Last Updated on January 22, 2023
For an adventurer, having access to the right weapon can often mean the difference between victory and defeat — even life and death.
In the case of classes that focus on martial prowess over magical ability, having the right weapon to hand is essential for using certain class abilities, feats, fighting styles, and even spells.
Welcome to our complete guide to choosing a weapon in D&D 5e. Whether you’re swinging a simple club or an alien raygun, this guide has you covered.
Whether you’re a new player or a haggard grognard (like me) looking for a quick refresher, we’re here to talk through the ins and outs of choosing a weapon for your next character in D&D 5e.
How Do I Choose a Weapon in DnD 5e?
Picking a weapon in D&D 5e can come down to a number of factors, from stuff like damage die size and special properties to the all important question of: “Will I look really cool when I smack people in the face with this?”
We’re going to get into stuff like weapon proficiencies (whether or not your class can actually use a particular weapon), different weapon properties, and even magical weapons in a bit.
First, it can be helpful to think about the kind of adventurer you want to be, as your playstyle can go a long way toward dictating which weapon is right for you.
Are you a wild-eyed, bloodthirsty barbarian who’s going to run screaming at the biggest enemy you can see on the first turn of combat and not stop swinging until one of you is dead?
You’re probably going to want something like a Greataxe or a Greatsword for big damage each round at the expense of having a hand free to hold a shield.
Are you a small consumptive wizard with single-digit hit points? Melee might not be for you.
How about a nice light crossbow? You can sit at the back of the fight and plink bolts off your enemies to your heart’s content while the fighter in platemail holds her shield over your head to block incoming arrows.
Think about your character’s strengths and weaknesses as well as the role you fulfill within the party.
Then, pick a weapon that suits that style of fighting. Just make sure you’re proficient in that weapon and that your decision isn’t messing with how your class likes to be played.
Am I Proficient? What Kinds of Weapon Can I Use?
Now, unless you’re playing a fighter, you can’t just reach for the weapon rack and help yourself to whatever you want.
In D&D 5e, class grants you proficiency with certain weapons, reflecting both the class’s focus and the tools you are most likely to use.
Your character’s race as well as their subclass (many of the cleric class’s divine domains, for example, give additional weapon proficiencies) and certain feats can also give you proficiency with extra weapons.
Of course, you don’t need to be proficient with a weapon in order to use it. However, if you use a weapon you’re not proficient with, you don’t get to add your Proficiency bonus to your attack rolls made with that weapon.
Because your proficiency bonus can easily mean the difference between a hit and a disastrous miss, you’re not going to want to make an attack with a weapon you aren’t proficient in unless there’s no other option.
Let’s look at which classes are proficient with which weapons.
Racial Weapon Proficiencies
Dwarves: All dwarves are proficient with the battleaxe, handaxe, light hammer, and warhammer.
Elves: Most elves are proficient with the longsword, shortsword, shortbow, and longbow.
Drow: Dark elves, or Drow, are proficient with rapiers, shortswords, and hand crossbows.
There are hundreds of thousands of different types of weapons throughout real world history and even more in the pages of science fiction and fantasy literature.
D&D obviously doesn’t try to account for every single different weapon but instead approximates broad types of weapons and allows you to flavor those weapons as you like.
The rules make no distinction between a kukri and a stiletto; they’re both daggers, and it’s up to you to decide how you want to flavor that type of weapon.
Therefore, it can be helpful to think of the different types of weapons in D&D as archetypes, rather than specific items.
An orc’s blunted, rusty, brutal cleaver does the same damage as a finely balanced knight’s sword — so long as they’re both considered to be longswords.
All in all, there are 37 different weapons in the D&D 5e equipment list. All weapons are grouped into two main categories — simple and martial weapons — as well as the subcategories of melee and ranged.
There are a couple of weirder, unofficial outliers as well, but we’ll get to them in a minute.
Simple Melee Weapons
Simple Ranged Weapons
Martial Melee Weapons
Martial Ranged Weapons
When determining if you’re proficient with a particular weapon, the place to start is whether or not the weapon is simple or martial.
Simple vs. Martial Weapons
Most people can use simple weapons and apply their proficiency bonus.
Simple weapons refer to anything that’s physically dangerous enough to be used as an offensive tool, including clubs, maces, pitchforks, and other weapons often found in the hands of commoners.
Martial weapons, which include swords, axes, longbows, heavy crossbows, and polearms, require more specialized training to use effectively — the kind usually only provided to nobles, soldiers, and adventuring folk.
Most warriors use martial weapons because these weapons put their fighting style and training to best use.
