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The Returning weapon enhancement specifies:

This special ability can only be placed on a weapon that can be thrown. A returning weapon flies through the air back to the creature that threw it. It returns to the thrower just before the creature’s next turn (and is therefore ready to use again in that turn).

Catching a returning weapon when it comes back is a free action. If the character can’t catch it, or if the character has moved since throwing it, the weapon drops to the ground in the square from which it was thrown.

The typical example would be throwing a Javelin, and having the Javelin back on the next turn for throwing again. Sweet.

Using the Quick Draw feat, however:

A character who has selected this feat may throw weapons at his full normal rate of attacks (much like a character with a bow).

One can throw many weapons in a single turn.

Is the character then able to catch them all when they return? Or, after catching the first two, is a character unable to catch the remaining ones?

And, if normally a character cannot catch them all, are there alternatives beyond Lightning Ricochet (Bloodstorm Blade 4th)?


Note: There is a Quick Sheathe feat in Pathfinder to Sheathe a weapon as a Free Action; however such a feat allows Iaijutsu Focus shenanigans...

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A really strict DM could rule that a creature can only catch one magic weapon that possesses the magic weapon special ability returning (Dungeon Master's Guide 225) (+1 bonus; 0 lbs.). That is, because the second returning weapon wasn't caught as soon as the creature could've caught it (like the first returning weapon was), the second (and third and so on) returning weapon falls at the creature's feet. (This player would find such a ruling needlessly harsh.)

However, I think that many DMs would rule that a typical creature that possesses only two hands must—as its first actions on its turn—take two free actions to catch two magic weapons that possess the magic weapon special ability returning and that any uncaught returning weapons afterward fall to the ground. Further, I suspect that many DMs will rule that catching more than two returning weapons is impossible for the typical creature with—sadly—only two hands.

(Getting more hands, by the way, is far from impossible. At its most basic a creature can buy a spare hand (Magic Item Compendium 137) (12,000 gp; 5 lbs.). Even in the core rules, a creature can be the subject of the 4th-level Sor/Wiz spell polymorph [trans] (Player's Handbook 263) so as to become a giant octopus (Monster Manual 281)—although not amphibious (306), it still has a 20 ft. land speed!)

A player can make a case for the magic weapon special ability returning having greater functionality than a cursory reading may indicate or make a case for catching multiple objects in one hand—and I'll discuss those below—, but, really, I'd expect a DM to tell a player that if he wants his PC to make iterative attacks with what is, essentially, the same thrown weapon, then the player should look into his PC taking the prestige class bloodstorm blade (Tome of Battle 100–5), buying the magic item gloves of endless javelins (Magic Item Compendium 194) (7,000 gp; 0 lbs.), or using the 1st-level Sor/Wiz spell blood wind [evoc] (Spell Compendium 33–4) or the 3rd-level kineticist power telekinetic boomerang [psychokinesis] (Races of the Wild 176), or some further method that straight-up just isn't the apparently lackluster magic weapon special ability returning.

That said, the adventurer who's a thrown weapon specialist treads a particularly frustrating path: the fighting style is all three of ability score-, feat-, and cost-intensive. Instead of strictly adhering to the rules, a DM that makes a house rule like this one so as to just make the magic weapon special ability returning better solves a problem the game doesn't really have an answer for.

Closeup: The magic weapon special ability returning

It's possible to lawyer the magic weapon special ability returning. This reader suggests this only if at wit's end trying to make returning work. Keep in mind that the potential for friction is present if making this argument. However, also keep in mind that there should be some reason to get the magic weapon special ability returning instead of teleporting (XPH 167) (+1 bonus; 0 lbs.).

Anyway, the magic weapon special ability returning says

This special ability can only be placed on a weapon that can be thrown. A returning weapon flies through the air back to the creature that threw it. It returns to the thrower just before the creature’s next turn (and is therefore ready to use again in that turn).

Catching a returning weapon when it comes back is a free action. If the character can’t catch it, or if the character has moved since throwing it, the weapon drops to the ground in the square from which it was thrown.

First, this reader imagines the weapon special ability's author envisioned returning would be placed on spears and throwing axes, but, in fact, any melee weapon can be thrown, making, for example, sword-chucking (not that kind) a viable lifestyle choice.

