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In the weapons table the net has a listed range of 5/15. This means that any attack made against a target more than 5 feet away has disadvantage. But the net is also a ranged weapon so any attack made within 5 feet of an enemy has disadvantage. There is an entry for the net under special weapons but it only describes how the net restrains its targets and how a creature can escape it.

It seems to me that the only way to make an attack with a net without disadvantage is to somehow gain advantage through hiding, a class feature, etc. to cancel the disadvantage. Am I missing something or do attacks with nets always have disadvantage?

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Net attacks RAW are made perpetually with disadvantage.

They act as a normal ranged attack, so you are either always throwing them at long range (10-15 feet) and incurring disadvantage, or you are throwing them at short range and as a result are in close combat and throwing them at disadvantage. The description of the net in the PHB gives it no special rules for avoiding either of these two general rules.

Mike Mearls confirms this in a tweet:

Do nets (thrown) use STR or DEX for attack rolls? Are they exempt from close combat disadvantage, as normal range is only 5feet? Dex, since you can't make melee attacks with it. still take disad in close combat despite range. -M

My only thought is the designers worried that nets might be overpowered and that a net attack should always be made at a disadvantage unless the PC is receiving advantage from somewhere. Nets actually seem really underpowered even without the disadvantage problem. Burn an action to restrain a creature who can escape it easily (DC10 or 5 slashing damage), but maybe they worried about the potential for a net dog pile where one player nets an enemy and then everyone makes their attacks against a netted enemy before that enemy gets a chance to escape. In that light it could be broken against single, powerful enemies.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think the always disadvantage is definitely for bosses, where giving the entire party advantage, and the enemy disadvantage on dex saves, is pretty significant. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 12, 2014 at 18:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ also now part of Sage Advice, ca. July 2016 \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60
    Commented Jul 19, 2016 at 17:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ That doesn't sound so much 'broken' as 'what would actually happen, with reasonable results' \$\endgroup\$
    – user47897
    Commented Nov 7, 2018 at 22:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ I know this is an old question, but this answer is only mostly right. "When you make a ranged attack [...] you have disadvantage on the attack roll if you are within 5 feet of a hostile creature who can see you" -- if you are invisible or the guy next to you is blinded, you both lose the disadvantage AND get advantage because the target of your attack can't see you. It's a slim opportunity, but it's there. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 5, 2021 at 21:00
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Yes, unless you take one of two feats. The other answers explain this more completely, but for completeness sake, I will reiterate:

  • Under normal circumstances, due to the fact that the Net is a ranged weapon with a range of 5', you will be at disadvantage attacking with it. There are many ways to negate disadvantage by either doubling down while disadvantaged as Doug mentioned, or by using then net while you possess advantage.

However, there are two feats that you can take to make nets useful and to not have to deal with disadvantage while using them.

The first is Crossbow Expert, yeah that seems a bit weird, doesn't it? But in reality, this feat is perfect for the net wielder, as it negates the disadvantage from close range, and it lets you score an additional attack on someone when you attack, which you miss out on with your net attack as you can't use extra attacks after attacking with it.

The second is Sharpshooter. This is the favorite of the ranged net caster. It allows you to attack from long range without being at disadvantage. It also ignores cover. The damage feature of the feat is lost on the net user, but it does negate the disadvantage inherent in using a net.

So while under normal circumstances attacks with the net are always at disadvantage, it is something that you can get out of, you just have to spend resources on it. Whether that is worth it is quite debatable as the net is still quite weak.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Just out of curiosity, what makes you say "the damage feature... is lost on the net user"? It's currently a question here. \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60
    Commented Aug 7, 2016 at 20:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ Don't forget that you may also take the Lucky feat to essentially transform disadvantage into super-advantage 3 times per long rest. \$\endgroup\$
    – Gael L
    Commented Dec 1, 2017 at 15:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ The Close Quarters Shooter UA Fighting Style (media.wizards.com/2015/downloads/dnd/…) also states (among other things): "When making a ranged attack while you are within 5 feet of a hostile creature, you do not have disadvantage on the attack roll." So that'd be another way to use a net without disadvantage, assuming UA options are allowed. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Commented Feb 11, 2018 at 10:34

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