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I am trying to think of good ways to build an effective D&D 5e character whose strong point is with thrown weapons. The hangup seems to be drawing them fast enough. Thrown weapons seem to be less effective than either melee or ranged weapons, either of which you can work up to 3 or 4 attacks per Attack action if you do it right, and use the appropriate feats. Thrown weapons seem to max out at 2 attacks per Attack action, and even to get that you need the Dual Wielder feat.

Has anyone worked out a way, consistent with the rules, to make thrown weapons not be so hobbled by this, other than finding a Dwarven Thrower?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm assuming using some other magic item to fix the issue isn't a useful solution either? \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Nov 13 '17 at 0:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ Correct. The intent is to develop a character design that is balanced; that can keep up with other characters. \$\endgroup\$ – Phil Boncer Nov 13 '17 at 1:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm unsure of the design constraints. It sounds like you're willing to allow feats? What other variant/optional rules are or are not included? \$\endgroup\$ – doomtwig Nov 13 '17 at 1:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm willing to allow, or at least consider, any of the official optional rules in the PHB/DMG or other officially published materials. I'm disinclined to use Unearthed Arcana material. I'm looking for solutions within the 5e system. \$\endgroup\$ – Phil Boncer Nov 13 '17 at 1:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ I've reverted that edit, since it fundamentally altered the question (it was no longer asking for what's effective, and was now a very specific charop question) and made the existing answer obsolete. Just post the new charop question as a new question, linking to this question as background. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jan 19 '18 at 20:44
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Summary

As a sort of in-between weapon, a thrown weapon has several advantages and disadvantages, but among them are the unique constraint on the number of attacks one can make and the unique feature of leaving the implementing hand unburdened. There is one character class in particular whose damage throughput is balanced around making relatively few attacks, but still with weapons, and that is the Rogue with its Sneak Attack ability. Further, as thrown weapons can double as melee, require only a single hand, and leave that hand unburdened, thrown weapons give ranged Rogues several opportunities for a second delivery of Sneak Attack damage via an Opportunity Attack if they are built to allow for such complicated tactics.

To Start Off...

I'll begin by saying that I've always thought of a ranged attack with a thrown weapon (hereafter called a "thrown weapon attack" with no mechanical import) as a peripheral option for melee characters who find themselves without a target in melee range (like a monk who draws and throws a dagger to keep their attack count up) or for any character looking to add some "cool" and efficiency to a weapon swap (like a barbarian who throws his two hand axes before going in with his greataxe the next round) - not at all as something to center a build around. After all, why would someone looking to focus on ranged attacks not use a weapon designed specifically for that rather than adapt one made for melee?

Granted, all the same could be said of unarmed strikes, and yet there are still those one or two ways to make it your character's thing. So, let's see if there's something for throwing.

My Thoughts on Thrown Weapon Advantages

One advantage to melee thrown weapons is the ability to make a ranged attack with Strength rather than Dexterity. Dexterity is normally considered the more efficient stat, given its contribution to ubiquitous AC, but this is not necessarily the case for characters who have benefits to strength, who are built to emphasize strength-based tactics, or for whom the efficiency of dexterity is diminished (for instance, a barbarian, a grappler, or character wearing heavy armor). Any such character might prefer a thrown weapon to a ranged weapon for their ranged attacks, but of course we're left with the question of why they might be making ranged attacks instead of melee attacks in the first place.

Another advantage of melee thrown weapons is their attack flexibility. To flip the "peripheral" benefit mentioned earlier, if the bias moves from melee to ranged attacks as the norm of a build, a thrown weapon has some nice utility as a melee weapon in situations where it might be less advantageous to make a ranged attack. For instance, a normally ranged character might wish they had specialized in daggers rather than hand crossbows when getting mobbed by a hostile crowd and facing all their attacks having disadvantage. Of course, they could always drop-and-draw, but then again they might want that crossbow back next round... and after all that we might be left wondering how often these kind of situations actually come up.

