When I saw the fifth-edition basic Dungeons & Dragons rules, I concluded that the designers wanted to make the rules match the way players obviously want to play—with little concern for time spent swapping weapons and spell components. For example, the rules allow clerics and paladins to cast with a holy symbol worn or emblazoned on a shield. The text never connects the dots and says that a cleric or paladin can cast with a weapon in one hand and a shield in the other, but we should know they can because clerics and paladins always have.
But the Player’s Handbook made me doubt the designers had given much thought to the matter. The full rules prompted more questions on hands and spellcasting than any other topic. Then the designers’ answers made the game convoluted. For exhibit A, see this September 5 tweet from Jeremy Crawford.
To follow Jeremy’s suggestion, players of clerics and paladins must sheath their weapon, cast the spell, and then wait until next turn to draw their weapon, but only for spells that just require somatic components. For the first time, players must account for components during ordinary play.
The rules seem just as awkward for dual-wielding rangers, shield-bearing druids in the College of Valor, and eldritch knights. These characters must sheath their weapon, cast the spell, and then wait until next turn to draw their weapon. In the past, similar character types never forced players to endure such friction. Even players careful enough to spend actions to switch gear would rather not play that game.
An ideal D&D game would allow characters that combine martial prowess with spellcasting to operate as they always have—without a worrying about stowing weapons to free a hand to cast.
Some dungeon masters will simply adapt and interpret the rules to suit a vision like mine, but those of us running games at conventions and stores lack that option. We must stick to the official rules. When players sit at my table, I want their dual-wielding ranger to play the way their intuition and past experience suggests.
The War Caster (p.170) feat could have let that dual-wielding ranger operate more freely, but it just adds complexity. The feat lets someone cast without a hand free for somatic components, but not material components. So dual-wielding rangers, shield-bearing druids, and eldritch knights now need to keep track of which spells require material components, and to swap gear to cast these spells. Good grief.
How should the game work? For answers, I scoured the rules and the advice of sages, but I failed to find any definitive answers that I can pass on. So I turned to my two imaginary fiends, Lawful DM and Chaotic DM, for answers. I will support their answers with responses tweeted by the designers. You can reference the tweets among many others on thesageadvice.wordpress.com. Although the tweets come from the designers, they represent unofficial, off-the-cuff guidance.
|Question||Lawful DM||Chaotic DM|
|Can you cast a spell that uses somatic components if you wield a two-handed weapon?||No. (Mike Mearls, August 2) Allowing this favors martial-spellcasters with a two-handed weapon over those with a shield. The game should not encourage more greatsword-wielding, spellcasting, chaotic Elric wannabes.||Yes. A two-handed weapon needs two hands to be used, but not two to be carried. (Mike Mearls and Jeremy Crawford, September 28)|
|Can the arcane or druidic focus staff double as a quarterstaff?||Yes. (Mike Mearls September 9)|
|Can a cleric or paladin cast a spell while wielding a weapon and brandishing a holy symbol worn or emblazoned on their shield?||Yes. Thankfully Jeremy Crawford’s answer does not represent an official ruling that players must follow. Instead, defer to 40 years of tradition.||Yes. (Mike Mearls September 9 and the entire history of the game from 1974 on.)|
|Can a Druid, Ranger, Eldritch Knight, or a Bard with shield proficiency cast spells while bearing a shield and wielding a weapon.||No. The character must take the War Caster feat (p.170) to gain some of this ability. Druids and Eldritch Knights may opt to use a staff that doubles as a weapon and focus, but Knights wielding staffs risk having Barbarians make fun of them.||Yes. Just stow that weapon in the shield hand for a moment. (Mike Mearls, August 28)|
|Can a character cast spells while wielding two weapons?||No. The character must take the War Caster feat (p.170) to gain some of this ability. Wizards have never dual-wielded daggers, and they should not start now.||Yes, because Rangers have cast spells while wielding two weapons since second edition in 1989. (But not since Drizzt first appeared in The Crystal Shard in 1988, because Drizzt doesn’t cast. He has a DM who respects the rules. – Lawful DM)|
|What if my dual-dagger-wielding wizard carries a lot of daggers and drops them when he needs a free hand to cast?||Okay, but your parents did not spend all that money on wizarding school so you could walk around with bandoliers of daggers like a common thief.|
While Lawful DM and Chaotic DM may not help much, in my next post, I have some recommendations for your game.