Second—and more importantly for the question's purposes—, the returning description doesn't detail what circumstances forbid a creature from catching a returning weapon (except for the creature having moved, obviously). So while one reader may finish If the character can’t catch it with because the character's hands are full, another reader may finish it with because the character's dead, paralyzed, or now missing its arms. Using this latter, broader reading, the magic weapon special ability returning gains some much-needed oomph: instead of clattering noisily and uselessly to the ground if the returning weapon wasn't caught at the earliest opportunity, now the returning weapon essentially waits for the creature that threw it—that's not dead, paralyzed, or missing its arms, by the way—to catch it.

If the DM buys that second reading (not a sure thing by any means—beer may help), then it's matter of negotiating how patient a returning weapon is. This player would initially propose that the weapon waits forevermore to be caught by the conscious and mobile warrior who threw it: Seriously, the magic weapon special ability mentions no time limit, it's a pretty silly magic weapon special ability anyway, and even warriors who throw stuff should occasionally be allowed to have nice things, right? This DM, though, would counter by saying that 1 round is sufficient and that the player should be grateful that the DM's this liberal (and then he'd thank you for the beer).

(I should note that creatures in campaigns that I DM that throw weapons tend to rely on the aforementioned glove of endless javelins. That magic item is simply easier to manage than the headache-inducing magic weapon special ability returning.)

Sage Advice: Holding multiple objects in one hand

The Dragon #308 Wizards Workshop column "Sage Advice: Weapons, Feats, Items, and Spells: Official Answers" includes on page 108 this exchange:

Can you hold throwing weapons in your off hand so that you don’t have to use an action to draw them? If so, how many skiprocks (or daggers, shurikens, darts, bullets, and so on) can be held “drawn” in an off-hand by a Small or Medium size character?

Sure, you can hold a few throwing weapons in one hand so they’re ready to throw without a separate action to draw them. When holding multiple weapons in your hand (or a single weapon too large for you to wield in one hand) you can’t use the weapon to attack, nor can you do anything else with that hand.

Bullets are ammunition and don’t have to be drawn. The other weapons on your list are thrown weapons and have to be drawn (except that skiprocks can be used with a sling as ammunition). Refer to the table below.

\begin{array}{lcc|l} \text{} & \text{Number} & \text{Extra Shafted} & \text{} \\ \text{Weapon Size}^1 & \text{Held} & \text{Weapons}^2 & \text{3.5 Equivalent}^3 \\ \hline \text{one size larger} & 1 & — & \text{2-handed or bigger weapon} \\ \text{your size} & 1 & +2 & \text{1-handed or bigger weapon} \\ \text{one size smaller} & 2 & +2 & \text{light weapon} \\ \text{two or more sizes smaller} & 3 & +2 & \text{inappropriately little light weapon} \\ \hline \end{array}

1 In relation to your size.
2 Spears, javelins, darts, and other weapons with fairly skinny shafts, but not weapons with fairly thick hafts such as axes.
3 This RPG.SE user added this column based on the 3.5 revision.

To my knowledge this exchange was never revisited in another product. It also predates the 3.5 revision, making it subject to minor adjustments by the DM (see Why a Revision on DMG 4). However, extrapolating from this ruling may allow a creature to catch multiple returning weapons in one hand (as per the table), though those weapons couldn't subsequently be used with that hand. That is, a creature would have to switch a weapon caught from an overfull hand to an empty hand to use that weapon. And, much like it's a free action to switch between wielding a 1-handed weapon in one hand to wielding it in two hands, I think that a DM that allows this advice into his campaign at all would allow a creature to take a free action to transfer a weapon from an overfull hand to an empty one so that it could be thrown normally.


Note: Sheathing a weapon as a free action is the subject of this question.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Sigh. Thanks for the link. It makes the Master Thrower class kinda lackluster when it can throw many magic weapons but cannot get a hold of them back :/ \$\endgroup\$ – Matthieu M. Apr 8 '18 at 18:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MatthieuM. I really am a fan of the gloves of endless javelins. Customizing that magic item might be a thing. Otherwise, pick instead of returning the special ability teleporting (same cost only cooler). \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Apr 8 '18 at 18:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ I asked How to cheaply apply enhancements to thrown weapons to see if there is a way to treat thrown weapons as ammunition enhancement-wise; as it would allow using cheap ammunition and just not worry about getting them back until the end of the battle. Or have some bandolier of infinite daggers; much as the Quiver of Ehlonna. \$\endgroup\$ – Matthieu M. Apr 8 '18 at 18:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ “Further, I suspect most DMs will rule that catching more than two returning weapons is impossible for the typical creature with—sadly—only two hands.” This does not match my experience, and I deeply hope it is incorrect. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Apr 8 '18 at 20:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan I was initially daunted by the LaTeX process, but it turned out to be—for my purposes, anyway—shockingly painless, although I panicked (dropping any held objects and fleeing at top speed) when the initial post didn't seem to WYSIWYG and, instead, displayed everything, like, way bigger than it should've, it was cool and fixed itself. Your delay added another very small tool to my toolbox, so, um, thanks? ;-) \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Apr 13 '18 at 19:20
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While HeyICanChan’s answer is exceptionally thorough about going through the official rules and other statements made by Wizards of the Coast, it does not match my experience at all.