I think you're right about the major limitation on thrown weapons being their need to be drawn. For ranged weapons, this is the hidden benefit of the ammunition rule: while you have to draw an arrow, you also get to draw one. That thrown weapons cannot live up to a possible attack count is why strength-based characters prefer to make melee attacks and why ranged characters stick with ranged weapons. However, even within this limitation, thrown weapons have their own hidden benefit: they can be drawn and thrown using a single hand, and they leave that hand unoccupied after the attack. Per this, a thrown weapon attack could be worked in while holding a two-handed weapon, before or after a grapple attempt, or as a way to leave a hand open for spellcasting. However, the caster would have to want to throw the weapon more than to cast a spell, and etc. While reasons could be thought of for each case, they would hardly make the character centered on throwing.

What I've Come Up With

To my mind, the best way to play to the advantages of thrown weapons is to also play into mechanics that maximize the damage done with few attacks. Of such "once per turn" -style buffs, the most obvious one is Sneak Attack. Playing a Rogue at range really gets the most out of their Uncanny Dodge and Evasion abilities (as well as getting more DM-approved Hide opportunities), and Sneak Attack is basically already designed to compensate for the Rogue's lack of Extra Attack, even exceeding it if not also balanced against Sneak Attack's weapon limitations and situational requirements.

To play into Sneak Attack with a thrown weapon requires that one use a ranged thrown weapon or a finesse melee thrown weapon, since making a ranged attack with a non-finesse melee thrown weapon is not sufficient to trigger Sneak Attack. There are two ranged thrown weapons, the dart and the net, and only the dart does damage (and here I'll ignore the issue of whether a net can benefit from Sneak Attack). There is also the trusty dagger for a melee finesse thrown weapon, and while it is the only one which could be used in a strength build, it makes more sense stick with a Rogue's traditional Dex here anyway.

What I envision is a rogue character that draws and throws a dagger or dart each round, likely trying for Sneak Attack -eligible targets (and likely an Assassin-archetype for its Sneak Attack -enabling abilities). While it could hold another light weapon and two-weapon fight, or even regularly draw and throw another dagger if it took the Dual Wielder feat, my character would instead seek to play once more into Sneak Attack by exploiting a character's ability to use Sneak Attack again in a round via their Opportunity Attack. Of course, a character cannot make an opportunity attack at range, so I'll need a melee weapon. Luckily, since drawing and throwing a thrown weapon requires only one hand, my character can be holding pretty much anything else in the other (even a two-handed weapon) for use during that round's reaction. I'll select from finesse weapons for Sneak Attack, and then I'll choose either a light weapon to keep open the possibility of Two-Weapon Fighting (if I don't take Dual Wielder), a Rapier for its damage profile, or a Whip (with a dip or a feat for proficiency) for its dynamic threat-range potential.

The idea of this character is that they desire to make ranged attacks while leaving themselves in the best "hand disposition" for opportunity attacks; their ranged nature gives them the flexibility to use their position to increase the likelihood of opportunity attacks, and thrown weapons free up their hands for melee weapons with which to make those opportunity attacks. They can threaten a hallway or other choke-point, or tie up an enemy that would prefer to move away, or maneuver behind a peripheral target that's about to charge in, all while continuing to make ranged attacks against their own preferred target. Should they become "tied up," they can seamlessly transition into melee combat. The major limitation to this build is the common 20 ft. normal range increment on available thrown weapons, which will have to be kept carefully in mind.

Personally, I prefer the thrown dagger/whip setup, since I prefer to save my bonus actions for Cunning Action (again, playing to the Rogue's flexibility), and I like to use the Whip's reach to both threaten and make ranged attacks without disadvantage. Sometimes, just holding a dagger gives me another threat-range trigger layer (still only one actual opportunity attack per round, of course).

