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The Thrown Weapon Fighting Style states:

[...] In addition, when you hit with a ranged attack using a thrown weapon, you gain a +2 bonus to the damage roll.

My question is whether "a thrown weapon" means "a weapon with the thrown property" or "a weapon you have thrown". An example of something being in the latter category and not the former would be improvised weapons:

[...] 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. An improvised thrown weapon has a normal range of 20 feet and a long range of 60 feet.

Do ranged, improvised attacks counts as "ranged attacks with a thrown weapon"?

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In general, when the rules talk about a "[trait] weapon", it's referring to specific weapon qualities. For example, the rogue's sneak attack says, "The attack must use a finesse or a ranged weapon", and the rules for Two Weapon Fighting talk about an "attack with a light melee weapon".

In this case, it's slightly ambiguous because 'thrown' just happens to also be a participle, so it's not entirely clear whether it's acting as a game term or a standard adjective. It's going to largely be up to the DM to just decide this.

However, that said, I think we should look at the full context of the phrase:

You can draw a weapon that has the thrown property as part of the attack you make with the weapon. In addition, when you hit with a ranged attack using a thrown weapon, you gain a +2 bonus to the damage roll.

It seems very unlikely to me that these two lines are meant to have different meanings of "thrown". In the first case they carefully say "a weapon with the thrown property", but the second is simply talking about another way this style affects those same weapons, the ones with the thrown property.

That said, there are unlikely to be any terrible balance implications to allowing a player to get a minor damage buff when they decide hurling a longsword is a good idea.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Would you feel it is fair to extend the final sentence to also be true “in general,” and that while “[trait] weapon” is often referring to specific weapon qualities, it is rarely, if ever, terribly important to balance? \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Mar 5 at 15:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ Since I haven't examined every possible scenario, I wouldn't necessarily expand it beyond the current case, no. \$\endgroup\$ – Darth Pseudonym Mar 5 at 20:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ There are different forms of balance. Does removing the "light weapons only" limit from TWF send melee damage wildly out of whack? No, dual longsword isn't vastly better from a purely mechanical stance. But it is better than any other option available, so removing the limit makes dual longsword the obviously best melee damage build, which effectively makes the game more samey in the long run. In this case, I judged that +2 damage to a thrown longsword (or even a can of peas) wouldn't break the game and doesn't negate any interesting player choices, so it seems fine to me. \$\endgroup\$ – Darth Pseudonym Mar 5 at 20:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ Fair enough—“light weapons” certainly isn’t the example that I meant. I was referring more to the idea of the distinction between “X-trait weapons” and “weapons used in X way,” as we have here. For instance, barring the use of something that applied to “light weapon you use while two-weapon fighting” from applying to the non-light weapon you use for that purpose when you have the Dual Wielder feat would seem much more suspect to me. But you are right, it’s very difficult to generalize without the concrete example in front of you. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Mar 5 at 20:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thinking more, I realized a potentially notable difference between the two parts of the feature. The ability to draw a weapon occurs even if you plan to use it for a melee attack. Whereas the latter only ever applies to ranged attacks. Not sure if this means anything for your answer, but it does show that they have different implications \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 Mar 11 at 14:33
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It’s not clear from the text—as you note, the word “thrown” could be meant in either sense in the English language—so ultimately it’s going to have to come down to a DM ruling.

But as far as that ruling is concerned, I believe understanding a “thrown” weapon as one “you have thrown” is the better choice, and thus it should apply to improvisational throws. After all, you are still performing the action you’re specially-trained in, and ultimately, you’re still taking a “penalty” for this usage (reduced damage, and either no proficiency bonus or a requirement to take the Tavern Brawler feat or similar).

In short, I see no compelling reason to present the application of this ability to this attack, not based on the rules text, or the mechanical balance, or the narrative description.

(Note that the same logic can—and I think should—apply to other situations even when the rules text does have some contradiction. I don’t believe that getting hung up on “weapon” vs. “some ‘non-weapon’ that you nonetheless attack with,” or “melee weapon” vs. “object you are using to attack in melee” is good for the game, and I consider it a flaw in the game’s design any time it either does so explicitly or ambiguously seems like it might.)

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