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When choosing the College of Valor, the Bard gains proficiency with a variety of weapons and shields. However, having only two hands, it is impossible to wear the shield and wield an instrument and a weapon at the same time. I am aware that the Bard doesn't need an instrument for all their spells, but to cast ones that require a material component at their foes, the Valor Bard needs to re-equip themselves in combat.

Donning or doffing a shield explicitly takes one action. However, I don't know the cost of switching between my musical instrument and weapon. So which one, if any, of the following is correct?

  • My Bard can effectively choose which one of the two they'll be using once each turn, allowing a free switch between the instrument and weapon once per action but not back again before next turn
  • My Bard can switch whichever as many times as they need to as a free action through their entire turn, allowing a switch to the instrument for spellcasting and then back to rapier during the same turn
  • Switching the weapon for an instrument or vice versa costs an action
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RAW, switching either costs an action, or requires two free object interactions (this requiring two of the same action in a row)

You are allowed one free object interaction on your turn (PHB pg 190), as a part of your action or movement (implied that the free interaction must be related to that, such as opening a door or drawing a weapon). Any more than that requires an action.

So you cannot put away your instrument and draw your blade as free actions on the same turn. That is two object interactions. (Compare this to the Dual Wielder feat, which explicitly allows you to draw or stow two weapons on the same turn)

The way to switch without taking an action is best explained with an example combat:

Combat start: shield equipped

Round 1: draw weapon as a free object interaction, and attack

Round 2: attack with weapon and stow as a free object interaction.

Round 3: draw your instrument as a free action, and cast a spell

Round 4: Cast another spell, stow your instrument as a free action

Round 5: draw your blade as a free object interaction and attack with it.

Round 6: attack with your blade, and sheath it as a free object interaction.

repeat as nessisary

So RAW, you have to effectively take at least two of the same type of action (spellcasting or weapon attack) before switching.

You could drop one of the items (weapon or instrument), and use the interaction to get to the other weapon in a single turn, but that requires going back and picking it up later when you want to be able to use it again (RAW, this will require an action, unless part of an attack or spellcast, depending on the item being picked up).

You could tie the instrument to your body (letting you drop it without consuming your free object interaction) or use a component pouch, eliminating the need for the object interaction on round 4, but not the interaction required on rounds 2 or 6. This would allow a combat to go weapon, spell, weapon, weapon, spell, weapon.

However, many DMs will find this needlessly pedantic, hard to keep track of, and generally un-fun, and will let you draw and stow (or stow and draw) on the same turn.


Remember that all of this assumes that you need a hand free for the Somatic/Material components. Bards have lots of Verbal only spells, and you may not need to drop/stow your weapon to be able to cast things like Vicious mockery, dissonant whispers, faerie fire, and blindness/deafness. You will still need to follow the draw/stow rules for spells with somatic components, however.

The War Caster feat also interacts with this, as it allows you to use your shield or weapon hand to preform the somatic requirements for a spell, meaning that if your spell does not have material components, then you do not need to pull out your focus. This unlocks many other spells, such as Cure Wounds, Silence, Dispel Magic, Greater Invisibility, Dominate Person, Eyebite, etc...

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A full switch requires an action:

PHB 190:

Other Activity on Your Turn:

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.

If you want to interact with a second object, you need to use your action. Some magic items and other special objects always require an action to use, as stated in their descriptions

One alternative would be if you are in a pinch is to drop one and draw the other as dropping a weapon/item never costs anything although as a bard you probably won't want to drop your instrument.

Having a character who is a valor bard, most spell that I would use in melee range (vicious mockery, dissonant whispers, faerie fire, blindness/deafness) are verbal only and others that have a somatic component (thunderwave) dropping the weapon is a viable option and then you can pick it back up or you could also get the feat warcaster which will allow you to do the somatic component while holding a shield or weapon along with a few other perks like having advantage on constitution saving throws for concentration and being able to cast spells as a reaction.

Worst case you, don't have to use a spell casting focus. As long as you have a free hand you can you your components via your component pouch as long as you have a free hand which you could do the same thing mentioned above with the somatic gestures and drop your weapon and pick it back up.

