DND 5E Weapons: A Simple How-to Guide to Understanding Them
5e DND is a lot simpler compared to a lot of other systems and even earlier editions, but if you’re starting up your first adventure or are just having a little trouble getting into the hammer swing of things, I’m here to help.
What Weapons Can I Use?
All of them.
Yes really. Unlike pathfinder and even some older dnd editions, 5e doesn’t really make you jump through any hoops to use a weapon. Everybody can pick up a sword, or hammer, or nunchuck, and give it a decent swing. You don’t even attack at a penalty; you can just use it. This applies to all classes, even wizards and other flimsy casters.
What you might not have though is “proficiency” with a weapon. If you don’t have proficiency with a weapon, you don’t get to add your proficiency bonus to attacks you make with it. Here again, 5e dnd is pretty kind, you don’t really need to spec or build into weapons to use them properly. All weapons in 5e dnd fall into one of two broad categories: simple weapons, and martial weapons. A lot of this information is spelled out in the Player's Handbook but it can be confusing at times.
DND 5e Simple Weapons
Practically all classes have proficiency in all simple weapons, only druids, sorcerers, and wizards don’t gain proficiency with all of them. Unless you’re one of these casters, you can pick up one of these weapons with confidence. Simple weapons include clubs, daggers, greatclubs, handaxes, javelins, light hammers, maces, quarterstaffs, sickels, spears, light crossbows, darts, shortbows, and slings.
DND 5e Martial Weapons
Martial weapons take a bit more knowhow to use correctly, barbarians, fighters, paladins, and rangers, are proficient with all martial weapons. Most other classes get a couple specific martial weapon proficiencies, and warlocks can essentially get all melee martial weapons if they choose the pact of the blade. Martial weapons include: battleaxes, flails, glaives, greataxes, greatswords, halberds, lances, longswords, mauls, morningstars, pikes, rapiers, scimitars, shortswords, tridents, warhammers, war picks, warhammers, whips, blowguns, hand crossbows, heavy crossbows, longbows, and nets.
How Can I Get Proficiency?
The main way to gain weapon proficiency is from your class. Though depending on your class, you might not get the weapon proficiencies you’re looking for. If you’re willing to take a level dip, a level of barbarian, fighter, paladin, or ranger will give you access to all martial weapons.
If you’re not looking for a multiclass, you can also get some specific weapon proficiencies from your race. High Elves, Wood Elves, Drow, and every type of Dwarf all get some extra weapon proficiencies right from the start. Want to swing around a battleaxe as a wizard? Dwarven wizards can do that right from the start.
If all other options are off the table, you can always take a feat. The weapon master feat gives you proficiency in any 4 weapons of your choice. A feat is a big cost, but the option is there if all else fails.
So… What Weapon do I pick?
There’s a ton of differences between weapons, but the most fundamental distinction is between melee and ranged weapons.
Every weapon is classified as either melee or ranged. A melee weapon is used to attack a target within 5 feet of you, whereas a ranged weapon is used to attack a target at a distance.
When you attack with melee weapons, you get to add your Strength modifier to attack and damage rolls UNLESS it has the “finesse” property. If it has the finesse property you can use dex instead of strength.
When you attack with ranged weapons, you get to add your Dexterity modifier to attack and damage rolls.
Beyond choosing between melee and ranged, weapons all have a whole slew of weapon qualities, including: Ammunition, Finesse, Heavy, Light, Loading, Range, Reach, Special, Thrown, Two-Handed, and Versatile.
Ammunition: Most DMs will just kind of hand-wave away your ammo, but in case they don’t, weapons with the ammunition quality use up ammo as you use them. Arrows, bolts, bullets, they all cost gold and you technically need to keep track of it. Generally though, don’t worry about it.
Finesse: When you make an attack with a finesse weapon, you use your choice of your Strength or Dexterity modifier for the attack and damage rolls. You must use the same modifier for both rolls.
Basically what this means is that with a finesse weapon, your Dexterity based character can get into melee just like a Strength based character. Especially consider rapiers, they’re great.
