Last Updated on January 22, 2023
From delicately balanced ninja stars arcing silently through the night air to sever a vital artery to drunken Vikings chucking giant axes through Norman heads, throwing weapons have long held an important place within the history of warfare.
Throwing weapons can also be found in Dungeons & Dragons 5e, from the throwing knife to the net. Today, we’ll be breaking down how these weapons work, how they compare to one another, and how to build a character that makes fighting with thrown weapons a central feature of their play style.
Ready? Then let’s begin.
What Are Throwing Weapons in DnD 5e?
In D&D 5e, any weapon with the Thrown property can be used to make a ranged attack using the same modifier used to make a melee attack and damage roll with that weapon. Thrown weapons tend to be effective over shorter distances than ranged-only weapons like bows and slings.
Common throwing weapons include daggers, hand axes, darts, and javelins.
While any weapon can technically be thrown at an enemy, it won’t continue to function as intended. For example, throwing a longsword at an enemy is not the weapon’s intended purpose, and therefore the GM may rule (if they allow it at all) that the longsword counts as an improvised weapon for the purposes of resolving the attack roll.
A weapon with the thrown property, on the other hand, can be used to make a ranged attack and often also in melee.
How Do Throwing Weapons Work?
Any weapon with the Thrown property obeys the following rules:
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.
All thrown weapons have the Range property, which denotes their short and long range with two numbers — one denoting the range up to which the weapon can be used normally (beyond 5 feet, which counts as melee range and imposes disadvantage on ranged attacks) and the other denoting the range up to which the weapon can still attack targets but does so at disadvantage. A weapon cannot attack a target beyond its long range.
The javelin has a short range of 30 feet and a long range of 120 feet, meaning someone wielding one can make a ranged weapon attack normally with the javelin against an enemy up to 31 feet away (six 5-foot squares if you’re playing on a standard battle mat) and attack enemies with disadvantage up to 121 feet away (24 squares).
Most thrown weapons, like the handaxe, light hammer, and dagger, are also melee weapons, and can be used to ruin someone’s day either at close range or at the coveted slightly less close range. However, not all weapons with the thrown property are also melee weapons; the Dart (a slightly less dangerous medieval fantasy recreation of a banned children’s toy from the 1970s) and the net (as seen in gladiatorial combat and, uh, fishing?) are both ranged weapons with the thrown property.
The other major distinction lies between thrown weapons and ranged weapons. While most ranged weapons shoot ammunition like arrows or crossbow bolts at their targets, thrown weapons are the ammunition. If you only have one javelin and you throw it, you have to go and retrieve it before you can make another thrown weapon attack.
This means that, if you play with encumbrance rules, carting around a whole backpack full of throwing axes is going to weigh an awful lot more than a quiver full of arrows, although in terms of price, it’s not much more expensive to buy a ton of daggers (2 gp each) compared to arrows (1 gp), and darts are one of the cheapest weapons you can buy (5 cp each), period.
Which Thrown Weapon Is Best?
Whether you’re looking to augment your adventuring gear for added versatility or find the focal point of your next character’s fighting style, there are plenty of thrown weapons to choose from.
While classic stuff like the throwing dagger and javelin are familiar to anyone who’s ever ended up in the wrong bar on New Year’s Eve or watched the Olympics, respectively, there are plenty of stranger options to choose from. If your tastes skew closer to the exotic, options like the net or the Chultan yklwa are also on the table.
All in all, there are 9 weapons with the thrown property to choose from.
The dagger is the all-around perfect backup weapon — the sidearm pistol of the medieval battlefield if you will. The combination of light and thrown properties means this is a great weapon to use in your off hand for two-weapon fighting since you can always throw it as part of that extra attack. The damage really isn’t great, though, which is where you start to feel the pain of trading off dedicated ranged damage (like you get from a hand crossbow) or melee damage (like you get from a shortsword or handaxe) for versatility.
The cheapest weapon in the game. You can easily buy more darts than ammunition for a bow and arrow (you can buy 20 darts for the price of a single arrow, which is such a wild disparity that it feels like a mistake) and could happily throw them, forget to pick them up, and buy more for a long time before it stops being more cost-effective than buying a bow and meticulously recovering your arrows from the battlefield.
