The following situation happened during a game:

A player was granted a free basic melee attack, so of course the player was intending to do as much damage as possible. Which in his case was using his bow, instead of a dagger. A bow however is ranged, but since his opponent was adjacent I allowed it (because he is in melee range right?). Was this correct according to the rules D&D 4e?

Another thought that occurred to me afterwards was that if he had his bow equipped, he could not really make a free melee (dagger) attack anyway. Does a PC have to skip the free attack if he is not able to execute it? (Or would get a free weapon swap in this situation?)


If a power specifically calls for a melee basic attack, the player may only make a melee basic attack

Basic Attack

When a power or other effect allows a creature to make a basic attack, the creature can make either a melee basic attack or a ranged basic attack. If the power or other effect specifically calls for a melee basic attack or a ranged basic attack, the creature must use that type.

Published in Player's Handbook, page(s) 287, Rules Compendium, page(s) 238. D&D Insider Compendium

If the player was wielding a longbow, they would not be able to use it for a melee basic attack.

A melee basic attack is defined as using a melee weapon, not a ranged weapon. How far a weapon can attack (range) has no bearing on whether or not the weapon is a melee weapon or a ranged weapon, think about reach melee weapons. The longbow is only a ranged weapon. Some weapons are both melee and ranged (particularly thrown weapons), but this is not the case for your player.

The player could have made an MBA, but not a great one

In the situation you describe if the player wished to take advantage of the MBA, the could make an improvised weapon attack using their bow...

Weapon Prof. Damage Range Weight Prop. Group

One-handed — 1d4 — 5 lb. or less — None or unarmed

Two-handed — 1d8 — 6 lb. or more — —

Which version of the attack you would be making is DM's discretion.

In 4e powers do exactly what they say, no more, less

If a player is granted an MBA by a power, he may only use that to make an MBA, the player cannot take alternate actions. Likewise unless a power said, save this attack for later or something like that you can't save up an MBA to use when you want to/are able to.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The character can also use the longbow as an two handed improvised weapon, no need to switch hand, higher damage, and may benefit from some two handed weapon feats or features. \$\endgroup\$ – Sheepy Jun 4 '14 at 5:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ @sheepy the longbow is defined as a two-handed ranged weapon, two-handed weapon expertise only modifies attacks made with two-handed melee weapons. Using a longbow to make an improvised weapon attack will not make the longbow a two-handed melee weapon. \$\endgroup\$ – Joshua Aslan Smith Jun 4 '14 at 12:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ I have a half-memory of a feat, possibly even in a different edition (hence adding this as a comment, so someone with more knowledge can clarify or edit into the answer if appropriate) that allows a bow to be used as a melee weapon in certain circumstances. If such a thing does actually exist (or was homebrewed), this would change the correct ruling in this instance. \$\endgroup\$ – Ryno Jun 4 '14 at 17:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DCShannon, per DDI, "Improvised Large Melee" weapons are 6-12 pounds. Despite normally being used with both hands, I would consider a bow to be an "Improvised Small Melee" weapon (1-5 pounds, 1d4 damage). \$\endgroup\$ – Brian S Jun 4 '14 at 21:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Sheepy Okay, so I'm thinking that there's no reason you couldn't put the other hand on the bow and get some extra force, but that's essentially the idea behind Versatile. So, I guess, technically, since the bow isn't versatile, and it is light enough to use in one hand, it would be a one-handed weapon. If I were the DM, I would probably houserule it as versatile, but I think that RAW would disallow using the 2nd hand. Good catch. \$\endgroup\$ – DCShannon Jun 5 '14 at 0:06

Weapons and attacks are classed as either melee or ranged. This classification does not rely on the range to the target, but the weapon or power. Therefore, if the character had been armed with only a missile weapon, he would not have been able to make a melee attack, and would not have qualified for the free attack.

I won't post a link, but if you have access to D&D Insider and the Compendium, take a look at the Glossary section, and search for Melee Attack.

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    \$\begingroup\$ please link to DDI when appropriate, it's silly not to (but also be ready to give the page number and book source if asked, it's good to do both in general but can be a PITA). Worth noting that unarmed attacks are always an option for opportunity attacks, but in general it's not a useful option. \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Jun 4 '14 at 1:06

Ranged or Melee Attack

Each attack is classified as Ranged, Melee, Area, or Close. You can look at the power description to see. If it says 'Ranged 5', then it's ranged. A melee basic attack is Melee.

Ranged or Melee Weapon

If an attack has the Weapon keyword, then you'll need to use a matching weapon. A ranged weapon for a Ranged Weapon power, a melee weapon for a Melee Weapon power.

Using a Ranged Weapon as a Melee Weapon

So, to do a melee basic, you need to use a melee weapon. A bow is not a melee weapon, but it could be used as an improvised melee weapon. In other words, he would just hit him with the bow, not shoot an arrow.

One-Handed or Two-Handed

There could be some room for interpretation on whether the bow is a one or two-handed improvised weapon, but it appears that RAW would require you to use it as a one-hander. There's not a ton of guidance on this, but the Player's Handbook does say that "A one-handed weapon is light enough or balanced enough to be used in one hand. A two-handed weapon is too heavy or unbalanced to use without two hands". The bow weighs only 2 or 3 pounds, and the improvised weapon table implies that anything under 6 pounds would be a one-handed weapon.

That being said, a longsword is "light or balanced enough to use in one-hand", but since it's versatile you can use it as a two-hander if you choose. If I was your DM, I would allow you to treat a longbow as versatile.

Attack and Damage

Two-handed improvised melee weapons do 1d8 damage, but have no proficiency bonus, so your attack modifier would be lower than a real weapon you're proficient with.

If you have features that work with one-handed weapons, or if you can't use it two-handed because it's too light, you can use the bow one-handed. Unfortunately, improvised one-handed melee weapons do only 1d4 damage, the same as a dagger. So, the dagger would actually do more damage than the bow would one-handed, because it would be more likely to hit.

If the bow is versatile, then the damage would be 1d4+1, which is still less than a full-fledged two-handed improvised weapon, but would allow you to apply any features or powers you may have which rely on using two-handed weapons.

You could also just punch with your free hand while holding the bow in the other hand. The bow requires two hands to fire, but you can just hold it in one. Unless you have some special features like a monk, punching is an improvised melee weapon and also does 1d4 damage with no proficiency bonus.

Using a Dagger on the Attack

In order to attack with a dagger on an opportunity attack when the dagger was not equipped, you would need to be able to draw the dagger either with a free action or as part of the action. The Quick Draw feat would allow this, as would some class features.

Unable to Attack

If the character is unable to attack for some reason, then they would be unable to attack. So yes, they would skip the free attack. However, since you always have a melee weapon in the form of your hands, this would never be because of a lack of a melee weapon. If you were out of melee range, or unable to attack because of some condition, then you would skip the attack.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Re: using a bow as an improvised weapon, if you're comparing it to a versatile weapon, I'd add a +1 to damage rather than making it a improvised two-hander. But that's neither here nor there as the likelihood of hitting with a bow is pretty abysmal (between the combined issue of lack of several bonuses (prof, feat, enhancement) and the fact that your stats are probably badly misaligned for melee) \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Jun 6 '14 at 12:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ @waxeagle Yeah, I thought of that later, but I wasn't sure if I wanted to bother adding it. I guess I will now that someone else noticed. \$\endgroup\$ – DCShannon Jun 6 '14 at 20:08

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