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The drow shadowblade (Monsters of the Multiverse version, p. 105) has a "Shadow Sword" action that can be a melee or ranged weapon attack.

Is this ranged attack done by throwing the sword? Does the sword need to be retrieved before it can be used again?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I have only seen this in my friend's copy of the book, but I thought it wasn't ranged atrack, just melee with reach? Either I remember badly or it was changed in errata. Would it be ok to quote relevant part of the entry in the question? \$\endgroup\$
    – Mołot
    Commented Oct 10, 2022 at 6:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mołot there has been no Monsters of the Multiverse errata released to my knowledge. The quote from the book is in Groody's answer below. I checked the original Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes entry for the monster, and it does not have the ranged attack, nor any additional reach. \$\endgroup\$
    – mdrichey
    Commented Oct 10, 2022 at 14:32

6 Answers 6

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This is a horribly worded creature description and thus it's up to the DM to decide

Here is an abbreviated version of the Action block:

Multiattack. The drow makes three Shadow Sword attacks. One of the attacks can be replaced by a Hand Crossbow attack. The drow can also use Spellcasting to cast darkness.

Shadow Sword. Melee or Ranged Weapon Attack: +9 to hit, reach 5 ft. or range 30/60 ft., one target. Hit: 27 (7d6 + 5) necrotic damage.

Hand Crossbow. Ranged Weapon Attack: +9 to hit, range 30/120 ft., one target. Hit: 8 (1d6 + 5) piercing damage, and the target must succeed on a DC 13 Constitution saving throw or be poisoned for 1 hour...

Spellcasting. The drow casts one of the following spells, requiring no material components and using Charisma as the spellcasting ability (spell save DC 13):

  • At will: dancing lights, darkness
  • 1/day each: faerie fire, levitate (self only)

Let's break down the Multiattack

"The drow makes three Shadow Sword attacks." - This is different than, say, a Bugbear Chief which states, "The bugbear makes two melee attacks." So even though they use a javelin which can be melee or ranged, they can only multiattack when performing melee attacks. This removes the possibility of throwing the weapon and then making a second attack with the same weapon. The Shadowblade just says three attacks with the Sword. So RAW, you can make three ranged attacks with the Sword. Which means it would have to have some way to return (ala Dwarven Thrower) or reappear (ala the Shadow Blade spell). However neither feature is listed. So the description is already broken.

"One of the attacks can be replaced by a Hand Crossbow attack." - Now we add on the possibility of a true ranged weapon. At first I thought this would be a tick in the "sword has reach" column because why have two different ranged attacks, but there are enough differences that I could see that maybe you want the sword to hit (greater damage) and maybe you would want the crossbow (poisoned condition). But that still leaves two ranged Sword attacks and one ranged crossbow attack, per turn. I guess that would leave their hands free for loading in the next piece of ammunition into the crossbow which typically needs one free hand.

But there is another bit of weirdness; "The drow can also use Spellcasting to cast darkness." - This is still part of the Multiattack block, and comes right after saying the Drow can switch one Sword attack for a crossbow attack. This can be read in three ways:

  1. We can swap out one Sword attack for casting darkness
  2. We can cast darkness in addition to making three Sword attacks
  3. This is just a badly edited creature block

I did a quick sampling of creatures that have multiattack AND spellcasting abilities. None of Multiattack blocks include anything about spell casting. It's just always a given that a creature can either Attack or Cast a spell. Per the Monster Manual, under 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, such as the Dash or Hide action, as described in the Player’s Handbook.

Also, unlike most other creatures, the Drow Shadowblade has their spellcasting section under Actions, whereas most everywhere else, it's under Traits. So, per the description, they can either choose their Spellcasting Action, or their Multiattack Action, which allows casting darkness along with their Sword attacks.

This would mean that the Drow can cast darkness (a 2nd-level spell that normally takes a whole Action), throw their Sword (which is somehow ready for action immediately after), possibly swing their sword (if casting darkness is in addition to the three attacks) and fire a crossbow bolt (which, due to the loading property should be their only attack) every turn.

This one block alone shows that the DM is going to have to wing it.


How I would play it

The Shadow Sword is a more powerful version of the Shadow Blade spell.

