In my group, we've been working with the understanding that you can wear a shield and fight with a two-handed weapon, the assumption being that you only get the +2 AC if you're actively wielding the shield with 1 hand. We're treating "wielding" a shield as different from "wearing" a shield. When you wield the shield, you need to use 1 hand for it, and when you only just wear it your hand is free to do what you like (cast spells even). In short, it allows us to use versatile weapons with a shield easily and change our strategy during battle without taking the 1 action to don or doff the shield. In one turn I can strike with 1 hand and wield the shield and in another turn I can switch to two hands for great weapon feat damage, losing the AC but gaining a lot of damage. We think this might be reasonably balanced because we can only modify our AC during our turn until our next turn, so we're not allowed to strike with two hands and then switch back to wielding the shield in the same turn.

Another reason we may have used this "rule" is because you are allowed to equip a weapon as part of the attack action, as stated in the PHB (it's not with me at the moment).

Is there a rule in the PHB or somewhere else that allows this kind of interaction, or have we made the whole thing up out of convenience? Can a shield-holding hand do anything but hold the shield?


4 Answers 4


I think you're bypassing the "don" and "doff" rule for shields.

I agree that there's daylight to be seen between carrying and "wielding" a shield. But I'll pose you this question: if you can have a shield and switch states from "wearing" to "wielding" it freely, then what is donning or doffing?

As for the comparison to equipping a weapon, I don't think it's valid. No weapon classes are described as requiring an equip-time; all armor are described as needing time to make usable. (I'm ignoring the little bit of time-constraint provided by "loading".)

My read of your description above is that you've house-ruled the donning and doffing of a shield to cost zero in the action economy. If that works for your group, that's great. But I think it is a departure from PHB rules.

  • \$\begingroup\$ "then what is donning or doffing?". For our style of play, and I suspect a lot of combat heavy, RP light groups is that it's just a base that's been covered by the rules that doesn't necessarily come into play all the time. Same as, say, making sure we have food and water. Some groups don't play that game. So mechanically speaking, donning and doffing equipment doesn't come into play during combat usually. All that to say, I don't think that question really helps your position. Maybe it's just a nit pick on my part, but there it is \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 12, 2016 at 20:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ Loosing the shield is "doffing" the shield. It's not an RP thing, it is something you'd do in combat if you wanted to switch from dual wielding or spell casting to sword and board. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 12, 2016 at 21:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ @J.A.Streich That's what I'm contesting. In our games, there's usually no need to doff armor \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 14, 2016 at 17:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ donning is strapping it to your arm via the various attachment systems shields often have. Doffing is unstrapping it. Wielding is placing your actual hand on the peg handle on the interior of the shield, gripping it, and maneuvering the shield in front of you. unwielding it is releasing the hand from the handle and turning your elbow downward so the shield is at your side and you can use the shield hand to e.g. grip your weapon with both hands or grab your opponent's sword arm. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 8, 2017 at 7:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ What does "there's daylight to be seen" mean? If that's an idiom, I don't know what it means, and I'm a native English speaker. Recommend rephrasing with simple English. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 24, 2018 at 16:59


Per page 146, you need a round to 'doff' a shield. It's intended to be a more difficult process than just dropping it -- there's probably some straps to extricate yourself from.

Even if your DM allows you to just drop it, that still means that it's on the ground, and you'll need to pick it up at a later time.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Dropping is freer than a free action, but to stick it on your person somewhere would take an object interaction --- per Jeremy Crawfords tweets about dropping. Note, in real life most shields have straps that can't just be "dropped", but that is all in the hands of a DM \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 12, 2016 at 17:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ @J.A.Streich The distinction between free and 1 action isn't always length of time, but some times difficulty / concentration required to do it that prohibits you from doing something else that takes a full action. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 12, 2016 at 20:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ I wasn't even arguing between action and free. I was arguing between "Free object interaction" like drawing a weapon, and "freer than free" as described by Jeremy Crawford. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 12, 2016 at 21:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ The shields in D&D are the type that requires straps, because they take 1 round to don and 1 round to doff. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 13, 2016 at 4:54

This is fine

I wouldn't expect this to fly every time if you tried it at a representitive sample of generic tables, but it in no way contravenes the PHB or any other rules. It's not such a large change that the game's expected values for things will be out of wack, it makes sense fictionally, and it's generally not a problem. While there isn't any statement of designer intent yet, I would be very surprised if this was claimed to be the intended reading (unless shields first become massively unpopular in standardized play or something), but that doesn't make it wrong, even as a reading of the rules as written.


An average round is the time period of about six seconds and if you think it is realistic to be able to fiddle around with a shield and the straps on it so you don't have to actively hold it and that it wouldn't get in the way or be super awkward by all means this is a sound idea but sounds more like house rules or something that would require a feat of sorts regardless if it works for you guys go for it but the reason you need a turn to doff the shield is because it would take about that six seconds to doff it. In my groups campaign when we want high two hand damage we simply use a free action to drop the shield and then atk with full force.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "Dropping" a shield as a free action is also unrealistic for the same reason: fiddling with the straps to remove it takes, well, six seconds. \$\endgroup\$
    – user17995
    Commented Dec 8, 2017 at 6:54

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