Weapons are a crucial part of many adventurer’s arsenals. Choosing a weapon that works for your character is one of the most important purchases you can make when equipping a new character.
This section covers the rules for weapons, but does not include the table of weapon statistics. For stats, see the table on page 149 of the Player’s Handbook or see DnDBeyond.
Table of Contents
- Weapon Proficiency
- Weapon Properties
- Special And Unusual Weapons
- Choosing a Weapon
- Further Reading
This work includes material taken from the System Reference Document 5.1 (“SRD 5.1”) by Wizards of the Coast LLC and available at https://dnd.wizards.com/resources/systems-reference-document. The SRD 5.1 is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License available at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/legalcode.
Proficiency in a weapon allows you to add your Proficiency Bonus to attack rolls made with weapons in which you are proficient. You will gain proficiencies primarily from your characters’ class, but you can also get them from other sources like your character’s race.
Weapon proficiencies are split into two groups: simple and martial. Simple weapons tend to be easier to use, but martial weapons are typically more powerful than similar simple weapons. Classes grant proficiency in different ways. For example, fighters get proficiency in all simple and martial weapons, while some classes like wizards get proficiency on in a handful of specifically listed weapons, and rogues get all simple weapons plus a small number of specific martial weapons.
Weapons are defined by more than just their damage. Most have one or more properties which define how it works and how it’s used.
You can use a weapon that has the ammunition property to make a ranged attack only if you have ammunition to fire from it, such as a bolt for a crossbow or an arrow for a bow. Each time you attack with the weapon, you expend one piece of ammunition. Drawing the ammunition from a quiver, case, or other conlainer is part of the attack. At the end of the battle, you can recover half your expended ammunition by taking a minute to search the battlefield.
If you use a weapon that has the ammunition property to make a melee attack, like striking a creature with the butt of a crossbow, you treat it as an improvised weapon (see “Improvised Weapons”, below). A sling must be loaded to deal any damage when used in this way because slapping someone with a small strip of soft leather doesn’t hurt enough to actually kill someone.
Examples with the ammunition property include bows and crossbows of all types.
When making an attack with a finesse weapon, you use your choice of your Strength or Dexterity modifier for the attack and damage rolls. You must use the same modifier for both rolls.
Finesse weapons are important for high-dexterity characters who plan to fight in melee. Rogues need to use finesse weapons to use Sneak Attack in melee, and finesse weapons are popular with rangers and with some fighters. They also make great backup for characters who primarily use ranged weapons, so those characters frequently carry a dagger or another finesse weapon to use when enemies get too close for a bow.
Examples with the Finesse property include daggers, short swords, and rapiers.
Small creatures have Disadvantage on attack rolls with heavy weapons. A heavy weapon’s size and bulk make it too large for a Small creature to use effectively.
Examples with the heavy property include glaives and greatswords.
A light weapon is small and easy to handle, making it ideal for use when fighting with two weapons.
For more, see Attack and Defense, earlier in this guide.
Examples with the light property include daggers, light hammers, and short swords.
Because of the time required to load this weapon, you can fire only one piece of ammunition from it when you use an Action, Bonus Action, or Reaction to fire it, regardless of the number of attacks you can normally make.
Crossbows are the only weapons in the Player’s Handbook with the Loading property, and without Loading crossbows would be better than bows most of the time. The Crossbow Expert feat allows you to ignore the Loading property (in addition to doing other cool stuff), so if you’re set on using a crossbow you’ll want to take Crossbow Expert.
Examples with the loading property include crossbows of all types.
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.
For more on range, see Attack and Defense, earlier in this guide.
Examples with the range property include daggers, darts, javelins, and bows.
This weapon adds 5 feet to your reach when you attack with it.
For more on reach, see Space and Reach, earlier in this guide.
Examples with the reach property include glaives and whips.
A weapon with the special property has unusual rules governing its use, explained in the weapon’s description (see “Special Weapons”, below)
Examples with the special property include lances and nets.
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 (a melee weapon with the Thrown property), you use your Strength. If you throw a dagger (a melee weapon with the Finesse and Thrown properties), you can use either your Strength or your Dexterity. If you throw a Dart, you use your Dexterity modifier because it is not a melee weapon.
Examples with the thrown property include daggers, nets, and javelins.
This weapon requires two hands to use.