Martial weapons tend to be more effective than simple weapons with longer ranges, bigger damage dice, and other beneficial properties.
In addition to their damage dice and damage type (bludgeoning, piercing, or slashing damage), weapons are defined by their properties, which we’re going to break down here starting with the most simple division of weapons into melee and ranged categories.
A melee weapon is used to attack enemies within 5 feet of you (or 10 feet if the weapon has the Reach property) and doesn’t require ammunition.
Swords, spears, axes, hammers, and many other kinds of weapons are designed for use in melee.
Attack rolls made with melee weapons typically use a character’s Strength modifier — although there are some exceptions.
Ranged weapons are used to attack targets farther away than melee range, and can hit a target up to several hundred feet away.
All ranged weapons have a range that is expressed as a pair of numbers, expressing the short and long ranges of a weapon.
Ex. Longbow (range 150/600)
A weapon’s short range is the distance in feet up to which it can be fired normally. Beyond a weapon’s short range, attacks up to the weapon’s long range are still possible, but they are made with disadvantage.
Attacks can’t be made against a target beyond the long range of a weapon. Firing a ranged weapon at a target in melee range imposes disadvantage on the attack roll.
Ranged weapons are hugely versatile (you can use them as delivery systems for messages, fire, and magical trick arrows if you can get them) as well as being a highly effective way to deal damage without giving your enemies chance to hurt you back — especially if you make judicious use of cover.
Ranged weapon attacks are made using a character’s Dexterity modifier.
Weapons with the Ammunition property, like bows, crossbows, slings, and even guns (if you’re using those optional rules) consume ammunition in order to fire. Bows need arrows, crossbows need bolts (or quarrels), and slings need rocks.
Each time you make an attack with a weapon that uses ammunition, you expend one piece of that ammunition.
Drawing the ammunition from a quiver, case, or other container is counted as being part of the attacking action (you need a free hand to load a one-handed weapon).
In many cases, ammunition costs money — although searching the battlefield after a fight allows you to recover half of all ammunition expended over the course of the encounter.
Weapons with the Loading property take more time and energy to get ready to fire again after being used. Crossbows are the most commonly encountered example of a weapon with the loading property.
Weapons that require loading cannot be used to make multiple attacks per round. Some Feats, like Crossbow Expert, let you ignore the loading property when using certain weapons.
Weapons with the thrown property can be used both in melee and at range (although they can’t compete with ranged weapons in terms of their effective distance) and use the attacker’s Strength modifier instead of Dexterity — although a weapon with the Finesse and Thrown properties (see below) can be used to make a ranged attack with either Dexterity or Strength.
This makes thrown weapons, like javelins and throwing axes, great for high-Strength classes like fighters and barbarians.
Light weapons, like daggers, are usually smaller and easier to handle, making them ideal for two-weapon fighting, which requires you to use light weapons.
Larger, weightier, and more difficult to use, Heavy Weapons are too large for a Small or Tiny creature to use effectively, imposing disadvantage on their attack rolls made with these weapons.
The weapons with the larger damage dice tend to have the Heavy property.
Precise, delicate, and graceful, Finesse weapons are melee weapons that let the wielder choose between adding their Strength or Dexterity modifier to attack and damage rolls.
Note that you must use the same modifier for both rolls.
Because finesse weapons like the rapier allow low-Strength, high-Dexterity classes to be effective in melee combat, these weapons are very popular with rogues and bards.
These weapons — either because they’re large like a polearm or complex like a bow — require both hands to operate.
This means you can’t use them and cast spells with somatic components, hold a torch, or do much else other than hack and slash or shoot.
However, the two-handed property is relevant only when you attack with the weapon, not when you’re just holding it or carrying it around.
Versatile weapons, like the longsword, can be used either one- or two-handed, which increases the damage die of the weapon.
For example, a longsword has the versatile property.
When wielded one-handed (allowing you to use your other hand for a torch, a shield, or an arcane focus), the weapon deals 1d8 + STR slashing damage; when wielded two-handed, the weapon deals 1d10 + STR slashing damage.
Pikes, polearms, and glaives — weapons with the reach property can hit targets up to 10 feet away instead of 5 feet.
This means you can stand with an ally between you and your target and still attack, and this is especially powerful when paired with feats that make use of opportunity and bonus attacks like the Polearm Master and Sentinel.
Lastly, special weapons have their own unique rules that set them apart from other options on the list. There are two special weapons in the D&D 5e Player’s Handbook.
