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Merric's Musings

D&D 5E Spellcasting in Combat Clarifications and Restrictions

Posted on April 14, 2015

There are a number of special rules attached to D&D 5E spell-casting that may not
immediately be apparent when reading through the Players Handbook. This article looks
at a few of those things.

Somatic Components

Most spells have a somatic component, which is to say, they require hand movements. The rules in 5E state that
you need one hand free to cast these spells.
If youre wielding a two-handed weapon then its pretty easy to just hold the weapon in one hand as your other
hand casts the spell. What then if youre wielding a weapon and a shield? Can you then cast a spell requiring a
somatic component? The answer is: it requires some juggling.

You are allowed one free manipulation of an object each turn. This means you can sheathe your weapon or draw
your weapon for free but you cant both sheathe a weapon and draw a spell-casting focus. If you sheathe a
weapon, it then takes you an action to draw a wand. This sharply limits what you can do. In general, dropping
object doesnt count as your free action (The Sage), so you could drop your sword at your feet and draw your
wand, but its still clumsy.

Eldritch Knights and Clerics are most likely to be affected by this. However, assuming the spell doesnt require t

focus to cast, its very easy to take up the following pattern: Round 1: Sheathe weapon, cast spell with free hand
Round 2: Draw weapon, attack with it. That retains the limit of one item manipulation per turn while allowing
alternating between weapon and spell-casting.
Keeping strictly to this rule also works against casters, Eldritch Knights in particular, casting the shield spell as
reaction in the middle of combat when already wielding a weapon and a shield.
Interestingly, if the spell requires a material component, your free hand can hold your spell-casting focus (
Sage). However, if it doesnt, you still need a hand free! (The Sage).

A cleric or paladin who inscribes their shield with their holy symbol can use their shield as their spell focus; this
was a surprise to me, but its an option given in the Players Handbook (page 151, Holy Symbol). It still doesnt

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allow them to cast Somatic spells with no Material components with a weapon in one hand and the shield in the
other, though.

The solution to all of this? Take the War Caster feat it allows you to cast spells that need somatic componen
even when both your hands are holding a weapon and shield.

Number of Spells per Turn

How many spells can you cast in a turn? If you can cast one as a bonus action, then the answer is generally two
but there are a couple of considerations.

The major one is this: If you cast a spell with the casting time of a bonus action, then the only other spell you ca
cast this turn is a cantrip with the casting time of 1 action (PHB pg 202). You are not allowed to cast (say)
word and cure wounds in the same turn.
This rule also applies when a sorcerer uses their metamagic ability to Quicken Spell: the spell becomes 1 bonus
action in casting time, and so you are limited to only casting a cantrip in the remainder of the turn. (Source:
Jeremy Crawford, The Sage)

What about Action Surge?

A particularly odd interaction comes from a character using the fighters Action Surge ability to cast spells. In th

case, you can cast two spells that require an action, because neither is a bonus action! However, if you cast a spe
that takes a bonus action, your other two spells must be cantrips! (Source: Jeremy Crawford, The Sage


In the earliest editions of D&D, casting a spell took a long time, and if you were struck before casting the spell, y
lost the spell.
In 3E and 5E, casting a spell doesnt take that long, but being struck while concentrating on an ongoing spell
might cause it to be lost. The rules for this are pretty easy and you probably know them already: make a

Constitution saving throw when you take damage; the DC is 10 or half the damage you took, whichever is higher

Once again, the War Caster feat makes all of this a lot easier, as you now have advantage on those saving throw
It is, however, worth pointing out the other parts of casting spells that requires concentration:
Spells that take more than one action to cast require concentration to actually cast, meaning you cant

maintain another concentration spell when casting them, and you could lose the spell if youre damage in th
meantime. The good news is that you dont lose the spell slot if you dont successfully cast the spell.

If you ready a spell to cast when some trigger occurs, this also requires concentration. Note that you can on
ready spells that have a casting time of 1 action, and they use your reaction to cast. Once again, you can lose
the spell if you take damage in the meantime.

The Mage Slayer feat means that when its possessor damages a spell-caster, they have disadvantage on the

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Constitution saving throw.

So, thats a few items of interest Ive noticed when playing the new edition of D&D.

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About merricb
Merric Blackman is a 40-something Australian who is fascinated by games: Role-playing games, board games and war games in
particular. He writes about his experiences playing them and occasionally reviews something that has taken his fancy. He has
also been known to read works of fiction.
View all posts by merricb

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3 Responses to D&D 5E Spellcasting in Combat Clarifications and Restrictions

ndy Kropff (@AndrewKropff) says:
April 14, 2015 at 11:34 pm

Wow. This is very helpful. This entire campaign Ive been running the Cleric has seemed super overpowered, but that is
because shes been able to use both bonus action spells and any action spell in the same turn. That is going to change. Tha


ndy Kropff (@AndrewKropff) says:

April 14, 2015 at 11:36 pm

Follow up: what about using a bonus action to cast a spell, and then using an action to manipulate a concentrated spell (lik
moving Moonbeam, for example)? That is fine because they arent *casting* a spell, right?


merricb says:
April 14, 2015 at 11:41 pm

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Yes, thats fine. Its only casting the spell that falls afoul of the restriction.


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