I'm trying to get to the bottom of using a torch as an improvised weapon in 5e D&D.

Moving from the more to the less certain:

If you make a melee attack with a burning torch and hit, it deals 1 fire damage. (PHB pg.153)

The most certain thing is "1 fire damage", though the wording does not say either "only 1 fire damage" or "an additional 1 fire damage", the former is probably the most natural reading.

As "torch" is not listed under weapons, we seem to be in the area of improvised weapons here:

Sometimes characters don’t have their weapons and have to attack with whatever is close at hand. An improvised weapon includes any object you can wield in one or two hands, such as broken glass, a table leg, a frying pan, a wagon wheel, or a dead goblin. (PHB pg.147)

And a torch (burning or not) certainly fits the "any object you can wield in one or two hands" bill.

In many cases, 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. (PHB pg.147)

Like the example of the table leg in the PHB, a torch would seem to be most like a club, so presumably proficient in this weapon could add their proficiency bonus. Even if a torch is not considered similar enough to a club, which has a damage of d4 bludgeoning we read:

An object that bears no resemblance to a weapon deals 1d4 damage (the DM assigns a damage type appropriate to the object). (PHB pg.148)

So 1d4 bludgeoning in any case.

If a character takes an unlit torch, the improvised weapon rules are certainly in effect, so 1d4 damage. If however the torch is lit ... the damage drops to 1 (specific rule beats general). Absurd but apparently the case.

My question is twofold:

  • Have I correctly understood that the rules-as-written mean an unlit torch has a damage of 1d4 (bludgeoning), whereas a lit one has a fixed damage of 1 (fire)?
  • Or would it be possible to recurse to the improvised weapon rules and say "I want to really hit the enemy with my torch, not just burn them a bit". If this latter case is possible, are we looking at 1d4 bludgeoning only, or 1d4 bludgeoning +1 fire damage?

I'm aware that this question is open to house rules, and I'm cooking up my own already, but I'd like to know what orthodoxy I am departing from.

  • \$\begingroup\$ One thing to consider is can a torch (lit or unlit) be an improvised weapon given that it is identified as a weapon for which stats are given? Similarly for the other items you mention. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dale M
    Commented Mar 1, 2015 at 22:01
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ It's not listed as a weapon, but as equipment, though it is given a damage rating. In any case even weapons can be used as improvised weapons if used unusually (e.g. throwing a weapon without the thrown tag). \$\endgroup\$
    – harlandski
    Commented Mar 1, 2015 at 22:57

6 Answers 6

  1. RAW interpretation:

    Torches would deal 1d4 unlit as an improvised weapon and only 1 lit as per torch description, specific overrules general.

    A reason for this by RAW could be it's burning, twigs and sticks that are alight are brittle and fall apart at the softest touch.

  2. Rules as Intended/Logic

    Torches are usually a bunch of reeds, sticks, cloth and other flammable substances attached to a piece of wood, of which the strength there of may vary (DM's decision whether it is a solid piece of oak or a simple flex of more solid branches). They can be fairly flexible but brittle too and therefore not really appropriate to be used as an improvised weapon. Think hitting someone with the equivalent of a pool noodle, that's not going to do 1d4 damage.

    Just because rules allow for many things to be used as an improvised weapon does not mean that anything and everything can/should be. I stab him with my sewing needle, it's an improvised weapon, I deal 1d4 damage. Common Sense Rules.

    Torches cannot practically be used as an improvised weapon, they would most likely break apart after one hit. So would deal no damage as a weapon unless lit when it deals 1 fire damage.

  3. DM Allows Torch as Improvised

    If your DM is going to rule that they can be used as an improvised weapon then they would deal 1d4 bludgeoning and if lit 1d4 bludgeoning + 1 fire damage.

  • 7
    \$\begingroup\$ Hmm, a torch of "twigs and sticks" sounds to me more like something you might make with a survival skill, than one you'd by back in town. Wouldn't those be more like sticks with rags soaked in animal fat, like these: outdoors.stackexchange.com/questions/9224/… \$\endgroup\$
    – Tim Grant
    Commented May 15, 2016 at 13:37

Simplest explanation/the rule I use in my games? If you are swinging it like a club, you can do 1d4 damage, but you aren't really applying fire to the target enough to do fire damage. If you are pressing the flame against your target, so as to burn them, it does 1 fire damage, but you're not really bludgeoning them.

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ This was exactly my first thought. Trying to ignite someone by poking at the flappy bits with a burning brand isn't going to bruise, and trying to beat someone senseless won't ignite. \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60
    Commented May 14, 2016 at 17:20

This came up recently in our 5e game too. I ruled it as 1d4 bludgeoning +1 fire. In my specific case it was against spider webs, so the difference in damage types mattered. Not sure if that's the actual intended ruling but it made sense to us.


It should definitely be only 1 fire damage. You could swing a torch to deal 1d4 bludgeoning damage, but I wouldn't add the fire damage. Swinging an open flame quickly enough to hurt someone with it is likely to put out the fire on the torch, similarly to dropping it a long distance or having a particularly strong wind blow it out, and using it as a bludgeoning tool would also likely weaken the flame similar to stomping out a campfire. As always it's up to the DM; I personally apply the fire damage once if they use it as an improvised weapon but then make them burn a bonus action to relight it.


A reasonable solution that actually makes "1d4 bludgeoning when unlit, 1 fire when lit" make sense: An unlit torch was, historically, a padded club. A typical medieval torch was "coarse fabric like jute in fuel like fat, oil, Harz, pitch, or beeswax ... wrapped around a stick and fastened with a piece of wire" (the stick in question was typically highly resinous to provide bonus fuel, which would make it slightly softer than a hardwood club).

There are three reasonable ways to wield it:

  1. Unlit, by the wooden end (probably the way most people imagine using it): In this case, you're hitting them with a padded club (and a light one at that; regular clubs are 2 lbs., torches are 1 lb.). Arguably, this should do no damage at all (or something less than the 1d4 damage improvised weapons do by default); you're basically using LARP weapons. They'll hurt, but in actual combat they're pretty useless.

  2. Unlit, by the end you'd light: Awkward to wield (arguably should be treated as non-proficient by anyone), but you're actually hitting them with a length of wood; treating it as a club make sense.

  3. Lit: We're back to case #1 on the bludgeoning damage (you're hitting them with a padded club), so it deals no impact damage, but it's now lit, so you deal 1 fire damage. By the time the padding has burned down enough to expose the wood, the wood is likely partially eaten through by the flames, so it will break more easily and still pose little threat of bludgeoning damage.

In none of the three cases do you do both the 1d4 bludgeoning damage and the 1 fire, and it makes sense that you can't do both.


A torch also counts as a simple weapon, and most like a club as you mentioned. Anything you can pickup can be an improvised weapon, but things that approximate simple weapons can be wielded with proficiency if you have proficiency in simple weapons. Therefore the torch, lit or unlit could be wielded as a club, and a lot torch would add 1hp of Fire damage. In the instant that the torch struck, it's not likely to ignite anything unless it's a volitile fuel, like gasoline or proof alcohol. Even lamp oil is unlikely to ignite without an open and steady flame. Using a flask is different because a wick is lit which warms just enough of the oil to ignite the rest when it pops and splashes.


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