You may be aware of a little story known simply by the name “David and Goliath.”
This story is the namesake of the goliath race in D&D, but today we’re going to be putting you in David’s position. Today, we’re looking at his signature weapon, the sling.
We’re going to be looking at these rarely used 5e weapons: where they come from, how they work, how they stack up against other weapons in D&D, and most importantly, whether or not you should use one.
Of course, we’ll also talk a bit about why WotC is wrong about the sling, one of the most-feared historical weapons.
So gear up, and let’s take down Goliath.
Type: Simple Ranged Weapon Cost: 25 gp Weight: 5 lbs
Proficiency with a sling allows you to add your proficiency bonus to the attack roll for any attack you make with it.
How Does a Sling Work?
In 5e, a sling is a simple ranged weapon that deals 1d4 bludgeoning damage. Slings are actually one of the few weapons in D&D that every single class is proficient in.
A sling is an ancient weapon that is used to launch stones or similarly shaped man-made pellets. It is a very simple weapon made of two lengths of cord attached to a pouch, which holds the ammo.
The sling is spun around until an appropriate speed is reached, at which time the pellet is released and flies toward its target.
In the hands of an expert, this is an incredibly deadly weapon. At least, in real life it is. The rules of fifth edition make this incredibly underwhelming.
Aside from its low damage die, the sling also has a few properties that we should go over.
The ammunition property simply refers to a weapon that needs to be loaded in order to be used. Much like a crossbow or a gun, you need something to actually release from your sling.
The filling of the sling is considered to be a part of the attack action. This just means you don’t have to waste time fiddling around in your pouch to be able to use this weapon effectively.
Sling ammo, typically stone or lead pellets, cost 4 cp for a set of 20. This is extremely cheap and makes sense considering that lead is a common byproduct of silver mining.
The good thing about slings is that buying ammo is basically a formality. In reality, you can just pick up rocks off the ground.
Range is how far a ranged weapon can accurately fire its ammunition. The range of the sling is 30/120. When we talk about range, the two numbers listed represent normal and long range.
The first number, 30, represents the slings normal range, within which it can be used accurately.
The second number, 120, represents long range. At long range (anywhere between 30 feet and 120 feet), attacks are made at disadvantage.
While this can be remedied with the sharpshooter feat, it isn’t making a strong case for us to take this weapon.
For comparison, a shortbow has a range of 80/320, while a longbow has a range of 150/600.
It makes sense that the longbow, a martial weapon, would be so much more accurate, but the fact that the shortbow has more than double the accuracy of another simple weapon is sad at best.
Another thing to consider for ranged weapons is close range. The normal range for melee weapons is 5 feet, and ranged weapons also suffer disadvantage at this distance.
Typically, this would mean that a sling only has 25 feet of effective range, less than the movement speed of most creatures.
Somewhat fortunately though, the sling is such a weak weapon that this doesn’t matter.
You see, ranged weapons can be used at close range if you use them as an improvised weapon. When you do this, the weapon does 1d4 damage.
Since a sling already does 1d4 when used as intended, close range is basically a nonissue. By being so bad, this almost becomes good again.
Make no mistake though, against anything with a CR of 1 or better, 1d4 is dismal damage.
Is the Sling Good?
No. The way it works in 5e, it is a bad weapon. A measly 1d4 damage with 30 feet of accurate range is almost useless.
This doesn’t mean that slings as published can’t have some usefulness. You can use them to bust in a window or create a distraction.
They’re incredibly cheap, so they make a good backup weapon in case anything happens to the one you typically use.
Essentially, slings are as good of a weapon as a pack of rations or a 10-foot pole might be. They function best as a tool, but when it comes to combat, they fall short.
Before I get into all of my discussion about why the sling should be an amazing weapon and how to make it better with a little bit of homebrew, I’ll at least do you the favor of showing you what you can do to make it better.
Making Slings Better in RAW
Feats are the best way to show that you are better with a tool than your average peasant. These are optional traits that you can pick up when you would get an ASI.
