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I've got a silly build I'm working on revolving around Path of the Giant Elemental Cleaver which grants a weapon the Thrown property. Can I use my STR for the roll? The rules seem ambiguous:

What I've found:

Thrown. If a weapon has the thrown property, you can throw the weapon to make a ranged attack. If the weapon is a melee weapon, you use the same ability modifier for that attack roll and damage roll that you would use for a melee attack with the weapon. or example, if you throw a handaxe, you use your Strength, but if you throw a dagger, you can use either your Strength or your Dexterity, since the dagger has the finesse property.

So, if it's finesse, the answer is explicit, you can use either If it's Melee, it's explicit, you must use strength But what if you are using a non finesse ranged weapon thrown? Would it be the same mod as a melee attack (STR) or the same mod as the default weapon attack (DEX)?

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for an interesting question. However, it is good to wait for more than a day before accepting an answer. I think you need to consider Quadratic Wizard's points for a RAW answer. Throwing and "Thrown" are not the same thing and ranged attacks use a Dexterity modifier. Where as if you use the crossbow to "whack" someone, it would be melee. \$\endgroup\$
    – Senmurv
    Nov 3, 2023 at 10:54

4 Answers 4

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You throw an improvised melee weapon

When you throw something as an attack, you either throw a melee weapon, or use a deliberate thrown weapon, like a dart. A crossbow is neither of that, so the only thing remains is an improvised weapon:

An improvised weapon includes any object you can wield in one or two hands

If a character uses a ranged weapon to make a melee attack <...> it also deals 1d4 damage.

An improvised weapon is not finesse, so it uses STR modifier and deals 1d4 damage. Same properties remain when you throw it:

you use the same ability modifier for that attack roll and damage roll that you would use for a melee attack with the weapon. For example, if you throw a handaxe, you use your Strength, but if you throw a dagger, you can use either your Strength or your Dexterity, since the dagger has the finesse property.

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    \$\begingroup\$ We should also note that this interpretation works much better for damage as well, just because your crossbow can do 1d10 damage with a bolt doesn't mean it will do the same damage when you chuck it at someone. \$\endgroup\$
    – biziclop
    Nov 2, 2023 at 20:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ Fair. Let me rephrase. You say that there are two options for weapon attacks, and if something is not either, then it must be an improvised weapon. First, where does that conclusion come from - I don't think it is in the description of improvised weapons. I think it is a fair conclusion, but should be justified. Second, if one of the non-improvised categories is "use a deliberate thrown weapon like a dart", why does the elemental weapon not qualify? If the class feature has given it the thrown property, what else are you supposed to do but throw it? What was the purpose of giving it that? \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Nov 2, 2023 at 20:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also, the improvised weapon rules do not state that an improvised weapon attack uses STR, so justifying that would improve the answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Nov 2, 2023 at 20:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Kirt in the end of the day, it just doesn't make sense for me. Like, how does this look like in the narrative? I'm pretty sure it's an oversight in the UA material. The feature should read "you can infuse one melee weapon of your choice", if we take the context into account. \$\endgroup\$
    – enkryptor
    Nov 2, 2023 at 20:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think this is the best answer: Ammunition property: ...If you use a weapon that has the ammunition property to make a melee attack, you treat the weapon as an improvised weapon.... Since the melee stat would be STR, the thrown stat would be strength, even though it's a ranged attack (thus not subject to the madified damage die) It would still, RAW, require to be loaded though, since nothing has nullified the ammunition property, and it would require xbow expert to ignore loading \$\endgroup\$ Nov 2, 2023 at 23:31
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Dexterity, since it's a ranged weapon attack.

Only melee weapons with the Thrown property allow you to make a ranged attack using Strength.

Firstly, the default rule is as follows:

The ability modifier used for a melee weapon attack is Strength, and the ability modifier used for a ranged weapon attack is Dexterity. Weapons that have the finesse or thrown property break this rule.

The two special exceptions mentioned are:

  • Finesse weapons allow the user to choose freely between Strength and Dexterity. This doesn't apply in our case, since the crossbow is not a Finesse weapon.
  • Thrown weapons can be used to make a ranged attack. Additionally, if they are melee weapons, they use the ability score as if it was a melee attack. However, the crossbow is not a melee weapon, so this does not apply either, even if it gains the Thrown property.

To quote the Thrown property:

Thrown. If a weapon has the thrown property, you can throw the weapon to make a ranged attack. If the weapon is a melee weapon, you use the same ability modifier for that attack roll and damage roll that you would use for a melee attack with the weapon. For example, if you throw a handaxe, you use your Strength, but if you throw a dagger, you can use either your Strength or your Dexterity, since the dagger has the finesse property.

The Sage Advice Compendium clarifies that "ranged weapon attack" means to be read as "ranged [weapon attack]", not "[ranged weapon] attack", i.e. it refers to any ranged attack which is made with a weapon.

Therefore, as long as you're making a ranged attack with the crossbow, even if you go into Improvised Weapons hijinks, it's Dexterity.

