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As was pointed out in answers to a related question of mine, you need to have a free hand to reload a hand crossbow. There's an Assassin (Executioner) in my group who wields a rapier and a hand crossbow, and I'm trying to figure out how he can reload the thing.

Quick Swap and Load Free

As an Executioner, he has a Level 1 feature called Quick Swap (from Heroes of Shadow):

Benefit: Once during each of your turns, you can take a free action to draw or stow a weapon and then draw another weapon.

And hand crossbows have the property Load Free (from Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdom):

Ranged weapons ... including bows, crossbows ... take some time to load. Any weapon that has the load property requires two hands to load, even if you can use only one hand to attack with it. ... When a weapon shows "load free" (Lf) on the Ranged Weapons table, that means you draw and load ammunition as a free action, effectively part of the action used to attack with the weapon.

So, since you can use free actions in the middle of other actions, I'm wondering if he could use Quick Swap to stow his rapier, then while his rapier is stowed use a free action to load the crossbow, then finish Quick Swap by drawing the rapier again. It does say 'another weapon' in Quick Swap. And even though he isn't wielding a weapon in the middle of swapping, you could argue that his hand isn't free since he's drawing and stowing.

Actual Question

So, does that sound like a reasonable method, what are some other options, and what seems like the best idea? Note that my playgroup is highly invested in the idea of verisimilitude, even if 4E isn't by default.

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Just take the Two-Fisted Shooter feat and move on.

You can treat the hand crossbow as an off-hand weapon, and you can reload it one-handed as a free action. When you score a critical hit and have a loaded hand crossbow in your off hand, you can make a ranged basic attack with that weapon as a free action. (MP 140)

This will let you reload a hand crossbow with the hand you're holding it in, and eliminate any other silliness.

It's totally possible to juggle weapons like your talking (actually what you probably want to do is juggle the rapier and the hand crossbow in the same hand and keep your off hand free). But really, there's a feat for this, that has an additional cool mechanical benefit. Take that and move on.

One more possible solution if you don't mind spending a minor every other turn or so.

  • Start turn with unloaded HCB in off hand, rapier in main.
  • drop rapier (free action)
  • Load HCB (Free action)
  • attack with HCB (standard action)
  • Reload HCB (free action)
  • Pick up Rapier (minor action)

You now have a loaded HCB, and the rapier is back in hand. If you do this every other turn, you can attack with the HCB and have the rapier available for opportunity attacks or melee situations.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Does "you can reload it one-handed" mean you can reload it with the same hand you're holding it in, or do you still need to use your other hand? \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Aug 21 '14 at 12:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener it means you can reload it with the hand you're holding it with. It's the feat to make the scenario described in the question mechanically possible (it's intended for either dual wielding hand crossbows or for sword and x-bow scenarios) \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Aug 21 '14 at 12:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ Right after I upvoted I looked up the feat, and see that it has Rogue as a prerequisite, so not only will that not work for my player, it isn't a general solution either. \$\endgroup\$ – DCShannon Aug 21 '14 at 20:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DCShannon MCing rogue is an option, and synergizes will with the class \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Aug 21 '14 at 21:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ Accepted after that edit. As silly as it might seem for someone to be dropping their rapier all the time, that's a general solution as good as just about anything else you can do, and it doesn't require any feats or anything. \$\endgroup\$ – DCShannon Aug 25 '14 at 21:20
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Your interpretation makes sense to me. As for versimilitude, I would have the character install hooks on his belt which assist him with one-handed reloading. These have the side-effect of adding flair to the outfit.

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I find your methodology questionable. Of course it is a DM ruling and you are the DM, but consider for the free load to work you must have a free hand. Quick Swap is based on a single continuous motion to switch from one weapon to another, as an example slip your dagger in its sheaf on the down stroke and pull your sword on the continued motion up stroke. If you break this continuous motion with a load free, it is no longer a single motion. I like the verisimilitude DawnPaladin suggests by adding flair to the outfit. Another option might be to do a dexterity roll to see if the character can successfully manipulate the freeload with the rapier in their hand and figure out what you want the difficulty of the multitask to be.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, that's the main thing that was bothering me, but I thought about it a bit, and if you have all your stuff arranged just right you could stow the rapier, reload and shoot the crossbow, and draw the rapier in a pretty smooth motion. Maybe not a free action, I dunno, but pretty smooth. \$\endgroup\$ – DCShannon Aug 21 '14 at 20:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree that you should be able to sheath the weapon, free load, and draw the weapon in a single round using the hand crossbow in the off hand. It may take more than one feat to do it efficiently (minimize penalties) and it seems to me it would effect your efficiency shooting. \$\endgroup\$ – Honorlord Aug 22 '14 at 5:47
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I'd avoid the issue by getting a Ruby Scabbard (Adventurer's Vault), since it allows the associated weapon to be drawn as part of the same action made to attack with it. So he would just whip it out to stab someone in a single, fluid movement.

