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Suppose a Fighter/Wizard without the War Caster feat is wielding a sword and shield. If she is hit and wants to cast the Shield spell as a reaction (it has a somatic component), can she drop her sword and cast the spell all as part of the same reaction? The rules don't seem to specify anything about object interactions other than as part of your main turn's move or action.

As a DM, I think I would rule that she could, since opening her hand seems like a reasonable start to whatever gestures she might need to make to cast the spell.

But I wanted to check, is this just a DM discretion thing, or are there explicit rules/examples somewhere that help clarify how this should be ruled?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ As a work-around you could try to get either a weapon or a shield that's an arcane focus. That way you could use the hand for somatic components while wielding that item. A staff focus can be used as a quarterstaff. Why not have a sword with a gem focus as a pommel? \$\endgroup\$ – Umbranus Nov 14 '16 at 13:02
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The rule in question is found on page 190 of the 5e PHB

You can also interact with one object or feature of the environment for free, during either your move or your action. For example, you could open a door during your move as you stride toward a foe, or you could draw your weapon as part of the same action you use to attack

So now we need to look at what is say about a reaction. One Page 190 again we see this.

Certain special abilities, spells, and situations allow you to take a special action called a reaction. A reaction is an instant response to a trigger of some kind, which can occur on your turn or on someone else’s. The opportunity attack, described later in this chapter, is the most common type o f reaction.

It hinges on whether movement or action in the interaction rules refers to formal mechanics of Movement and Actions. Or do you read it as the plain english word 'action' as the author considers a reaction a special type of action.

Reading the Ready Action on page 193 and the Reaction casting time notation doesn't clarify the situation either way.

Personally I would rule yes. Combat rounds are six seconds long which can encompass a lot of activities when it comes to combat and swordplay. The reaction casting time text states that the spell only takes a fraction of a second to cast. For somebody seasoned in combat that more than ample to drop a sword and cast a spell.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Dropping an item is conspicuously missing from the list of things you can do as a free object interaction. This suggests to me that it is a special case (i.e. that it might not even take up your object free object interaction). I would certainly rule that you can only do the free interaction items on your own turn as part of your formal Movement or Action and not as part of a bonus action or reaction. So my question is really, is dropping an item an even "free-er" interaction than those listed. \$\endgroup\$ – PurpleVermont Apr 5 '15 at 21:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ @PurpleVermont -- in past editions (3.5e to be precise), dropping an item was treated as "free-er than free" -- it appears that the 5e designers left it up to the DM, though. \$\endgroup\$ – Shalvenay Apr 6 '15 at 0:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is inaccurate, dropping a weapon is a free action in 3.5e. See rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/59213/… \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Apr 7 '15 at 1:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ if dropping a weapon is indeed free you could argue that you can pick it back up in the same turn as part of your movement. So you could drop your weapon, cast a spell and pick it back up in one single round.. That seems weird. \$\endgroup\$ – Ghilteras Jul 5 '17 at 20:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Ghilteras It not free, you are limited to one interaction with one object EITHER on your move OR your action. \$\endgroup\$ – RS Conley Jul 6 '17 at 14:48
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I have read the answers arguing the opposite, and they have merit, but a close reading of the explicit rules suggests to me that:

You cannot drop your weapon as part of your spellcasting reaction

In short this is because:

  • reactions are special, narrowly defined actions
  • reactions are instant, happening in a fraction of a second
  • 'interacting with objects' can only occur on 'your move' or 'your action' and a reaction is neither of these
  • in the absence of any other category in 5e, dropping an object should be considered 'interacting with objects'

Explicit Rules to Support this

My argumentation for this follows a close reading of the description of reactions, both in general (PHB 190) and for spellcasting (PHB 202), and of the text about Interacting with Objects Around You (PHB 190).

The first text says (my emphasis):

Certain special abilities, spells and situations allow you to take a special action called a reaction. A reaction is an instant response to a trigger of some kind...

The fact that a reaction is a special action, and the fact that a reaction is and instant response both suggest that any other type of action, including 'free' ones are not included here.

The second text says:

REACTIONS: Some spells can be cast as reactions. These spells take a fraction of a second to bring about and are cast in response to some event.

This states more clearly that a spell cast as a reaction is a sort of 'conditioned response', and the timespan given, though a little more generous than 'instant' still logically excludes doing anything else.

Lastly, as regards interacting with objects:

You can also interact with one object or feature of the environment for free, during either your move or your action.