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    \$\begingroup\$ As an addition to your last paragraph, the warcaster feat will allow you to cast spells with somatic components, even if both of your hands are holding a weapon or shield. In this case, you no longer need to worry about dropping anything unless you need to cast a spell with a material component. Assuming you play with feats of course \$\endgroup\$ – Adam Feb 22 '17 at 19:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ You may consider mentioning the use of a component pouch, which only requires a free hand. Just because you can use an instrument as a focus doesn't mean it's always the best option. \$\endgroup\$ – Derek Stucki Feb 22 '17 at 23:21
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You only need to account for drawing/stowing the weapon

“Draw or sheathe a sword” (PH 190) is explicitly listed as something that requires a character’s one free object interaction. Not so with spell material components.

The requirement to cast a spell with material components is that “a spellcaster must have a hand free to access a spell’s material components” (PH 203)

That is, once you have a hand free, and your component is within reach, you have fulfilled the requirements to cast the spell. “Accessing” the component is just part of casting the spell.

Holding your phone doesn’t mean you’re interacting with it

But this question is specifically about a bard’s spellcasting focus, and the rules state you have to “hold a spellcasting focus.” (PH 203)

Still, I don’t think this rises to the level of “interacting with an object” either: If I were to say that you were interacting with your phone, and you were just holding it, you would have every right to object.

Google defines interact as: “act in such a way as to have an effect on another; act reciprocally.” Opening a door and going through it is an example. Just laying your hands on the focus doesn’t affect the object. The effect that will come about is the spell effect, which is caused by the casting of the spell itself.

Doesn’t the bard still need to “stow” the instrument safely?

What about when the bard is done casting and want to draw his sword again? Doesn’t he have to “stow” the instrument? Well, this guy doesn’t; he’s got a strap to carry the instrument.

bard wearing a lute on his back

If your DM is not convinced…

If your DM disagrees and says an instrument arcane focus does need to be drawn/stowed as an object interaction, try again with the component pouch.

The pouch is clearly meant to be tied to your belt for easy access, and involved no drawing/stowing. There’s no mention in the rules that utilizing a component pouch requires object interactions. If it worked that much differently than an arcane focus, that would surely have been called out in the rules. (This would be a sizable disadvantage for rangers, who cannot use arcane foci.)

Material Components can still be inconvenient

So what’s the point of material components if it’s “that easy”? Material components can be taken away. And unlike somatic components, the War Caster feat doesn’t get around the requirement for a free hand if a spell has a material component.

So here’s how it goes

Round 1: Starting with her weapon hand free, the bard casts a VSM spell, then uses her object interaction to draw her sword. (Now it is available for opportunity attacks.) Round 2: The bard decides to cast another VSM spell. She stows her weapon, then casts the spell. (At the end of her turn, she does not have her sword out for opportunity attacks.) Round 3: The bard casts yet another VSM spell, then draws her sword. (Once again it is available for opportunity attacks.)

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My Valor Bard's primary instruments are his voice and percussion instruments, specifically the bodhran and rhythm bones. As such, I feel that it's not far fetched that he can use the various parts of his rapier; the bow, the basket, the pommel, the quillions, the forte to bang out a complex rhythm on his shield, thus serving as a musical instrument.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to the site! Please take the tour to get an intro to how we do things around here. Generally, answers are expected to answer the question according to the rules of the game first, and then suggest houserules (backed up by game experience) if applicable. This answer would be improved by addressing the querent's rules question, rather than just suggesting that they not worry about it. \$\endgroup\$ – A_S00 Feb 4 '18 at 21:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for the pointers. I did feel that this suggestion was compliant with the rules as they state that a bard can use a "musical instrument" as a spellcasting focus. I guess that one might interpret the parenthetical "(found in chapter 5)" as meaning that only the instruments listed there could be used, but considering the almost unlimited variation in musical instruments especially in fantasy settings, this seems a little limiting. Do you consider rhythm bones to be a musical instrument? Beating out a rhythm with sword and shield seems a peculiarly martial form of music to me. \$\endgroup\$ – R. Lee Feb 5 '18 at 23:20

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