Sure, it’s not a good weapon, per se, but if your character is chronically short on cash, then you’re never going to be going into battle without a fistful of pointy things to chuck into goblins’ eyes.
I also think the dart is really good at mechanically stimulating throwing stars, chakrams, and Swiss Arrows.
A very solid weapon that walks the line between melee and ranged combat more effectively than most, especially if used for two-weapon fighting. All of the benefits and very few of the drawbacks… except for the fact that these weapons are kind of heavy and expensive, so throwing them at enemies like you’re throwing a pack of hot dogs in an attempt to placate a hungry alligator might start to get a little pricey after a while. Or, you’ll run out of axes halfway through a dungeon delve and get torn apart and eaten by nature’s ultimate predator.
Emulate Achilles with a strong thrown weapon with a decent range and acceptable melee performance. It’s usually best paired with a dedicated melee weapon because, once you’ve thrown your javelin, it could be a whole three turns of movement away, and that’s a long way to go to get your pointy stick back — especially if you missed.
The blunter little brother of handaxe throwing, chucking light hammers at your enemy isn’t particularly advisable. Your damage output is better found elsewhere.
A thoroughly weird weapon I’m convinced the WotC designers actually kind of screwed up a little for reasons I go into in more detail in our full guide to nets. Still, if you want some crowd control or a way to set up a coup de grace, this isn’t a bad way to go.
One of the few ways to get a d8 damage die going on a nonmartial weapon, which, combined with the ability to use a spear one-handed or throw it through your enemy’s face, makes the spear one of the most versatile weapons in all of D&D 5e and a great choice for just about any build that can use it.
Exactly the same as the spear with a little more thrown range (which makes no sense, but we didn’t start playing this game to kowtow before the laws of aerodynamics, did we?) and much more expensive. It’s also a martial weapon rather than a simple one, and if you can use martial weapons, there are better options out there.
A simple melee weapon that is the traditional weapon of Chultan warriors. A yklwa consists of a 3-foot wooden shaft with a steel or stone blade up to 18 inches long. It’s a rare simple melee weapon than can dead 1d8 damage, but its potential as a throwing weapon is hampered by its pitiful range (10 short, 30 long).
Building a Thrown Weapon Fighter
If you like the idea of the versatility afforded by fighting with thrown weapons — or it just fits into your latest character concept because it makes you look awesome — here’s how you can maximize the effectiveness of a character that focuses on fighting with thrown weapons.
Thrown Weapon Fighting Style
This fighting style is available to the fighter and ranger classes as part of Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything.
When you take this fighting style, you gain the following benefits.
- You can draw a weapon that has the thrown property as part of the attack you make with the weapon.
- In addition, when you hit with a ranged attack using a thrown weapon, you gain a +2 bonus to the damage roll.
If you’re not playing a fighter or ranger with access to the thrown weapon fighting style (or have already picked a different fighting style), then you can take the Fighting Initiate feat in place of any of your character’s Ability Score Improvement — as long as you have proficiency with a martial weapon. This doesn’t mean you need to be proficient with all martial weapons; an elf or dwarf with racial weapon training in the longsword and greataxe, respectively, could take this feat as could bards and rogues who have proficiency in rapiers.
When you take this feat, you earn one Fighting Style option of your choice from the fighter class. If you already have a style, the one you choose must be different.
Whenever you reach a level that grants the Ability Score Improvement feature, you can replace this feat’s fighting style with another one from the fighter class that you don’t have.
Two Weapon Fighting
If you take the two-weapon fighting style, you can add your Ability Score modifier to the damage rolls of your off-hand attacks when using two-weapon fighting. In combination with Thrown Weapon fighting, this means a character throwing two hand axes per round (and 16 Strength) deals 2 x (1d6 + 5) per round before they’ve even begun to pick up Extra Attack at 5th level or use their action surge.
That’s all you need to know about thrown weapons, folks. Hopefully, it’s cleared up any confusion and maybe even inspired you to get out there and start throwing pointy stuff at people like you’re Danny Trejo at an international underground no-holds-barred darts tournament to the death.
Until next time, happy adventuring.
- About Author
- Latest Posts
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.