Last Updated on January 22, 2023
There are plenty of weapons in Dungeons & Dragons 5e that pretty much speak for themselves. No one’s going to pooh-pooh the efficacy of a greatsword or a longbow — even the humble sling has its fan club.
Then there’s the net: a ranged martial weapon that deals no damage, can’t even target an enemy if it’s too big, and has a range that’s marginally longer than a big stick. By all accounts, nets should suck. And yet…
Nets are a remarkably versatile weapon that, if used correctly, will let you control the battlefield, stop fleeing enemies in their tracks, bring flying enemies into range, and even have an impromptu hammock ready to go at a moment’s notice.
Welcome to our guide to using nets in D&D 5e. Today, we’re going to be taking a deep dive into everything good, bad, and interesting about nets in D&D 5e.
Let’s get started.
Martial Ranged Weapon
Cost: 1 gp
Weight: 3 lbs.
Proficiency with a net allows you to add your proficiency bonus to the attack roll for any attack you make with it.
A Large or smaller creature hit by a net is restrained until it is freed. A net has no effect on creatures that are formless or creatures that are Huge or larger.
A creature can use its action to make a DC 10 Strength check, freeing itself or another creature within its reach on a success.
Dealing 5 slashing damage to the net (AC 10) also frees the creature without harming it, ending the effect and destroying the net.
When you use an action, bonus action, or reaction to attack with a net, you can make only one attack regardless of the number of attacks you can normally make.
How Do Nets Work in DnD 5e?
Nets are a type of Dexterity-based thrown weapon that imposes the restrained condition on its targets until that target is freed or passes a DC10 Strength check.
Unlike pretty much all other types of weapon in D&D 5e, nets aren’t intended to deal damage to a target — although that isn’t to say you can’t use them to seriously hurt your enemies.
Nets are weapons that you use as a way of tying up (literally) enemies for a turn or two in order to have the time to finish off their allies or to render them momentarily defenseless.
Used correctly in coordination with an ally, nets can be absolutely devastating in combat. First, however, let’s take a closer look at how to get an enemy stuck in your net.
Range and the Problem With Nets
Nets have the shortest range of any thrown weapon with a short range of just 5 feet (also known as melee range) and a “long” range of 15 feet.
Now, this immediately presents us with a problem: there is no range at which you can use a net in combat and not roll with disadvantage.
A quick recap on how weapon ranges work:
“A weapon that can be used to make a ranged attack has a range shown 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.”
So, to break that down, when you use a net, the maximum distance a target can be away from you and still be hit is 15 feet.
Anything beyond that is impossible. Between that maximum range and the edge of the short range (5 feet), you have disadvantage with attacks made using the net.
Okay, I hear you say, “So I can just use the net on enemies that are 5 feet away.” Yes, you can.
But even using this weapon at the supposedly “optimum” range will incur disadvantage because of the rule about using ranged and thrown weapons in melee combat.
“You have disadvantage on the attack roll if you are within 5 feet of a hostile creature who can see you and who isn’t incapacitated.”
So, unless your enemy can’t see you coming (or is already incapacitate, which sort of defeats the point), there’s no distance at which you’re not going to be forced to roll with disadvantage when using a net.
Personally, I think this is freaking crazy. I’d feel a lot more sanguine about it if it didn’t feel like an accident on behalf of the designers.
The issue has been — very offhandedly — officially addressed by Mike Mearls in the Sage Advice column where he wrote that nets “still take disad in close combat despite range.”
However, if I put on my apologist hat here for a second and assume this wasn’t a weird edge case that fell through the cracks somehow, let’s think about why the designers might feel the need to effectively nerf the net into oblivion by essentially imposing permanent disadvantage on adventurers who use one.
The answer is pretty simple, actually: the net is a game-breaker.
Are Nets Really That Good?
As we’ve established before, nets are weird. All other weapons in 5e deal damage — even the other two weird edge cases that also warrant the “special” tag: the lance and the double-bladed scimitar.
So what is it about the net as a weapon that doesn’t deal damage that makes the designers so afraid of it?
