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There is a unique longbow in the Waterdeep: Dragon Heist module (p. 201), whose description includes:

This unique weapon can be used only by a Medium or larger creature that has a Strength of 18 or higher. The bow shoots oversized arrows that deal piercing damage equal to 2d6 + the wielder's Strength modifier...

However when looking at the PHB's section on "Dexterity Attack Rolls and Damage", I realized it states:

You add your Dexterity modifier to your attack roll and your damage roll when attacking with a ranged weapon...

To me this means that unless a feature specifically tells you not to, you would add your Dexterity modifier to a ranged weapon's damage and attack rolls.

An example of such a prevention is Two-Weapon Fighting which states:

You don't add your ability modifier to the damage of the bonus attack, unless that modifier is negative.

Notably, the NPC who owns it has a +3 proficiency bonus, a +7 to attacks with the longbow and deals 2d6+4 damage. Unfortunately, their strength and dexterity modifiers are both +4 so I can't tell which is being added.

However, as @thedarkwanderer pointed out in a comment in the Q/A "How can I shoot a bow using strength instead of dexterity?":

NPCs use different rules than PC's

This leaves me uncertain and with the following question:
If a PC wields this unique longbow, what modifiers do they add to its attack and damage rolls?

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When the text is unclear, look for examples

Surprisingly this relies more on text interpretation than rule interpretation, which is probably where the confusion lies.

Normally a weapon description would list a die number (1d6, 2d6, 1d4, etc.) in a table for the damage numbers. From there it was on the player to know to add your ability modifier based on the attribute used for the attack roll (PHB 194). Unfortunately the damage for this weapon is described inline with the weapon description.

The bow shoots oversized arrows that deal piercing damage equal to 2d6 + the wielder's Strength modifier

has two possible interpretations:

  1. 2d6 + STR is the weapon's base damage and you should add your Dexterity in addition to this
            (if a weapon description said "...piercing damage equal to 1d10+1" then you would expect to add dexterity, after all)
  2. 2d6 + STR replaces the final damage value of a normal bow attack: 2d6 + DEX.

Both of which are valid. In this case the confusion lies in the flavorful wording mixed with attribute modifiers being unusual for weapon damage descriptions.

Use the NPC as an example of the intended usage

The NPC using this bow is an example straight from the designers about how this bow should work and can help us at this impasse. You cite that they are listed as having attacks from the bow with damage equal to 2d6+4, and they have a Strength and Dexterity modifier of +4. Because it is not a +8, we can infer that the bow is intended to use STR instead of DEX and not STR in addition to DEX in the hands of a player. A more accurate version of the text might read:

Attacks made with this bow deal 2d6 piercing damage and adds the wielder's Strength modifier instead of their Dexterity modifier.


The Attack Roll

The PHB(194) has this to say about the ability modifier for Attack Rolls:

The ability modifier used for a melee weapon attack is Strength, and the ability modifier used for a ranged weapon attack is Dexterity. Weapons that have the finesse or thrown property break this rule.

However there is some debate surrounding page 196 where, while talking about Damage Rolls, the PHB says:

When attacking with a weapon, you add your ability modifier--the same modifier used for the attack roll--to the damage.

Where it could be implied that the ability modifier and the attack modifier must match. Because the former statement regarding the attribute-to-range assignment is explicit, directly under the heading regarding attack rolls, and specifically mentions exceptions to the rule, I don't consider the justification strong enough to imply that the weapon would use Strength as the attack modifier because of the excerpt on page 196. It appears to have been meant only to tell the reader that the damage roll attribute normally depends on the Attack roll attribute.

Neither the NPC description nor the weapon description mention explicitly a different attack attribute modifier, and there is no rule stating explicitly that attack attribute modifiers must correspond to the damage attribute modifier.


