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It is sometimes possible to treat an improvised weapon as a real weapon of a similar shape (the PHB giving the example of a table leg being used as a club). Now, let's say you take a real weapon, and want to use it in the fashion of another weapon (gaining the other weapon's traits).

Example 1: you have a whip and a bag of rocks, and you want to use them as an improvised sling.

Example 2 : you have a blowgun, and you want to smack people with it just like you would do with a quarterstaff.

My question is : Can you do that (use a weapon as an improvised version of another weapon, provided that it makes sense) ?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Now I'm imagining a barbarian holding the blade end of a sword, using the handle as a club. \$\endgroup\$ – Grant Davis Dec 14 '17 at 19:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GrantDavis Historically, knights did that as a finishing blow to downed enemy knights. Swords are ineffective against plate armour. Blunt weapons and daggers worked better. So if you fought another plate wearing knight with a sword you'd try to trip him and then finish him off with your sword handle. \$\endgroup\$ – Kapten-N Jan 17 '18 at 9:26
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The Player's Handbook says:

An improvised weapon includes any object you can wield in one or two hands...In many cases, an improvised weapon is similar to an actual weapon and can be treated as such.

It also goes on to say:

At the DM's option, a character proficient with a weapon can use a similar object as if it were that weapon and use his or her proficiency bonus.

These are both on page 147 of the PHB. I would say that it is possible to use a different weapon as if it were another weapon, since a weapon is an object you can wield in one or two hands. If a weapon were sufficiently similar to another weapon, I would allow a player to use it as such.

I would personally not allow your example of a blowgun being used as a staff, as a blowgun would likely not be sturdy enough to be used that way without breaking immediately unless otherwise reinforced.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'd allow it, provided the whip was long enough and flexible enough for it to be a practical sling. \$\endgroup\$ – Michael Dai Dec 13 '17 at 18:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think the whip and rocks would make a better flail than a sling, personally. \$\endgroup\$ – corsiKa Dec 13 '17 at 18:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MivaScott I was thinking held spear, not javelin \$\endgroup\$ – barbecue Dec 13 '17 at 22:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ A better example than blowgun might be Arrow -> improvised dagger, or shield -> improvised skateboard, as it has precedent in the fantasy genre \$\endgroup\$ – Scott Dec 14 '17 at 3:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ I believe it's GURPS which explicitly calls out using a bow as an improvised staff, along with the cautionary that doing this even once ruins it as a bow. So there is an RPG precedent for this. \$\endgroup\$ – Reinstate Monica Dec 14 '17 at 10:39
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The short answer is, yes. Nothing stops you from using a weapon improperly. You can hold a sword by the blade and hit people with the hilt as an impromptu bludgeoning weapon (just make sure you have good gloves).

However, realize that a whip makes a crappy sling, but if you modify it by adding a pouch to the end you might be able to get a few shots in. And blowguns are very light weight and would likely break/bend on the first blow making it useless as a blowgun afterwards.

But arrows can be used like daggers, bows can club someone, maces can be thrown, and a line of quarterstaves can be as dangerous to walk on as a handful of caltrops.

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In general, if you're using something as a weapon in a manner contrary to it's intended design then it's an improvised weapon. This is relevant for the purposes of determining proficiency more than anything. Your DM will determine the damage die, damage type, required proficiency, etc.

At my table, I would make a different ruling for your stated examples, but those are all examples of improvised weapons. It could be deemed an improvised weapon to strike someone with the hilt of a long sword to deal 1d4 bludgeoning (treat as a club) or to throw a great axe at someone to deal 1d8 slashing (custom die damage to treat it as a larger handaxe).

Bear in mind, often using a weapon in a manner imcompatible with it's intended use could break it. For your blowgun example, I would treat your attack as a club and probably state that there's some chance of breaking the blowgun each time you strike with it.

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Yes, alternate uses for existing equipment would be considered Improvised.

The PHB covers the usage of existing equipment in non-standard ways as Improvised Weapons (page 147). Any emphasis is mine.

If you use a weapon that has the ammunition property to make a melee attack, you treat the weapon as an improvised weapon.

and

An improvised weapon includes any object you can wield in one or two hands, such as broken glass, a table leg, a frying pan, a wagon wheel, or a dead goblin.

Whether or not you can use a whip and rock to make a sling is going to depend on your DM and would require houserules both for use and for any range requirements.

But something as simple as taking the length of a blowgun to use as a melee weapon would fall squarely under an object you can wield in one or two hands.

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