Dual Wielding and Two-Weapon Fighting in D&D | Dual Wielding 5E

how does dual wielding work in 5e

Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition can be surprisingly deep if you look for it. While it might be more simplistic than past editions, there are still some options that all characters have access to. Dual Wielding is a concept that a lot of fantasy RPGs take on. Holding a weapon in each hand can be a pretty fantastic way to show your battle prowess. In these tabletop games, this also lets you deal a ton of damage in the right situations! If you’re wondering how Dual Wielding in D&D  works, check out our Dual Wielding 5E Guide!

Dual Wielding 5E Guide

Dual Wielding in D&D 5E is also called Two-Weapon Fighting. It involves holding a weapon in each hand and being able to swing with both of them on your turn. Unlike many combat options anyone can do it, but there are some limitations that make it more effective in some cases than others. The rules regarding two-weapon fighting are found in the Players Handbook, but we break down everything here in our guide. 

How Does Dual Wielding Work in 5E?

In order to begin Dual Wielding, we have to understand the “Light” weapon property. Your weapons that your character is holding must both be considered as Light Weapons. This is a specific quality that some weapons have. For instance, a Longsword does not have the Light Quality, but a Shortsword does. This lets you wield two of them at the same time and be allowed to Two-Weapon Fight.

Okay, we have our hands on some weapons. Now what? No matter what your class, character, or background is, you now have access to the Two-Weapon Fighting bonus action. This bonus action can be used whenever you take the Attack action with one Light weapon. You may make an additional attack with the other Light weapon you are currently holding. This attack is made with full bonuses. However, the damage of the weapon is without any positive Strength or Dexterity modifier.

For instance, Thomas is a level 1 Ranger. He is wielding 2 handaxes, one in each hand. He Attacks a Goblin with his Action, rolling a d20+5. On a hit, he deals 1d6+3 damage, due to his 16 Strength. 

Then, he can take the Two-Weapon Fighting bonus action. He swings with the other handaxe. He deals 1d6 damage, ignoring his positive Strength modifier.

For another example, Deborah is a Wizard with a -1 Strength modifier. She finds herself in a bar fight, and decides to dual-wield clubs. The first club attack deals 1d4-1 damage. The second one will also deal 1d4-1 damage, because her negative Strength modifier applies.

Two-Weapon Fighting And Thrown Weapons

This mechanic usually only applies to melee weapons. However, if the weapons have the “thrown” property, the Bonus Action can be used to throw the weapon instead of making a melee attack.

In the previous example, Thomas could instead make a melee attack as an action and throw his other handaxe as a bonus action. Or, he could throw his handaxe as an action and throw his other handaxe as a bonus action.

This only really matters for daggers or handaxes. However, with specific feats, you could throw larger weapons at your opponents! Two-Weapon Fighting is a big boon for thrown weapon builds, but can’t really replace magical weapons as a better band aid.

Two-Weapon Fighting And Extra Attack

dual wielding 5eUnfortunately, Two-Weapon fighting does not work with Extra Attack. You will always only get one single attack with your Bonus Action, no matter how many Attacks you may make in one action. This means that a Fighter using Two-Weapon Fighting only gets 1 more attack than a Fighter using it. 

For most martial classes, this can become problematic. Light Weapons have lower damage dice and thus, usually average to be 1 or 2 less damage per swing. If you need to wield light weapons to make your Two-Weapon fighting work, it can eventually not be worth it.

For instance, a Fighter that has Two-Weapon Fighting as a feat deals a good amount of damage. However, if the fighter chooses Great Weapon Fighting or Dueling instead, by the time they get their 3rd attack, they’re likely losing some damage.

That being said, if you have nothing better to spend your bonus action on, then an attack is still an attack! Rack up that damage.

When Should I Dual Wield?

Now that we’ve talked about how it works, we should probably touch on “why should I do it?”

If you wish to know which classes are best with Two-Weapon Fighting, you’ll be looking at Barbarian, Paladin, Ranger, and Rogue. Fighter can also make it work, though they have arguably better options.

Why do we say that? Well…

Dual Wielding is a niche option, but can work well for a few specific classes. First of all, we can easily throw away any class that uses a Bonus Action often. The Monk, for instance, has no reason to ever Dual Wield. They gain the Martial Arts class feature, which is an arguably better version of Two-Weapon fighting. 

Caster classes usually do not benefit from Two-Weapon fighting, as long as they are focused on casting magic. Theoretically, a Blade Pact Warlock might have reasons to Dual Wield, but that would require a very strange build. A lot of classes have very, very strong spells that only take a Bonus Action to cast. In those cases, a Bonus Action might be better spent on those. However, for melee casters that don’t have any Bonus Action spells to cast… It might be fine. The extra dice of damage might be what kills the creature in front of you. Just make sure your attack rolls are high enough to make this strategy consistent.