This is explicit (and unambiguous, unlike "your move or action" in the Interacting with Objects Around You box) - object interaction occurs as part of your move, or your action. The writers of the rules could have said "or as part of a bonus action or reaction" but didn't. This cannot be not an oversight, as bonus actions are described immediately before (p189), and reactions immediately afterwards. (PHB 190)

I would argue that in 5e dropping an object is an object interaction. The introductory text in the box (PHB 190) says "Here are a few examples of the sorts of things you can do in tandem with your movement and action", so the list is not meant to be exhaustive. In plain terms dropping an object is a form of interaction, and and dropping a sword (or indeed planting it in the ground as per the banner listed) can logically be appended to the list given. "Freer than free" actions are not part of D&D 5e unless you count "You can communicate however you are able, through brief utterances and gestures as you take your turn." (PHB 190) In any case, as I have shown, the explicit rules suggest object interactions are not meant to be combined with reactions.

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    \$\begingroup\$ RAW doesn't explicitly cover dropping an object. Personally, I'd allow it. I imagine the somatic component of "shield" could be quickly waving your hand in a sweeping motion in front of you. Opening your hand as part of this motion would take no extra time, and could easily be the default instinct (waving with an open, not closed, hand) for many spellcasters. Both interpretations are valid, though, and will depend on how lenient your DM is (5e allows a lot of freedom of interpretation). \$\endgroup\$ – xanderh Apr 8 '15 at 9:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ @xanderh you're right about the RAW not covering dropping, though it seems to me that in the absence of specific rules, the closest general ones should apply, hence dropping an object comes under interacting with objects. \$\endgroup\$ – harlandski Apr 8 '15 at 10:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree that it's a valid ruling, but I disagree with the ruling. 5e is a lot more lenient with action economy (Mike Mearls rules that you can stow your weapon in your shield hand, cast a spell, and reclaim the weapon, all in the same action, not necessarily using the free interact-with-object action) than previous editions, and I would rule that, in this case, realism trumps the rules. Opening your hand while doing the somatic component requires no more effort or time than performing the somatic component with a free hand. \$\endgroup\$ – xanderh Apr 8 '15 at 10:24
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Since this is not dealt with explicitly by the rules, the closest precedent to it comes from the Grappled condition which even has a Grappler feat that allows a character to Pin an enemy while leaving both restrained. The rules specify that releasing a hold is a [no action] which means it can be done instantly at anytime. If it is possible to release a person/monster freely from a restraining choke hold or any other kind of hold with one hand, then i'd rule that definitely it is possible to let go of a held object at any time, even if this means allowing someone to exploit this mechanic by dropping a flask of bottled smoke or some other scheme.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to the site. Take the tour. Thank you for helping strangers. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Jun 6 '15 at 18:50
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The 5e PHB and DMG don't have explicit rules to cover dropping your sword in general. It is left up to DM discretion whether dropping your weapon would count as your one free interact-with-object per turn, or if it is completely free to do.

So, depending on how your DM interprets dropping your weapon, there are two answers to your question.

  • If your DM decides that dropping your weapon is completely free, you would be able to drop your weapon and cast shield during the same reaction.
  • If your DM decides that dropping your weapon costs your free interact-with-object, you would not be able to drop your weapon and cast shield as a reaction, as you can only take your interact-with-object on your own turn.

However, Mike Mearls has a different suggestion. The following quote can be found here: http://www.enworld.org/forum/content.php?1900-D-D-5th-Edition-Sage-Advice-from-Designers-Mearls-Crawford#ixzz3TkwXZzJV

Any advice on handling Clerics/druids with shields and spell casting? They seem disadvantaged without a hand free for S/M comps.

just stow that weapon in the shield hand for a moment and you're good - the rule isn't there to restrict, but to clarify. -M

Basically, Mike Mearls would allow you to quickly store the weapon in your shield hand while casting normally. If he would allow you to do it as part of a reaction isn't clear, but it's not much of a stretch, especially as the rule (need a hand free for casting spells with somatic components) isn't there to restrict magic wielders with sword/board.

From this, it seems that the War Caster effect that allows you to do somatic components with sword/shield in hand has two purposes, depending on your DM:

  • If your DM is very strict with the rules, it allows you to cast spells with somatic components without having to drop/sheathe a weapon.
  • If your DM is very laid-back in regards to the action-economy, it allows you to cast spells in a more visually awesome manner. Slinging a fireball at a person by moving your sword, making it looks like the fireball originates from inside the sword looks a lot more awesome than stowing your sword in you shield hand, throwing the fireball, and then grabbing the sword again. Mechanically no difference with or without the feat, but having the feat makes it look cooler.

