Items and Hands

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Using just the 3.5 PH, rules for items, hands and handedness start out reasonably simple.

You are left or right handed. One functions fully, the other suffers a -4 to attacks and 1/2 Str bonus to damage (why just attacks and not skill checks too? *shrug*).

You can use two hands worth of "stuff". Under some circumstances, you can use a shield and still have something in your (usually off) hand.

The time it takes to rearrange stuff depends on where it is (weapons are easy, the bottom of your backpack is hard) and your feats.

The TWF gives special options for an extra attack with an off-hand weapon.

And then it gets complex:

Although the buckler rules seem to clearly indicate that using a two-handed weapon counts as using your off hand, we suddenly create a ruling that armour spikes have this unusual property that they count as an off-hand item even when using your off hand.

Oh, and we didn't really mean to imply that you have an off hand anyway, only when using rules that suggest you do.

And then there's the mess with monster attacks and unarmed strikes and when does something take a hand and when does it not?

And what's the difference between wielding and carrying and when does each apply?

And does an arm with a shield count as unimpeded for the purpose of casting spells? What about spells with ASF?

And is swapping hands a free action or a move action? What about switching from a 1-hand to a 2-hand grip? And how does this affect threatening?

I'd really like to see this cleaned up for 4th Ed.. It should be clear what a character can use, what a character can hold, and what the implications are of changing equipment. We could go to a "it's all there, you can use any of it", but personally I think D&D should shoot for more verisimilitude than Talisman, particularly since it supports fairly detailed tactical manoeuvering.

*I* think handedness should be part of a character. Even in fantasy literature, being ambidextrous is usually remarkable - an ability rather than a given. Heck, look at the famous scene from The Princess Bride: "I am not left handed!" (switches to right and kicks fight up a notch). "I am not left handed either!" (switches to right and they both let fly with their full skill). And I think it's more natural for players to think of their character as handed than not.

I'd like to see the threatening rules cleaned up a bit. If threatening is supposed to represent a continuation of your combat activities in the round, then enforce this. A monk making all his attacks with a longspear then declaring he "threatens with his feet" is a little cheesy, but perhaps passable. But making full round actions with a bow or spell and then quick-drawing a weapon during your off turn in order to threaten feels like gaming the mechanic rather than simulating that each turn takes the entire round.

Potions need to be re-thought. Potions are weak but expensive anyway, and if we actually enforce the full-round action to draw them from a pack then any heroic benefit of "swig a potion and keep fighting" is lost. Even if it's a move action, you're still provoking two AoOs (one to get potion, one to drink) plus possibly having to get rid of your weapon.
How if rule as a DM (might or not be the official rules) :

- spells with somatics components need only one hand free
- swapping a weapon or object from one hand to another (for exemple a cleric putting his mace in the left hand in order to cast a touch spell) is a free action
- taking (but not using) a 2 handed wepon in one hand in order to free the other : free action
- attacking with armor spikes : use same modifiers as normal two weapon fighting, but left hand is of course still usable, unless you already have something else (heavy shield, torch, ...)
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