That leaves us with melee classes that don’t spend their Bonus Action too often. The five classes we listed earlier tend to use their Bonus Action sparingly, making the Two-Weapon Fighting bonus action more effective.

Important Bonuses For Dual Wielding

There are some pretty critical things you should know about if you plan on making a dual-wielding centric build.

The Two-Weapon Fighting Style

The Two-Weapon Fighting style is available to Fighters, Rangers, and Sword College Bards. This fighting style allows you to apply ability modifiers to your Bonus Action attack.

For instance, at level 2, Thomas picks up the Two-Weapon Fighting Style from the Ranger class. This lets him add his +3 Strength Modifier to his Bonus Action handaxe’s damage. Now, both his Action and Bonus Action attack deal 1d6+3 damage.

This tends to be very well-worth it. If you plan on using Two-Weapon fighting, then this’ll be a great buff! Fighters should be wary, however. It may not be worth taking over Dueling or Great Weapon Fighting, unless you are fully committed to your Two-Weapon Fighting build.

The Dual Wielder Feat

For those who really want to squeeze every bit of damage out of Dual Wielding, then you’re going to want to check out the Dual Wielder Feat. The Dual Wielder Feat gives a two-weapon fighter three distinct bonuses.

  • You gain +1 AC while dual-wielding.
  • You may ignore the Light requirement for dual-wielding.
  • You may automatically draw or stow 2 weapons instead of 1 at the same time.

All three of these bonuses are pretty incredible, but may not always be worth the feat. +1 to AC as long as you are wielding two weapons is great! That’s another 5% chance to avoid damage, and is like having a shield that hurts.

Ignoring the Light requirement is good, but only in select situations. Usually, the Light weapons of D&D 5E are just the normal weapons with a slightly smaller dice. For instance, this feat lets you wield two Rapiers instead of two Shortswords. Rapiers deal 1d8 damage, Shortswords deal 1d6. They are otherwise treated very similarly, other than for damage type. On average, all this part of the ability will do is add +1 damage to all of your damage rolls.

The final bonus is rather minor, but can get you out of tight rules moments. If your DM is stubborn about how quickly you’re allowed to pull out a weapon, then this feat will be a conversation ender.

Overall, this feat is okay. However, only take it if you dual wield using Strength weapons! Otherwise, this feat is basically getting a +2 in Dexterity, as it gives +1 to AC and “damage.” Otherwise, you can take it if you’re at 20 Dexterity and just want to eke out a little bit more damage and AC.

If you are using Strength weapons to Dual Wield, then this feat is kinda like getting +2 Strength and +2 Dexterity. Which is fun, as well as legitimately strong!

Examples of Synergies

If you want Two-Weapon fighting to be a little bit more than just an extra chunk of damage, then you’re going to want to find the minor synergies that make you hit a bit harder.

Bonuses To Damage Rolls

If your class can offer you a bonus to your damage roll, then Dual Wielding becomes substantially stronger.

Examples of this include:

  • Barbarian Rage, which improves your damage when you use Strength to attack by +2 to +4. Since you can use strength to attack with Two-Weapon fighting, you can apply this benefit. This means you essentially double the number of times you hit with Rage Damage early on. When you get Extra Attack, you’ll still be adding 1d6+3-4 damage to your foes every round! That’s substantial, since Barbarians have no consistent Bonus Action except for Rage.

Spells That Benefit Multiple Attacks

  • Hex and Hunter’s Mark, 1st-level spells of the Warlock and Ranger spell lists. These boost damage that you personally deal every hit by 1d6. Since you’re spending a bonus action to hit them again, you get to apply the damage of Hunter’s Mark or Hex again. This can rack up quickly! However, these spells suffer a bit over time, since their damage never truly improves. You can also use Enlarge, but the bonus to damage is still less. Rangers gain access to the Fighting Style, and thus Hunter’s Mark is one of the few reasons that Two-Weapon Fighting Ranger can work.
  • Tenser’s Transformation only applies to Sword College bards. However, for up to 10 minutes, the Bard gains advantage with weapon attacks and deals 2d12 damage on top of itself. That’s very significant! However, it’s only available after level 11, which can be a bit hard to get to in all campaigns. It also requires Concentration and only lasts for 10 minutes.

Special Case: Rogues And Paladins

Rogues, and to a much lesser extent Paladins, can benefit from Two-Weapon Fighting. By default, a Rogue can only attempt to apply Sneak Attack once per turn. They have a single weapon attack, after all! If they miss that weapon attack, they can be in major trouble, and lose out on a ton of potential damage.

Spending a bonus action to cover this weakness is pretty great! This gives the Rogue another chance to apply their Sneak Attack for the turn. Pretty good! Rogue damage isn’t centered around their weapon, anyway, so having slightly weaker weapons do not hinder rogues much at all.