We are left with the following: The general rule for ranged weapon attack modifiers using Dexterity applies, with an intentional override changing the damage roll modifier from Dexterity (as would normally be inherited from the Attack Roll) to Strength. The bow makes attack rolls adding Dexterity and damage rolls adding Strength.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You may want to specify that the following text from the PHB's section on Damage Rolls: "When attacking with a weapon you add your ability modifier - the same modifier used for the attack roll - to the damage." is not explicitly saying the attack modifier must be the same as the damage modifier, but that the damage modifier must be the same as the attack modifier \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 Aug 15 at 17:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Medix2 The text of that section seemed fairly clear that it is a one-way relationship that constrains the Damage roll attribute based on the Attack roll attribute. The answer didn't rely on that particular rule, only the absence of a rule which goes against it, so I didn't include it. \$\endgroup\$ – Drunut Aug 15 at 17:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ As you can see in @Illustro answer, it is not exactly obvious that this is the case \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 Aug 15 at 18:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ There is a general rule saying the damage modifier has to be the same as the attack modifier. Why are you disregarding this rule in favour of the general rule on ranged attacks? \$\endgroup\$ – illustro Aug 15 at 22:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Drunut oh, I don't disagree with you that this is a poorly written item, made worse by the only NPC wielding it having the same modifier for the two key abilities, causing this whole debate. \$\endgroup\$ – illustro Aug 15 at 22:22
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Specific trumps general

The general rule for Dexterity-based attacks is that you add your Dexterity modifier to the damage if you hit. The rules for weapons list the basic damage for each, and you add your Strength or Dexterity bonus when applicable.

That specific longbow, however, states that the damage it does is 2d6 + the wielder's Strength modifier. That is a specific rule which overrides the general rule.

As such, you use Dexterity for the attack roll and Strength for the damage roll.

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    \$\begingroup\$ What is your reasoning for why you don't add dexterity to the damage roll? Nothing explicitly says not as is the case with TWF \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 Aug 15 at 12:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think this would still use Dexterity for the damage roll as well, because the bow doesn't explicitly specify that it uses the Strength for the damage roll. It just says it will add the Strength modifier. Any +1 weapon would add one point of damage on top of whatever you would otherwise roll with the normal version of the weapon, so this could be considered a +Str version of the weapon, adding your Strength modifier to the weapon's damage roll of the normal version. \$\endgroup\$ – John Hamilton Aug 15 at 12:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ After some discussion in chat on @daze413's answer, some possibly supporting evidence is that PC's and NPC's seem to use the same rules for weapons and because the NPC does not add their dexterity bonus to the damage rolls, neither would a PC using the bow \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 Aug 15 at 15:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Medix2 The text in the question states that the arrows "deal piercing damage equal to 2d6 + the wielder's Strength modifier". Equal to is a very specific statement. It means that is how much damage it does. \$\endgroup\$ – Allan Mills Aug 15 at 22:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Medix2: This specific weapon states "2d6+strength", this is why. It does not state "Add your strength", which could be interpreted as "both Des and Str", it states "Dice+strength", which can only imply "Str instead of Dex for damage". There is no mention of attack rolls, so we use the generic rules (Dex) for that \$\endgroup\$ – ThisIsMe Aug 16 at 10:03
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You use your Strength modifier for the attack roll and the damage roll

The section in the PHB on Damage Rolls states (emphasis mine):

When attacking with a weapon you add your ability modifier - the same modifier used for the attack roll - to the damage.

So the general rule is that the damage roll uses the same ability modifier as the attack roll.

In this case we are given a modified damage modifier (ie it uses Strength instead of the normal Dexterity). In the absence of any other information to the contrary we should apply the above general rule that the damage modifier is the same as the attack modifier.

Thus, in the absence of any other information, by modifying the modifier for the damage roll, the item also modified the ability modifier for the attack roll.

Using this information and looking at the Stat Block of the Creature using the unique longbow provides the answers to your question:

Oversized Longbow. Ranged Weapon Attack: +7 to hit, range 150/600ft., one target. Hit: 11 (2d6 + 4) piercing damage.

The +7 is the +4 strength modifier, combined with the creatures proficiency bonus (+3). the damage modifier is also their Strength modifier (+4).

But there is a second general rule for ranged weapons that we are ignoring here...that ranged weapons use Dexterity for their attack rolls. Why are we disregarding this?

The wording of this item has put us into conflict betwen two general rules, with no clear way to resolve it. The general rules in question are:

Ranged Attack rolls use Dexterity as the to hit bonus (General 1):

You add your Dexterity modifier to your attack roll and your damage roll when attacking with a ranged weapon [...]

Damage Rolls use the same modifier as the attack roll (General 2):

When attacking with a weapon you add your ability modifier - the same modifier used for the attack roll - to the damage.

D&D is an exceptions based game, and the normal way to resolve this would be to use the specific beats general principle. However in this case we do not have enough information to do this effectively (hence the divided debate here!).

As written, the weapon just says damage is 2d6 + Strength. It doesn't say if this is due to the attack modifier having been changed (in the background as a specific exception to General 1) and the damage simply flowing through, or the damage modifier being changed in isolation (as a specific exception to General 1).