Note: What Mike Mearls says is not strictly RAI, but are examples of completely valid ways of ruling. What he says is what he would rule in these cases and are almost guaranteed to not break anything. If you want RAI, ask Jeremy Crawford on Twitter.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I believe Mearls' suggestion is just using the one-free-interaction, rather than a third way. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 8 '15 at 15:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ Certainly possible, but not entirely clear. I'll try asking him. \$\endgroup\$ – xanderh Apr 9 '15 at 9:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ It sounds like he's allowing 2 free mini-interactions though -- (one to stow it in the shield hand, and another to grab it back after the spell) \$\endgroup\$ – PurpleVermont Apr 9 '15 at 19:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ Somehow I got marked as having downvoted this answer, (which may have been due to a misclick on my phone) however I am unable to remove it \$\endgroup\$ – illustro Sep 7 '17 at 13:09
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This is mostly DM discretion -- I have asked similar questions in the context of two-handed weapons as my 5e cleric uses a crossbow, and received no answers that point at RAW outside the War Caster feat itself, which I would argue isn't applicable to your case, as Shield is intended to be cast as a reaction (it states explicitly "1 reaction" under casting time, rendering the part in War Caster about being able to use spells for OAs moot).

That said, a conservative interpretation would be that you drop or sheathe your weapon as part of the cast (since you would have to do so to cast a spell, no matter if it was your turn or a reaction), but then have to pick it up/unsheathe it on your next turn, as a free action (pp. 189-190 of the PHB + the sidebar on p. 190). Your DM may tolerate a more liberal interpretation, though, where you can reclaim (unsheathe) your weapon as part of the reaction; personally, I'd be inclined to rule that way. Also, some would say that sheathing a weapon may not be part of a reaction by RAW -- I'd like to hear some RAI from the designers on this one! Certainly, though, you can drop the weapon as a non-action (i.e. it has no cost in the action economy in 5e), which makes this still feasible, at a slight risk of having your weapon taken away from you by an alert hostile (who can do it without drawing an OA from you, because your reaction's already been consumed by the spell).

Also, keep in mind that once you take a reaction, you cannot take another reaction (the RAW for this is also on p. 190, under "Reactions") until after you have your turn again -- this means that even if your DM is liberal enough to let you reclaim your weapon as part of the Shield cast, you cannot make an OA with that weapon anyway! So, the difference between the two interpretations is quite minimal -- and can be seen as fluff, even, considering that the RAW renders whether your weapon is in-hand or not irrelevant, both from the viewpoint of not being able to make OAs either way, and from the viewpoint of your AC being unchanged by the fact your sword's no longer in your hand.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I would have thought that a character could drop, but not sheathe a weapon during a reaction. And that does matter, because now my weapon is on the ground and someone else could pick it up or kick it away before I get a chance to reclaim it. \$\endgroup\$ – PurpleVermont Apr 5 '15 at 18:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PurpleVermont -- you raise a good point; however, dropping and sheathing a weapon are considered equivalent in complexity in 5e RAW (they're both free actions, see the sidebar on p.190) -- I'd allow either, certainly. \$\endgroup\$ – Shalvenay Apr 5 '15 at 18:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't have my PHB in front of me, but I thought that dropping was not on the list in that sidebar. The things in the sidebar, I'd only allow a player to do for free on their own turn. \$\endgroup\$ – PurpleVermont Apr 5 '15 at 23:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PurpleVermont -- you are correct \$\endgroup\$ – Shalvenay Apr 6 '15 at 0:00
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No you can't drop your sword and cast a reaction casting time spell on your reaction.

Players Handbook p190:

You can also interact with one object or feature of the environment for free, during either your move or your action. For example, you could open a door during your move as you stride toward a foe, or you could draw your weapon as part of the same action you use to attack

Players Handbook p190.

Certain special abilities, spells, and situations allow you to take a special action called a reaction. A reaction is an instant response to a trigger of some kind, which can occur on your turn or on someone else’s. The opportunity attack, described later in this chapter, is the most common type of reaction.

The key points, RAW, are:

  1. "You can also interact with one object or feature of the environment for free, during either your move or your action" (emphasis mine). You only get the interaction for free during your move or your action, both specific things you take on your turn. If it is not your turn you don't get this free interaction, not to drop something or do anything else.

  2. "A reaction is an instant response to a trigger of some kind, which can occur on your turn or on someone else’s" (emphasis mine). Reactions that are allowed are singular and instant. Even if you were allowed to drop your weapon for free by ignoring the rule above, dropping your weapon then casting is not singular. The casting happens as a second item and is therefore, implicitly, not instant either.