It’s important to note that the phrase is “to use“, not “to hold“. You are free to hold a two-handed weapon in one hand, allowing you to do things like walk around with a torch in one hand and a greataxe in the other, but you still need two hands to attack with the weapon.
Examples with the two-handed property include glaives, pikes, and longbows.
This weapon can be used with one or two hands. A damage value in parentheses appears with the property: the damage when the weapon is used with two hands to make a melee attack.
Versatile weapons deal less damage than similar two-handed weapons, so using a versatile weapon two-handed shouldn’t be your go-to attack option unless you have a magic weapon or something which makes your one-handed weapon more appealing than a non-magic two-handed weapon.
Examples with the versatile property include battleaxes, longswords, and spears.
Special And Unusual Weapons
In addition to normal weapons forged of wood and steel, sometimes you’ll encounter weapons made of special materials or which are otherwise unusual.
Adamantine is an exceptionally rare metal used for armor and weaponry, legendary for how hard it is and how good it is for breaking objects. For an adventurer, an adamantine weapon is helpful for overcoming the damage resistances of some creatures like earth elementals.
Unfortunately, the rules for adamantine weapons are omitted from the core rules and from the SRD, so I’m not allowed to reproduce them. Instead, see page 78 of Xanathar’s Guide to Everything.
Improvised weapons are any object which you’re using to attack that isn’t actually a weapon: rocks, broken bottles, chairs, etc.
In some cases the Dungeon Master may allow you to treat an improvised weapon like a similar weapon. You might treat a chair leg as a club, a cooking knife as a dagger, or a pitch fork as a spear. In this case, the DM may let you use the weapon’s statistics, and they may let you apply your Proficiency Bonus if you’re proficient, but both are up the Dungeon Master’s discretion.
If an improvised weapon doesn’t resemble a real weapon, it deals 1d4 damage of a type determined by the DM appropriate to how the weapon is being used. A thrown improvised weapon has a normal range of 20 feet and a long range of 60 feet.
If you perform a melee attack with a range weapon, it’s treated as an improvised weapon, and as normal it deals 1d4 damage and the attack is Strength-based. If you throw a melee weapon without the Thrown property, it is also treated as an improvised weapon, dealing 1d4 damage, and the attack is Dexterity-based like other ranged attacks.
Some monsters that have immunity or resistance to nonmagical weapons are susceptible to silver weapons, so cautious adventurers invest extra coin to plate their weapons with silver. You can silver a single weapon or ten 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.
Creatures whose resistances can be bypassed by silvered weapons include devils, lycanthropes, and some types of undead.
Lances and nets have special rules.
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.
Because lances work best while mounted, it’s generally a good idea to switch to a different weapon when you’re not mounted.
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 like gibbering mouthers, 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 atlack with a net, you can make only one attack regardless of the number of attacks you can normally make.
Choosing a Weapon
Choosing a weapon is an important part of building a character. Not all characters will use weapons (sorcerers and wizard rarely need them), but for everyone else your weapon is your defining tool in combat.
Which weapons are most effective will vary depending on whether you’re fighting in melee or at range, if you’re using Strength or Dexterity, if you’re using two weapons, one weapon in one hand (and possibly a shield), or a two-handed weapon. Your options may be limited by your proficiencies, too. I won’t go into some lengthy workflow on how to pick a weapon here (although I reserve the right to build a pointlessly detailed flowchart). Instead, once we’re ready to discuss building characters I’ll direct you to the Weapons sections of my class handbooks, which include detailed feedback tailored to individual classes.
I cannot over-emphasize how important it is to carry a dagger. While they’re only a go-to weapon for rogues, they’re a perfect backup weapon for anyone. Daggers have the Finesse, Light, and Thrown properties, making them effective for anyone who fights with weapons. In addition, they’re effective in a variety of problem situations like fighting underwater or being swallowed by a purple worm. They’re also relatively inexpensive, so if you throw one at something and never see the dagger again, you won’t be breaking the bank.
TL;DR: Get your primary weapon, but get a dagger too.
Don’t buy a trident. It’s a weird mistake in the way weapons are designed in 5e. It has identical stats to a spear, it costs 5 times as much, and it doesn’t work with the Polearm Master feat. Spears are better in every way.
For character optimization advice regarding weapons, see our Practical Guide to Weapons.