D&D 5th Edition simplified the weapon tables to an extreme degree compared to its predecessors. Gone are Exotic Weapon Proficiencies, or most subqualities like “keen” or “masterwork”, and most of the surviving options differ only in damage type or dice. And for the most part, martial NPCs/monsters honor these categories and follow the same rules for their own loadouts.
But sometimes they don’t. Occasionally, a certain official monster or villain carries some seriously cool racial weapon with unique stats, and every GM just knows the party’s gonna ask if they can loot it from the corpse and use it themselves. There are arguments for either stance, but for the most part the answer is “no” for a couple reasons: firstly, these weapons aren’t ‘simple or martial’ as they aren’t on the aforelinked table, so PCs wouldn’t have proficiency. And since monster statblocks are somewhat shorthanded on details, nothing indicates the exotic attacks aren’t just creature abilities and not implicit powers of the weapon itself.
But none of that means we can’t observe these zany sidearms from afar and imagine what they could do with the right build. So, in no particular order:
1. Oversized Longbow
This one’s hilarious. In Waterdeep: Dragon Heist, there’s a dude named Ziraj walking around with a giant bow that requires 18 Strength to even use. In exchange the user deals 2d6+Str damage per shot! This makes it the only ranged weapon whose damage doesn’t scale off Dex, amazing for paladins or barbarians who want to pack a bigger punch than javelins. Considering how difficult it would be to use (they’d still need good Dex for the attack roll), I would probably just let someone wield it if they could actually pull it off.
2. Light Repeating Crossbow
Here’s the ranged weapon for everyone else! Derro (from Out of the Abyss) are subterranean dwarflike creatures who have two unique weapons in their arsenal. Their hooked shortspears can knock their victims prone, but are too low-damage to be worth using. The real winner is their light repeating crossbow, which holds 6 bolts and auto-reloads after every shot. This means characters with multiattack can make the most of those attacks to fire multiple times (and even dual-wield!), so long as they’re small-sized like the Derro to wield it. Absolutely incredible weapon, the one I’d pick if I could have a single thing off this list.
3. Pincer Staff
The pincer staff unlocks the niche playstyle of ranged grappling! Wielded by the froglike kuo-toa whips from the Monster Manual, it has a reach of 10 feet and grapples medium or small victims on hit. The save DC (14) also seems to be inherent to the weapon, since the base monster’s Athletics doesn’t add up to that, meaning its just as useful for non-grappling specialists. Imagine pinning some foo and letting your party just wail on them while they can’t even hit you back, incredible.
4. Spiked Chain
The spiked chain wielded by shadar-kai shadow dancers (from Monsters of the Multiverse) is a real bag of tricks. At 2d6+Dex damage, it’s essentially a finesse greatsword with 10-foot reach that also can grapple or knock enemies prone. Phew! Not much more to say, that’s basically the ultimate all-rounder, we could throw out the entire weapons table if this thing became eligible for players. (If you want an alternate weapon that’s not hideously broken, the spiked chain wielded by Rakdos Fire Eater Performers from Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica is a mere 1d6+Dex. That’s a lot closer to balanced since the rapier outdamages but lacks 10-foot reach.)
5. Spiked Shield
But what if you wanted your weapon to attac and also protec? Lizardfolk (hey look, something I can link!) carry the greatest shield in the game, since it deals 1d6+Str damage. That may not sound like much, but it’s better than the 0d6+0 you’re dealing with any other shield. I’d probably use this most often on spellcasters, freeing up their other hand for somatic components while ensuring you can still take opportunity attacks or defend yourself in melee range.
The daggersword is the only magic weapon on this list. It can convert between two forms: ordinary longsword, and a shortsword/dagger combo for dual-wielding. Not only does its user get to swap between two different combat types for different situations, they also unlock different flourishes in each mode (the longsword can throw its blade at enemies, the shortsword/dagger can grant nearby enemies disadvantage.) Sounds pretty great, right? Unfortunately, it’s wielded by Xenk Yendar from the new Dungeon & Dragons movie, and the official 5e statblocks come with a universal caveat that any weapon stats function only for the characters themselves; their weapons would behave as mundane counterparts in anyone else’s hands. So even though he’s a bogstandard human paladin, he gets the cool transforming sword and you don’t.
Luckily, if you really want a weird sword…
7. Sharktoothed Longsword
I said this list wasn’t in any order, but I lied, because the sharktoothed longsword has one major advantage over the others; a dev has said they consider it lootable! Looking more like a macahuitl than a sword, this baby deals an extra damage die against unarmored targets for free, so I know I’d certainly hold onto one if I killed a Crushing Wave Reaver from Princes of the Apocalypse.
So, just to continue my streak of dishonesty in this article, I want to end this by discussing several ways you actually could wield one of these. All of them except the last one are shaky, requiring GM fiat at best.
Method #1: Play as the monster race in question
If your PC is a lizardfolk fighter who was raised by lizardfolk, it would be kinda weird if you didn’t know how to use the lizardfolk’s spiked shield. This is the one I think most GMs would likely acquiesce to, if they’re gonna accept any of these.
Method #2: Weapon Master feat
The Weapon Master feat gives you four free weapon proficiencies. Strictly speaking you can only choose from simple or martial weapons, meaning you’re not playing RAW if you pick exotic NPC weapons. But a feat is such a hefty cost of doing business that I think many GMs would allow it as an acceptable tradeoff. Kensei monks are another option with all the same caveats for success despite a more limited pool of qualifying choices.
Method #3: Wield it without proficiency
Using a weapon without proficiency simply means you don’t get your proficiency bonus on attack rolls. And that’s certainly a bummer, but these are pretty nutty weapons, might be worth biting that bullet to use ’em anyway. Consider taking something that improves your accuracy, like hobgoblin’s “Saving Face/Fortune from the Many” racial feature. If it’s a ranged weapon, taking the Fighting Initiate (Archery) feat will give you +2 to hit and largely bring you back to par.
Method #4: Play a sidekick
This is IMO the best way as its completely legal, albeit at an extreme cost of pretty much everything else. Dragon of Icespire Peak (and add-on rules from Tasha’s) introduced a whole ‘sidekick’ ruleset for converting NPC monsters into playable characters, with their own class levels and extra scaling abilities. Any monster of CR½ or lower is eligible, which includes the Lizardfolk, Gerro, and Crushing Wave Reaver from this list. And the NPC classes (Warrior, Expert, or Spellcaster) have some alluring upsides in them that really would help you keep up with the normal PCs. Honestly the sidekick rules are pretty incredible, I’m also working on a complete guide to this niche ruleset, so expect more advice on this category soon.
Honestly, the current state of weapons in 5e kinda baffles me. Most of these were player options in older editions, and their absence is more a symptom of 5e’s dumbed-down weapons table than anything else. I personally think the devs could afford to add more weapon options over time, medieval history is littered with fantastic and exotic instruments of war. Especially since new splatbooks keep adding more spells, despite those already being more flexible and versatile than weapons, and in contrast we’ve received exactly three new base weapons in 9 years (yklwa, double-bladed scimitar, and hoopak). It’s definitely not helping the martial/caster discrepancy, all I’m saying.
But for now, I’m gonna sign off on this silly side jaunt. Hope you enjoyed viewing the forbidden fruits of 5e, time to return to your boring ole swords. Until next time!