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The question has been asked as to whether or not a dragon can wield weapons in 5e, and for the first time in a long time, I am stumped about how to answer.

I first searched the stack exchange, finding only this, which relates to 3.5. While that is useful in terms of having me make up my mind on my own (based on the assumption that if dragons canonically couldn't wield weapons in 3rd edition, then why would an edition change alter their anatomy so that they now could), I'd still prefer to have a definitive 5th edition source to base my answer off.

The Monster Manual says this:

Assume that a creature is proficient with its armor, weapons, and tools. If you swap them out, you decide whether the creature is proficient with its new equipment.
For example, a hill giant typically wears hide armor and wields a greatclub. You could equip a hill giant with chain mail and a greataxe instead, and assume the giant is proficient with both, one or the other, or neither.

This would suggest that I could simply decide a dragon is proficient with any weapon I give it, and having proficiency means it knows how to use it, regardless of how prehensile its claws are. But is this small blurb from a sidebar in the MM introduction really the only piece of text anywhere in any 5e book that even remotely suggests it might be possible or not for a dragon to wield implements? I would've thought Fizban's Treasury of Dragons, at least, had something to explain what dragons could and could not equip themselves with, but a cursory search of that book yielded nothing for me.

I'd really appreciate a thorough answer that points me to some sources I can review myself. Answers like "DM fiat" aren't helpful in this case, because I have been DMing for 20+ years and am well aware I can just make up my own mind about this. The question isn't "what should I do in this scenario," but rather, more "does this question have a definitive answer that I've overlooked?"

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    – Someone_Evil
    Jan 24, 2023 at 22:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ What problem are you trying to solve? \$\endgroup\$
    – nvoigt
    Jan 25, 2023 at 6:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm trying to find 5th-edition sources that confirm or deny if dragons, as a general rule, can wield manufactured weapons. \$\endgroup\$
    – Joshua
    Jan 25, 2023 at 15:39

2 Answers 2

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The dragon can carry a weapon, but is not proficient with it

Can they hold a weapon

Unfortunately, there seems to be no direct statement to address this anywhere. In Dragon of Icespire Peak (p. 30), there is a solid-frozen corpse of an ogre that was "too big to carry off, so the dragon left it", which demonstrates evidence that dragons can pick up and carry things with their claws in general also in 5e.

So, I think it is save to conclude that in 5e, dragons can carry things in their claws. That would include a weapon. What remains is the question if they would be proficient in using that weapon?

Lack of Proficiency

By default, a dragon is not proficient with any equipment.

Armor Weapon and Tool Proficiencies

Assume that a creature is proficient with its armor, weapons, and tools. If you swap them out, you decide whether the creature is proficient with its new equipment.
For example, a hill giant typically wears hide armor and wields a greatclub. You could equip a hill giant with chain mail and a greataxe instead, and assume the giant is proficient with both, one or the other, or neither.
See the Player's Handbook for rules on using armor or weapons without proficiency.

What may be confusing here is that natural armor also is armor, and natural weapons also are weapons. The Sage Advice Compendium even clarifies that the Dragon's attacks count as weapons. So you read the above sentence to include them, and tell you it is up to you.

However, checking Weapon Proficiency in the PHB (p. 146), it says:

Your race, class, and feats can grant you proficiency with certain weapons or categories of weapons. The two categories are simple and martial.

A claw attack is neither a simple nor a martial weapon, which are all the categories this applies to. The dragon is proficient with its claws and bite because it is proficient in its natural attacks, but it cannot be due to weapon proficiency, as that only applies to simple and martial weapons.

The section quoted above about proficiency talks about equipment. The context of "armor, weapons and tools" being used together makes it clear, the examples that speak about greatclubs, greatswords, hide armor and chainmail make it clear, the title of armor, weapon and tool proficiency all of which are about equipment makes it clear, and lastly the statement that you decide if the creature is proficient with its new equipment makes it clear.