Conclusion

After training your DM with a couple of examples of this build's combat potential, it may be that no other enemy ever leaves your reach again, so you'll just have to measure its benefit by estimating the unknown alternative actions enemies might have taken were you not so threatening. Sitting at the intersection of action efficiency, feature efficiency, tactical positioning, and situational target selection, this build rewards a Rogue player's cunning in combat, and it wouldn't be possible without the unique benefits of Thrown Weapons.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ have you made this build? If so, how high up in level did you play it? \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Nov 13 '17 at 13:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast I'm not doomtwig, but I've played this build (Dual Wielder feat rogue, switching between dagger/dagger and dagger/rapier) at levels 9-11. It was equally effective as others (builds or party members). If anything, it was more adaptable to changing conditions than others. \$\endgroup\$ – Derek Stucki Nov 13 '17 at 14:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DerekStucki Great to hear. I'd like to see the experiential basis for GS/BS added to this answer, which is pretty well thought out but also looks a bit like theory crafting. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Nov 13 '17 at 19:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ I have not played with it, so I tried to write my process (theorycraft, for sure) into the answer as an argument that clings closely to the way the OP is worded. But also, I think that having played only a single iteration, no matter how long the campaign, would be little more than weak, anecdotal evidence for its general potential. Better to imagine its mechanics, a wide array of scenarios, and a distribution of odds. \$\endgroup\$ – doomtwig Nov 13 '17 at 20:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ Another tool worth mentioning: the Magic Stones cantrip. It lets you throw with your spellcasting stat (Wisdom or Charisma are both doable), while still making a weapon attack. \$\endgroup\$ – Ethan Nov 14 '17 at 0:03
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Several choices in Xanathar's work well with thrown weapons

Scout Rogue

For a thrower, I'd really recommend the Scout Rogue.

This is because:

  • Additional movement will not cost you a Bonus Action (so you can throw additional daggers per turn)
  • Your Sneak Attack deals most of its damage from the first hit in a turn, so you're less reliant on spamming attacks or the Two Weapon Fighting Style.
  • The Scout's main feature requires you to be in close-medium range combat, perfect for a throwing specialist.

The idea is that you'd start combat with two daggers in your hands, and throw one per turn, drawing a replacement dagger for your main hand until you missed (then you'd throw your backup dagger). For a Rogue, this translates to:

Once per combat, if you miss an attack, you can attempt a second attack by spending your Bonus Action. - Which is quite similar to the Rogue's level 20 capstone ability.

Once you hit level 4, you can pickup Dual Wielder to grant you extra AC while also allowing you to throw 2 daggers every turn.

Any build using Dual Wielder can throw up to 2 weapons per turn, so builds with Extra Attack will not be able to effectively throw a weapon using a Bonus Action. Any other Rogue build will need to regularly use their Bonus Action to Disengage (except Swashbuckler), meaning they'd lose the ability to throw their second dagger.

The Ancestral Guardian Barbarian

Due to the fact that hand axes are both considered light and thrown weapons, and are only a single die smaller than the highest damage one-handed weapons, you can use these weapons to great effect.

As an Ancestral Guardian, your primary ability causes you to effectively "taunt" an enemy you strike while raging, causing them massive disadvantages to attack anyone but you. From the analysis provided in This Question regarding the defensive qualities of an Ancestral Guardian, a raging Ancestral Guardian's 3rd level effect makes him the easiest target of a team, more vulnerable than the team's wizard who's being protected. Because of this, the most effect solution for the Ancestral Guardian Barbarian is to "Hit-and-Run". Due to the additional range provided by the throwing weapons, you can hit an enemy and easily move out of its effective range without risking an Opportunity Attack.

Dual Wielder is recommended, due to the requirement of "reloading" your hand axes. At level 4/5, a Whip can be a good recommended item to improve the playstyle, allowing you to use your hand axes for when you miss on the whip. Alternatively, a slower playstyle can be used, utilizing singular javelins after the initial burst of throwing hand axes, which will still keep you and your team protected while saving you a feat, but your damage will decrease by 1d6.

The Horizon Walker Ranger

Notably, the Horizon Walker Ranger serves well as a mobile Ranger, and has slightly more defensive abilities than other rangers. Because of this, it does quite well as a melee combatant. Additionally, with the bonus action increase on their damage at level 3, they are not required to use a high damage weapon, or required to use Two Weapon Fighting to keep up with high damage, meaning that they will not fall prey to the issue of drawing multiple throwing weapons in a turn.

