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Occasionally when looking through posts I see people talk about taking Sharpshooter and Great Weapon Master so that they can make an improvised weapon attack with a longbow at -10 to hit +20 damage. Do the rules allow this?

Here is Jeremy Crawford on Twitter saying that it can't be. Whereas here is an answer to another question that uses just the PHB without Sage Advice and says otherwise.

Is there anything in the books that backs Jeremy Crawford's ruling? If so, where in the rules does it say this exactly?

I don't want to just say no due to the "Sage Advice says this" reason because having to look up Sage Advice for rulings constantly for this edition is tiring.

Am I wrong in saying that the rules say:

  • This shouldn't work because the Sharpshooter and Great Weapon Master feats say you have to be proficient. And with improvised weapons, you're not proficient unless you have Tavern Brawler.
  • Even if you had all three feats, on page 147-148 PHB under "Improvised Weapons", it doesn't say anything about a weapon losing its traits.

The reason I am asking is a player has recently been asking a lot of munchkin questions (new to 5e from 3.5) and I don't wanna say flat-out no without a decent explanation as to why. If I do allow 3 feats to be taken for 1d4+20+Str at 1d20+prof+Str-10 to hit. Statistically, that doesn't sound better than 1d12+10+Str at only -5. But then again he might want the Archery fighting style and a lot of other weird things.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "people talk about taking Sharpshooter and great weapon master so that they can make a improvised weapon attack with a longbow" — could you please quote the original post? \$\endgroup\$
    – enkryptor
    Jan 26, 2019 at 16:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ Related on whether an improvised weapon counts as a melee weapon (as would be one of the requirements for Great Weapon Master). \$\endgroup\$ Jan 26, 2019 at 17:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ Related on using a ranged weapon (like a longbow) as an improvised weapon \$\endgroup\$ Jan 26, 2019 at 17:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ The answer in the post on improvised weapon counting as melee weapon, the answer that doesn't use sage advice and uses the RAW says yes they are for the attack but after the attack they no longer are. So should I edit question also including that link? Looks like sage advice is saying no without having text in phb backing it. If so they shouldve Errata it in. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 26, 2019 at 18:15

4 Answers 4

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The Sharpshooter feat only affects range attacks

So a longbow hitting in melee would be a improvised melee attack with a ranged weapon. Right?

There is no such thing as "melee attack with a ranged weapon" in 5e. When you smack somebody with a crossbow, you use the crossbow as an improvised weapon. All features requiring a range weapon do not work in this case.

When rules are ambiguous, a DM should use common sense and consider intent behind the rules. Sharpshooter is meant to be used only with ranged weapons. If you use a longbow as an improvised melee weapon, it loses its "ranged" property. This was tweeted by the rules author. Therefore, Sharpshooter only affects range attacks.

As a DM, be more assertive

The reason I am asking is a player has recently been asking a lot of munchkin questions (new to 5e from 3.5) and I don't wanna say flat out no without decent explanation as to why.

The thing is — D&D 5th edition empowers the DM in ways that 3rd, 3.5, and 4th did not. While rule zero has always applied, 5th edition chooses not to explicitly codify many things. If the DM says you can't, you can't.

If you are the DM, and you think that Sharpshooter shouldn't affect melee attacks, all you need to do is saying to your players "In my games Sharpshooter feat only affects shots, not melee attacks".

If a player asks you to back this up with any citation of game text, quote the feat description:

You have mastered ranged weapons and can make shots that others find impossible.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Since this question has the RAW tag (and correctly so, I think), it might be good to stick with literal interpretations of the rules. For instance, a quote of the Improvised Weapon section would show, in part, that "uses a ranged weapon to make a melee attack" absolutely must be a thing in some context in order for the rule to be applicable in some same context. \$\endgroup\$
    – doomtwig
    Jan 29, 2019 at 14:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ "There is no such thing as "melee attack with a ranged weapon" in 5e." - from the improvised weapon rules: "If a character uses a ranged weapon to make a melee attack..." \$\endgroup\$
    – user73918
    Nov 15, 2021 at 7:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TelekeneticBarbarian Yes but it’s ridiculous to rule that as an “attack with a bow”. You’re whacking someone with a long stick with a string attached, there’s absolutely no reason that’d be any more effective or rules wise different from hitting someone with a guitar. \$\endgroup\$
    – Cubic
    Nov 15, 2021 at 10:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TelekeneticBarbarian in 5e this would be a melee attack with an improvised weapon. You can use a ranged weapon as an improvised melee weapon though. \$\endgroup\$
    – enkryptor
    Nov 15, 2021 at 11:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TelekeneticBarbarian We aren't supposed to argue about answers here on SE. Instead, you write your own answer and let people vote. You can downvote my answer if you think it is incorrect and explain the reasoning in the comment below, but long forum-like discussions are off-topic. \$\endgroup\$
    – enkryptor
    Nov 16, 2021 at 10:24
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There are a couple reasons why this would not work.

The rule for improvised weapons states:

An object that bears no resemblance to a weapon deals 1d4 damage (the GM assigns a damage type appropriate to the object). If a character uses a ranged weapon to make a melee attack, or throws a melee weapon that does not have the thrown property, it also deals 1d4 damage.

The longbow used as a melee weapon is therefore an improvised weapon, not a ranged weapon. The weapon literally changes type for the attack. Sharpshooter requires a ranged weapon for the attack. Sharpshooter (PHB, p. 170) says:

Before you make an attack with a ranged weapon that you are proficient with, you can choose to take a -5 penalty to the attack roll.