Moreover, the Monster Manual on page 6 states: "For advice on how to customize creatures and calculate their challenge ratings, see the Dungeon Master's Guide andhe DMG, on page 273 under Switching Weapons says:

If a monster wields a manufactured weapon, you can replace that weapon with a different one. For example, you could replace a hobgoblin's longsword with a halberd.

The dragon is not wielding a manufactured weapon and you are not replacing a manufactured weapon with another one. You are giving a manufactured weapon to a creature that was not using one before.

Their dragon stat block does not list any equipment, so they are not proficient with any.


PS. I think what makes this harder is that the sections about modifying monsters in general allow you to change monsters in whatever way you choose. They need to support you replacing the dragon's claws with tentacles, and come up with appropriate guidance. You even might want to give a dragon a weapon and proficiency in it, as a special monster. But I'm pretty sure, and I hope I was able to demonstrate with quotes, that you should not use this to infer that dragons in general would be proficient with wielded weapons.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you. This is exactly what I was hoping for. \$\endgroup\$
    – Joshua
    Jan 25, 2023 at 15:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ What about dragons that shapechange into humanoid form? They could use a statblock that gives them proficiency… \$\endgroup\$ Jan 26, 2023 at 1:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ @GuybrushMcKenzie It would gain proficinecy. Here from the Silver Dragon: "Its statistics and capabilities are otherwise replaced by those ofthe new form, except any class features or legendary actions of that form." If the new form has statistics that include proficiency, so will the shape changed dragon. I think that is not what the question is about though, the question is about the dragon in their native, dragon form. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 26, 2023 at 6:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GroodytheHobgoblin But isn't weapon proficiency a class feature? I mean, you can gain proficiency with weapons using certain feats, but then again, feats are kind of a class feature as well (you gain them at certain levels). So by that reading, it should not gain proficiency through shapechange... \$\endgroup\$
    – Wtrmute
    Jan 26, 2023 at 19:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Wtrmute I'd think the bulk of the Monster Manual monsters have no class, and hence no class features. E.g. a Goblin is proficient with Scimitar and Shortbow, but is not a Fighter, Ranger, or other class by default. But maybe exploring this would better be done in a separate Q&A instead of a comment discussion. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 26, 2023 at 20:07
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RAW a Dragon Can Probably Wield a Weapon

Is A Dragon Proficient? Maybe.

You pointed out that it is up to the DM to decide if a dragon is proficient with any given armor, weapon or tool. I know you don't want DM fiat, but for proficiency it is up to the DM.

Assume that a creature is proficient with its armor, weapons, and tools. If you swap them out, you decide whether the creature is proficient with its new equipment. For example, a hill giant typically wears hide armor and wields a greatclub. You could equip a hill giant with chain mail and a greataxe instead, and assume the giant is proficient with both, one or the other, or neither.

Wield Without Proficiency

Not being proficient with a weapon doesn't mean you can't wield the weapon, it just means you can't add the proficiency bonus:

Weapon Proficiency

Your race, class, and feats can grant you proficiency with certain weapons or categories of weapons. The two categories are simple and martial. Most people can use simple weapons with proficiency. These weapons include clubs, maces, and other weapons often found in the hands of commoners. Martial weapons, including swords, axes, and polearms, require more specialized training to use effectively. Most warriors use martial weapons because these weapons put their fighting style and training to best use.

Proficiency with a weapon allows you to add your proficiency bonus to the attack roll for any attack you make with that weapon. If you make an attack roll using a weapon with which you lack proficiency, you do not add your proficiency bonus to the attack roll.

So proficiency is not required to actually wield the weapon, only to add the proficiency bonus.

Physicality

Nothing in 5e physically limits the dragon from using a weapon. While their ego might make them think using most weapons is beneath them, there is no reason in the books they couldn't. The physical descriptions and depictions of dragons in Fizban's do include changes from previous editions and don't include, as far as I've seen, any prohibition on wielding weapons.

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