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I made a character for a campaign that fell through about a year ago or so, but loved the concept so much that I wanted to revise it in broader strokes so it would be ready to personalize into another campaign. The concept itself is a one-armed half-elven noble who fights hidden by a full suit of armour [for campaign reasons] and wields a shield as a weapon [due to a campaign reason why he can't wield a weapon anymore].

At the time, I worked with my DM and used the Improvized Weapon rules to balance it as a 1d8+STR Bludgeoning weapon (based on the average S&B build) with a 30/120 range (based on a javelin). I also took the subclass Eldritch Knight to mask my voice with Message and use the Bonded Weapon to give it a returning feature.

However, recently I discovered that a more mediocre version of this shield concept was published in The Book of Many Things (Ch.9 P.66) called the Boomerang Shield (uncommon magic item) with a 1d6 Slashing attack, 20/60 range, finesse equivalent, and a returning feature as part of the action. With this concept, I'd start out weaker and continue to lag behind in power as there are no +1,2,3 versions of the shield.

To summarize, I am simply feeling a bit deflated because what I considered to be a really interesting character concept seems to have been drastically watered down with official content. I used to draw the line in character concepts by sticking to "if there is a similar concept in D&D, don't try and deviate too much", so though I might be overthinking this, I am worried that presenting my character to a DM now might be seen as problematic and insulting, rather than an interesting concept they'd enjoy watching grow in their campaign. Am I wrong?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This is actually an issue I've seen before: a player/DM has X as custom content, something official publishes X or X' as something official, and the player/DM is put in an awkward position both in terms of balance and feeling original. Is your main concern that you'd be perceived as trying to abuse the balance, or that you may come across as derivative in spite of having the idea prior to the published variant? \$\endgroup\$
    – Shivers
    Nov 19, 2023 at 10:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Shivers my main concern is appearing as a problem player presenting unbalanced characters. My first idea used the Improvized Weapon rules to condense a Sword and Board character's starting equipment into the use of a shield (and later kept balanced with upgrades), however I can hear the argument that either such a rule should apply to (or should not apply because) of the Boomerang Shield. On the same light, I can also see a table getting annoyed later on when I am highly underpowered because of the shield. \$\endgroup\$
    – Victor B
    Nov 19, 2023 at 11:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ Classes are not balanced around the assumption that magical weapons will become available. Are you worried more about the boomerang shield being weaker, or because of lack of magical versions? Because there are no magical versions of your shield either. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Nov 19, 2023 at 11:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri The original idea was a one armed character who learned to fight with a shield because lore reasons (attunement or curse) prevents him from wielding weapons, and balanced to keep up with a S&B build (1d8 weapon, shield, javelin), with a bit of wiggle room if someone destroyed or stole his mundane shield. The question of how this applies to magic shields only came much later, and can be ignored in non-magical campaigns. So you are right in thinking that my worry is about being bound by a unique weaker shield, harming the party balance. \$\endgroup\$
    – Victor B
    Nov 19, 2023 at 13:00

3 Answers 3

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How a character is realised should be a conversation

Each table is different, of course, but when a player has a concept that doesn’t neatly fit into the standard rules of the game, then there needs to be some negotiation between player and GM for how they’ll make it work. Is it okay for you to suggest mechanics? Of course! Indeed as a GM I love it when this happens because it means solving the mechanical problem isn’t entirely down to me.

Remember that balance when it comes to characters exists to serve two purposes: ensuring all players can contribute roughly equally to the game in terms of the mechanical effect they can have; and enabling the DM to make a reasonably accurate assumption about a character’s efficacy when designing encounters and other challenges. As long as what you propose is equivalent to what a standard character could have, it should be fine, but remember to account for all the advantages and drawbacks when you do this. And your goal matters too: it seems you’re doing this so you can play a one-armed character and not be overly disadvantaged, which is a very reasonable ask.

…but consider that your suggestion is better than what other characters can achieve

In your case, though, your current solution is stronger than what can be achieved with standard gear. Combining a shield and combination melee/thrown weapon into one item is okay, but let’s recall what the improvised weapon rules say:

Often, an improvised weapon is similar to an actual weapon and can be treated as such. For example, a table leg is akin to a club. At the DM's option, a character proficient with a weapon can use a similar object as if it were that weapon and use his or her proficiency bonus.