Two, Sharpshooter requires a weapon with which you are proficient and, unless a character has the Tavern Brawler feat (PHB, p. 170), they are not proficient with improvised weapons:

You are proficient with improvised weapons.

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    \$\begingroup\$ @Deceptecium: Just to clarify: there's no such thing as a "melee weapon ranged attack". It's described as a ranged weapon attack with a melee weapon. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Jan 26, 2019 at 20:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ So a longbow hitting in melee would be a improvised melee attack with a ranged weapon. Right? \$\endgroup\$ Jan 26, 2019 at 20:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Rub okay, fixed the argument. Thanks for pointing out the weak answer! \$\endgroup\$
    – Rykara
    Jan 26, 2019 at 20:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ But it doesnt actually say that? It just says if u use a ranged weapon to make a melee attack it deals a d4 damage. It doesn't say it no longer has the traits of the original weapon. Just like throwing a great sword. Its still heavy and two handed \$\endgroup\$ Jan 26, 2019 at 20:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Deceptecium If you're running 5th edition, you must understand that the rules are trying to explain how to play. They are not trying to cover every possible edge case. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mark Wells
    Jan 26, 2019 at 22:45
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This doesn't work for some fairly obvious reasons.

Improvised weapons don't say they have any special traits, like Heavy, or Ranged. The improvised weapon entry says you either use an existing weapon to represent the weapon (like a Club, if you were using a longbow to hit someone on the head rather than fire arrows), or you use it as something that bears no resemblance to a weapon (like a boot) and it does 1d4 damage (and if thrown has some range, too). The text doesn't say it gets any other traits, so why would it.

Ranged attacks are defined in the text in a few ways, including as a weapon entry. Beating someone over the head is not a ranged attack.

It's also not good optimization.

Taking -10 to hit in a bounded-accuracy system can only ever possibly work out if you have multiple rolls, the enemy has very low AC for its level, and you are quite high level. At which point the +20 damage is not particularly exciting. This is not successful optimizing.

Even if it didn't require you to completely misread standard english, ignore the obvious intent of the rules, and create new rules entirely from whole cloth ('if a longbow is used as an improvised weapon, that improvised weapon gains all the traits of the longbow') it would still be bad optimization because all it does is ensure you miss repeatedly. A truly maxed out fighter with every possible bonus (20 str, archery style, full proficiency) has about +10 to hit total at level like, 10. Assuming he's got a flanking buddy for his Sick Longbow Attack he's going to roll twice at +0 to hit a level 10 enemies like Naga and Aboleths with 17 AC minimum. So he now needs to get a 17 on either of two dice to hit, to get that +20 damage. This works out to like 1/4 of the time he's hitting, and that's if nothing else goes wrong. So it's 1/4 of his regular damage, 1/4 of the +20. Instead of doing a 7-or-better-on-two-dice attack for 2d6+5, or 12-or-better-on-two-dice attack for 2d6+15, aka 10 damage or 16 damage on average per swing, he's doing 1d4+5+20 and needing 17-or-better-on-two-dice, aka around 6 damage on average. He also needs two extra feats to do it (tavern brawler and sharpshooter), which means he's very likely to either not have a 20, or not have proficiency (or even both).

So vs an unoptimized member of the same class he does less damage. If he doesn't have a flanking partner, his numbers get worse comparatively. If he doesn't have both 20 str and proficiency, his numbers get worse comparatively. This isn't compared to actually optimized builds - the assasserer, aura cleric, or necrotheurge blow these kinds of silly numbers out of the water entirely.

Keep in mind the outcomes of these kinds of decisions, basically. If someone actually wants to make the world's dumbest and least optimized fighter, then like.. potentially just let them? They'll have fun with their stupid '''build''' (or more likely, get bored of never hitting and want to change) and nothing of value is lost. The bigger problem is people not focusing on the 'roleplaying' part of 'roleplaying game' rather than something like this.

There's a lot of hysteria about 'evil munchkins!' in 5e community, in reality 5e is not very conducive to minmaxing and the vast majority of it is stealth minmaxing - stuff that looks very boring and low-impact on the surface but is ultra-reliable under the hood and basically ensures a character can never truly die or lose.

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Due to way 5e has been worded and built, a strict RAW interpretation regarding whether it can be done would indicate that yes, this is possible.

It doesn't say specifically anywhere that improvised weapons lose the traits or are replaced by only it being improvised.

And outside of flavor text for Sharpshooter, it says nothing about specifically ranged attacks on the -5 to hit +10 to damage.

This is only possible with the Tavern Brawler feat. As such, to do this silly thing as it is put strictly RAW and is easily appealed and ruled against by any DM who isn't just allowing it because it's funny.

This also means thrown greatswords with Tavern Brawler and using a dart in melee with Sharpshooter and Tavern Brawler could also work.

In the end it is up to the DM if they want this kind of play in their campaign, and if they wish to ignore the optional Sage Advice.

Other than using RAI and the DM making a decision when it comes to the rules in the book, this works. But it is not recommended to open that can of worms and look so in-depth into the exact wording of 5e. 5e is meant to be interpreted and read in plain English with reasoning.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Is this answer "yes" or "no"? It seems to say both. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mark Wells
    Jan 27, 2019 at 21:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ However, the rules do say that a ranged weapon used for melee does lose its stats and does only 1d4+1 damage, See the above answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – user47897
    Jan 28, 2019 at 15:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ There is no such thing as "flavor text" in 5e. \$\endgroup\$
    – enkryptor
    Jan 29, 2019 at 18:42

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