(As an aside, the weapon's damage is awkward to define. Technically, once you apply Thrown, it's just a thrown weapon with a damage value of d8 piercing. Arguably, it still possesses the Ammunition property, so it requires ammunition. The Ammunition property means it counts as an improvised weapon when used to make a melee attack, but it's not a melee attack, and the general improvised weapon rules don't define the damage in the specific edge case of using a ranged weapon as a different type of ranged weapon (they cover e.g. using melee as ranged or ranged as melee). Arguably it's not improvised since you're just throwing a Thrown weapon for full damage. As a DM I'd probably make an arbitrary ruling as dealing damage similar to a club, since that's about how well it would work.)

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I like this as it's concise and covers the salient aspects of the question. As a bonus, would you like to weigh in on what the damage roll would be? \$\endgroup\$
    – GcL
    Nov 2, 2023 at 20:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ The reference to the SAC rulings is a great addition to the answers here, as it is extensive and clarifies things. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Nov 2, 2023 at 20:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ People who are downvoting this answer: Why do you think it's incorrect? If you think it uses Strength, what rule supports this? \$\endgroup\$ Nov 3, 2023 at 20:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ Re: downvotes. See this highly upvoted comment. My guess is people just feel this answer is wrong, and rules don't matter. FWIW, my answer is rather similar to yours, and has even more downvotes. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Nov 5, 2023 at 17:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Kirt Before I researched the question I had incorrectly assumed that thrown weapons generally use Strength in 5e, but discovered that trait is specific to melee weapons with the Thrown property, by rules-as-written. It does seem illogical that, say, a thrown spear is Strength but a thrown pike is Dex. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 5, 2023 at 18:12
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Ranged Weapons Use Dex

Chapter 9 (Combat) has the rules for attacks, which say:

Ability Modifier. The ability modifier used for a melee weapon attack is Strength, and the ability modifier used for a ranged weapon attack is Dexterity.

The Sage Advise Compendium (v2.7, 2021, p.12) has a question, How do I know which ability modifier to use with an attack roll and its damage roll? which restates the same thing. Further, in the question What does “melee weapon attack” mean: a melee attack with a weapon or an attack with a melee weapon? (p.13) it says:

It means a melee attack with a weapon. Similarly, “ranged weapon attack” means a ranged attack with a weapon...Here’s a bit of wording minutia: we would write “melee-weapon attack” (with a hyphen) if we meant an attack with a melee weapon.

Since you are throwing the crossbow, you are making a ranged attack, and thus you would use Dex. It doesn't matter whether the crossbow itself is a ranged weapon, melee weapon, or improvised weapon; since the attack is ranged, you use Dex.

As examples of specific over general, a few things can change this default expectation, but they don't apply in this case. The Finesse weapon property allows one to choose Str or Dex, but since the crossbow is not a finesse weapon, this does not apply.

The Thrown weapon property says that:

If the weapon is a melee weapon, you use the same ability modifier for that attack roll and damage roll that you would use for a melee attack with the weapon.

The crossbow is now a thrown weapon, since it was given that property by the elemental cleaver feature. However, that same feature did not turn it into a melee weapon. It remains a ranged weapon, and thus the 'damage as a melee weapon would' clause of the thrown weapon property does not apply, either.

More than one answer here states that by throwing it, the crossbow has become an improvised weapon. Even if this were true1, improvised weapons by themselves don't have any special rules about what ability score modifiers to use; they simply revert to the default rule listed above; it is a ranged attack, therefor we use Dex.

But, does that make sense?

Realistically, hucking the butt-end of an actual crossbow at someone's head should be a Strength-based improvised weapon.

But that is not what is happening here. The elemental cleaver class feature takes what is otherwise a normal weapon and converts it into a source of elemental damage:

you can infuse one weapon of your choice that you are holding with one of the following damage types: acid, cold, fire, thunder, or lightning. While you wield the infused weapon during your rage, the weapon’s damage type changes to the chosen type, it deals an extra 1d6 damage of the chosen type when it hits, and it gains the thrown property, with a normal range of 20 feet and a long range of 60 feet. If you throw the weapon, it reappears in your hand the instant after it hits or misses a target.

The fact that it does an elemental damage type, does extra damage beyond the base of the weapon, and reappears in your hand all indicate that we are not dealing with a normal crossbow treated as an improvised weapon. You are not hurling a wooden crossbow, you are throwing a thunderbolt, or launching an acid axe, and it is your accuracy that matters, not your force. For you, the weapon is an instrument of "primordial might", even if it would just be a crossbow in the hands of someone else:

The infused weapon’s benefits are suppressed while a creature other than you wields it.

Your DM may rule differently if they find RAW not useful here

The whole flavor of the subclass is that when you rage, you are converted into a thunderbolt-hurling titan. However, if that narrative is not something that resonates with your DM, if they decide that throwing a crossbow at someone's head while you are raging, even a crossbow made of acid, should be based on your STR, not your DEX, then they are empowered to make that change. Or, perhaps they agree with @enkryptor, and think that the feature itself should have been restricted to melee weapons.

As long as they are making house rules, I would suggest that they also change the thrown crossbow's ammunition property, which has not been removed by your Elemental cleaver. RAW, even though you are throwing the crossbow itself, you would need at least one bolt on hand to do it, and every time you threw the crossbow you would somehow have to expend a bolt.