Heavy: Small creatures have disadvantage on attack rolls with heavy weapons. A heavy weapon’s size and bulk make it too large for a Small-sized creature to use effectively. Essentially, your gnome character is going to have a hard time swinging the greatsword that’s twice as tall as they are.
Light: A light weapon is small and easy to handle, making it ideal for use when fighting with two weapons.
We’ll come back to these when we talk about dual wielding.
Loading: Because of the time required to load this weapon, you can fire only one piece of ammunition from it when you use an action, bonus action, or reaction to fire it, regardless of the number of attacks you can normally make. This is a restriction limits crossbows and firearms, I recommend taking a look at the crossbow expert feat if you want to build your character around loading weapons.
Range: A weapon that can be used to make a ranged attack has a range in parentheses after the ammunition or thrown property. The range lists two numbers. The first is the weapon’s normal range in feet, and the second indicates the weapon’s long range. When attacking a target beyond normal range, you have disadvantage on the attack roll. You can’t attack a target beyond the weapon’s long range.
Special: A weapon with the special property has unusual rules governing its use, explained in the weapon’s description.
This is the catch-all for weird effects like nets, make sure to read up on a weapon’s special properties before using it.
Thrown: If a weapon has the thrown property, you can throw the weapon to make a ranged attack. If the weapon is a melee weapon, you use the same ability modifier for that attack roll and damage roll that you would use for a melee attack with the weapon. For example, if you throw a handaxe, you use your Strength, but if you throw a dagger, you can use either your Strength or your Dexterity, since the dagger has the finesse property.
This is a good way for a Strength-based character to get a little bit of range, consider taking some hand axes or javelins for your next barbarian.
Two-Handed: This weapon requires two hands when you attack with it.
For the most part, this is a tax on higher damage output weapons. Using both your hands for your weapon means you can’t use on holding a shield, or another weapon.
Versatile: This weapon can be used with one or two hands. A damage value in parentheses appears with the property—the damage when the weapon is used with two hands to make a melee attack.
This is another tradeoff between extra damage and a shield, just like two-handed weapons, but with versatile weapons, you can easily switch it up.
5e Reach Weapons: This weapon adds 5 feet to your reach when you attack with it, as well as when determining your reach for opportunity attacks with it.
I wanted to emphasize this weapon property because of just how useful it is. Having a weapon with reach can be a HUGE advantage. In a lot of situations, you can make attacks from afar, then retreat unscathed. Or attack from behind a tanky ally without getting attacked back in return.
DND 5e Dual Wielding / Two-Weapon Fighting
Unlike many other systems, there really aren’t any prerequisites to dual-wielding in 5e, you can just do it. The limits are set on what weapons you can use while you’re dual-wielding. If you want to fight with a weapon in each hand, they both need to be “one-handed” weapons, which makes perfect sense. They also both need to have the “light” weapon quality. Clubs, daggers, handaxes, light hammers, scimitars, and shortswords all meet these requirements. Whenever you make an attack with one of these weapons, you get to use your bonus action to make an attack with the weapon in your other hand. There is a small downside though, you don’t get to add your ability modifier to that bonus attack.
DND 5e Monk Weapons
Monk weapons are shortswords and any simple melee weapons that don't have the two-handed or heavy property. If you’re not a monk, you literally don’t need to worry about this. If you are a monk, you really care about what counts as a monk weapon because “When you use the attack action with an unarmed strike or a monk weapon on your turn, you can make one unarmed strike as a bonus action.”
Notice here, that you still get to add your ability modifier to that bonus action attack. Monks are REALLY GOOD at unarmed strikes, but especially at lower levels using a monk weapon can pump up that damage. I especially recommend quarterstaffs, which are on flavor and have a high damage output.
Wait, No Katanas?
You won’t find katanas, or cutlasses, nunchucks or any number of exotic weaponry within those lists of simple and martial weapons. That doesn’t mean you can’t wield them though. 5e kept the weapon options simple, rather than have a massive collection of slightly different swords. If you’re dead set on a specific weapon, you can reskin one of the existing weapons with your specialty weapon. The statistics for a longsword can easily take the role of a katana, the statistics for a scimitar work well for a cutlass, Etc.
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Last updated: January 27, 2019
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