These feats I’m listing are generally good for ranged-weapon specialists, so they won’t make this better than another ranged build with the same feats.
This makes the sling almost as reliable as a normal ranged weapon, even if it doesn’t do much to improve its damage output. Here’s what the sharpshooter feat does:
- Long range doesn’t impose disadvantage on your ranged-attack rolls.
- Your ranged-weapon attacks ignore half and three-quarters cover.
- Before you make an attack with a ranged weapon that you are proficient with, you can choose to take a -5 penalty to the attack roll. If that attack hits, you add +10 to the attack’s damage.
We’ve already covered the long range disadvantage, so effectively our sling gets an accurate range of 120. After that, we get to ignore all but full cover.
This means that our targets won’t get a bonus to AC for being partially obscured by the environment.
Both of those things are great and make a big difference in turning the sling into a palatable weapon. The next piece is huge though, giving us a bonus to damage that is more than double our maximum damage.
If you run the numbers, a -5 penalty to attack is very similar to disadvantage. Considering that our sling would have been at disadvantage most of the time anyway, this is a small price to pay for a respectable attack.
NOT Crossbow Expert
As you can probably guess from the name, this is for crossbow specialists.
Still, most people see the bit that says “Being within 5 feet of a hostile creature doesn’t impose disadvantage on your ranged attack rolls,” and they get all excited that the sling can get better.
You know better though, since the sling can already be used at close range without disadvantage by being used as an improvised weapon.
Magic Initiate / Artificer Initiate
Another way to make your sling better is with the Magic Stones cantrip. This spell is available to druids, warlocks, and artificers.
If you aren’t one of these classes, you can grab the cantrip by taking either of these listed feats.
Magic Stones is a bonus-action cantrip that turns up to three pebbles into magical stones that deal 1d6 + your spellcasting modifier bludgeoning damage.
With this spell in your arsenal, you can take a bonus action once every three turns (less if you have the Extra Attack feature) to give you a sizable damage boost.
Each feat does other things for you. Essentially, your choice will come down to your highest potential spellcasting modifier.
Wisdom or Charisma should have you grabbing up the Magic Initiate feat, choosing your spells from the druid or warlock spell lists respectively. If Intelligence is your best modifier, then Artificer Initiate is the feat for you.
The only slightly unfortunate thing about this spell is that you can’t just spend 10 minutes turning your entire pouch into magical stones.
Once you cast this a second time, any of the previous stones go back to being nonmagical.
Now, this is an interesting option that I don’t see mentioned often, possibly because it’s a newer feat, introduced in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything.
The feat gives some nice bonuses to attacks you make that deal bludgeoning damage.
- Once per turn, when you hit a creature with an attack that deals bludgeoning damage, you can move it 5 feet to an unoccupied space, provided the target is no more than one size larger than you.
- When you score a critical hit that deals bludgeoning damage to a creature, attack rolls against that creature are made with advantage until the start of your next turn.
I’m almost positive this feat was supposed to be specifically for melee-bludgeoning weapons, but that’s not what it says!
Grab this feat, and your tiny pebbles will have the ability to absolutely shake up your foes. Send them flying 5 feet backwards or get a critical hit, and make them an easy target for all your allies.
This is probably the most hilarious feat to pick up, but it certainly works, so have at it.
Improved Sling 5e
The sling is incredibly slighted in our society that lawds bows as the foremost ranged weapon of all time.
There are dozens of Robin Hood clones that fill the rosters of our modern mythology but not a single hero wielding a sling who doesn’t date back to Biblical times.
Let’s start by discussing how powerful slings really are.
Slings are one of the oldest weapons, likely dating back long before humans reached the bronze age. These simple weapons were easy to construct and extremely functional, often used in hunting.
History of Slings
One society that made great use of the sling as a hunting instrument was the people of the Balearic islands of the east coast of the Iberian peninsula.
Slings were one of the only weapons these people used, so when the other groups came and introduced trade, the best thing they had to offer was their services as warriors.
The Balearic slingers quickly became one of the most sought-after mercenaries, and were used in many of the empirical conquests throughout the history of the Mediterranean.