Lance. You have disadvantage when you use a lance to attack a target within 5 feet of you. Also, a lance requires two hands to wield when you aren’t mounted.
Net. 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.
Advanced Weapon Rules
Of course, there are plenty of other tools that people in D&D have adapted to kill and maim one another, whether that means grabbing the first thing you have to hand and smashing an orc over the head with a bar stool or shooting a lich with a ray gun.
Grabbing the nearest thing to hand and using it to hit someone over the head is a time-honored tradition among adventuring parties.
An improvised weapon includes anything and everything you can wield with either one or two hands.
Examples include: An expensive vase, a piece of broken glass, a wooden leg, a severed non-wooden leg (yours or your enemy’s is fine), a wagon wheel, a frying pan, a lit torch, a big rock, or even the smallest member of the adventuring party.
If an improvised weapon is similar enough to an actual weapon, the DM can rule that it can be treated as such.
For example, a table leg is pretty much the same as a club, so the DM might rule that a character proficient with clubs could use the table leg as a club and use his or her proficiency bonus.
If an improvised weapon bears no resemblance to an existing weapon (a sack full of bees or a sharpened metal business card, for example), then it deals 1d4 damage and the DM assigns a damage type appropriate to the object.
If a character uses a ranged weapon to make a melee attack or throws a melee weapon that does not have the thrown property, it also deals 1d4 damage.
An improvised thrown weapon has a normal range of 20 feet and a long range of 60 feet.
Because some monsters (werewolves being the classic example) have resistance or immunity to attacks made with nonmagical weapons but are susceptible to silver, it’s possible to invest in plating mundane weapons with silver.
You can silver a single weapon or 10 pieces of ammunition for 100 gp. This cost represents not only the price of the silver but the time and expertise needed to add silver to the weapon without making it less effective.
Adamantine and Mithral Weapons
D&D 5e wouldn’t be a fantasy property without including some fantasy metals with properties beyond those of normal iron and steel.
While Mithral (which is very legally distinct from mithril, eh, Mr. Frodo?) is as silvery and delicate as you’d expect.
Adamantine in D&D looks very different from its more well-known counterpart in the X-Men comics. It’s a jet-black metal that shimmers green under torchlight and purplish white under magical light.
Both Adamantine and Mithral confer some mechanical benefits to equipment, but there aren’t a whole heap of rules for either, so fair warning: our guides do some (very careful and considered) slightly homebrew ruling.
Who needs Power Word Kill when you’ve got a gun?
Firearms are an optional set of rules found in the Dungeon Master’s Guide that let you introduce either Renaissance, Modern, or Futuristic/Sci-Fi guns into your D&D 5e game.
Personally, as someone who sets pretty much all my games right around the advent of black-powder weaponry, I love these rules.
Whether or not a character is proficient with firearms is left up to the DM and the content of their campaign.
Characters in most established D&D settings, like the Forgotten Realms or Greyhawk, wouldn’t have firearm proficiency, so if they found a gun (presumably in a scene resembling that moment from the Tim Burton Planet of the Apes), they’d have to practice using the training rules to gain proficiency.
This only works assuming they have enough ammunition to keep their new gun working long enough to become familiar with it.
Alternately, pick up the Gunner feat.
Firearms use special ammunition, and some of them have the burst fire or reload property.
Ammunition. The ammunition of a firearm is destroyed upon use. Renaissance and modern firearms use bullets. Futuristic firearms are powered by a special type of ammunition called energy cells. An energy cell contains enough power for all the shots its firearm can make.
Burst Fire. A weapon that has the burst fire property can make a normal single-target attack, or it can spray a 10-foot-cube area within normal range with shots. Each creature in the area must succeed on a DC 15 Dexterity saving throw or take the weapon’s normal damage. This action uses 10 pieces of ammunition.
Reload. A limited number of shots can be made with a weapon that has the reload property. A character must then reload it using an action or a bonus action (the character’s choice).
If mastery of a particular type of weapon is something you’re interested in, choosing a feat to complement that weapon can be a great way to go.
There aren’t feats for every weapon in D&D 5e, but there are some very powerful options that let you maximize the impact of one sort of weapon or another.
Ignore the loading property of crossbows, making this the perfect weapon for fighters looking to take advantage of the 1d10 piercing damage and range of a Heavy Crossbow and their extra attacks.
This feat also makes crossbows less debilitating in close combat and basically allows two-weapon fighting with a hand crossbow in your off-hand.
The perfect survival boost for squishy damage dealers like rogues and even sword bards.
