar 10, 2023 at 17:04

3 Answers 3

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No; drawing a hidden weapon is not a Sleight of Hand check.

"Do a standard action as a free action with -20" is not universal.

I'm guessing your players are arguing this based on a combination of these rules from Sleight of Hand:

Drawing a hidden weapon is a standard action and doesn’t provoke an attack of opportunity.

Any Sleight of Hand check normally is a standard action. However, you may perform a Sleight of Hand check as a free action by taking a -20 penalty on the check.

If you read these together, you can draw a hidden weapon as a free action by taking a -20 penalty on the check. But does it make sense for drawing a weapon to be a Sleight of Hand check?

Drawing a hidden weapon is not a check.

Drawing a hidden weapon is not a Sleight of Hand check: it just happens. Quick Draw makes no mention of being able to do it faster, nor does it even reference the use of Sleight of Hand in drawing a weapon, just in how you would get a hidden weapon:

You can draw a weapon as a free action instead of as a move action. You can draw a hidden weapon (see the Sleight of Hand skill) as a move action. [...] Without this feat, you may draw a weapon as a move action, or (if your base attack bonus is +1 or higher) as a free action as part of movement. Without this feat, you can draw a hidden weapon as a standard action.

There's no check involved; it's just something that you can do that's harder than drawing an unhidden weapon.

But what if it is a check?

When you use this skill under close observation, your skill check is opposed by the observer’s Spot check. The observer’s success doesn’t prevent you from performing the action, just from doing it unnoticed.

If you can draw a weapon as a free action via sleight of hand, you can always draw that weapon as a free action because all it's adjudicating is whether or not an opponent notices it. This would mean that you can both draw and stow any item the size of a hand crossbow or smaller as a free action with no downsides other than the opponent noticing.

To put it another way, ruling it this way would mean that you can choose to fail a check with no downsides (compared to not having attempted the check) with the upside of retrieving hidden objects as a free action. This does not mechanically make sense.

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I believe this is an incorrect interpretation of the skill.

A sleight of hand skill's primary function is to conceal or to steal objects without being noticed by observers..

A sleight of hand check isn't used to retrieve a hidden weapon; the description is only differentiating the way that a hidden weapon is retrieved versus a weapon stored ordinarily, via a standard action instead of the normal move action.

Any sleight of hand check may be performed as a free action, enabling multiple attempts in a round, or performing other actions. Drawing a hidden weapon is still a standard action.

Drawing a hidden dagger is a standard action and doesn't provoke an an attack of opportunity.

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The Rules Compendium (RC) version of the skill Sleight of Hand (117) differs substantially from the Player's Handbook (PH) version of the skill Sleight of Hand (81–2). There are other differences, but what you and your players have noticed is the most significant.

RC Sleight of Hand: "A −10 penalty for a move action? Meh."

The RC Sleight of Hand skill description says, "A Sleight of Hand check is normally a standard action." However, the skill's accompanying table in its section Condition has the entry Make check as a move action and assigns that entry a –10 penalty. Taking a move action instead of a standard action for the typical creature means it can make two Sleight of Hand skill checks when, normally, it could make just one. Only pickpockets care.

(The table Actions in Combat (RC 8—9) has the Standard Action entry Draw a hidden weapon that doesn't provoke attacks of opportunity and directs the reader to the page with the RC Sleight of Hand skill, but the skill description doesn't actually say anything about drawing a hidden weapon. The rest of the RC is silent on hiding objects or retrieving hidden objects.)

This means that, if you're using the RC as your campaign's source for the skill Sleight of Hand—that is, the RC Sleight of Hand rules replace completely the PH Sleight of Hand rules—, then the rogue players simply have no standing. The rules that the rogue players want to employ just don't exist in the RC. If that's enough for you, then you can skip the remainder of this answer, but if you want to know where the rogue players got the idea, then read on.

PH Sleight of Hand: "A −20 penalty for a free action? Awesome!"

The PH Sleight of Hand skill on Action that says that a creature "may perform a Sleight of Hand check as a free action by taking a −20 penalty on the check" (82). This raises several issues.