It’s probably stretching things a little to say your shield resembles a weapon, but I don’t think for the concept it’s unreasonable to treat it as one anyway. But the stats you’ve chosen for it don’t match any existing weapons: standard thrown weapons do 1d4 or 1d6 damage, including spears, tridents (the only martial thrown weapon) and javelins, though a spear can be wielded two-handed for 1d8 damage in melee. It doesn’t really work for you to have the shield as a combo longsword/longbow either, since another character couldn’t combine those weapons; carrying both would mean dropping one to draw the other during combat, giving up one kind of attack for the other.

There is an official thrown weapon which does 1d8 damage: the yklwa, detailed in Tomb of Annihilation. It’s balanced, however, by having a very short throwing range of only 10/30. But this could be a viable alternative, especially since a non-magical shield ought to have a short throwing range anyway. (Once you introduce a magic item, like the Boomerang shield, you can get much more creative.)

This doesn’t address the other things your combo shield allows, though, primarily that it gets around the limitations of the Weapon Bond feature. While it can apply to two weapons (the longsword and longbow combo again), it can only summon one at a time, and normally it cannot apply to shields. And Weapon Bond also negates the primary drawback of having all your attack and defence focussed through one item - that you might lose it.

So while your goal is good, your homebrew solution is strictly a little better than what an equivalent level character could manage using standard rules. I don’t think it’d be a problem at the right table with a group who’s all for your concept, but with a new GM it might be better to consider something more in line with standard rules. Or, as an alternative, pay a cost for the improved capability: I’d suggest maybe a custom fighting style would be appropriate, or maybe a variation of the Shield Master feat which lets it be used offensively instead of defensively?

The build as described would require the War Caster feat to be effective, since otherwise the character would be unable to cast spells, but I don’t think this is the cost it needs for balance. If the goal is to be the equivalent of a character wielding a shield and a melee/thrown weapon, that would be required in any case, since such a character would not have a free hand. But a character built using standard assumptions - which could, by the way, include a one-armed character who uses a prostheses for weapon, shield or the ability to use somatic components, but only one of those at a time - would have the option of not using a shield for a level until they could get the feat, which doesn’t work for your concept as-is.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I am all for negotiating with things like your suggestions of using the fighting style, or modifying the Shield Master as I find that to be a fair request from a DM. There are also other limitations to this build that I found, like needing the WarCaster feat for an Eldritch Knight due to only having one hand holding a shield, so I am not that convinced about the advantages, but I am glad it is not beyond a discussion. \$\endgroup\$
    – Victor B
    Nov 19, 2023 at 14:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ The improvised weapon rules are usually assuming characters haven't practiced extensively with using that specific item as a weapon, that's it's literally improvising on the spot for short term usage. So it makes sense to me that long-term practicing with a non-standard item could make it work more like a weapon and at least get 1d6 or maybe 1d8 melee damage out of it, putting your body weight behind shield bashes, or using the edges to slash. But a shield as a ranged weapon seems pretty optimistic, especially as far as 30/120. It would have to fly edge-on like a frisbee to get anywhere. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 19, 2023 at 21:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ @VictorB - yes, I thought of War Caster just after posting, but didn’t think it a significant cost for reasons I’ll add in to my answer now. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 19, 2023 at 23:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PeterCordes yes, I agree. The part of the rules where it’s breaking down a bit is where the shield isn’t emulating the effects of a specific existing weapon. But we’ve all seen Captain America and a shield frisbee you can throw 20 feet without disadvantage isn’t out of the question for the level of “fantasy realism” D&D is aiming for. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 19, 2023 at 23:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, it depends on the type of fantasy the DM wants the game to feel like. My other point with the thrown-like-a-frisbee was that the thrown damage should probably be slashing, unless the edge is blunt enough. Note that Captain America's shield is made of a vibranium alloy; in 5e terms it has the magical properties of a Boomerang Shield, but with more damage because vibranium momentum / energy stuff. (Plus probably being a +3 shield used by a character with Shield Master.) And yeah, 20 foot short range seems ok, possibly even 30. It's the 120 ft long range that really felt like a stretch. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 19, 2023 at 23:56
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Consider aiming at mechanically balanced homebrew content

I think in general it is problematic to propose homebrew mechanics for your character that are strictly superior than the offically available options, if you do not balance it with some downside. Asking for more can create the impression of using the pretense of a character concept to get an unfair advantage in power, compared to other players. In general it is better to aim at something that is balanced with the normally available options. If you primarily care about the character concept, you should really not need game-mechanics upsides over the baseline of power to play it.

So the key question is if what you propose is in line with the overall balance of the game for your group, not how it compares to an individual magic item. If the proposal is balanced, or the group plays at a slightly overpowered level anyways, I would not worry. If it is too good, I would revise it. In any case, be gracious and accept what the DM decides about it in the end.