So no you can't drop a weapon, or anything else in your hands (you can't drop the wheelbarrow, serving plate, tree you are helping to carry etc.), and cast a reaction casting time spell on your reaction. You must already have at least one hand free to cast a spell as a reaction.

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TLDR: p.190 “Other Activity on Your Turn” - Communication gestures (flourish) can occur outside of your actions and moves. Opening your hand is a communication gesture that drops your weapon see “brief utterances and gestures” as you take your reaction to cast shield.

Since a reaction can be used on your turn, rules for what you can do on your turn actions likely apply in your special action-reaction on that same turn. It should follow that rules defined under the “Other activity on your turn” block should also apply on a reaction action taken on your turn.

Specifically, the section under the p.190 “Other Activity on Your Turn” block which define other activities as:

“Your turn can include a variety of flourishes that require neither your action nor your move.”

This creates a short list of “flourishes” that are not actions or movement. The two flourishes listed are communicate through brief utterances, and communicate with gestures. p.190

“You can communicate however you are able, through brief utterances and gestures, as you take your turn.”

The book then defines flourishes that are part of your move or action

“You can also interact with one object or feature of the environment for free, during either your move or your action.”

The sidebar on p190 then provides a list of example interactions and the rules clearly state that a second interaction requires that you use your action. As stated by others, dropping a weapon is not listed there.

If brief utterances and gestures are available during your turn and outside of your move and action, then it is reasonable to infer that brief utterances and gestures may occur on another person’s turn as part of your reaction. A communicating gesture could be interpreted as the movement of your hand. For example, a gesture such as opening it briefly (thus dropping any held items). If you can move your hand as you make a melee attack as an opportunity attack reaction; moving your hand to make gestures as part of a somatic casting reaction such as one provided by the shield spell is logical.

Gestures are mentioned on p.201 under “Casting in Armor”,

“Because of the mental focus and precise gestures required for spellcasting, you must be proficient with the armor you are wearing to cast a spell.”

page 203 “Somatic”,

“Spellcasting gestures might include a forceful gesticulation or an intricate set of gestures. If a spell requires a somatic component, the caster must have free use of at least one hand to perform these gestures.”

So to cast a reaction spell “Shield” that has a somatic component, you need “free use of at least one hand”, proficiency in worn armor, and assuming your hands are not grappled, part of “an intricate set of gestures” would logically include an opening hand gesture (thus dropping held items) as the first part of a “set of gestures”. Since (communication) gestures may occur outside of your move and your action, (communication) gestures (such as an open hand) should also be available outside of your reaction when it is taken to cast shield with brief verbal utterances and with a set of gestures.

If your DM rejects this argument, a simpler argument is that an open palm gesture (dropping held items) is the first part of the "set of intricate gestures" required by shield's somatic component as seen on page 203. Also thrusting an open palm at an opponent is a "forceful gesticulation" as seen on page 203 that has the added benefit of projecting a distracting weapon (+5 to AC please) that was in that hand at the creature attacking.

Anna from Arendelle can be seen using the open hand gesture as she casts shield while uttering "No" in the movie "Frozen" which is clear by the shattering sword and her blue coloration that represents ice-like force magic.

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Drops are considered a free movement. You can drop a weapon to take a reaction.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Does it say that somewhere in the PHB or DMG that you can point to? \$\endgroup\$ – PurpleVermont Apr 6 '15 at 16:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes but I am at work, I'll have look later tonight \$\endgroup\$ – Escoce Apr 6 '15 at 16:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ It does, in fact, not. What kind of action dropping your weapon would fall under is not explicitly stated anywhere in the book. It could be covered by the one free "interact with object" action you can take on your turn, but it is faster than sheathing a sword or any of the other examples. I'd personally allow it, but it is not explicitly covered by RAW. \$\endgroup\$ – xanderh Apr 8 '15 at 9:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ Crap, I have my phb open, and I just updated my answer to better support my argument which was full of formatted block text, and promptly deleted it accidentally. I am not doing that again on my iPhone. Needless to say page 190 supports my answer. The definition of a reaction, and the interacting with objects list, lists a whole lot of things which are far MORE interactive than simply dropping an object and so I stand by my answer as a RAW answer as well as being within RAI. \$\endgroup\$ – Escoce Apr 8 '15 at 15:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Escoce you should still update your answer when you can. Comments get deleted so regardless of whether you stand by your answer, when the comments get deleted your reasoning goes with it unless your answer is updated. \$\endgroup\$ – Purple Monkey Apr 9 '15 at 0:59

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