How and Why to Bring Double the Fun
Prepare for trouble and make it double! Slapping a sword in both hands is a time-honored D&D tradition and countless adventurers have campaigned using the old slice and dice. Some other systems and older editions made this type of build complicated, but thankfully 5th edition smooths everything over. But what steps do you need to take? What are the best ways to double stab your way through combat? Grab a couple weapons and stick with me as we go through everything you need to know.
Before getting fancy or adding a bunch of class abilities, let’s go through exactly how two weapon fighting works in 5th edition. With no bells and whistles, when you make an attack action, you make a single attack roll with a weapon you’re holding.
Now let’s take a look at the rules for two weapon fighting:
When you take the Attack Action and Attack with a light melee weapon that you’re holding in one hand, you can use a Bonus Action to Attack with a different light melee weapon that you’re holding in the other hand. You don’t add your ability modifier to the damage of the bonus Attack, unless that modifier is negative.
If either weapon has the Thrown property, you can throw the weapon, instead of making a melee Attack with it.”
Let’s go over this slowly and make sure you don’t miss a few key pieces here.
It’s Usable by Everybody
It’s important to note that this isn’t a feat or something exclusive to specific classes, everybody can do this if they want.
The big limitation for two-weapon fighting is that both your weapons need to have the light quality. Light is a weapon quality given to smaller weapons, which usually do less damage than their big cousins.
The extra attack you get to make with your extra weapon uses up your bonus action. This is important, since this means even when you gain the “extra attack” ability and similar abilities, you still only ever get the one bonus action.
Off-hand Attacks Don’t Add the Modifier
This means that out of your “one two punch”, the second hit is going to be quite a bit weaker. Your 1st attack is totally normal (the one you got from the actual attack action), but your second attack (the one from the bonus action) doesn’t get to add your Strength or Dexterity modifier to the damage.
It Works with Thrown Weapons!
As long as your thrown weapons are light you can toss an extra one through two weapon fighting as a bonus action.
Why Doesn’t Everybody Dual Wield?
Everybody can do it, and you get another attack! Why wouldn’t everybody just grab two swords and go to town? Well, two weapon fighting is amazingly easy to do in 5e but doing so means choosing that extra attack above a bunch of other options.
Light Weapons Hit Lightly
Generally, attacking with two light weapons has about-ish slightly higher damage output than smacking with one heavy weapon, and because it’s between two attacks you have better odds of hitting at least once. But once you get to level 5 or so and gain an extra attack, two swings with something big hits a lot harder than 3 stabs with something small. I’m generalizing here, but the strategy with two-weapon combat is more weaker attacks, instead of fewer stronger attacks.
Put a weapon in that off-hand or a shield, it’s a choice between offence and defense. +2 AC is a major buff that you shouldn’t pass up without consideration. Your class may not have shield proficiency to begin with, so this may not even be an option but.
Bonus Actions Matter
For some classes, your bonus action is a vital resource that you can’t reliably use for that extra swing. A surprisingly large number of abilities use your bonus actions, barbarian rage, flurry of blows and countless archetype abilities need your bonus action. Keep that in mind when figuring out your build.
What Weapons Should I use for Two Weapon Fighting?
Two weapon fighting requires two qualities, light, and one-handed. So, unless you’ve got access to homebrew exotic weapons or odd magic items, your options are: Clubs, Daggers, Handaxes, Light Hammers, Sickles, Scimitars, and Shortswords.
I wish there was some cute reason to use clubs, but there really isn’t. Don’t use clubs, they’re bad.
Daggers get a lot of use, mainly because they’re the only weapon that has finesse, light, and the thrown weapon properties. This lets you do some pretty cool stuff like stabbing a dagger in melee for your first attack and throwing a dagger for the second attack. The damage is very low, but they’re the best finesse option out of the simple weapon category. If you’re planning on using a dual wielding Dexterity based character, these are your best option if you don’t have martial weapon proficiencies.
Handaxes get a step up in their damage die over daggers (d6 instead of d4), they’re simple weapons, you still get thrown, but you lose the finesse quality. Handaxes are the best option if you’re using dual wielding for a Strength based character who doesn’t have access to martial weapons.
Light hammers are the only thrown bludgeoning weapon, which is odd, but there’s still no reason to use them. Handaxes are better in every respect unless you’re dealing with some strange damage type resistances and need bludgeoning for some reason.
While I love them stylistically, they’re outmatched by practically every other weapon in the game, so don't use sickles.
I’m lumping these together because they’re practically identical, and also because they are your best options. These are the big winners when it comes to dual wielding. Both have the light and finesse qualities, and each one does 1d6 damage which is the best you’ll get as a light weapon. The only differences between them other than their aesthetics is that scimitars deal slashing damage and shortswords deal piercing damage, also the scimitar is slightly more expensive. Assuming you have the weapon proficiencies (both the scimitar and shortsword are martial weapons) these are your best options for straight damage dealing as a dual wielder. Pick one of these, unless you want to play around with throwing weapons, in which case you should dip back down to daggers or handaxes.
