So I gave one player's character a +1 magic shield that also grants resistance to ranged attacks. He wants to wear it on his back and still have the range resistance, arguing that he's technically "holding" it. I said it was fine but he loses the +1 AC because he wasn't actively "wielding" it.

Is that a reasonable ruling? Is there anything in the rules that I'm overlooking that says it should work differently?


4 Answers 4


A magic item meant to be worn must be donned in the intended fashion: boots go on the feet, gloves on the hands, hats and helmets on the head, and rings on the finger. Magic armor must be donned, a shield strapped to the arm, a cloak fastened about the shoulders. A weapon must be held in hand. (Pg. 140 DMG, emphasis mine.)

Also Rare Exceptions Exist. If the story suggests a good reason for an item to work it's up to the DM.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I totally agree. Basically characters get no bonuses unless they use a magic item normally OR the specific item description has an exception (e.g. Weapon of Warning DMG p213 "While the weapon is on your person, ...") OR the DM decides that is how they want this magic item to work. Also this does not mean that all magic items like this work the same way, again that is your decision. To help with your decision (it is your magic item and you are the DM) the RAW magic shield description (DMG p200) explicitly says "While holding this shield, you have a bonus to AC" but let the story guide you. \$\endgroup\$
    – Protonflux
    Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 10:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ Being nitpicky perhaps but what if: character has a super awesome shield of materialinium that has a huge bonus to blocking attack A. The character is wearing it on his back when he his attacked from behind with... attack A. His regular defence without the shield should have it destroy him. But it hits the shield. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 12:06
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ You could equally use that argument for a normal shield. A normal shield does not give you +2 AC from behind when you are carrying it on your back. This is a can of worms to house rule as well - what if you wore full plate that had been cut in half vertically and replaced by leather at the front - does that make you AC18 from behind and AC12 from the front? More importantly though the concept of facing does not get used in standard 5e D&D so you don't have a rear facing in combat to get struck from. Makes all this complexity go away. \$\endgroup\$
    – Protonflux
    Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 14:38


From the DMG the magic shields all gives bonuses with some variation on, "While holding this shield..."

Holds from the dictionary, "to have or keep (something) in your hand, arms, etc."

Carried on the back isn't, "holding", it. A strict RAW reading the shield has to be at least in his hand (or I guess cradled in his arms). So no bonus for having it on his back and it's functionally unusable while shooting a bow.

By a more interpretive reading I require that the character be wielding the shield (in hand and being used as a shield) to get the bonus. This has never caused a problem for my group.


If rules don't cover it, be reasonable.

For example: Why and how exactly does the shield provide its' bonus? Does it attract ranged effects, does it deflect ranged attacks, is the wielder required to see the attacks coming or not? Etc.

If an effect requires an action performed by- or requires interaction with -the wielder, I would rule against it. If the shield would still have a particular effect while laying on the floor, I would rule in favor.

In this case, the shield would not provide a bonus to ranged effects while laying on the floor (AFAIK), so the non-wielding character should not either. Possession is not relevant, its how you use it. (lol)


Tell him he has the +1 ranged bonus when someone shoots him in the back (from behind). When he wields the shield, he will then gets the ranged bonus vs. all attacks.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Can you clarify if you're suggesting using the (optional) facing rules found on DMG p.252, or if you're suggesting OP graft an ad hoc facing ruling onto the situation? \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60
    Commented Nov 13, 2016 at 16:58

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