There are a few playstyles in 5e that don’t really receive enough developer support, in my humble opinion. Strength-based unarmed builds, for one, as well as single-wielding one-handed weapons without a corresponding shield. But throwing builds are probably the most-maligned on the list. Unless you stretch all the way into archery, non-spellcasters unfortunately aren’t going to hold their own in ranged combat. In today’s article, I want to discuss a few of the reasons why, and what an enterprising player can do to mitigate the issues.
Problem #1: Action Economy
Martial characters (except rogues) gain more attacks as they level up. But D&D only allows you to draw a single weapon per turn. This means you can’t maintain multiple throwing-weapon attacks per round even if you have extra attacks to do. This problem can be solved with the Thrown Weapon fighting style from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything. Battlemasters also can learn the “Quick Toss” maneuver that lets them throw a weapon as a bonus action.
Problem #2: Low Damage
Thrown weapons are never going to deal as much damage as handheld weapons or ranged ammunition. The best Strength options deal d6 damage, the best Dexterity options only d4. The Archery Fighting Style can at least improve your chance of hitting, too bad it conflicts with the fighting style just mentioned in the last point. The “Sharpshooter” feat can add +10 damage if you take a -5 to accuracy.
Problem #3: Weight and Inventory Bulk
All those thrown weapons in your backpack can really make a dent in your carrying capacity. This isn’t a huge problem, but it is something that basically only you have to worry about. Some of the larger/longer weapons also come with logistical issues; are you just gonna walk through town with twenty javelins strapped to your back? The main way to mitigate this is through obtaining a single thrown weapon that magically returns to you, which we’ll cover later in the article.
As you can see, these problems are all solvable, but you have to spend a lot of valuable resources patching holes other builds don’t have. At the end of the day, you can do all these things and still probably lose to Johnny Bowman and Jenny Spellgirl in both damage and efficiency. But I still wanted to discuss a few things worth considering for your Thrown Weapons build:
Notable Weapon Options
Darts are the only ranged thrown weapon in the game. (Daggers can mechanically be thrown, but they’re under the ‘melee’ category.) This means they qualify for anything that says “a ranged weapon” (like Sharpshooter), or “a thrown weapon” (like the eponymous fighting style). Together these two buffs can edge you into the same damage bracket as bows. And finally they’re insanely light at only a quarter pound, carry as many as you like.
If your DM allows boomerangs, they’re basically darts but better. They fly further, deal the same d4 damage, cost and weigh nothing, and return to your hand on a miss. The problem is that they don’t have the ‘thrown’ property despite the blurb explicitly calling the user a “thrower.” (Beats me why not, it’s a fricking boomerang…) So you’ll need DM permission to use them with the Thrown Weapons fighting style.
3. Improvised Weapons
…you know what also deals d4 damage? Random crap you pick up off the ground. That’s right, you can technically be an improvised thrown weapon specialist, because the rules explicitly mention “improvised thrown weapons” when discussing range. Consider grabbing the Tavern Brawler feat and you can even do it with proficiency. If you’re gonna have low damage, you might as well be able to deal it with anything in your vicinity.
On the other side, this is for Strength builds that want Big Damage™. Javelins have the best range and punch of all thrown weapons, but are considered melee and therefore do not qualify for Sharpshooter or anything that requires a “ranged weapon.” This makes them mostly popular among melee builds that want to bring an emergency ranged attack. If you refuse to actually setup your build for throwing, these are probably your best bet right out the box. (Unless you’re Dex, then take throwing daggers.)
I was slightly lying when I said Darts are the only ranged thrown weapon. Technically, nets also qualify, though they deal no damage and don’t go very far. They also explicitly disallow any additional attacks in any way, no matter what you might otherwise qualify for. So I guess you might as well carry a few, but I wouldn’t consider them a real candidate for regular everyday combat.
Poisoned weapons are an under-utilized workaround for low-damage builds. Sure, they come with a whole host of complications like legality, poisoner’s kit proficiency, and potential self-injury. But if you’re ready to risk it, you can get an extra d4 damage every attack, which adds up. And rarer poisons are ready to deal loads of punishment in addition to debuffs, stuns, and AoE cloud effects. Most classes hit hard enough to not worry about poisons, but you need all the help you can get.
And before we wrap up this article, I also want to go over the ways you can carry a single respawning weapon and bypass any issues regarding action economy and inventory capacity. All of these require commitments into specific classes (except the last one), but no more than 3 levels. So, without further ado:
A. Eldritch Knight
This fighter subclass is the most obvious choice for thrown-weapon builds. It can take all the fighting styles we’ve discussed, and their Bonded Weapon can be resummoned into their hand as a bonus action the same turn they threw it. Great for better weapons than darts while still enjoying the various perks on this list.
This rogue subclass is your best bet if you don’t want to worry about committing to a thrown-weapons build. Their psionic knives pop into existence when it’s time to start flinging, and have all the right weapon properties baked into them. Just go do rogue things and don’t worry about it, these are ready to throw when you want ’em.
At second level, artificers can start infusing items with magical buffs. One of the options is “returning weapon”, which makes your thrown weapon magical, grants +1 to attack and damage rolls, and causes it to reappear in your hand immediately after an attack. You couldn’t ask for a better wishlist, and technically you don’t even have to be the artificer! Show your buddy some appreciation and they might just burn an infusion slot to solve all your thrown-weapon woes for you.
D. Pact of the Blade Warlock
This is far and away the worst option. Sure, bladelocks can summon any weapon into existence…but it always costs an action. This means you’d need an extra dip into Battlemaster to throw them as a bonus action, and you’ll never get more than one attack per round. Bladelocks are cool for different reasons, but thrown-weapon builds are not one of them.
E. Magic items
If your DM’s feeling generous, you might also find one of the magic weapons that can automatically reappear in your hands. (Pour one out for 4th edition, where every magical thrown weapon did that…) The Bracer of Flying Daggers is the most straightforward, letting you summon two ethereal throwing knives per round. Dwarves can also use the Dwarven Thrower, a warhammer that returns to your hand after chucking it. The Spear of Backbiting would be great if it didn’t curse you. And finally Sunforger is a warhammer that frickin’ explodes and has a range of 120 feet. Sure, it’ll cost another action to get it back, and only works once per long rest, but that single throw is pretty epic!
Sorry I couldn’t write a more optimistic article, or one that actually solved its problems. Unlike some of my other weird builds, like rifle monks or nudists or dex paladins, the rules just don’t have what you’d need to make a meta-relevant throwing specialist. Maybe 6e will be more generous towards non-magical niche playstyles, but personally I wouldn’t hold my breath.