A chart to help you master the world of ranged weapons in D&D 5e.
Weapons with range can be confusing for a beginning D&D player. Even those who come to 5e from an earlier D&D version can be thrown off.
The most confusing, yet crucial, aspects in 5e are the range, and the designation “ranged” (one of the eleven different “properties” a weapon can possess.) Then there’s also the damage dealt to consider.
It’s worth diving into because no missile weapon does it all. You’ll want to choose the best ranged weapon, for your character, for a given situation. (Weapons and their properties are in part 1, chapter 5 of the Player’s Handbook.)
1. Range. Look at the longbow’s range (150/600). The first number (150/###) is the weapon’s “normal” range boundary. Past that is long range, and all your shots will be rolled at a disadvantage. The second number (###/600) is the boundary for long range. This is the weapons furthest possible distance: “Hither thou shall fly, and no more!” Beyond that the attack has no effect. There is no “short” range in D&D 5e.
Range is measured in feet (about 305mm). So the range (150/600) is 150 feet (M) and 600 feet (L). A tremendous distance, by the way.
In most cases, a weapon’s Normal range is most important of the two. That’s where it will have the most impact. Think of Long range as reserved for “Hail Mary” lucky shots.
2. “Ranged” Property. This includes weapons designed to be “ranged”. Many, like bows and slings, require ammunition to shoot. It also includes any hand-held weapons that can be thrown, like javelins, spears, tridents, and hand axes, and the dagger. The D&D system doesn’t have the “throwing dagger”, but you can throw your hand dagger.
The beauty of this is that you can easily carry two ranged weapons to cover various needs, also, nearly everyone has a dagger.
3. Damage. What kind of damage do you want to deal? On one end is the Heavy Crossbow that does 1d10. On the other is the dagger, war dart, and sling at 1d4. Way out on the low end is the blowgun which does just d1.
Other factors. If the weapon has the Ammunition property, then you’ll need to keep a ready supply on hand. By spending a minute on the battlefield, you can recover 1/2 of what you shot. Usually these weapons also have the Loading property, which means that you can only take one shot per action, bonus action or reaction. Two weapons have the “Heavy” property. The longbow and the heavy crossbow. It means that a small creature will wield them at a disadvantage.
Each ranged weapon in D&D seems to fill a niche. Not all weapons are equal to every job, but each is good at something. Choose wisely.