Thus we have two options:

Interpretation A: The attack modifier is Dexterity, and the item description is a specific exception to General 2

Interpretation B: The attack uses Strength because the item description is a specific exception to General 1

If we use Interpretation A then we arrive at @AllanMills answer.

If we use Interpretation B then we arrive at my answer.

The consequence of Interpretation A is that this unique longbow is significantly more difficult for the player and the DM to run and not make a mistake.

The consequence of Interpretation B is that the unique longbow is just as easy to run as a regular longbow, but with the ability modifier changed from Dexterity to Strength.

But don't NPCs have different rules to PCs for weapons?

No they do not. In the DMG on page 278 the rules for weapons wielded by monsters are:

If a monster wields a manufactured weapon, it deals damage appropriate to the weapon. For example, a greataxe in the hands of a Medium monster deals 1d12 slashing damage plus the monster's Strength modifier, as is normal for that weapon.

Big monsters typically wield oversized weapons that deal extra dice of damage on a hit. Double the weapon dice if the creature is Large, triple the weapon dice if it's Huge, and quadruple the weapon dice if it's Gargantuan. For example, a Huge giant wielding an appropriately sized greataxe deals 3d12 slashing damage (plus its Strength bonus), instead of the normal 1d12.

A creature has disadvantage on attack rolls with a weapon that is sized for a larger attacker. You can rule that a weapon sized for an attacker two or more sizes larger is too big for the creature to use at all.

From this we see, that if the NPC/Monster is medium size, they would use the normal weapon rules in the PHB. If the NPC is a Large or bigger creature, wielding an appropriately sized weapon for their size (Large creature => Large weapon, Huge creature => Huge weapon) then the damage dice for the oversized weapon are modified.

Should a creature wield a weapon that is too large for it, they either have disadvantage on the attack, or are unable to wield the weapon entirely (barring some feature that would enable them to).

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not convinced by this logic: I agree that by modifying the modifier for the attack roll, the modifier for the damage roll should change to match (the opposite of this case). In this case, the general rule is DEX for ranged attack rolls, the general rule for the damage roll is damage roll matches attack roll, but only that second part is being overruled (damage roll is STR instead). There's no general rule in the attack roll section saying it should match the damage roll. \$\endgroup\$ – Steven Jackson Aug 15 at 15:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @StevenJackson I've updated my answer to clarify the logic and my thinking on it \$\endgroup\$ – illustro Aug 15 at 22:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DarrenRogers it doesn't make sense for a character with no strength but high dex to be able to draw such a bow. The ability modifier used is an abstraction, and which one is the right one to use depends on the weapon (see thrown weapons for strength based ranged weapons...they still need to be aimed!) \$\endgroup\$ – illustro Aug 15 at 23:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ The relevant quote is "A monster usually applies its Strength modifier to melee attacks and its Dexterity modifier to ranged attacks, although smaller monsters sometimes use Dexterity for both." from the DMG making a monster section. This lines up perfectly for the Eagle, which is a small monster. \$\endgroup\$ – illustro Aug 16 at 20:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ It's a specific exception to the general rule of strength for melee attacks \$\endgroup\$ – illustro Aug 16 at 20:08
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It's unclear from the text

Normally you'd use your Dexterity for the attack, but normally the damage roll uses the same modifier as the attack roll (implying that you should use Strength for the attack). It's not clear which of these rules should override the other one.

When the rules are unclear, we on StackExchange can't and shouldn't issue rulings for you. That's the job of your DM.

You'll have to ask your DM. : )

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You add your Dexterity to the attack roll, because the weapon doesn't say otherwise so the rules on Ranged Attacks still hold.

For the damage roll, however, it seems like you are supposed to add both Strength and Dexterity for the damage roll. Reading the item's unique features, you get to add your STR to the damage as an additional modifier, and then you can add DEX as normal from hitting a ranged weapon. Phb 196 on Damage Rolls supports this:

You roll the damage die or dice, add any modifiers, and apply the damage to your target. Magic weapons, special abilities, and other factors can grant a bonus to damage.

So it's no different from adding fire damage from a magical weapon or any other bonus.

The feature would tell you if you add STR instead of DEX for damage. Features like Shillelagh say this explicitly:

... For the duration, you can use your spellcasting ability instead of Strength for the attack and damage rolls of melee attacks using that weapon

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