Q&A: Throwing Knives: A Limited Tool in Both D&D and in Reality

How feasible would throwing knives be in such a scenario in real life? In D&D for example, the dagger can be used both as melee and as short-range thrown weapons, but I suspect throwing knives is an entirely different skillset from shanking and stabbing and cutting throats so most knife fighters might not be any good at throwing them. To say nothing of the danger in giving up your weapon for only a chance to score a hit.


About as viable as they are in D&D (assuming your DM isn’t giving you an infinite supply of knives and forgetting that you’re handing out murder party favors.)

So, the D&D problem is that dagger doesn’t do much damage. They’re something in the range of 1d4+Str, which is marginally better than just punching someone. If you have Weapon Finesse, you’re going to be using the exact same stat block to fight in melee or throw them, so it’s effectively the same skill. You can’t throw one without provoking an attack of opportunity. So, realistically, you get a single 1d4 attack against an enemy at range, and afterwards you no longer have a weapon.

Yeah, that sounds about right. You might get lucky throwing a knife, but you’ll probably hit with less effectiveness. Unlike in D&D, throwing a knife accurately is an entirely different skill from stabbing someone. There’s overlap in understanding anatomy, but being able to reliably put a knife where you want it is very different if you’re still holding the weapon.

Of course, if you throw your weapon, you no longer have your weapon. And, if you throw your weapon and one of your foes retrieves it, they now have a weapon. In fact, it’s entirely possible to accidentally arm your enemies with this tactic. Sort of like an incredibly aggressive version of Santa Claus.

The major difference is that you could potentially kill (or at least seriously injure) someone with a thrown knife, which isn’t a danger in D&D, as the rules are written. This also applies even more if you’re still holding onto the blade, as a knife can be quite lethal in experienced hands, though not so much in D&D. In order to make a knife an effective weapon choice in that game, you’ll need a mix of class features (mostly sneak attack, though there are some other avenues) and feats. Without that, the dagger will likely remain the weakest weapon your character has proficiency in.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, in the real world, as a primary combat weapon, the knife is very limited. It’s effective as an ambush tool, for parrying, and as a close quarters opportunistic option, but it’s not a good weapon to base your entire combat style around, because it’s far too easy to “hard counter.” Against aware enemies armed with conventional infantry weapons or sidearms, your knife fighter is screwed. (As a reminder, I mean, axes, swords, spears, ect. Not guns, though, again, if you bring a knife to a gunfight, that’s not a wise choice.)

The irony with the D&D example is that they’re two completely different roads to the same point. The dagger is a poor front line combat option in both cases, and a poor ranged weapon, but the logic isn’t the same.


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