Assessing your proposed mechanics

A real improvised weapon is a lot weaker than what you call an "Improvised weapon" in your original design1. It deals d4 damage, not 1d8, and has a range of 20/60, not 30/120, and you cannot use your proficiency bonus on the attack without a special feature to do so, like Tavern Brawler.

When you can add your proficiency bonus, your proposed mechanic instead is better weapon than a Javelin, which has 30/120 feet of thrown range, but only deals 1d6 plus Strength modifier in damage.

As another comparison, longbows deal 1d8 as you proposed, at even greater range, but are two-handed so no extra +2 to AC, wich seems to be a significant cost. You can shoot them more often per round without consuming a bonus action, while Bonded Weapon uses up your bonus action, which also an opportunity cost, but only rally starts to matter later. I probably still would prefer the extra AC over the added range, especially in tier 1-2 where I only have one extra attack.

So, I think if it is important to set it off with other mechanical disadavantages. For example, you only have one arm -- that means you cannot hold anything in addition to your weapon, which may be a little bit of downside, but not that much. You still could use it as a shield, when you are not attacking with it, so no downside to AC2, and as an half-elf, you have darkvision, so no need to carry a torch or lantern. More importantly, treating it as an improvised weapon in the sense that you do not get your proficiency bonus to the attack is a real downside. You have to spend a feat on overcoming this, which is not a mean cost.

Overall, a point to hit is about as much value as a point of damage, and if you get d8 instead of d6 as with a javelin, this is about 1 point more damage on average. Not having proficiency is at least +2 less to hit. As I understand it, with your design you have an improvised weapon in the sense of not getting the proficiency bonus to the attack. I think that is not overpowered, compared to other options, and would not worry about proposing it.


1The rules for improvised weapons (p. 147f, PHB) say:

An object that bears no resemblance to a weapon deals 1d4 damage (the DM assigns a damage type appropriate to the object). 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.

So as a baseline using the normal rules, you can create this character with an Improvised weapon that deals 1d4 damage. And if you were an Eldritch Knight, you could have it return with your Bonded Weapon class feature. You would need to spend an ASI on the Tavern Brawler feat, so you also would be proficient with that weapon and get to add your proficincy bonus to the attack.

2 There is a SAC on this:

If you attack with a shield—most likely as an improvised weapon—do you keep the +2 bonus to AC? Attacking with a shield doesn’t deprive you of the shield’s bonus to AC.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Just to clarify, but are you suggesting that this is balanced as long as it is a real improvised weapon and the tavern brawler feat is needed to fix that? (I think I agree, but not sure that is what you are saying) \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Nov 19, 2023 at 11:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri Yes, as long as they don't get proficiency on the attack, I think d8 on damage and Javelin Range is not unbalanced against other things they could do with a normal build. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 19, 2023 at 12:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ The way we originally balanced it was combining the Improvized Weapon paragraph above the one you quoted (giving the DM the option to claim items as weapons) and his Shield Proficiency. We also based the stats with a S&B fighter's starting equipment (1d8 weapon, shield, and javelins) for the stats. That said, I am not opposed to drop the thrown property damage to 1d6, and even requiring the Shield Master feat to use that aspect. However, the concept was that he can't wield weapons, so that does negate most of Tavern Brawler. \$\endgroup\$
    – Victor B
    Nov 19, 2023 at 12:37
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Custom is Custom, Every Time

You had custom homebrew rules supporting a neat character concept in one game. Great!

Now you want to use that same custom content in a different game. Every DM is going to be skeptical of that to a greater or lesser degree. Even if it's the same DM, he or she may not want to let the Winter Soldier make a reappearance. Maybe it was overpowered or underpowered and hard to build encounters for, maybe it was annoying in some other way. And for a different DM, she has the same uncertainty but without the experience of it working already, and without the precedent of having been the one to create it.

So, while everything at all about your character is technically subject to DM veto, custom content is always going to earn extra special bonus scrutiny.

But it's probably fine

If this is the only weirdness about your character, I would not be worried at all. You have something that is only marginally better than official stuff, it really doesn't matter. Frankly, I would be more concerned that you would end up underpowered than overpowered (from the missing hand), and as long as you were fine with that I would just let it slide.

I've been playing and running games for about 20 years, including running and playing 5E, and my favorite system remains D&D 3.5: I am extraordinarily aware of the knife's edge that balance can ride on. While everything really does come down to your specific table, this is generally a nothingburger.

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