- A restrained creature’s speed becomes 0, and it can’t benefit from any bonus to its speed.
- Attack rolls against the creature have advantage, and the creature’s Attack rolls have disadvantage.
- The creature has disadvantage on Dexterity Saving Throws.
You can read our full guide to the restrained condition here, but the gist is that if you’re looking to stop an enemy from doing whatever it is they want to do — whether they’re a wizard trying to cast power word kill, an owlbear trying to tear your face off, or the high priest of a death cult trying to complete a dark ritual — you could do a lot worse than a net.
Even if your target gets out of the net on their turn, they’ll have still burned their action getting free.
Also your allies might have even had a chance to wail on them with advantage in the meantime.
Basically, if you’re looking for a way to dramatically increase your chances of doing some very nasty damage to an enemy, the net makes for an excellent, very low-fi way of taking them down.
Here’s a quick list of just some of the ways you can use a net to disable and destroy your foes.
- Ready an action to attack enemies that use flyby tactics, like Perytons and Pteradons
- Prevent an enemy that’s quicker than you from escaping.
- Prevent a wizard or other spellcasting enemy from using magic with Somatic components.
- Surprise an enemy for a rapid net-based takedown.
- Make enemies waste their time breaking out of nets.
Nets are a fantastic way for a low-level adventuring party to exert a bit of actual control over the battlefield, especially when your characters are at a point where spells are thin on the ground.
Having a net is basically a single-target instance of Hold Person that you can use again, and again, and again.
Also, because the net itself provides the (admittedly low) DC for escape, a net is just as effective in the hands of a wizard as a fighter.
Or at least they would be…
Net Proficiency: Why Jeremy Crawford and Mike Mearls Did Nets Dirty
I’m increasingly of the opinion that the designers of D&D 5e have some unresolved net-based trauma in their pasts. Maybe Jeremy Crawford was a bluefin tuna in a past life. We’ll never know.
What I do know is that every time I think I have a handle on how to use nets in a way that’s actually useful, some other element of this weapon’s design undermines it.
Basically, the idea that you want to use nets as a way to use your action to apply the restrained condition to an enemy — either to stop them from moving or doing something or so the party’s rogue can walk up and stick a dagger in their head — is sound.
However, the question then becomes: Whose job is it to use the net?
When it comes down to which member of the adventuring party could make the best use of a net while not sacrificing other important stuff their class can do, candidates are thin on the ground thanks to the fact that nets are martial weapons.
That means that, unless you’re playing a Fighter, Rogue, Paladin, or Barbarian, you won’t automatically get proficiency with the net.
The issue with this is that I think in combat, all four of those classes are going to have better things to do than chuck a net at someone — especially as they start to reach higher levels and get to make multiattack actions (or roll a cupped handful of d6s as Sneak Attack damage if they’re a rogue).
It all makes the trade-off between damage and disabling an enemy a little too steep.
Ideally, you’d want the party’s wizard (or other spellcasting-focused, non-combat-centric party member) to have a net on hand in case of emergencies, but the martial restriction takes this off the table.
You could always multiclass into fighter or take the Weapon Master feat, but it feels like a lot of work for something that more and more feels like a choice that the designers don’t want you to make.
How To Use a Net Effectively: Don’t Use a Net
Look, if you like the idea of wrapping your enemies up like they’re thanksgiving turkeys or a tuna in a dragnet, then go for it.
The net can make for an excellent backup weapon — especially if you’re playing a class that can readily give itself advantage, like the Samurai fighter, or you want to use it as an ambush tool to end fights before they begin.
However, if you want to make a net a viable member of the party, so to speak, there’s only one sensible thing to do: Hire a net guy.
Or a net girl. Or net person. Hire someone to throw the net. Actually, hire more than one of them.
Get enough peasants with nets, and their lack of martial-weapon proficiency and mass disadvantage won’t matter; it’s a numbers game now, lads.
Also, once you’ve got someone or something good and netted, having another round of nets ready to go immediately afterward is almost a surefire way to guarantee an easy victory.
So yeah, you shouldn’t be using nets, but your hirelings should.
Until next time, happy adventuring.
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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.