PHB describes the downsides of wearing an armor you are not proficient with:

Armor Proficiency.
Your class gives you proficiency with certain types of armor. If you wear armor that you lack proficiency with, you have disadvantage on any ability check, saving throw, or attack roll that involves Strength or Dexterity, and you can’t cast spells.

However, a shield is not armor.

The Spellcasting chapter says about armor explicitly, and not shields:

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. You are otherwise too distracted and physically hampered by your armor for spellcasting.

It seems a Sorcerer can easily wield a shield. What exactly are the downsides of not being proficient with shields?


6 Answers 6


The disadvantages are the same as wearing regular armor you lack proficiency with

(Note, I used the basic rules pg.44 as a reference, but the information should be the same as in the PHB, pg. 144)

You claim that shields are not armor. I challenge this assertion. Shields are not body armor (as noted in this answer on the first linked question). The answer on the first linked question is pointing out that all body armor changes how AC is calculated, while shields give a flat +2 AC.

However, shields are still listed in the armor table along with all light, medium, and heavy armor. The section title that you quote is "Armor and Shields" and the section begins:

Anyone can put on a suit of armor or strap a shield to an arm. Only those proficient in the armor’s use know how to wear it effectively, however.

Additionally, shield proficiency is noted in the "armor proficiences" section of the class description.

Based on the fact that shields are lumped together when talking about armor in the armor table itself, in the beginning of the preceding section, as well as in the armor proficiencies of the class description, shields are meant to be considered armor. Thus, whatever disadvantages come from using armor that you are not proficient with also apply to using shields if you lack proficiency.

As an aside and a note on your second linked question, just because a shield does not interfere with the Draconic Resilience of the sorcerer, doesn't mean that the sorcerer doesn't need to get a shield proficiency from somewhere else, like multiclassing, to use it effectively.


The point of Shield proficiency is to have the ability to wield a shield without penalty.

PHB 144 states:

Anyone can put on a suit of armor or strap a shield to an arm...If you wear armor that you lack proficiency with, you have disadvantage on any ability check, saving throw, or attack roll that involves Strength or Dexterity, and you can't cast spells.

This description under Armor Proficiency includes shields in the first sentence and therefore the description of non-proficient use includes both Shields and Armor.

As for the question regarding the link to Draconic Sorcerer/shield bonus to AC synergy - there is a difference between it working together and working together while still allowing spellcasting.

Note: There is still a difference in shields vs worn armor when looking at things like Mage Armor, Unarmored Defense, etc. This is a discussion on proficiency, not on how it interacts with other capabilities.


Pg 14 in the Player's Hand Book specifically points out that there are draw backs when carrying a shield without proficiency under the section "Armor Class"

Your character needs to be proficient with armor and shields to wear and use them effectively, and your armor and shield proficiencies are determined by your class. There are drawbacks to wearing armor or carrying a shield if you lack the required proficiency, as explained in chapter 5.

The drawbacks are explained under the "Armor Proficiency" section in Chapter 5 which is quoted in your question. So you get all the disadvantages as you would wearing armor without proficiency.


Also, you specifically need an additional feat in order to cast spells which have a somatic component while using a shield.

From the PHB, p170 (emphasis mine):

War Caster

Prerequisite: The ability to cast at least one spell

You have practiced casting spells in the midst of combat, learning techniques that grant you the following benefits:

  • You have advantage on Constitution saving throws that you make to maintain your concentration on a spell when you take damage.

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

  • When a hostile creature’s movement provokes an opportunity attack from you, you can use your reaction to cast a spell at the creature, rather than making an opportunity attack. The spell must have a casting time of 1 action and must target only that creature.


You can't cast in armor your not Proficient with. If you are proficient a specific type of armor in 5e you can cast spells, while wearing that armor. Note light armor is different than Shields. Some classes specify proficiency with light armor and not shields (rouges), while others mention both (clerics, paladins). So Shields are their own proficiency.

As people have mentioned above, you need one hand free to do somatic components for spells. Feats like Warcaster let you do this even if both hands are not free, along with other benefits, including casting spells as an opportunity attack.

But if you just want to be able to cast a spell while using a shield, all you need is proficiency with shields. You can get this by multiclassing, feats (like warcaster or shield training), or you can simply take in game time to train in the proficiency with a teacher that is proficient in shields. Unearthed Arcana has downtime training rules as 10 weeks and 100 gp/ week for paying the teacher. (depending on your DM you may be able to use the rules of minus weeks based on your Int score).

(armor proficiencies: https://roll20.net/compendium/dnd5e/Armor#content) (casting spells: https://roll20.net/compendium/dnd5e/Spells#content)

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to answering on rpg.se. I removed two links that lead to a site with copyright infringement. Sourcing with dndbeyond.com is always best as it is most stable, but you could also consider linking instead to one of the many D&D 5e SRD sites available where the same material exists in the SRD: 5esrd.com, 5thsrd.org, Roll20's D&D 5e compendium, Open5e.com, dnd5e.info, or 5e.d20srd.org etc. \$\endgroup\$
    – Akixkisu
    Jan 9, 2021 at 10:50

Technically you don't need the war caster feat to cast spells with a shield as long as you have one free hand.

Players Handbook, page 203, under Somatic Components:

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.

The free hand implies that as long as you have one free hand (which most sorcerers will, since they don't really use weapons), you can cast spells while holding a shield without warcaster.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure it is true. A few types of armor leaves your hands free as well, but you can't cast in armor, because, you know, specific beats general. See page 201 "Casting in Armor". \$\endgroup\$
    – enkryptor
    Sep 9, 2017 at 19:18

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