This means that they are actually quite effective with a Whip, or a Dagger. Because of the fact that they only need access to a single hand, they can use their off-hand to hold a shield, providing a +2 to their AC. Additionally, the Dueling fighting style will work well with both the Whip and the Dagger.

In this method, a level 3 Horizon Walker Ranger, with a Dagger/Whip, can deal 1d4 + 1d8 + 2 + Modifier (9+Mod) in damage every turn, getting +2 to their AC while doing so.

When they hit level 11, they gain the Distant Strike feature, which allows them to teleport to attack several different creatures. With this feature, they can throw a single dagger at the start or the end of their combo to increase the effective range and their ability to maneuver around the battlefield.

This build has the unique benefit of dealing high damage, at range, without the need of a feat, and having the defensive capabilities of a melee combatant.

The Kensei Monk

The Kensei Monk has the similar benefit of the Horizon Walker by working around the Dual Wielder limitation due to being able to enhance your damage using a bonus action. Darts are unique, in that they are both a Thrown weapon, and a Ranged Weapon, so they can be selected for Monks as an option for their Ranged Weapon choice at level 3. Daggers can also be chosen for the Melee Weapon requirement at the same level, for a similar effect.

This ends up utilizing more melee than the other recommended builds, utilizing your throwing weapons to supplement, but it will be very versatile in close-medium ranged combat. For an approach more oriented towards long range, grabbing a single level into Fighter will provide you with the Archery Fighting Style, which benefits your darts and any other ranged weapons you may decide to use (such as a Longbow).

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Dex is your main goal and Rogue makes a very good thrower.

Ranger however makes it even better. With a magical throwing weapon it's awesome on returning to your hand.

So my way to make this happen is Human Variant with the sharpshooter feat.

Level 2 +2 archery fighting style.

Take Hunter as your level 3 choice with doing a d6 to wounded targets.

At level 4 take +2 Dex.

Level 5 you get two attacks.

You can throw your magic weapon twice then throw a non magical weapon in your off hand.

You will be casting hunters mark. So on one of your hits you will be doing your 1d8 Hunters Mark and 1d6 Hunter damage. So a potential 3d4 or 3d6 (weapon damage)+ Dex stat twice and then 1d8 and a 1d6.

So magical hand axe and a dagger hit. 2d6 + 1d4 +10 + 1d8 + 1d6. Max Damage of 40 and average 26.

You will lose a thrown weapon every turn unless both weapons are magical.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I kind of think I know what you're getting at, but I'm not sure you've got all the pieces lined up clearly. What magic weapon? How do you throw it twice? Why does it matter if the off-hand is non-magical? \$\endgroup\$ – T.J.L. Sep 21 '18 at 18:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! You should take the tour if you haven't already. The changing rankings of answers and the possibility of others responding with new answers makes it unclear what "the above statement" refers to. In addition, your answer should generally stand on its own, if you don't want to simply comment on another answer. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Sep 21 '18 at 20:37
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I have worked out a design that can sustain 3 thrown weapons per round: 11th+ level fighter, with the Eldritch Knight archetype, and Dual Wielder feat. He can draw 2 weapons at no cost, and summon a third with his bonus action, and attack with all three.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This answer has a question in it asking for feedback, and isn't just an answer to the question. \$\endgroup\$ – Nyoze Nov 26 '17 at 6:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, but since I am the author of the original question, I added this to further the discussion with my own development, and see if anyone had any more input. \$\endgroup\$ – Phil Boncer Nov 26 '17 at 6:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ Maybe it should have been added to the question instead? It's not uncommon for people to update their questions when they have new information or ideas. Actually, I think it is encouraged. \$\endgroup\$ – Kapten-N Jan 19 '18 at 15:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ Phil, can you toss in a DPR line with a couple of different kinds of weapons? \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Nov 7 '18 at 1:03

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