  • The PH Sleight of Hand rules allow even an untrained creature to take a free action to make a Sleight of Hand skill check that suffers a −20 penalty to hide a little object (including a little weapon) on its person. So instead of taking a move action to stow an object about its person as per the rules for Manipulate an Item (PH 143), any creature can take a free action to make that Sleight of Hand skill check instead. The little object may not be hidden about creature's person very well, but it's quickly tucked away, and that's often the important part.

    Yes, an untrained creature. The skill description in its section Untrained says, "An untrained Sleight of Hand check is simply a Dexterity check. Without actual training [i.e. 0 ranks in the skill], you can’t succeed on any Sleight of Hand check with a DC higher than 10, except for hiding an object on your body." However, the only listed check with a DC higher than 10 is Lift a small object from a person (DC 20), and many Sleight of Hand skill checks (like hiding an object on your body, above, and drawing a hidden weapon, below, if you buy that argument) just don't have per se DCs; instead, the Sleight of Hand skill check sets the DC for an observer's Spot skill check. (To be clear, that −20 penalty doesn't increase the DC but lowers the creature's check result.)

  • Arguably, the PH Sleight of Hand rules allow even an untrained creature to take a free action to make a Sleight of Hand skill check that suffers a −20 penalty to draw a hidden weapon (and, by extension, retrieve a little object) that's on its person. This skill use is superior to the feat Quick Draw (98) therefore largely obsoleting it as well as the rules for Manipulate an Item when retrieving an object and the rules for Draw or Sheathe a Weapon (142).

    This skill use is predicated on this sentence in the section Action of the PH Sleight of Hand skill: "Drawing a hidden weapon is a standard action and doesn’t provoke an attack of opportunity" (82). Because of the location of this sentence, the argument goes, the action is—highly technically—a check as per Skill Descriptions (66). Under this reading, a creature can take a free action to make a Sleight of Hand skill check that suffers a −20 penalty to draw a hidden weapon. (And if retrieving a hidden object is also a Sleight of Hand skill check, then regardless of how long that check normally takes, it, too, can be made as a free action.) This check sets the Spot skill check DC for observers. Success means that the observer notices the creature drawing the weapon, and failure means that the observer doesn't notice the creature drawing the weapon, but, either way, the weapon's quickly drawn, and—again—often that's the important part.

    Bear in mind that this reading is a tough sell. I don't buy it, for instance; I think that the controversial sentence describes the result of a creature having a hidden weapon on its person rather than a separate skill check (that I also don't hold an RPG to the same standards as a legal document is a related point). Maybe, though, your rogue players buy it. (So readers know, so far as I can tell, reading the PH Sleight of Hand rules this way is a minority position that's occasionally advocated for on the Giant in the Playground forums like in this thread from 2009 but has its most vocal supporters on (strong language warning) the Gaming Den like in threads from 2004, 2007, 2008, and 2009.)

  • As if that weren't enough, a creature that possesses 1 or more ranks in the Sleight of Hand skill can take a free action to make a Sleight of Hand skill check that suffers a −20 penalty to lift an object from a foe (DC 20). Success means that the creature lifts the object, and failure means that the creature doesn't. An observer makes a Spot skill check (DC = the Sleight of Hand check result), and success means that the observer notices the attempt, and failure means that the observer doesn't notice the attempt. A Sleight of Hand bonus of +20 is a lot but with effort achievable by level 8 or even earlier, and engaging in melee with a creature that has even the possibility of success can be as embarrassing as it is dangerous. (If a creature can take any number of free actions on its turn to try to swipe objects from foes, everyone should secure important objects to themselves with sovereign glue (Dungeon Master's Guide 266–7) (1/16 lb. ea; 2,400 gp ea). I wish I were kidding.)

In short, as written, the PH Sleight of Hand rules are—obviously—problematic, and a gentleperson's agreement not to exploit them is likely the best way to address them. However, some tables demand more precision, which—if you turn your head and squint—the rules for Free Actions can provide by, in part, saying, "Free actions don’t take any time at all, though your DM may limit the number of free actions you can perform in a turn" (144). While a DM technically can't (absent a house rule, of course) limit free actions by their nature—only their number—a compromise can probably be reached in a group that's aware of these rules lest large swaths of the game be obviated by the PH Sleight of Hand skill.

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