1 By definition, an improvised weapon deals only d4 damage. A weapon infused with elemental cleaver deals the full base damage of the weapon plus d6 more.

An improvised weapon deals damage of the type the DM assigns, appropriate to the object. As a power of the elemental cleaver feature, the player chooses the elemental damage type of the infused weapon.

An improvised weapon can be a ranged weapon used to make a melee attack, or a thrown melee weapon that does not have the thrown property. In this case, a crossbow, the infused weapon is a ranged weapon that is thrown and does have the thrown property - which is the same as a normal dart.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ So that would mean that it would be able to work with elven accuracy, but not gain rage damage. That's probably mechanically better anyway. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 2, 2023 at 4:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ I can't see any DM checking those convoluted rules and not just saying "chucking a heavy thing, strength". This is a good faith attempt for a raw answer, but there is no way throwing a crossbow was ever considered when they were written. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Nov 2, 2023 at 7:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ Sorry, that last paragraph made me imagine a scene where the crossbow owner is out of bolts and gets the suggestion to just throw the crossbow at the foe. "Didn't you hear me? I'm out of bolts!" \$\endgroup\$ Nov 2, 2023 at 13:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ @smbailey Except that in this case, the thrown crossbow doesn't deal piercing - it deals elemental damage: acid, cold, fire, thunder, or lightning, chosen by the barbarian. Throwing a crossbow-shaped pool of acid at someone is not an improvised weapon, it is an oddly thematic class feature. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Nov 2, 2023 at 17:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ @GcL The improvised rules themselves don't say what modifier is used to make the attack. Site voting indicates that even though an improvised weapon is not a ranged weapon, a thrown improvised weapon is still a ranged attack and thus would use Dex. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Nov 2, 2023 at 20:36
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Path of the Giant is UA Content

It has not undergone copy-editing. Whenever UA content act at all strange, you should assume the content should be copy-edited.

Here, the correct reading is change the text of the power to read "melee weapon" instead of "weapon".

Without that, you end up with a pile of division by zero problems that are akin to a video game bug instead of a table top roleplaying experience.

Video Game Bug Mode

It has the ammunition property, so it can only be used to make a ranged attack while loaded. It also had the Loading property, so you can only make one ranged attack per turn.

It has both a Range (20/60) and a Range (100/400) properties. By strict reading, the Range 20/60 effectively makes the Range 100/400 useless, as beyond 20 it has disadvantage and beyond 60 it cannot be used to make a ranged attack.

The weapon also requires 2 hands to throw.

Use of special ammunition would apply to the throwing of the heavy crossbow.

In this interpretation, a thrown weapon that isn't a melee weapon making a ranged attack falls back on the base ranged weapon attack rules. An example of this is the dart, which uses dexterity for its attack (but then Finesse opens up the option of using Strength again; as Finesse doesn't mean "you can use Dexterity", it means "you can choose between Strength and Dexterity").

Ammunition Property means it is an Improvised Melee Weapon

Another reading would be to take the text of the Ammunition property:

If you use a weapon that has the ammunition property to make a melee attack, you treat the weapon as an improvised weapon (see "Improvised Weapons" later in the section).

and read that to mean the crossbow is a melee weapon that uses improvised weapon rules when interpreting the thrown rules:

Thrown. If a weapon has the thrown property, you can throw the weapon to make a ranged attack. If the weapon is a melee weapon, you use the same ability modifier for that attack roll and damage roll that you would use for a melee attack with the weapon.

which in turn means you use Strength to throw a heavy crossbow, and it deals 1d4 damage.

This has the nice property that it makes some sense, unlike the Video Game Bug version of the interpretation.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Ammunition property says "If you use a weapon that has the ammunition property to make a melee attack, you treat the weapon as an improvised weapon." So what you are saying is that being unedited, elemental cleaver is supposed to say "When you give a ranged weapon the thrown property and then throw it, you should treat it as a melee weapon making a melee attack and therefor an improvised weapon if it has the ammunition property? \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Nov 2, 2023 at 18:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think this answer makes good points on the interactions between the properties. Specifically the issues with adding thrown to loading and ammunition. I suggest dropping the comparison to video games or div by zero errors. \$\endgroup\$
    – GcL
    Nov 2, 2023 at 19:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ Generally a good answer, but Path of the Giant is no longer UA content. It was released officially with Bigby's Glory of Giants. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 2, 2023 at 23:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DanielTose Wow, WotC got sloppy \$\endgroup\$
    – Yakk
    Nov 3, 2023 at 1:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Kirt I'm saying that reading the "ammunition" property as giving the weapon the melee weapon properties of an improvised weapon is a reasonable reading that leads to a sane result in this case, as the ammunition property explicitly describes what happens when you make a melee weapon attack with weapons with that property. This specific logic would only apply to ranged weapons with the ammunition property; as it happens, all weapons either have ammunition or are already thrown or are melee weapons. (not always exclusive) \$\endgroup\$
    – Yakk
    Nov 3, 2023 at 1:04

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