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The second bullet point of War Caster reads as such:

  • You can perform the somatic components of spells even when you have a weapons or a shield in one or both hands.

Are you allowed to cast spells in the following situations without the feat: when wielding a sword and shield, and wielding a two handed weapon like a greatsword.

How does this change when you have this feat? For the two handed weapon scenario, can you not simply hold the two handed weapon in one hand and cast the spell in the other or is there a rule specifying you must hold a two handed a weapon with two hands even when you are not using it?

Thank you in advance.

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On pg 203 Under Spell Components:

Somatic (S)
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.

Your GM could rule that you may hold your Two-handed weapon in one hand while casting the spell, but you will have to ask your gamemaster before hand asking if you may cast a spell with a "bonus action" casting time and still attack with the two handed sword.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Oh I see, so this element of the feat has more meaning if you have multiple attacks. Does this have any impact when you are a level 1 where you typically don't have bonus attacks? \$\endgroup\$ – Serene Engineer Oct 21 '16 at 20:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ No, this isn't about multiple attacks. He's specifically talking about making normal action attacks and casting with a bonus action. You wouldn't be able to do a normal action attack and cast a spell because Extra Attacks states that it applies when you take the Attack action (and casting a spell is not the Attack action, therefore you don't get another attack). This is further clarified in the Sage Advice Compendium. With two-handed weapons specifically it's not totally spelled out if you can cast or not since you could take a hand off and still be holding (but not wielding) the weapon. \$\endgroup\$ – JBC Oct 21 '16 at 20:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ To expand on the above, the two arguments are mostly around does taking your hand off the weapon and putting it back on each count as a "free action item interaction" of which you only have one per turn. If it does and you take off a hand and cast, you'd no longer be wielding your weapon until you put your second hand back on, e.g. on your next turn, which affects things like being able to take attacks of opportunities with your weapon. There are various discussions on this point if you search around. Short answer: ask your GM. \$\endgroup\$ – JBC Oct 21 '16 at 20:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ Interesting, I hadn't thought of that consequence. In most cases I am the GM and my intuition is that you can take your hand off a two handed weapon to cast a spell, but this particular feat feature left some ambiguity. I didn't want to cheat my players out of something special when investing in this feat. \$\endgroup\$ – Serene Engineer Oct 21 '16 at 21:04
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Players handbook page 203 says to cast a spell with somatic components the caster must have 1 hand free.

This feat modifies this requirement.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ how about material components? \$\endgroup\$ – András Oct 21 '16 at 21:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ @András A caster can use the free hand used for somatic gestures to also get material components, or use a Focus. This is explained in the PHB p203. So presumably a dual wielder/shield user with War Caster will also have a Focus or only cast spells without a M component. You could interpret War Caster such that it also allows grabbing material components while also holding a weapon/shield, but that would be a DM interpretation. \$\endgroup\$ – Jason K Nov 15 '16 at 18:26
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Honestly I never found useful War Caster as a feat at tiers 1 and 2.

Let me elaborate:

  1. You have AD on Con ST for the sole purpose of keeping concentration on spells, which is the only real good benefit from this feat. If you lack CON ST I'd rather suggest you to go that route first with Resilient (Con) because it boosts your performance with the most frequent ST out there too. The only scenario where I would't consider resilient is where I've already maxed Con or own an Amulet of Health;
  2. Nothing prevents you to drop an item (which is a "gratuitous" gesture that can be performed at any moment without weighting on the Actions' Economy) cast your spell and then 'interact' with that object as part of your Action (or Movement) to pick it up. This is sound as per mechanics, not the "fluffiest" thing but still 100% legit.
  3. Given the AoO description (p.195 PHB), chances are that those times an enemy flees from your reach is doing so by disengaging, which means that unless you have the Sentinel feat too you won't exploit this mechanic at all... and even with Sentinel, do you really need to strike your foe (you can't actually grab or shove it, just melee weapon attack it) when there are 120ft ranged spells that can slow or restrain it?

The only scenario where I'd take it is where I already have CON ST and need to improve my concentration efficiency because I'm the one who attracts all the heat and DCs go often above the usual 10, which isn't somthing you'll see happen that frequently in tier 1 and 2 (hopefully :v ).

TL;DR

The real question is: Can you afford to take this feat? At lower levels you'd better stick to ASIs and reach that sweet 20 max stat - which usually is your main stat, not Con (unless barbarian with meatshield ambitions). As Human Variant it might be interesting but I'd still go for Resilient first, and if you already have Con ST (e.g. Sorcerers, EKs) I'm quite sure there are more suave ones (e.g. Elemental Adept Fire, Lucky, etc).