“The Missiles seem to have been shot as if they were from a catapult. In their assault upon walled cities they strike the defenders on the battlements and disable them in and in pitched battles they crush shields, helmets, and every kind of armor.”
– Diodorus Sicilus, ancient Greek historian
The Balearic people didn’t have any superpowers; they just had experience. This was a society that trained with their slings to hunt from a young age, and the more their services were sought after, the harder they trained.
By no means were they simple-minded either; they used several different lengths of slings to reach different ranges and different shaped pellets to achieve different results.
While smooth stones worked just fine, they would use biconical (like a rounded d8), tear dropped, or rounded pellets.
They would even create small indents in some pellets so that they made a whistling sound when flying through the air – a form of psychological warfare.
Another way they would mess with their foes was by carving words or symbols into their ammo. One of the funniest pellets I learned about said, “Catch this.”
Clearly, the Balearic slingers were skilled warriors with an amazing weapon. But is this all just the product of years of exaggeration stretching the sling into a legendary weapon?
Not at all. We know that slings can reach speeds of well over 100 feet per second and can go distances of at least 600 feet.
It might sound crazy, but that means these pellets can have as much momentum as a bullet.
Because sling ammunition is much heavier than a bullet, it doesn’t need nearly as much speed to match the power released from a gun.
Check out this great video for a little demonstration and some more of the math behind this.
Slings are powerful; now let’s show that in our improved weapon design.
A More Accurate Sling
We want a weapon that’s not just more accurate to the source material; we want one that’s more accurate overall. We also want damage that’s going to reflect the power these things pack.
Since the 5e sling is a simple weapon, it wouldn’t make sense to give it any more than 1d6 damage, which isn’t a huge improvement.
Instead of tampering with the item everyone has access to, I’m putting forth a martial-weapon alternative.
In fact, I’m going to make a couple of options, referencing the different lengths used by historical slingers
The “Light Sling” is going to be modeled after the light crossbow. Proficiency in the light crossbow would give you proficiency in this medium-powered sling.
This is meant to be a good option for a simple weapon that isn’t just another type of bow.
The “Expert’s Sling” would be more akin to a longbow, a martial version of the sling that packs a punch. Again, we’ll just match proficiencies here.
You’ll notice that these are much more accurate than their counterparts in the bow families. That’s because they were in real life.
Originally, I was going to sacrifice a bit of the damage to justify the increased range. I decided against that because realistically, most combat doesn’t call for ranged attacks beyond 100 feet.
If you do find yourself in one of those scenarios, your weapon should be able to reflect its abilities.
I’ve also included a weapon called a fustibalus. This is a staff sling. Essentially, it is a quarterstaff with a sling attached to the end of it.
This is a weapon that could be used in melee combat and then promptly loaded with ammunition to be launched forward (almost in a lacrosse fashion).
The fustibalus is a fun extra option if you want something that can be used as both melee and ranged that isn’t just another thrown weapon.
I’m a firm believer that every weapon that uses ammunition should have plenty of options to choose from. We don’t always need to go as crazy as to include boxing glove arrows, but this is D&D, and we should have some fun with it.
For slings, you shouldn’t have to buy ammo. Stones can be collected with ease and thrown into a pouch for combat.
However, if we do want purchasable ammo, there should be some incentive to spend our hard-earned gold.
There are two options I want to explore here. One is simply improved ammunition, things like tear-dropped pellets made to pierce armor more effectively.
The other option is magical ammunition. I want to play around with the magical stones concept and give us a bit more excitement.
I also want to call upon the Balearic slingers’ carvings, which would sometimes include elemental symbols.
These are not play-tested options by any means, but they follow some general rules and are based on similar existing items in 5e.
Feel free to use these if they strike your fancy, modify them to fit better at your table, or ignore them and pretend that the sling doesn’t really exist.
I hope this article sways some minds. The sling is a good weapon. If it’s not meant to be one in D&D, that’s fine by me. Then again, that’s why homebrew exists.
As always, happy adventuring.