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D&D: Getting the Most Out of Your Ranged Weapons

4 Minute Read
Jul 28 2022

Using ranged weapons in D&D can be trickier than you think, if you don’t normally use them. We’re here to help.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. Ranged weapons in D&D? That’s easy, right? Just roll and add dexterity mod like a normal person would.

And you’d mostly be right, but do you know how ranged weapons fit in to your action economy? If you’re using thrown weapons, how many can you use? And why does nobody seem to get it right?

Bows Make Sense

A big part of what makes ranged weapons deceptively simple is the parts that are actually just simple. The best examples of ranged weapons are bows.

They just work. When attacking with them, you use your Dexterity modifier plus your proficiency bonus. They take both of your hands to use, and they have two range increments listed.

And for the most part you only really need to worry about the first number. Since most fights happen in spaces too small for long range to even be on your battlemap. Shortbows are range 80/320, meaning out to 80 feet (or 16 squares) you roll attacks as normal. And past that, up to 320 feet (64 squares), you attack with disadvantage.

All pretty simple. They also have the Ammunition tag, meaning you’ll have to keep track of how many arrows you have.

But as soon as you move beyond that, it gets a little more complicated. Let’s look at Crossbows.


Crossbows & You: A Primer

Crossbows are at the heart of many of the most damaging builds in 5E. They generally deal slightly better damage. But they also add a little complexity in terms of action. This is because they have the Loading tag, which reads as follows:

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.

This means essentially you get one shot per Attack action. Even if you can make two attacks.

There are two typical ways around this. But they’re counterintuitive. The first is just using two crossbows. This only works with hand crossbows, since they’re the only one-handed, light crossbow out there.

Where it gets interesting is with the Crossbow Expert feat. This feat allows you to ignore the loading quality of any crossbow you’re proficient with. That’s the big one. But on top of that, you can make ranged attacks while within 5 feet of an enemy and not have disadvantage — you knew about that one, right?

If you make ranged attacks and an enemy is close enough to hit you, you take disadvantage. Unless you’re a crossbow expert. The last piece of that puzzle is that Crossbow Experts can if they take an Attack action and attack with a one-handed weapon, make a bonus action attack with a hand crossbow they’re holding.



Essentially a crossbow expert can get off two or more shots with a single-hand crossbow if they have enough ammunition. For characters like Fighters who get multiple attacks, this becomes an attractive way to deal even more damage.

For characters like Rogues, this is another opportunity to deal Sneak Attack damage, since they’re so reliant on an attack hitting to get their massive damaging hits off.

And what really ices this cake is the Sharpshooter feat. It lets you take a -5 penalty on your attack roll in exchange for dealing +10 damage. But it also lets you ignore the penalty for attacking at long range and the penalties for cover.

You don’t have to worry about cover since most tables never use it. If you’re playing at a table that does, good for you. Let me know if you’re taking players on. Because cover is a great mechanic, but it’s often tossed out because it only ever comes up if you’re fighting with a place that deliberately has it. In a nutshell, you can get a +2 or +5 bonus to your AC and dex saves with the right cover. But Sharpshooter lets you ignore that.

And Sharpshooter/Crossbow Expert lets you ignore most of the complicated parts of ranged attacks anyway. And with the right kind of build, you’re doing an extra +10 damage per attack. With three attacks that’s 30 damage on top of your dice, which are typically 3d6 + three times your strength mod. And whatever else you can stack on.

How do you do ranged attacks?

Author: J.R. Zambrano
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