Do I Need Any Feats?
Thankfully in 5e you don’t NEED any feats to make two weapon fighting viable, they did provide a feat that helps those builds along though called “Dual Wielder”. It’s a solid feat, and you should consider taking it if you plan on doing primarily two weapon fighting. Just keep in mind the ability score increase you’ll be giving up for it, and it can often be better just to boost your stats.
You master fighting with two weapons, gaining the following benefits:
- You gain a +1 bonus to AC while you are wielding a separate melee weapon in each hand.
- You can use two-weapon fighting even when the one-handed melee weapons you are wielding aren’t light.
- You can draw or stow two one-handed weapons when you would normally b e able to draw or stow only one.
Let’s go through this feat one bit at a time:
“You gain a +1 bonus to AC while you are wielding a separate melee weapon in each hand.”
The AC bonus goes a long way towards making up for the shield you’re missing out on by putting a weapon in you off hand. It’s still not as defensive as a shield, but it helps.
“You can use two-weapon fighting even when the one-handed melee weapons you are wielding aren’t light.”
This is the important bit, all those weapon ratings we had earlier go right out the window and now you can grab a pair of whatever one-handed weapons you’d like. Generally, this just lets you upgrade from d6 weapons to whatever d8 weapons you’d like to try. But it also unlocks some crazy builds like double whips, or the classic net and trident combo.
“You can draw or stow two one-handed weapons when you would normally be able to draw or stow only one.”
This will be better or worse depending on how much of a stickler your DM is. Technically, you should only be able to draw a single weapon as part of your turn’s movement. So, if you get attacked you should only be able to draw one of your weapons without wasting an action. This lets you get around this problem. However, most DMs I’ve encountered don’t enforce this issue at all, so this “feature” will be essentially wasted.
What Class Should I use for Two Weapon Fighting?
As stated before, every class can dual wield, but if you’re wanting to focus on it there are a few class options that work specifically for it.
Super simple, all fighters get to pick a “fighting style” and you simply need to pick two-weapon fighting. This gets rid of the biggest limitation for two-weapon by letting you add your ability modifier to your off-hand attacks. Simply pick this fighting style followed by your pick of any fighter archetype.
Rangers usually need that first turn bonus action for hunter’s mark, but after that they don’t need their bonus action much and can use it for those extra swings. Plus, that hunter’s mark damage applies with every hit, including your off-hand attacks. All this, and rangers even get the same “fighting style” ability that fighters get, albeit a level later.
You need your bonus action to start raging, but once you’re properly angry your bonus action is usually free. Your bonus rage damage will apply to your off-hand attacks as well, and the all-out assault feels right in flavor for a barbarian. I particularly like path of the zealot for this build as you gain more chances to hit and deal the extra damage with the divine fury feature.
Two Weapon Fighting FAQ'S
Can Anyone Use Two Weapon Fighting in D&D 5e?
Absolutely everybody can use two weapon fighting in 5e! There’s no class or proficiency limitations, just grab two swords and start stabbing. The limitation is on the weapons themselves. Two weapon fighting requires that both the weapons are “light melee” weapons, such as shortswords or daggers. This should make sense, as it would be hard to heft a pair of lances or swing with a longsword in each hand! But yes, anyone and everyone can dual wield, you just have to make sure you’re using light weapons.
Is Two Weapon Fighting Worth It in 5e?
This will vary greatly on your build but in a vacuum two weapon fighting generally means trading out the possibility of greater damage on fewer attacks, in favor for lesser damage spread out over multiple attacks. This does a couple of very important things, so when you’re two weapon fighting:
- Your attacks have less impact.
- You’re not gaining the AC benefit of a shield.
- You’re much more likely to hit at least once during a turn.
- You’re much more likely to hit with multiple attacks during a turn.
Those first two parts are the tradeoff, you’re giving up the big hits and a +2 AC bonus for that extra dagger swing.
The 3rd part there is most important for rogues. Sneak attack and is only going to trigger once in a round anyway, you just need to prioritize getting at least one hit in. Two weapon fighting maximizes your chances of hitting at least once and getting your key ability off. There’s also some wizard and warlock builds that work this way, needing just once to smack in to activate a spell effect.
Finally, the 4th part is getting multiple hits in during a round. Normally, this doesn’t actually matter that much, as your damage output is comparable to hitting fewer times with a big weapon. Where it counts is when you have abilities that trigger off each hit. Barbarians are a great example of this, since they get their rage damage bonus every single time they hit. Or the hunter’s mark spell for rangers applying a bonus d6 of damage every time they hit. Stacking those up over as many attacks as possible is a very viable strategy.
To finally answer the question YES two weapon fighting is worth it BUT unless you’re getting value out of making sure a single attack hits (like rouges) or getting bonuses on every hit (like barbarians or rangers) it’s arguably worse than just grabbing a single weapon and a shield. I wouldn’t recommend two weapon fighting without some ability that synergizes with it in some way or another. Still, build whatever character you like! Characters in 5e will generally work out regardless of any optimization decisions you make.
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Last updated: January 27, 2019
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