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The stat block for the orc (MM, 246) includes two weapon attacks; Greataxe and Javelin.

For the greataxe, it makes sense that they'd be able to use it repeatedly, and if they were to use their javelin to make melee attacks, then again, it would make sense that they'd be able to use it repeatedly. However, they can also make a ranged attack with the javelin using its Thrown property.

If the orc throws a javelin, the orc no longer has that javelin on their person. Their stat block lists Javelin as an option, so clearly they have at least one (usually, unless the DM decides this orc doesn't, such as if it's a slave or prisoner or something), but how many javelins do they have in total?

Going by the starting equipment of, say, the Paladin (PHB, p. 84) or the Barbarian (PHB, p. 48), it seems reasonable that they'd have a few, but it isn't explicitly stated in the orc's statblock how many javelins they have.

So how many do they have? Are there some general rules about monsters and ammunition that I'm overlooking, or is it up to the DM to decide how many javelins would make sense for any given orc?

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There's some information in the Introduction section of the Monster Manual, on page 11. It mentions some things about ammunition:

AMMUNITION

A monster carries enough ammunition to make its ranged attacks. You can assume that a monster has 2d4 pieces of ammunition for a thrown weapon attack, and 2d10 pieces of ammunition for a projectile weapon such as a bow or crossbow.

So the average Orc generally carries between 2 and 8 Javelins, if that information becomes relevant.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jan 3 at 15:42
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2d4, or make something up

The Monster Manual says 2d4 copies of a thrown weapon.

The Monster Manual also says:

Feel free to tweak an existing creature to make it into something more useful for you (MM p.6).

As GM you can exercise some discretion. The 2d4 number is the "eh, not bothering to think about it" amount. If there's a likely backstory where the Orc General decreed "My foot soldiers shall each carry X javelins," then the value of X is set by the Orc General's thinking. Maybe he expects his troops to fight lots of flying kobolds (so they carry more javelins), or maybe there's a javelin shortage (so they carry fewer javelins). Of course, it's also possible that your party meets an orc patrol that already used some of its javelins (maybe they got in a fight, or maybe they spotted a deer and wanted dinner).

Or maybe you don't feel like thinking about the details of the back story, and, hey, 2d4 accounts for those random backstory events.

Or maybe you want to keep the tabletop bookkeeping simple, so you pick a number and apply it to every orc in a squad (and on the squad's turn, they either all throw javelins or all attack with a melee weapon).

Do what's fun (the cover of the PHB explicitly refers to D&D as a game!), but the RAW answer is 2d4.

Based on comments

Before anyone gets too hung up on what was realistic historically, note that pre-industrial armies in the real world basically NEVER had to face a flying opponent.

On a lighter note, while roman legionnaires would carry two pila by hand, an orc carrying eight could use the same thing he rested his head on at night: A pila' case.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Roman legionnaires in the early empire carried 2 pila (a similar weapon to javelin), so even on the low end, this is a totally reasonable number. \$\endgroup\$ – Michael W. Jan 3 at 20:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MichaelW. Roman legionnaires lived in a world where their military enemies could under no circumstances fly. \$\endgroup\$ – Greg Faust Jan 3 at 22:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ @RussellBorogove No. They were carried in the off-(shield)hand. No real storing method as you were expected to loose them at the beginning of battle. Carry, throw, fight, in that order. \$\endgroup\$ – Michael W. Jan 3 at 23:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ Interesting that, although I was unaware of ancient roman tactics, that is in fact how my orcs always operate, too. Now that I'm thinking about it, I should probably also make an effort to explicitly mention them dropping any remaining javelins they may have if the PCs close to melee before they've thrown them all! \$\endgroup\$ – Dan Henderson Jan 4 at 19:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ Under the old roman plan, they actually carried two different pila. One was lighter, with better range, and thrown first. The second was heavier, with more penetration, and thrown second. \$\endgroup\$ – Ben Barden Jan 4 at 20:25
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I recently asked myself this exact question. I've been designing a fairly complicated orc arc involving a portion of an orc tribe invading "civilized" lands. Wanting to be pretty "book", I read and re-read everything in the Monster Manual and in Volo's Guide to Monsters about orcs.

Here's what I came up with -- your basic plain-old orc carries 2 to 4 javelins. Of course, that's my own design choice, ymmv.

Here are some factors to consider:

  • Javelins aren't that great - they have a range of 30/120 and only do 1d6 piercing, compared to a greataxe's 1d12.

  • Orcs are aggressive - meaning they have the Aggressive property: "As a bonus action, the orc can move up to its speed toward a hostile creature that it can see."

  • Not tactical geniuses - your average orc ain't that smart. Even an orc war chief, a tribe's "most cunning member", is only 11 smart.

  • Ferocious, not disciplined - orcs' power comes not from careful planning, but from ferocity.

All that tells me that, sure, they might be willing to fling a javelin, they might even be willing to hang back and fling more than one under the right circumstances, but mostly, they're going to run up and hit stuff with the greataxe.

In one scenario, my orcs had turned some old fortress ruins into a camp. Orcs on guard on top of what was left of the walls had stacks of javelins.

But your average orc, 2 to 4 javelins.

To digress for a moment, Volo's describes the "Orc Red Fang of Shargaas". If you can manage to get the drop on your PCs with a couple of those bad boys, when the smoke clears, they won't even be able to spell "orc". (The PCs, that is. Orcs probably can't spell orc to start with.) They don't carry javelins, but they carry darts that do 3d4 + 3 piercing, they have advantage on an opponent that hasn't gone yet, and they auto-crit with surprise. That's shargaas like it rhymes with badass.

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