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On page 194 in the PHB for D&D 5e, it says:

The ability modifier used for melee weapon attack is Strength, and the ability modifier used for ranged weapon attack is Dexterity. Weapons that have the finesse or thrown property break this rule.

So, this means finesse and the thrown property break this rule, which means I can attack with my DEX modifier whenever I use a weapon that has the thrown property. However, it doesn't seem to be the general opinion. Am I missing something?

This would mean I can attack with a spear or a handaxe using my DEX.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ To provide a "TLDR" answer: "ranged weapon attack" means a weapon attack at range, even if made with a melee weapon. So throwing a handaxe is a ranged weapon attack and would use DEX by default, but the thrown property means STR is used instead. A thrown halberd would use DEX (although it would be considered an improvised weapon). \$\endgroup\$
    – pyrocrasty
    May 31, 2023 at 19:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ @pyrocrasty that is not actually true: "Thrown. If a weapon has the thrown property, you can throw the weapon to make a ranged attack". Therefore, you just can't make a ranged attack using a melee weapon without the Thrown property. Anyways, we shouldn't answer in comments, so even "TLDR" answer is better to post as a proper answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – enkryptor
    Nov 8, 2023 at 7:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ @enkryptor: you can still attack with a non-thrown melee weapon, but it's an improvised attack (see the last line of my comment). So taking the handaxe as an example, the thrown property has two consequences when you make a ranged attack with it: ① it lets you make a non-improvised attack (you can use your handaxe proficiency and use the listed damage and range for a handaxe); and ② it means you use STR rather than DEX for the ability modifier. \$\endgroup\$
    – pyrocrasty
    Nov 20, 2023 at 17:02

2 Answers 2

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Not quite

Weapons with the Thrown property can use their normal (i.e. melee) modifier when being thrown. Using a Finesse weapon allows using DEX, but melee weapons without the Finesse property would use STR:

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, you use your Strength, but if you throw a dagger, you can use either your Strength or your Dexterity, since the dagger has the finesse property.

D&D Basic Rules: Weapon Properties

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It means you must use Strength - unless it also has finesse

A "melee weapon attack" is an "attack" you make with in "melee" with a "weapon" irrespective if it a "melee weapon" or a "ranged weapon". This uses your Strength modifier (PHB p. 194).

Similarly, a "ranged weapon attack" is an "attack" you make with at "range" with a "weapon", again, irrespective if it a "melee weapon" or a "ranged weapon". This uses your Dexterity modifier (PHB p. 194).

You can throw any weapon to make a "ranged weapon attack" which uses your Dexterity modifier (PHB p. 194)1 , unless it is a weapon with the "thrown" property - this type of weapon uses your Strength, unless it also has the finesse property - then you choose to use either your strength or Dexterity (PHB p. 147).

1 Weapons effectively fall into these categories when making "ranged weapon attacks":

  1. Ranged weapons that have the thrown property only use Dexterity: Net
  2. Ranged weapons that have the thrown and finesse properties use either Strength or Dexterity: Dart
  3. Ranged weapons that have the ammunition property use Dexterity: Crossbows, Bows, Slings & Blowguns. This applies if you use them normally or if you throw the actual weapon as an improvised weapon (1d4 damage, Range 20/60) - note that a sling must be loaded to do any damage this way (one wonders why you would throw the sling instead of just using it normally but you can, so ...).
  4. Melee weapons that have the thrown property only use Strength: Handaxe, Javelin, Light hammer, Spear & Trident
  5. Melee weapons that have the thrown and finesse property use either Strength or Dexterity: Dagger
  6. Melee weapons without the thrown property use Dexterity if you throw them as an improvised weapon (1d4 damage, Range 20/60). This applies even to finesse weapons because when you throw say, a rapier, it is not being used as a rapier but rather as an improvised weapon and they don't have the finesse property.
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