Here are two related questions, actually.

1st: What action type (time) does it take to pass an item from one hand to another (assuming the other hand is free)?

2nd: I know that retrieving or stowing an accessible item is a minor action, but how much time (action type) does switching items in hand take? With switching items I mean, for example, passing a weapon wielded in my main hand to my off-hand and, simultaneously, passing the implement in my off-hand to my main hand.

Thank you.


5 Answers 5


I don't believe there are written rules to address this.

However, I would consider both actions you describe as roughly equivalent to retrieving an item from a pouch, and therefore say that it costs a minor action.

As for how long it takes in "real-time", the most accurate statement anyone can make is that it would take no more than six seconds - which is the approximate time given for one round of combat. With the exceptions of rests, rituals, and travel across distances, most actions do not have any rules stating how long they take to complete.

This does beg the question though, "Why do you need to do this?". As far as I'm aware, there's no effective benefit or penalty for using one hand or the other for most purposes.

  • \$\begingroup\$ My question about switching derives from the need to make a light shield a viable choice for my next Bard character. If I use a light shield I can hold something in my off-hand but I cannot use it for attacking. If switching is a cheap action, I may swap weapon and implement on my main hand according to the attack power I'm going to use while retaining my shield bonus. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 24, 2010 at 13:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ Oh, you want to do a Diablo II :) (you could alternate between two sets of weapon/shield by pressing a key). Realistically, what you want should be a minor action, just like changing your weapon currently is. It doesn't feel realistic to me otherwise. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 24, 2010 at 14:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm fairly certain there's no rule that says implements need to be in your main hand. For that matter, I'm pretty sure you could dual-wield implements with no penalty - you'd just have to choose between one or the other whenever you use implement powers. Further, I'm not even certain there's a written rule that says your primary weapon has to bee in your main hand. (Although, I think the items themselves specify what slots they can be used in.) I should look further into this. \$\endgroup\$
    – Iszi
    Commented Nov 24, 2010 at 19:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ No, the question is not abouot the ability to make an attack with my off-hand weapon: I know I can according to the rules (or to the lack of them). My question rises from the fact that I cannot attack using my "light shield" hand, even if I can hold an item with it. This is the reason that makes me opting for a "last moment item swap", if the action is cheap enough. :) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 24, 2010 at 22:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ Just for the journal... eventually my DM ruled that item swap between hands is a Minor action. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 26, 2010 at 23:04

There are no rules for handedness in 4e. While there are rules for "off-hand" weapons, the rules explore the use of dual-wielding weapons. Therefore as handedness doesn't matter, "swapping" the contents of your hands has no rules impact and is therefore flavour. You may choose to sacrifice actions to make it look showy, but that is also a flavour thing.

As an important note, the tossing your sword into your other hand and saying (from the Princess Bride):

Inigo: I admit it; you are better than I am.

Man in Black: Then why are you smiling?

Inigo: Because I know something you don't know.

Man in Black: And what is that?

Inigo: I am not left handed! [switches sword to his right hand & they continue fighting, with Inigo winning]

Is a standard action, because it's using the sword as a prop for intimidate.

Now, with that said, there are times when you may want to rapidly swap equipment between the "used" and "unused" states. Swapping between "main-hand" and "off-hand" as noted doesn't take any time. One method for rapid-equipment swapping is the Disembodied Hand familiar which grants, as a constant action:

You can retrieve or stow an item as a free action instead of as a minor action. Note, however, that you can only take one free action on your turn, so stacking these isn't particularly useful.

A deep-pocket cloak has a similar mechanic, as well as being incredibly flavourful.

If you want to swap weapons, there is nothing better than the feat Master at Arms. If you want to swap implements and weapons, you'll need one of the prior mechanisms and the Quick Draw feat. (Tieflings have an ... interesting option of the Clever Tail feat, mainly for flavour.

For a bard to swap rapidly between implements and weapons, not counting weapliments like the songblade, or feats such as "arcane implement proficiency" or multi-classing swordmage, you don't often use minor actions, so any one of the above items or feats should work.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Great plethora of options, thank you! ^_^ I'm still unsure to take for grant the "free action" hypothesis. As I wrote above, presence of a light shield, in my opinion, biases the free hand as the only one able to attack, thus making handedness matter. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 24, 2010 at 22:58

While I agree with Iszi's answer about it not really mattering, I have always considered moving an item from one hand to another available hand to be a free action. I would expect switching hands to be similar to drawing a weapon, so a minor action.

Is this a simplification of the real world? Yes, but so is D&D.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Well, as per RAW, drawing a weapon (or, more exactly, changing a weapon) is a minor action, not a free action. Or am I wrong? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 24, 2010 at 13:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ I personally think that moving an item from one hand to the other, empty, hand could be a free action. However, I agree with Jim Kiley when he writes that swapping two objects requires much more skills. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 24, 2010 at 14:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ I also think the "draw and move" combination is a 3.5 legacy that doesn't exist in 4.0. Am I right? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 24, 2010 at 14:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Erik Right you are. My history with 3.5 is still another move. And yes, I'm suggesting a simplified method. \$\endgroup\$
    – C. Ross
    Commented Nov 24, 2010 at 14:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Adriano: Sorry, I've missed your comment until now. Yes: drawing a weapon (or retrieving an accessible object) is a minor action. Stowing a weapon or an object is a minor action too. I've found non rules mentioning the act of "changing" a weapon (meaning that I either have to spend 2 minor actions, or let the unused one fall as a free action and then draw). \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 26, 2010 at 6:56

Switching an item from one hand to the other (free) hand is a free action.

To switch items in hands: Drop one item (free action). Pass item from hand to hand (free action). Pick up dropped item (minor action). Total: 1 minor action.

I didn't think much about these rule until the Ranger in my group switching from bow to axes with no penalty, so I made her drop the bow or spend a move action to put it away.

  • \$\begingroup\$ +1. Nice alternative to switching, as long as there is a supporting surface under character's feet (that is: for the most part of her career) ^^ \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 28, 2011 at 15:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ Just have them stick the blade end of their weapon into the base of the mini. ;) \$\endgroup\$
    – Sam Hoice
    Commented Jul 28, 2011 at 15:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ Woah! That's great! ^^ \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 28, 2011 at 20:34

I'd say a move action or thereabouts -- try it sometime with a drumstick and a really sharp knife, while someone tries to punch you. It's not easy.

But Iszi is right -- the rules don't require that your implement be in your "good hand," just that it be in hand.


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