Last Updated on November 2, 2023
The gold standard of ranged martial weapons in Dungeons & Dragons 5e…
Martial Ranged Weapon
Proficiency with a longbow allows you to add your proficiency bonus to the attack roll for any attack you make with it.
Damage: 1d8 piercing
Weight: 2 pounds
Properties: Ammunition, Heavy, Range (150/600), Two Handed
Ammunition: You can use a weapon that has the ammunition property to make a ranged attack only if you have ammunition to fire from the weapon. Each time you attack with the weapon, you expend one piece of ammunition. Drawing the ammunition from a quiver, case, or other container is part of the attack (you need a free hand to load a one-handed weapon). At the end of the battle, you can recover half your expended ammunition by taking a minute to search the battlefield.
If you use a weapon that has the ammunition property to make a melee attack, you treat the weapon as an improvised weapon (see “Improvised Weapons” later in the section). A sling must be loaded to deal any damage when used in this way.
Heavy: Creatures that are Small or Tiny have disadvantage on attack rolls with heavy weapons. A heavy weapon’s size and bulk make it too large for a Small or Tiny creature to use effectively.
Range: A longbow has a range of (150/600), meaning it can attack targets normally up to 150 feet away and with disadvantage up to 600 feet away.
You can’t attack targets beyond a weapon’s long range. In the case of the Longbow, you can’t attack further than 600 feet away.
Two-Handed. This weapon requires two hands when you attack with it. So no shields or other items can be held while firing it. You need to account for swapping weapons if that becomes an issue.
What You Need to be Effective with a Longbow in D&D
The character shooting the longbow needs at least one piece of ammunition (an arrow) to fire the bow and must have both hands free to use it.
Unlike simple ranged weapons — like the shortbow, the light crossbow, and the sling — the longbow is a martial weapon and is therefore better suited to the more combat-oriented classes in the game.
Meaning, in game terms, only Barbarian, Fighter, Ranger and Paladin classes are proficient in Longbows. Any class can use a Longbow, but only the martial classes have proficiency with them.
Arrows are used with a weapon that has the ammunition property to make a ranged attack. Each time you attack with the weapon, you expend one piece of ammunition.
Drawing the ammunition from a quiver, case, or other container is part of the attack (you need a free hand to load a one-handed weapon).
At the end of the battle, you can recover half your expended ammunition by taking a minute to search the battlefield.
Magic Longbows and Magical Ammunition
As you advance in your D&D adventures, you’ll more than likely run into enemies that have resistance to bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage from non magical attacks — there are fewer obvious ways to make your ranged weapon attack magical.
This means you are much less effective at hurting them with non magical weapons.
The easiest way around that is to get a magical longbow, which can be found (like all base-weapon types) in +1, +2, and +3 variants.
According to the Dungeon Master’s Guide:
“If a magic weapon has the ammunition property, ammunition fired from it is considered magical for the purpose of overcoming resistance and immunity to nonmagical attacks and damage.”
Therefore, there’s no need to invest in magical ammunition if you have a magical bow to start with.
However, lower-level parties may not have gotten their hands on a magical ranged weapon yet (as I said, they’re way rarer than swords).
Tracking down some magical ammunition is a good way to bridge the gap if you find yourself fighting something especially nasty.
You can buy magical ammunition of the +1, +2, and +3 varieties, but my favorite option is the Arrow of Slaying, which is a type of weapon designed to kill a specific type of creature or group of creatures.
Longbows vs. Other Ranged Weapons
Assuming your character is proficient in martial weapons, you have a decent degree of choices laid out in front of you when it comes to picking a ranged weapon.
The three top-tier choices (based on damage output and versatility) being the Heavy Crossbow, the Hand Crossbow, and the Longbow.
Each option is the best choice in the right context.
- The Heavy Crossbow deals more damage (d10) than a longbow but has a shorter range and the Loading property, which prevents it from being fired more than once per round without the Crossbow Expert feat. This, therefore, is the choice for characters who don’t have multiattack but want to put out a respectable amount of damage per round.
- The Hand Crossbow deals less damage (d6) but only requires one hand to use, meaning that you can have one hand free to hold a torch, shield, or a second weapon. If you also take the Crossbow Expert feat, you can either dual-wield hand crossbows or use one as your off-hand weapon when two-weapon fighting.
- The Longbow deals middling damage (d8) but can be fired multiple times per round without the need of a feat, meaning that in the hands of a character with multiattack, it quickly outpaces the other options in terms of damage per round.
Which Classes Should Use a Longbow?
Unless you’re playing one of the four classes that start out with martial weapon proficiency (the Barbarian, Fighter, Ranger or Paladin), you’re going to need another option
One way is to take a feat like Weapon Master Another is to multiclass into one of these four classes
Finally, you can choose a subclass that grants martial weapon proficiency (like War Domain cleric or the College of Valor Bard) in order to be able to use a longbow.
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I played my first tabletop RPG (Pathfinder 1e, specifically) in college. I rocked up late to the first session with an unread rulebook and a human bard called Nick Jugger. It was a rocky start but I had a blast and now, the better part of a decade later, I play, write, and write about tabletop RPGs (mostly 5e, but also PBtA, Forged in the Dark and OSR) games for a living, which is wild.