When you’re wielding a finesse weapon like a rapier and an enemy hits you with a melee attack, Defensive Duelist lets you use your reaction to momentarily add your proficiency bonus to your AC, potentially making the attack miss.
At higher levels, you can use this feat to temporarily boost your AC by as much as 6.
Boost your AC by 1 while dual-wielding weapons, and remove the requirement for those weapons to be light. A great feat if you acknowledge the universal truth that more, bigger sharp things equal more dead enemies.
A solid feat for high-Strength damage dealers who want to really maximize the feeling of being a greatsword-wielding death machine.
On your turn, when you score a critical hit with a melee weapon or reduce a creature to 0 hit points with one, you can make one melee-weapon attack as a bonus action.
Also, before you make a melee attack with a heavy weapon that you are proficient with, you can choose to take a -5 penalty to the attack roll.
If the attack hits, you add +10 to the attack’s damage. This can be amazing, especially at earlier levels.
If your campaign uses firearms, why not be the best gunslinger you can be?
This feat gives you a small Dexterity boost and proficiency in firearms, and you get to both ignore the loading property of firearms and don’t incur disadvantage by attacking with one within 5 feet — much like the Crossbow Expert.
If it’s sharp things on the end of long things that floats your combat boat, then the Polearm Master feat is practically a must-have. The only real decision is whether to pick it up before or after Sentinel.
Not only do you get to use a bonus action to make a melee attack with the opposite end of your polearm (for a d4 of bludgeoning damage), but while you are wielding a glaive, halberd, pike, quarterstaff, or spear, other creatures provoke an opportunity attack from you when they enter your reach.
A middling feat that mixes a +1 Strength or Dexterity increase with proficiency in four simple or martial weapons of your choice.
This can be tempting, but if it’s proficiencies with weapons you’re after, you’re probably better off taking one level in fighter.
Which Weapon Is Right for Me?
If it’s your first time picking up a class (or D&D for that matter), then picking a weapon for the first time can be a little daunting, but I promise it’s simpler than it seems.
Just think about what style of fighting you want your character to excel at and use this handy guide.
One Weapon (Strength): Longsword
The king of the Strength-based single-weapon loadout, longswords give you high damage output mixed with versatility.
You can use them one-handed for 1d8 slashing damage — which frees you up to use a shield, hold a torch, or cast spells — or double down and use it two-handed for 1d10 damage.
Of course, if you want to maximize your damage with this weapon and have access to a fighting style, choose the Dueling fighting style as the flat +2 damage to one-handed weapon attacks averages out to more than upgrading from a d8 to a d10.
One-Weapon (Dexterity): Rapier
The weapon of choice for bards, rogues, and any Dexterity-based adventurer looking to keep up with more traditional martial combatants in terms of melee damage output.
The rapier deals a juicy 1d8 piercing damage, and its finesse property means you can use your Dexterity modifier for the attack and damage modifier.
Two-Weapon Fighting (Strength): Handaxe
Not only are these some of the best Strength-based light-melee weapons with a d6 damage die, but the thrown property makes you significantly more versatile, especially since you can throw an axe as a bonus action instead of making a melee attack using two-weapon fighting.
Two-Weapon Fighting (Dexterity): Shortsword
This is pretty close to being a tie with the scimitar, but as there’s not a huge amount of difference between these d6 damage light weapons, I think the shortsword takes it on price.
Two-Handed Weapon: Greatsword*
At 1st level, the greatsword is always the right choice over its more swingy cousin, the greataxe. 2d6 damage is always going to average out higher than 1d12, and you have no chance of rolling a 1.
However, if you’re playing a barbarian or half-orc, both of which benefit from some features that give them better criticals, at higher levels the larger damage dice granted by the greataxe starts to outshine the greatsword.
Still, for everyone else, the sword is the way to go.
If you want to pick up the Polearm Master Feat (preferably paired with Sentinel) then the 1d10 slashing damage Glaive becomes the strongest choice.
Ranged (One Attack): Heavy Crossbow
The Heavy Crossbow’s damage is unmatched among ranged weapons, and if you’re not playing a class that has the Extra Attack feature, the weapon’s loading property isn’t going to cause you any grief.
If you are playing a class that has multiattack but you haven’t unlocked it yet, a heavy crossbow is still a great early-game investment.
Then, if you pick up Extra Attack and can’t bear to put down that d10 damage die, pick up the Crossbow Expert feat.
Ranged (Extra Attack): Longbow
If you don’t want to pick up the Crossbow Expert feature, then the Longbow (d8 piercing damage) is the best option for a ranged weapon, assuming you have proficiency.
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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.