The DS has three melee attacks with their Shadow Sword per turn. They can replace any one of those attacks with their hand crossbow. They can replace the third attack by using their Shadow Sword as a ranged weapon attack as if it had the thrown property. The Sword disappears immediately after the attack whether or not the attack hits or misses.

They can use a Bonus Action to make the Shadow Sword reappear in their hand. Dropping (or giving, or stowing or or or) the Sword makes it disappear.

They still need a free hand to load the crossbow (as per the Ammunition property). But they can drop the Sword as a free action, load the crossbow, and bring back the Sword as a Bonus Action. Or if they threw the Sword as their last attack they would have the free hand already.

Throwing the Sword means they might be without a weapon for any Opportunity Attacks unless they have already used their Bonus Action to reform it.

They can also cast darkness as a Bonus Action (similar to a Quickened spell). This keeps it more inline with normal spellcasting.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 I guess this is the most fundamental answer so far. The stat block is not well written, and the DM has to sort it out. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 10, 2022 at 19:10
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There is no use limit on these attacks; how to narrate this is up to the DM

The Shadow Sword Action of the Drow Shadowblade reads:

Shadow Sword. Melee or Ranged Weapon Attack: +9 to hit, reach 5 ft. or range 30/60 ft., one target. Hit: 27 (7d6 + 5) necrotic damage.

The stat block does not state the sword is thrown, just as it does not state the sword has a mystical ability to return, or to hit at range. So, I think from a pure rules mechanic, how this works is unexplained, but it works, and there is no limitation to the number of such attacks. How to dress this up in narrative would be up to the DM. (Take a look at Jack's answer for a good narrative).

Treating it as a thrown weapon

The attacks in other monster entries that have thrown weapons do not mention a use limit either. For example, here is the Javelin attack of the Orc:

Javelin. Melee or Ranged Weapon Attack: +5 to hit, reach 5 ft. or range 30/120 ft., one target. Hit: 6 (1d6 + 3) piercing damage.

These javelins are mundane and hence clearly not unlimited. Javelins do have the thrown property. How many does the orc have, if the stat block does not say? The monster manual covers this on page 11:

A monster carries enough ammunition to make its ranged attacks. You can assume that a monster has 2d4 pieces of ammunition for a thrown weapon attack, and 2d10 pieces of ammunition for a projectile weapon such as a bow or crossbow.

A sword normally does not have the thrown property, but neither does it have the ammunition property, and as a ranged weapon for a physical sword only the thrown property would make sense. If they can throw it, by the rules, the drow would have 2d4 such swords on their person.

The image in the monster entry depicts a drow with only one sword. I personally find that the mechanical interpretation of the rules falls short in this case, and if I used the idea they throw the sword instead of some mystical shadow attack, over-rule the rules so they need to go and get it once thrown, using some of their other abilities. They could instead use their hand crossbow for ranged attacks unless they are in dire straights and need to go for the extra damage.

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    \$\begingroup\$ For what it's worth, it's actually not that hard for the drow to retrieve their sword after throwing it, thanks to their other abilities. A viable ambush attack sequence would be to make a thrown attack from a concealed position, then cast Darkness, then shadow step into melee with the target, pick up the sword, and continue attacking. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 10, 2022 at 18:09
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It is very likely that the ranged attack is done by throwing the sword.

The rules for ranged attack says:

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.

These rules, particularly the last part, model the fact that the more far a target is, the lower the probability to hit it is, when you throw a weapon. Hence, since the text of the Shadow Sword reports the same wording for classical ranged attacks for thrown weapons, it is very likely that the sword must be thrown. Beware that the above rules do not mention weapons with thrown property: they mention just ranged attacks.

This is supported also by the Monsters in the MM: after a check, all the weapon ranged attacks are done either via

  • projectile weapons (longbow, crossbow, etc)
  • weapons with thrown property (spear, dagger, etc)
  • natural weapon (manticore's spike tail)
  • objects (cyclop's rock attack)

All the above attacks require to throw something (a projectile, a weapon, part of the body or objects): all of them provide a min/max range. There is only one exception: the winged kobold's dropped rock attack:

Dropped Rock. Ranged Weapon Attack: +5 to hit, one target directly below the kobold. Hit: 6 (1d6 + 3) bludgeoning damage.

In this case there is no range: but it is explicitly specified how you can target an enemy.

