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Im trying to understand the somatic component of spellcasting, in pathfinder, and how it relates to shields. The core rule book has this to say about bucklers:

You can cast a spell with somatic components using your shield arm, but you lose the buckler’s AC bonus until your next turn.

This about a light shield:

A light shield’s weight lets you carry other items in that hand, although you cannot use weapons with it.

And this about heavy shields:

A heavy shield is so heavy that you can’t use your shield hand for anything else.

Assuming all your other hands are otherwise unavailable, this seems clear that you can cast spells that have a somatic component while wearing a buckler and cannot while wearing a heavy shield. However, the rules don't seem as clear about light shields. How does a light shield impact your ability to cast spells with a somatic component?

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Light shields prevent you from using that hand for spellcasting.

Each entry there tells you what you can do with that hand when a shield is equipped on that arm/hand:

Buckler: Anything, including casting spells (but with some consequences).
Light shield: Hold items.
Heavy shield: Nothing at all.

Light shields let you hold items in that hand that aren't weapons, and that's it. Spellcasting doesn't qualify.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ It is perhaps worthed to note in your answer that you can hold the item with your light shield hand, then cast as this hand movement between weapons seems to be a free action. This FAQ seems to support the idea: paizo.com/paizo/faq/v5748nruor1fm#v5748eaic9qda \$\endgroup\$ – Balacertar Sep 10 '16 at 22:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ Why are you assuming that the rules here are a whitelist? They could just as easily be a blacklist (preventing weapon-wielding but nothing else), or, to actually be true to the wording, a statement about holding items (yes), a statement about wielding weapons (no), and a conspicuous absence of any statement one way or the other on anything else. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jul 28 '18 at 13:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan I suspect it’s just because we subscribe to vastly different hermeneutics, and so it seems obvious to me. I’m not sure it’s profitable to perform our fundamental disagreement on how to read rules in the comments again. I see you’ve got an answer submitted; that’s probably sufficient. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jul 28 '18 at 16:30
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You cannot provide somatic components with a light shield

As opposed to his previous comment on the subject, here is another (direct) claim from James Jacobs (Paizo's Creative Director) that you cannot use a light shield's arm to provide somatic components. So, while his first statement may have been right by 2010, either JJ changed his stance on the subject, or simply changed his mind and that previous statement is no longer valid from 2013 and on (I checked all of his posts mentioning "light shield").

Can a Cleric wielding a light shield on each arm cast spells with somatic components?

Nope. That's what bucklers are for.

Alternatively, they released the Shielded Mage feat on the Armor Master's Handbook, which fixes that exact problem:

You have learned how to cast spells from behind the safety of a shield.

Prerequisites: Shield Focus, base attack bonus +3 or fighter level 1st.

Benefit: You reduce the arcane spell failure of any shield you use by 15% (to a minimum of 0%). Using a shield does not prevent you from completing somatic spell components with the hand wielding the shield.

Note that the feat doesn't mention the type of shield it grants it's benefit to, meaning that you may even cast spells holding a heavy shield if you take the feat.

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You cannot use a hand holding a shield to perform somatic components. The buckler is a specific exception which states that you can cast a spell while holding it and lose the shield bonus to AC.

In any other case, you fall back on the following rules (emphasis mine):

A somatic component is a measured and precise movement of the hand. You must have at least one hand free to provide a somatic component.

You need a free hand to cast, and a hand holding a shield is not free.

Strapping a shield to your arm to gain its shield bonus to your AC, or unstrapping and dropping a shield so you can use your shield hand for another purpose, requires a move action.

Since your hand is not free, you can't use it for anything unless specifically stated. This means using a weapon or casting a spell for a buckler, carrying an object for a light shield, and nothing for a heavy shield.

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James Jacobs (Paizo Creative Director) has declared that light shields leave the hand they are equipped in free for spellcasting. The silly juggling maneuver is no longer necessary, but this does make bucklers all but pointless for spellcasters.

From his post:

A light shield allows spellcasters to use their hand to cast, and lets you carry an object; the only thing it actually prevents is wielding a weapon.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You left out the "I believe so." Jacobs is going off memory, not citing anything, and apparently getting it wrong. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Feb 8 '15 at 8:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie 1) Postings by Jacobs on that site are generally considered official rulings. They rarely cite rules in any semblance of correctness; they are correct by virtue of the authority of their source. He cannot 'get it wrong' from a RAW standpoint (because he is the RAW), but he can make stupid rulings that should not be the case from an objective standpoint. If you think his ruling here is dumb, that's fine, and maybe you should add that reasoning as a justification for your own answer. I disagree with that position in this case, so I'm not changing mine. \$\endgroup\$ – the dark wanderer Feb 8 '15 at 20:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ 3) "I believe so" does not refer to the quoted text, it refers to this applying to Lay on Hands. The sentence, strictly read, would mean he is sure it applies to spellcasting, but unsure it applies to this other non-spellcasting thing (Lay on Hands). 4) This is also, actually, a completely fair and valid interpretation of the RAW. Just not a popular one, and one which makes bucklers slightly less useful to casters for no good reason. Further discussion should take place in chat. \$\endgroup\$ – the dark wanderer Feb 8 '15 at 20:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ It is a curious thing when "rules as written" comes to mean "things that are written not in the rules, but outside them." \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Feb 8 '15 at 20:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ @thedarkwanderer That is not generally true. James Jacobs is the creative director. Not a rules authority. That’s not even his job within Paizo. And he gets stuff wrong all the time. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jul 28 '18 at 13:34
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The wording is ambiguous, and anyone claiming any one answer as the actual correct answer is overstating their claim.

The light shield says it can hold things, but cannot wield weapons. The basic rules for shields don’t cover the subject in a general way; what you can and can’t do with a shield in your hand is left up to the individual shield’s description—in this case, that you can hold things, but cannot wield weapons. Anything that isn’t one of those two things, isn’t covered. We don’t know whether or not it should be allowed. Are somatic components more like just carrying things, or more like wielding a weapon? Actually, they’re pretty unlike either of those things.

So it could go either way, and the rules, as written, do not tell us. A GM has to make a ruling. In a notable case, Paizo’s creative director, James Jacobs, thinks somatic components should be allowed with a light shield, which could be an argument that this was the intent. But he also hedged that claim a lot (“I believe...”), and in any event he’s the creative director and not a rules authority—he’s been known to get the rules wrong all the time. So, by his own admission, he’s not as strong an authority on this subject as you might expect based on his employment at Paizo.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ “can hold things, but cannot hold weapons. Anything that isn’t one of those two things, isn’t covered.” Okay... can you provide me with an example of something that isnt a weapon and also isnt a thing that is capable of being carried, or that you might want to carry? (Or even an example of a weapon that isnt a thing because I'm curious about what you think 'things' are). \$\endgroup\$ – Matt Jul 30 '18 at 12:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Matt Sorry, mistyped: I meant you cannot wield a weapon. You can carry one just fine. Just no attack rolls, whatever it is (after all, anything can be a weapon if you try hard enough). \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jul 30 '18 at 13:06
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The absolute best answer is Creative Director James Jacobs' response on the Paizo.com forums:

Switching a held object from one hand to the other doesn't require an action, so the end result is the same whether or not you use the light shield hand to lay on hands or your weapon hand after switching your weapon to the off hand, and then back to your weapon hand.

The fact that allowing you to use your light shield hand to do so without so many fiddly steps is why I'd say it's fine to let it work that way.

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