Things change at higher levels: you start finding yourself rolling against DCs higher than the usual 10 more often than not and you can't afford to lose the only slotted 6th+ spell because of that. Chances are that you have already capped your main stat and perhaps your secondary too (Amulet of Health anyone? :v ) and that's where I'd take this feat in consideration :)

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Allow me to add some clarity to the other answers you may or may not be getting.

You asked how and why the second bullet point in War Caster works, asking if; WITHOUT the feat, you could cast spells in certain situations.

When Wielding a sword and shield?

Only with spells that have JUST verbal components

(unless you are a Cleric or Paladin using a Holy Symbol, which can be emblazoned upon a shield or worn around the neck)

Here's why: PHB pg 203 breaks down what each Component of a spell; that is, Verbal, Somatic, and Material; means and what happens if you can't provide each required component of any spell you wish to cast.

"...if you can't provide one or more of a spell's components, you are unable to cast the spell..."

Somatic: "...if a spell requires a somatic component, the caster must have free use of at least one hand to perform these gestures ..."

Material: "...A ...caster must have a hand free to access these components (either a Spellcasting Focus, A Component Pouch, or the individual material requirements) ...but it can be the same hand used to perform Somatic components."

Verbal: "...the chanting of mystical words....a character who is gagged or in an area of silence (otherwise unable to speak), can't cast a spell with a verbal component..."

If any spell that you cast while holding both a shield and a sword, meaning both of your hands are occupied by an item that is NOT your spellcasting focus, then you have no hands free to use Somatic or Material components and those spells can not be cast. Having both hands occupied does nothing to impede you from casting spells that only have Verbal components however.

Wielding a 2 handed Weapon like a Greatsword

Not by rules as written if the 2 Handed weapon is not Versatile

A greatsword is a 2 handed weapon and, despite the argument about being able to 'let go of it for a moment and hold it with one hand', it is unfortunately not also a 'Versatile' weapon, which allows for wielding in one or two hands as desired. PHB page 147 explains that 2 handed weapons (that are not versatile) require 2 hands to use when making attacks.

These 2 (perhaps not entirely clear to some people) rulings make having the War Caster feat actually mean something, or else the feat would not be written with the very particular language it is written with. If you COULD cast a spell while wielding a weapon in 2 hands or having a weapon and a shield in both hands, the 2nd bullet point of this feat would be useless and void. They did not make this bullet point useless and void by allowing you to 'take a hand off of' a 2 handed weapon for spellcasting purposes.

Argument: Errata made a point of emphasizing that you don't need 2 hands for a 2 handed weapon 'while you simply hold it' , leading to some speculation that during combat it is perfectly fine to 'simply hold it' with one hand to cast a spell...even though this would change everything and make the 2nd bullet point in the feat useless and void, which we already know Wizards of the Coast didn't and wouldn't do. An argument can be made for the other side that the Errata wouldn't go out of its way to spell it out like this if it couldn't be used, and so it goes, back and forth, until someone over there clarifies. In this case use whichever side of the argument you feel is correct.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Material Components - Spell Casting Focus: Your Spell Casting focus could be a holy symbol (worn visibly or borne on a shield), rod, wand, staff, etc. \$\endgroup\$ – Drunk Cynic Oct 22 '16 at 2:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DrunkCynic very good, you found the clause on holy spell casting focus' only, which only Clerics and Paladins may use upon their shield. This is obvious and does not need mention as it is a very particular case. \$\endgroup\$ – Airatome Oct 22 '16 at 2:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ It doesn't have to be on the shield; being visible suffices unless the words of the spell require otherwise. When you speak in absolutes, excluding all edge cases, the edge cases must be highlighted. \$\endgroup\$ – Drunk Cynic Oct 22 '16 at 2:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DrunkCynic perhaps the addendum right after my second point will suffice? \$\endgroup\$ – Airatome Oct 22 '16 at 2:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ Being able to perform S components with a two-handed weapon does not make that aspect of War Caster useless. It still benefits shield users and two weapon fighting. You can't seriously suggest all two-handed weapon need to be held with both hands all the time. Bows are two-handed weapons and by the rules the player takes their hand off them every time they draw an arrow (Ammunition property). \$\endgroup\$ – Doval Oct 24 '16 at 20:51

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