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This question has 2 parts, but any information that provides context to help me understand how these weapons compare is appreciated.

Primary Question: Would it be considered "balanced" to award a player with a +2 Longbow, instead of a +2 Greataxe?

Secondary: How does the possibility of magical ammunition play in to this decision?

Context

I am running a published campaign and the final encounter of this "chapter" provides a +2 Greataxe. All the characters are finesse-based (or a Moon Druid) and thus I was hoping to change this out for a Longbow for our ranger.

All the other characters have received magic items by this point except the ranger. The ranger does, however, have three +1 arrows. I am concerned that the +2 Longbow might be stronger than intended for the character level (5), and the magical ammunition compounds that, even though it would only provide a temporary boon. Campaign wise he will not receive any additional magic ammunition until level 13 or so, and it too will be of limited quantity.

Does the range bonus, and ability to shoot magic ammunition, make this longbow considerably more powerful than the Greataxe it replaces? If so, should this be mitigated by allowing a +1 Longbow instead, or requiring a gold component for "trading" in the Greataxe for a Longbow?

Lore-wise for this chapter of the campaign there is a reason (although its not really story progression relevant) for the actual treasure to be an axe. The character would trade this axe into a collector (it contains a specific master craftsmen's insignia) and would receive a +2 Longbow as a reward. This would be a minor role-play element in-between adventures.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I wouldn't bother using gold to makeup the difference; that gold amount is basically trivial outside of level 1. And he will have the ammunition either way. So really, this is just an axe vs bow question. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael W.
    Commented Nov 2, 2017 at 17:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ I know your question is about balance, but also consider the axe's purpose in the adventure you're in. If it's the adventure I suspect, then there's a very good in-universe reason that it's an axe and not a bow. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 2, 2017 at 17:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ @THiebert, I suspect your correct, the in-universe "upgrade" would conceivably occur between adventures, and would essentially be turning in the axe to a collector, and receiving the bow as payment. \$\endgroup\$
    – Baergren
    Commented Nov 2, 2017 at 17:50

2 Answers 2

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I don't see any issue with it.

The range situation doesn't change anything as far as swapping weapons out. A +2 attack and damage bonus is just that, regardless of how the weapon is used. Rarity is based on the bonus, not on the weapon type.

Stacking magical ammo isn't a big concern since it's effectively one shot only. Three times, the player can hit very slightly harder and very slightly more accurately. It's not a big deal. I've always considered that the point of magical ammo is primarily to give an archer with a mundane bow a way to punch through "non-magic weapon" resistance. Since arrows fired from a magic bow can do that automatically, the impact of hitting slightly better three times is minimal.

As to level, I don't think that's a real concern. A +2 weapon is definitely strong for a level 5 group, but it's not unbalancing. There's no need in 5e to keep up with the magical joneses, so your ranger may well use that single bow for the rest of his entire career. (Because of this, you might want to put in some extra effort to make the bow really neat -- give it a special name and design, or something, don't just say 'And you find a magic +2 bow!')

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks, I came to this conclusion myself, however I had a nagging feeling about it. A later adventure had a +1 Longbow thats not available until lv 13-15, which made me concerned that there was something more to consider balance-wise. \$\endgroup\$
    – Baergren
    Commented Nov 2, 2017 at 18:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ The Weapon +2 is listed as "rare" rarity. According to the chart on DMG p135, "rare" items are "level 5 or higher". Similiarly, if you look at the random magic item tables in the DMG, the +2 weapon appears on chart G. It requires a 95-98 percentile roll, but rolls on chart G are one of the possibilities for the CR 5-10 hoard. It's a low chance, but a CR 5 hoard can absolutely contain a +2 weapon, by the DMG. But since you don't have to keep item bonuses matched to levels the way you did in 3e and especially 4e, a +1 weapon at level 15 is still a pretty decent thing to find. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 2, 2017 at 18:24
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Another option would be to award a +1 bow and another handful of magical arrows. Then gauge how balanced that seems to be, and if you still think the Ranger is getting the short end of the stick, you can increase the frequency that they're finding magic arrows, with the added bonus that you can then theme any new arrows to each encounter.

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