In my experience, DM’s don’t pay nearly this much attention to the details of returning. In my experience, DM’s are far more likely to allow a returning weapon to return instantly—allowing multiple throws with the same weapon in one turn—than they are to enforce the rules saying that not only do you have to have a separate returning weapon for every attack your want to make, but also that you cannot catch all of them.

And this is because returning is phenomenally expensive, on a combat style that already struggles to keep up. Ranged attacks are immensely feat intensive, and thrown weapons add several feat taxes on top of regular ranged attacks. And their primary advantage—the possibility that you could maybe dual-throw—is also incredibly feat intensive as well as rather expensive in gold as well.

So in my experience, most DMs I have played with have allowed a returning weapon to be thrown repeatedly, even within a single full-attack. This is completely in contradiction with the official rules. This is not any kind of claim that this is the way the rules work. Just a (very common, in my experience) houserule that I am recommending. With this houserule, a thrown-weapon build can spend a whole lot extra—a feat and a +1-equivalent—just to be able to attack the same as most every other build could out of the box. Under the official rules, spending the feat and the +1-equivalent still leaves the throwing weapons far, far inferior to just... not. That does not, to me, seem good for the game.

I will say that most DMs who use this houserule, in my experience, don’t allow returning to return so quickly that a single returning weapon can be used for both attacks when two-weapon fighting. For that you do need two returning weapons.

Finally, on the related subject of homebrew, we have Pathfinder’s blinkback belt, which officially returns instantly (and does not require returning on each and every weapon thrown, so that’s a big deal).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ RE: "With this houserule, a thrown-weapon build can spend a whole lot extra—a feat and a +1-equivalent—just to be able to attack the same as most every other build could out of the box." First, what's the feat that's necessary? Second, having to put a high score in Dexterity just doesn't seem like a sacrifice for a javelin-thrower. That is, I'm concerned that returning allowing iterative attacks by default pretty much obsoletes melee for too low a cost. Is that a misconception? (Note that I admit that—having always played throwing on, I guess, hard mode—my concern is entirely abstract.) \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Apr 10 '18 at 17:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan Melee has access to far superior damage boosts than range does, and melee has no feat taxes while ranged has many (it isn’t until your third ranged-attack feat that you actually get a meaningful bonus). Between pounce and Travel Devotion, the need to close to melee is often not particularly onerous. The range on throwing weapons is, by and large, rather short. I have never found that throwers substantially outstripped melee characters—I usually find them still struggling. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Apr 10 '18 at 18:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan Now, bows and crossbows, those have some concerns, but primarily due to some excellent throwing PrCs (master thrower, bloodstorm blade), and zero decent archery PrCs (seriously). But I would rather fix archery than nerf throwing. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Apr 10 '18 at 18:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ O, certainly—melee is the default combat strategy because hitting someone with a stick takes only Str. Yet folks who plan to do that usually put their 2nd or 3rd highest score in Dex anyway, losing only a few points of attack bonus when they (ahem) hurl… until they suffer when they can't make iterative attacks. Allowing those iterative attacks to be taken at range for a +1 bonus on a lone weapon just seems—like I said, in the abstract—an overreaction. (I've also found range dominant during the late game due to spells, but that's another issue entirely.) \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Apr 10 '18 at 18:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan In my experience, merely switching to a back-up weapon that benefits from few of your feats is, itself, near-crippling at mid-to-high levels. And putting both throwing and returning on your main weapon can only be an acceptable cost if you’re going to be using it all the time (and that means, in part, that you haven’t chosen feats that will fail if you throw the thing). \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Apr 10 '18 at 18:50

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