If the intent was not to provide a ranged attack for the drow shadowblade, the description would have stated a melee attack with a larger reach.

Specific beats general.

The Shadow Blade attack considered here is made with a sword, given the name of the attack itself, and this is supported also by the image provided along the stat block. A sword has no thrown property, and if you throw it your DM has to decide how to treat it (for example, as an improvised weapon), but under the specific beats general principle the stat block wins over the general rule (emphasis mine):

This compendium contains rules that govern how the game plays. That said, many racial traits, class features, spells, magic items, monster abilities, and other game elements break the general rules in some way, creating an exception t

The sword does not return to the hand of the drow.

If it was the case, the stat block would have stated this property explicitly. Indeed, we have a couple of counterexamples of this magical returning: the Shadar-Kai Gloom Weaver has the Shadow Spear attack:

Shadow Spear. Melee or Ranged Weapon Attack: [...] Hit or Miss: The spear magically returns the the shadar-kai's hand immediately after a ranged attack.

and the Shadar-Kai Soul Monger shadow dagger attack:

Shadow Dagger. Melee or Ranged Weapon Attack: [...] Hit or Miss: The spear magically returns the the shadar-kai's hand immediately after a ranged attack.


I partially agree with Mivascott's answer, this stat block is poorly worded, mainly about the spellcasting: I believe that they added the ranged attack to the previous version (see here for comparison) and simply forgot to add the Hit or miss part for the returning, as in the Shadar-Kai stat block, which mimics the Shadow Blade spell.

Anyway, even using the current stat block, the drow can throw its sword and retrieve it in the same turn: indeed, they can use their bonus action Shadow Step to reach the place where the sword lies:

Shadow Step. While in dim light or darkness, the drow can teleport as a bonus action up to 60 feet to an unoccupied space it can see that is also in dim light or darkness. It then has advantage on the first melee attack it makes before the end of the turn.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 Good observations about the ranged vs longer reach melee attack, and also good counter-example on a returning weapon. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 10, 2022 at 11:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ With no language one way or another this is very likely a mistake rather than something we can assume. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Commented Oct 11, 2022 at 8:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri that that statblock is a mistake in some way is problably the one thing everyone here can agree on \$\endgroup\$
    – Hobbamok
    Commented Oct 11, 2022 at 9:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri I agree with you that this attack is poorly worded, as pointed out by Mivascott. But it seems to me that the intent was to provide a ranged attack with by throwing the weapon: indeed, to the best of my knowledge (but I should check carefully, maybe there is a counterexample) all the weapon ranged attacks have min/max range, whilst spell ranged attacks have just max range. I think that the authors forgot to complete the attack, providing the Hit or miss entry as in the Shadow Spear above. \$\endgroup\$
    – Eddymage
    Commented Oct 11, 2022 at 12:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ Looking at Shadow Spear and Shadow Dagger, I think the most obvious explanation is that they meant Shadow Sword to work the same way. \$\endgroup\$
    – Adeptus
    Commented Oct 12, 2022 at 5:08
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A reasonable interpretation is that the Shadowblade can attack at range with the sword, without throwing it

The Shadowblade is narratively described as having mystical shadow powers. It's just as reasonable to assume that the drow is capable of using its mystical shadow powers to attack at range with the sword, without throwing it, as to assume that it must throw the sword. The stat block does not list anything special about the sword, so the ranged attack must be a property of the Shadowblade itself.

It certainly makes more strategic sense allowing the ranged attack without throwing the sword, since otherwise the ranged attack causes the Shadowblade to lose their most potent weapon.

And narratively it makes more sense as well. Attacking through some sort of shadow magic hits with the shadow theme much more closely than throwing the sword.

