Introduction: I was making a set of characters from which I would be able to choose once I would start playing a new campaign and I decided to go with a fighter who uses a hand crossbow. I was trying to make him as strong as I could, as would any player do, so I thought about giving him a shield. After I read the rules in PHB and what I could find on the Internet I found out that you can't use both a hand crossbow and a shield because you need a free hand to load the crossbow.
From what little knowledge I have about shields I still know that there were shields that you could strap around your wrist and leave your hand free so I found this rule odd. I thought a little about it and came to a realisation of how you could explain it, of course apart from just a balancing issue:
The explication: 1. The protection from the shield comes from actively using it not just having it strapped to your hand. 2. The actions that all the characters take in combat in DnD happen in the same period of time, the turn-based system is used just to make the game playable. If the above statements are true, then a PC should not gain the +2AC from the shield when he is reloading because at this moment he is not actively trying to protect himself with the shield. If he tries to deflect a blow while reloading he has to put his hand in a certain position and tense his muscles, so he is unable to reload. Of course the PC wouldn't be loading all his turn but an enemy would strike at the moment the PC would drop his shield.
2 weapon fighting: However, according to this mindset a hand crossbow and a weapon in the other hand is a viable option as long as the other weapon can be held with 2-3 fingers or put in a position that makes the hand free because the loading of the hand crossbow and the attack with the other weapon happen at different times.
My opinion: A PC can still gain the +2AC from the shield if he uses the hand crossbow only once and then puts it away without reloading it or if he doesn't use it at all and takes a different action such as dodge.
Other solutions: 1. Taking a feat: War caster/I am teaching my pet squirrel to do the loading/I am making my hand crossbow an automatic weapon or any other thing that could help the PC accomplish this as long as it is a feat because from my understanding +2AC in 5e is a lot. 2. Allowing the PC to construct something that will help reload the hand crossbow with the same hand that he is using it or paying an NPC to do it. This option is more cost-efficient than the first one in my opinion so I recomend giving a penalty. For example on a roll of 1 or 2 something bad happens and the hand crossbow requires to be repaired. 3. Allowing the PC to have portable cover that can give protection against distant attacks, like a shield installed on a platform.
Please note that all that I wrote above is just my opinion on the issue. I just wanted to share it in case someone else would be searching for an answer and they would find my answer a viable option.
- Dual Wielding Hand Crossbows: Definitive discussion thread
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