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Do monsters, like bandits, have to switch their weapon before they can attack with it, like PCs do or is it included in the action?

I am asking as a new DM and I am not entirely sure how to run monsters that have actions that are named after weapons and are weapon attacks, like the bandit stat block has. If he attacks with the crossbow and then with the scimitar, are there any rules saying he has to use his item interaction (if he has any) to stow it or switch it or something?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Hi FurtherV! Welcome to RPG.SE! You might want to take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jack
    Apr 17 at 10:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ Actually, I edited it in for you, since the question is getting close votes, and answers. If that isn't good, you can revert the edit. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jack
    Apr 17 at 11:48

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NPC monsters switch weapons as PCs do

The Monster Manual on page 10 says:

ACTIONS When a monster takes its action, it can choose from the options in the Actions section of its stat block or use one of the actions available to all creatures, (...), as described in the Player's Handbook.

MELEE AND RANGED ATTACKS (...) These can be spell attacks or weapon attacks, where the "weapon" might be a manufactured item or a natural weapon, such as a claw or tail spike. For more information on different kinds of attacks, see the Player's Handbook.

This indicates that in general, the use of actions and weapons by monsters follows the normal rules that apply to PCs in the player's heandbook. In addition, the section introducing NPCs has the following to say

Armor and Weapon Swaps. You can upgrade or downgrade an NPC's armor, or add or switch weapons.

It is clear that the weapons are not a special extention of the creature. NPCs are humanoids carrying and wielding weapons just like the PCs, which can be exchanged for other weapons. Doing so is a free action for dropping a weapon, or can be a object interaction for drawing a weapon, just as it would be for PCs.

If a bandit wants to swap their light crossbow for their scimitar, they could keep it in their off-hand, while drawing the scimitar as an object interaction, and then attack with the scimitar as their main action.

Note that natural weapons like a bite or claw do not need to be equipped like that, and are available without any kind of action needed to exchange them, although you might need to drop a weapon you are holding to use your claws.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Can you stow a scimitar as a free object-interaction and still reload + fire a crossbow on that turn, if you start the turn with both hands full? I think so. So probably the only real limitation is in making op attacks: you can't end every turn with a scimitar out, only at most every other turn if you draw / stow your scimitar between reloading, if I have this right. (I assume there's a Q&A about this.) Narratively it's pretty silly that drawing/stowing a scimitar doesn't hurt your rate of fire, so unless a bandit has no protection from incoming melee attackers, they won't be do this. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 17 at 22:24
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GM's often simplify things when running a lot of monsters. For example, giving all bandits the average 11 hit points. This feels like one of those things. Which bandit has which weapon out is one more thing to remember, and it isn't all that important. If you assume they can switch weapons instantly, that's one less thing to worry about. As a new GM you can even use the excuse of using simplified rules until you get the hang of encounters.

Players might abuse this rule, but since they're your monsters, just don't abuse it. Or use it when it feels right -- if the players start to lose, run away, and you're worried about killing everyone, suddenly the bandits take extra time to switch to shooting crossbows, or all but 2 dropped them back when they switched to swords, or whatever.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ +1, that definitely a good practical way to go about it, as it rarely matters. I’d only add that, in a case where it may make a difference, and the players object to the NPC doing something they cannot, to “focus in” on the NPC and drop the simplified procedure for technically correct handling. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 18 at 5:44
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I use a hybrid approach...

OptA) using a group of archers as example, they fight / act as a "unit"... so "in general", if they're being breached by soldiers away from the main fight, they'll, as a unit, switch to swords & repel / defend / flee and as a group take the "proper action sequence" as the PCs would do. This "keeps it simple", but at the same time the PCs don't think you're "cheating". As a new DM, I strongly recommend you don't let your PCs think you're "cheating", as it'll remove their suspension of disbelief (even if you are. 🙃)

OptB) for solo / small group / featured NPC's, they fight / act just like PC's, so they will always take the "proper action sequence" as the PCs would do.

As an aside, esp for beginning DM's, I would encourage you to "personalize" the monsters & how their "action switching" occurs from a "cinematic" perspective (even for 'natural' abilities, if interesting)... For instance, I like the cinematic aspect of Dragon taking time to 'inhale' for a large bout of Dragon breath; so 'most' Dragons work differently for me... I essentially treat Dragon's breath like the old heavy crossbow, where they'd spend an entire round 'gathering breath / energy' before a 'full' breath weapon attack. And in order to keep the Adventurers guessing, they can use a 'half' breath weapon attack with no delay, & some Dragons have the 'feat' Quick Breath, allowing them to do either 3/4 or a Full breath (depending on their Age category) with no delay.

This delay for ... "powering up / transitioning / etc" ... builds tension & allows the Adventurers to become more invested in the outcome vs a straight "the Dragon Breathes on you" ... and by allowing for this, it allows the Adventures to "Avengers Unite" and develop a quick plan to try to stop the "giant weapon" from deploying (or at least mitigate/minimize the damage). After all, imagine how different Star Wars would have been if the Death Star didn't have to charge, but just shot... all the tension would have been gone. Finally, you can do this for the good guys too, think SDF-1 from Robotech.

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