Interpretation is up to the DM. Reasonably, the DM could narrate that the Shadowblade, some distance from the target, makes attack-like movements, and at the target a blade made from wisps of shadow does the actual striking.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ a la Legend of Zelda \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 10, 2022 at 13:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ Great to see you back posting! I like this interpretation, but I think Eddymage has a point that if it was just a mystical melee attack, they could have given it reach 30 or 60, instead of giving it a ranged attack with a disadvantage distance zone. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 10, 2022 at 16:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ Unfortunately, the Sword is listed as "Melee or Ranged Weapon Attack: +9 to hit, reach 5 ft. or range 30/60 ft." It is clearly not a "reach" attack as it's listed as 5ft, and has a range listed with normal and disadvantage ranges. Or are you saying that the Sword fires off some shadowy bolt/sweep that can attack at range? \$\endgroup\$
    – MivaScott
    Commented Oct 10, 2022 at 19:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MivaScott I'd say that's almost certainly what they're saying. They're just firing off magical sword beams like an anime character. \$\endgroup\$
    – nick012000
    Commented Oct 11, 2022 at 13:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ They're attacking at a distance with their shadow swords. "A shadowblade gains their powers over shadow via a ritual in which they kill a shadow demon and mystically prevent it from re-forming in the Abyss, siphoning its essence into themselves." The physics of it are not well understood. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jack
    Commented Oct 12, 2022 at 17:26
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Monsters are simplified

Usually, you shouldn't be fiddling with object juggling for monsters beyond fractional CR ones. If a monster says they can attack 3 times, they can attack 3 times; you should assume they have the ability to draw any ammo or weapons they need for that attack.

As a general rule, 5e monsters are not designed that you have to do reading between the lines to use them in combat. Any reading that requires reading between the lines to use them in combat shouldn't be used.

If it is thrown and lost, the Drow has 2d4 of them.

There are side-rules for "how many thrown weapons does a monster have". This isn't detailed in the monster descriptions, because the short answer is "they have enough for a fight".

If you need to know specifically, the 2d4 number looks like short hand for "enough, unless they are trapped using a secondary weapon for many rounds".

If it somehow uses ammo, the Drow has 2d10 ammo

Even moreso, this is "don't worry about it unless the fight lasts longer than usual". You really aren't supposed to roll 2d10 for every archer and notice that the crossbow NPC can only fire for 1 round before becoming useless; if that was the case, it would be far more prominent a rule.

The sword is some kind of magical shadow blade

It does necrotic damage, and a fair amount of it. Treating it like a mundane object is not correct, and the properties of a magical sword are arbitrary. So what properties should it have?

Multiattack should be read as simple instructions

Multiattack. The drow makes three Shadow Sword attacks. One of the attacks can be replaced by a Hand Crossbow attack. The drow can also use Spellcasting to cast darkness.

Whatever interpretation you use, the drow should be able to:

  1. Make 3 attacks described by Shadow Sword

or

  1. Make 2 attacks described by Shadow Sword and one by Hand Crossbow

and, in addition, use Spellcasting to cast Darkness. This should be a standard round of combat for this Drow, and not require any special tricks for the Drow to do it. If this requires ammo, it should have 2d10 units of it; if it involves throwing weapons, the Drow should have 2d4 of them and be able to draw them fast enough to do the above action.

The shadow sword can be used to make a ranged attack

The Shadow Sword ability says it can be either a melee or a ranged attack. It does not specify if the ranged attack is a thrown attack, or some kind of magical ranged stab based off a magic shadow blade.

What more, it can happen 3 times in a round without jumping through hoops. If this required throwing the Shadow Sword, the Drow has to have a bunch of them.

As a DM, your job is to fill in the colour

We have some game stats. Your job is to provide colour for them that matches these game stats.

Personally, I like the idea that the attack with the shadow sword results in a flickering shadow copy of the blade cutting you far away. But I also see the utility in the shadowy weapon flying out of the drow's hand and returning to it.

You could also go with the Drow having a pile of obsidian knives on them, and as the Drow draws them they flicker into being blades of shadow.

Other monsters provide more guidance

The fact that other monsters mention how the attack can be easily repeated doesn't imply this one cannot. If you read D&D rules by saying "Well, in another case X is mentioned, here it is not. So not X must be true in this case!" you'll end up with a really hard to use set of rules, not the least because you need to memorize all of it to understand any of it.

A simple quick reading of a monster should be playable. The designers aren't going to design a monster with a bunch of hidden "gotchas" around "actually this monster isn't intended to be able to actually make ranged sword attacks more than once despite the rules saying it does it 3 times per round, we fooled you!".

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Yes

If the drow did not throw the sword it would have been a melee attack. This is exactly the same as a bugbear with a javelin - melee or ranged depending on whether the weapon is used to hit or is thrown. Nothing in the text mentions the sword teleporting or the drow summoning it back, so it would have to be picked up to be used after throwing.

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