5th Edition D&D design tries to avoid class features and feats that support specific weapons. Yet, there is still plenty of design space to support specific combat styles by tying feat(ure)s to weapon properties.
There are plenty of feats which support different weapon classes based on their properties.
- Great Weapon Master (GWM) works for heavy weapons.
- Polearm Master (PAM) works for reach weapons (and quarterstaff/spear).
- Sharpshooter (SS) works for ranged weapons.
- Crossbow Expert (XBE) works for ranged weapons (hand crossbows).
- Shield Master (SM) works for sword-and-board.
- Dual Wielder (DW) works for dual wielding.
Some classes (Fighters, Paladins, Rangers) also get access to Fighting Styles which improve a character’s combat prowess based on their weapon loadout:
- Archery works for ranged weapons.
- Dueling works for one 1-handed melee weapons.
- Two-Weapon Fighting works for two 1-handed weapons.
- Great Weapon Fighting works for 2-handed weapons.
As you can see, these feats and fighting styles are not tied to a specific weapon. Rather, they are tied to a property that the weapon has, or are limited by how the character uses the weapon.
There is one class of weapon which is not really supported by these myriad feat(ure)s: thrown weapons. While a player trying to build a weapon-throwing character may take the Sharpshooter feat to improve their range and damage output, it’s not really tailored to thrown weapons.
Weapons within the thrown property include: daggers, handaxes, light hammers, spears, darts, tridents, and nets. With the exception of nets, which we’ll cover later, these weapons all share some qualities:
- Their normal range is 20
- Their long range is 60.
- Thrown damage caps out at d6.
- They’re inexpensive.
One big problem with thrown weapons is action economy. While you can use an object interaction to freely draw a weapon, you only get one free object interaction per turn. The second object interaction takes a full action. This relegates the weapon thrower to making only one attack after the first round of combat, as they are limited by action economy.
A good throwing feat would alleviate these action economy issues and enable the character to throw as many weapons as they have attacks. To accomplish this, we could modify language from the ammunition property:
“Drawing the [thrown weapon] is part of the attack.”
This allows the character to whip out daggers and darts and toss them as quickly as they become part of the attack. It also frees up the throwing attacker’s object interaction to do other cool stuff on the battlefield.
A second problem with thrown weapons is their relatively short range. All thrown weapons (excepting nets) have a short range of 20 feet and a long range of 60 feet. This forces the throwing attacker to choose between two bad options.
They can attack at normal range, but they will likely be within the movement speed of their target, meaning they can become the subject of a melee attack on a following turn. With some judicious positioning, it’s possible you could move 15 feet in-and-out of range to keep yourself out of the range of melee attackers with a 30 speed and no reach. But, this is hardly reliable.
They can attack at long range with disadvantage. Which, again, is only 60 feet. This is probably not worth it, considering that thrown weapons already deal less damage than most weapons that do fire at that range.
We could fix this by stealing from the Sharpshooter feat, which provides:
“Attacking at long range doesn’t impose disadvantage on your ranged weapon attack rolls.”
This takes care of extending the normal range.
The question is whether we also want to extend the long range, to give the weapon thrower a range beyond 60 feet. If we do extend the long range, we cannot rely on the Sharpshooter language, since we would also be extending the short range. Thankfully, since all thrown weapons (except nets) have a standardized 20/60 range, we can just overwrite that by putting new numbers in the feat. This is probably a better solution, since it preserves the second benefit of Sharpshooter for a thrown weapon player looking for a new feat.
All we’ve done so far is add things to put thrown weapons on par with bows. But, stacking up with the competition isn’t what feats are about. They’re about making your character excel at a particular area (in this context, combat).
Like most feats and fighting styles, thrown weapons need a buff that makes them special. Now, we don’t need to overcorrect and drop in a broken mechanic like GWM/SS’s -5 attack/+10 damage. But we should have something sufficiently punchy that stacks up. We don’t want to underwhelm as with the Dual Wielder feat.
This might be a good place to adapt some of the GWM/SS homebrews that folks have put out to temper the wild damage swings. Since that’s just treading over traveled ground, it’s not that interesting thematically. However, feats are good starting point to gauge the power level of the buff.
Instead of looking to other feats, we could benefit from adapting core game mechanics to thrown weapons. The Two-Weapon Fighting feat already works with thrown weapons. However, there’s some action economy concerns since you are already supposed to be holding the off-hand weapon to proc Two-Weapon Fighting. This doesn’t jive well with our thrown-weapons-as-ammunition mechanic. You can work around the action economy concerns by using your object interaction to draw a weapon at the end of your prior turn, and then making your first attack with a sheathed weapon. I like this because it actually gives some interesting mechanical choices to the player. However, you might decide that you just want to allow a second bonus action thrown attack when a first thrown attack is made.
Another base mechanic we can steal from is the shove mechanic. Consider how Shield Master does just that. Thematically, I like how this fits. Think about what happens when your PC throws a bottle of ale at a tavern brawler in a fist fight. It’s likely to stagger or distract them. In consideration of the latter, perhaps we can use a mechanic that imposes disadvantage, kind of like an inverse Distracting Strike from the Battle Master’s toolkit.
Finally, we could just make a half-feat which provides an Ability Score Improvement (ASI) along with the other benefits. Since thrown weapons can rely on Strength or Dexterity, we need to give the player the option of choosing.
We need to be careful with nets, since they have some funky properties. Truthfully, they would probably be better-conceived as an item instead of a weapon. Since they are weapons, we need to be cautious about making any changes.
For the action economy change, the fact that you can only make one net attack with a full action will hide our crimes.
For the range change, we do need to be mindful of the nets. Increasing normal range for nets to 15 feet is probably not game breaking. However, using a flat number to boost all thrown weapons (such as 45/90 or 60/120) would create some absurd results. If we use the latter, we will need a carve-out.
For the buff, it depends on the nature of the buff. An attack boost would help to hit. A damage boost would not increase the damage of the net, since the net does not do damage. To be clear, the net’s damage is not listed as zero (0), but rather null (—). As a result, it does not benefit from damage increases.
If you’re worried about all these interactions, you can just put a rider on the feat that the features do not work with nets.
Boiling all this down, we can support thrown weapon combat using a feat, a fighting style, or both. Ideally, one of our feat benefits should also be useful to characters who aren’t only using ranged weapon attacks.
While not every table plays with feats, we really need a full feat to build in the suite of fixes required for thrown weapons. Based on our analysis above, that feat should read as follows:
- Increase your Strength or Dexterity score by 1, to a maximum of 20.
- When you use a weapon with the thrown property to make a ranged attack, you can draw the weapon as part of the attack.
- When you make an attack with a thrown weapon that deals damage, the standard range is 60 and the long range is 120.
- When you hit a creature with a ranged weapon attack, you can use your reaction to impose disadvantage on that creature’s next attack roll.
Here it is in image form:
I’m not crazy about building thrown weapon features into a fighting style.
The primary issue is that fighting styles are limited to a certain number of classes. Exacerbating this issue, two of the classes who thematically fit with the thrown weapon mechanic are Barbarians and Rogues, neither of whom get fighting styles.
Another issue is that a fighting style does not provide enough design space to ameliorate all of the issues with attacking using thrown weapons. You only get one bullet point to play with. That’s not enough to put them on par with bows.
Finally, if you’re going to add a feat and a fighting style to support a type of play, you can’t have overlap. So we are at risk of cannibalizing one of the essential features that we’ve packed into the feat just for the sake of making a fighting style.
If you’re set on offering a fighting style in addition to a feat, consider offering something simple, like a small attack or damage bonus.