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According to the PHB and the SRD for D&D 5e Ranged Attacks are defined as follows:

You can make Ranged Attacks only against Targets within a specified range. If a ranged Attack, such as one made with a spell, has a single range, you can’t Attack a target beyond this range. Some Ranged Attacks, such as those made with a Longbow or a Shortbow, have two ranges. The smaller number is the normal range, and the larger number is the long range. Your Attack roll has disadvantage when your target is beyond normal range, and you can’t Attack a target beyond the long range.

It then goes on to state that:

Aiming a ranged Attack is more difficult when a foe is next to you. When you make a ranged Attack with a weapon, a spell, or some other means, you have disadvantage on the Attack roll if you are within 5 feet of a Hostile creature who can see you and who isn’t Incapacitated.

Therefore, say someone is operating a Ballista, and on their turn someone moves into Melee range of them (the operator) would then the Ballista gain disadvantage on it's next attack roll?

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The Ballista is subject to the rules for making attacks in close combat

The rules for ranged attacks in close combat use the word "you" when dealing with who is making the attack, not "a creature" and so are not limited to only creatures.

This is because the rules are understood in relation to whomever is reading them. We know the creatures and objects in the book can't actually read the rules because they're not real (or are objects) but it's understood that the rules are a common and universally governing text.

Unless there's a specific rule which contradicts a general rule, the general rule applies and, in this case, "you" is applied in the general sense of an entity that is making a ranged attack because it is not specifically limited to creatures only.


Siege Equipment is dealt with on page 255 of the Dungeon Master's Guide. They are described as objects and the rules for using each one are described in their own section. To wit:

BALLISTA

Large object

A ballista is a massive crossbow that fires heavy bolts. Before it can be fired, it must be loaded and aimed. It takes one action to load the weapon, one action to aim it, and one action to fire it.

Bolt. Ranged Weapon Attack: +6 to hit, range 120/480 ft., one target. Hit: 16 (3d10) piercing damage.

The Ballista is not a creature but, as discussed previously, this does not matter. It is making a ranged weapon attack and therefore the rules about attacking in close combat apply.

Narratively, this makes sense. If a creature is attempting to aim the Ballista at a target immediately in front of it, it will be hard to hit. "But wait, if the target is standing point blank in front of the Ballista, it can't miss!"

The thing is, a creature is not it's space. A creature's space is the area that is controls, not the area it physically takes up. Think about aiming a ballista at a creature next to it. With a single or even a slight lean, the ballista's aim would be out of alignment. This difficulty is what is being captured by the rule about making ranged attacks in close combat and, understandably, it applies to siege weapons and creatures alike!

And if the Ballista is attacking some other target (not the adjacent hostile creature), the adjacent creature might be bumping into the Ballista or impeding some mechanism that allows it to operate optimally.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The rules for ranged attacks state that all attacks have disadvantage if there is an adjacent hostile creature, regardless of whether or not you’re actually attacking that creature. I think your ruling is correct, but the narrative explanation doesn’t make sense. \$\endgroup\$ – Cubic Jun 17 at 16:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ @cubic Good point. I've added a sentence at the end which reflects how I'd narrate the rules mechanic. Now it relates to any target, adjacent or otherwise. \$\endgroup\$ – Rykara Jun 17 at 18:17
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The ballista has disadvantage

Bolt. Ranged Weapon Attack: +6 to hit, range 120/480 ft., one target. Hit: 16 (3d10) piercing damage.

The ballista makes a ranged attack and is subject to all the same rules as any other ranged attack. Specifically [my emphasis]:

When you make a ranged Attack with a weapon, a spell, or some other means, you have disadvantage on the Attack roll if you are within 5 feet of a Hostile creature who can see you and who isn’t Incapacitated.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ One character correction: 3dI0 -> 3d10 \$\endgroup\$ – Thomas Markov Jun 17 at 0:46
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You would have disadvantage

When you make a ranged Attack with a weapon, a spell, or some other means, you have disadvantage on the Attack roll if you are within 5 feet of a Hostile creature who can see you and who isn’t Incapacitated.

You are making a ranged attack, and there is a hostile creature within 5ft of you (who can see you and isn't incapacitated), so you have disadvantage.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Ok even though the Ballista is technically an object and not a creature? \$\endgroup\$ – Matthew Perryman Jun 16 at 22:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MatthewPerryman It makes a ranged weapon attack, so I don't think it matters. I don't see anywhere in the ranged attack rules that states or implies that it only applies to creatures. Ultimately all weapon attacks are made with objects (bar a few exceptions), so I don't think there's any difference. \$\endgroup\$ – user-63873687 Jun 16 at 22:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ Fair enough. maybe it is RAW, thematically it seems weird. \$\endgroup\$ – Matthew Perryman Jun 16 at 22:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MatthewPerryman Why, though? Thematically speaking, ballista doesn't really aim by itself - the operator does, so it's logical that if he is engaged by a hostile he'll have a harder time hitting the target. \$\endgroup\$ – Danila Smirnov Jun 17 at 7:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ True, but usually there is a team of people operating these siege engines (I think the DMG suggests 3 to 5. I know mechanically that being that close imposes disdavantage as per the rules but thematically it is weird as these are large items. In the context it was used in my game, the thing wasn't aimed, it was just fired hence why the question came up. I mean when you have a trebuchet with 20 people manning it, does the presence of one enemy soldier throw out the entire rhythm. Its that fine line between mechanics and being historically accurate. \$\endgroup\$ – Matthew Perryman Jun 18 at 12:56

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