So he would sheathe the rapier as a minor action, reload as free then just draw it again whenever he uses it.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This sounded like a good idea, until I remembered he's trying to keep Two-Weapon Defense active, but I didn't mention that in the question. The Spiked Gauntlet question was about that part of it. \$\endgroup\$ – DCShannon Aug 21 '14 at 20:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ Would the Ruby Scabbard also work as the same action to parry and perhaps be sufficient to satisfy an active Two-Weapon Defense? \$\endgroup\$ – Honorlord Aug 22 '14 at 5:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ Only if he has power active like Duelists's Prowess (DMG381) or Riposte Strike (PHB1), since the scabbard only draws a weapon as part of an attack. \$\endgroup\$ – Frezak Aug 22 '14 at 7:33
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It turns out that there are a number of different ways to speed up this process. The fastest option may or may not be available to a specific character, so let me try and include not only that option but some other alternatives as well. There were already four answers when I posted this one, and I've drawn a lot of ideas from those answers.

Fastest

The fastest way was pointed out by wax eagle. It requires the Two-Fisted Shooter feat. The text for that feat's benefit is included in wax eagle's answer, but note that it has the class Rogue as a prerequisite.

This feat is perfect if you can get it, as it lets you reload the hand crossbow one-handed as a free action. No weapon swapping or free hand needed.

However, if your character isn't a Rogue, doesn't want to multiclass as a Rogue, or is already multiclassing as something else, then you can't take this feat, so you need other options.

Other Feats

There are a number of feats that allow you to swap weapons quickly, which facilitates having a free hand. These include Master-at-Arms and Quick Draw.

Master at Arms
Benefit: You gain a +1 feat bonus to the attack rolls of weapon attacks.
The bonus increases to +2 at 11th level and +3 at 21st level.
Also, you can use a minor action to sheathe a weapon and then draw a weapon.

Master at Arms allows you to switch weapons more quickly.

This would be useful if you didn't keep the hand crossbow out all the time, but instead just pulled it out to shoot. Put your weapon away and get out the hand crossbow as a minor, then shoot and reload with your free hand using a standard action and a free action, then swap your hand crossbow back to the main weapon with another minor.

Alternatively, you could use a minor to put your main hand weapon away, while it's away use a free action to load your hand crossbow with your currently free hand, and then draw your main weapon again as part of the same minor action you put it away with.

So, you can keep both your weapons out, and reload the hand crossbow with a minor.

Quick Draw
Prerequisite: Dex 13
Benefit: You can draw a weapon (or an object stored in a belt pouch, bandolier, or similar container, such as a potion) as part of the same action used to attack with the weapon or use the object.
You also gain a +2 feat bonus to initiative checks.

This is less helpful. It might be useful combined with some of the other options here, but alone all it does is allow you to save a minor to draw a weapon.

Still, you could use this if you weren't concerned with having your main weapon out all the time. You could sheathe the main with a minor, shoot and reload the crossbow, and then just draw the main whenever you need to make another attack with it.

So you can keep the hand crossbow out, have your main sheathed sometimes, and reload the crossbow with a minor.

Class Features

Some classes have class features that allow them to swap weapons more quickly, particularly the Assassin (Executioner).

The Executioner has a feature called Quick Swap:

Benefit: Once during each of your turns, you can take a free action to draw or stow a weapon and then draw another weapon.

This is essentially the same as Master at Arms, except you can only do it once per turn, and it only takes a free action.

So, you could keep your main weapon out, use a free action to swap from your main to your hand crossbow, leaving a free hand open all the time, use a standard to shoot the hand crossbow and a free to reload it, then use two minors to stow the hand crossbow and draw your main.

Alternatively, you could keep both weapons out, use a free action to stow the main, interrupt that free action with another free action to reload the hand crossbow while your hand is free, and then finish the free action by redrawing your main.

This second option is nearly as good as Two Fisted Shooter, in that you can reload without using any of your three primary actions. However, you can only do it once per turn, and it seems to be stressing believability a bit.

Items

There are also items that allow you to draw or stow weapons more quickly, including a number of scabbards, which was pointed out by Frezak.

As an example, the Ruby Scabbard can be found in the Adventurer's Vault:

Ruby Scabbard Level 5
Wondrous Item 1,000 gp
Property: This scabbard resizes to fit any light blade or heavy blade. You can draw a weapon from this scabbard as part of the same action used to make an attack with that weapon.
Power (Encounter): Free Action. Use this power when you attack with the weapon most recently sheathed in the scabbard. Gain a +1 power bonus to the next damage roll you make with that weapon before the end of your next turn. The weapon must have been sheathed in the scabbard within the past 24 hours to gain this power.

This scabbard and others like it provide the same benefit as the Quick Draw feat without requiring that you spend a feat. Of course, you have to get the item and you have to be using a light or heavy blade as your main weapon.

Summary

So there are quite a few options for speeding this process up, but your best bet is Two Fisted Shooter.

If you're an Executioner, then your class features take care of the issue.

Unfortunately those options may not be available for your particular character, in which case you can take Master at Arms, or if you really don't want to spend a feat and you are using the right weapons you can take advantage of a scabbard.

If anybody knows of some other options that should be included in this answer, just drop a comment and I'll add them.

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