Paladins can do the same. However, Smite requires a resource; you need to spend spell slots. Because you can’t do it every turn, it’s a little less important that you land an attack roll every round. However, if you need to absolutely kill a creature, then you can use Two-Weapon Fighting to do so.

two weapon fighting 5e

Some Questions For Dual Wielding

1. Do I Have to Build For Dual Wielding for It To Be Effective?

Not necessarily. 

Rogues specifically can use Dual Wielding as a backup plan to land Sneak Attack, which does significantly more damage when you Two-Weapon Fight. Paladins can use it as a similar backup plan.

Another way that you can make dual wielding work is by investing in very powerful Light weapon magical items. If your Dagger deals 1d4+2d6 damage, then that’s a pretty fantastic bonus action! You don’t need to invest farther into Dual Wielding for that to beat out other Bonus Action options.

2. How Does Dual Wielding Work With Attack Bonuses Or Penalties?

Two-Weapon Fighting applies attack bonuses and penalties exactly like normal attack bonuses or penalties. 

Say that Laurie the Dragonborn Fighter is Blinded. She swings with her dagger, rolling Disadvantage on her main attack. Then, when she attacks with the second dagger, she also rolls Disadvantage on that attack roll. 

You could also apply a conditional bonus, like Bardic Inspiration, to your off-hand attack roll. The Bonus Action to Two-Weapon Fight is considered an Attack by all effects, except you cannot usually add a positive modifier to damage rolls on the attack.

3. Can I Perform Two-Weapon Fighting Without Weapons?

Sadly, no. You need to have weapons in order to Dual Wield. You cannot punch with one hand and then swing with your other hand.

Monks have access to this ability in Martial Arts. This is the only way to access an unarmed attack as a Bonus Action.

In addition, the Dual Wielder feat still requires you to wield a weapon, so that does not help you here either. Kind of sad! 

4. Can I Dual Wield With Charisma if I Am A Hexblade?

Technically, yes! The Hex Warrior feature only works with your selected weapon from either Hex Warrior or Pact of the Blade. That means you can use your Hex Warrior class feature as well as your Pact of the Blade weapon and gain the benefit from both of them.

Sadly, this does not let you use Charisma for the damage rolls of your Two-Weapon Fighting weapon unless you also gain the Fighting Style. You replace modifiers, not add Charisma instead of others! This can still boost damage if you like casting the Hex spell, which is a big upside of the Hexblade.

Pact of the Blade naturally works very well with Hexblade too, so you’re not missing out on a better Pact. Whether or not it is the best pact is another story.

5. Can I Dual Wield With Intelligence if I Am A Battle Smith?

Yep! As long as the weapons are magical, you use Intelligence instead of the physical modifier. Like Hexblade, you still need the Fighting Style if you want to add Intelligence to the damage rolls. Otherwise, your bonus action will just use Intelligence for the attack roll.

6. Are There Other Times Where Dual Wielding Is A Bad Idea?

It really depends on what class features you want.

The Fighter, for instance, usually does not have a very good Bonus Action. They only get Second Wind. This can make Two-Weapon fighting an “obvious” choice. However…

There are other, really good fighting styles.

Great Weapon Fighting and Dueling immediately come to mind. These two options make your two-handed weapon strikes stronger, or they make your sword-and-shield attacks stronger. These can massively boost damage with weapons that are better than Light Weapons.

Overall, these fighting styles can outdo two-weapon fighting by themselves!

In addition, some classes have Archetypes that require that they spend Bonus Actions more often.

For Fighter, the Battlemaster loves bonus actions, as does the Cavalier. Echo Knights also prefer to save theirs for manipulating their Echo.

For Rogues, the Inquisitive and Mastermind archetypes both need their Bonus Actions to access damage and support tools. The Psionic Power Soulknife actually dual wields with a class feature.

A Barbarian who takes the Path of the Storm Herald may also spend more Bonus Actions on their Storm effects.

Look ahead on your build and see if you’ll be getting abilities that spam your Bonus Action a lot. In those cases, Dual Wielding will almost never be worth it.

You’ll also want to look ahead to see if using Light Weapons will not be very useful. Barbarians can get a lot of value out of using big, two-handed weapons with Brutal Critical. A 1d12 Greataxe can deal 5d12 damage! That’s a bit stronger than 1d6 becoming 5d6. More consistent damage can be nice, but not when the possible damage is so high!

7. Can I Dual Wield Ranged Weapons?

No. You cannot use a Bonus Action to fire a hand crossbow or similar one-handed ranged weapon with Two-Weapon Fighting. These weapons do not have the Light property and are not melee. Sadly, Dual Wielding is restricted to melee only.

If you want to use a hand crossbow, you’ll need the feat Crossbow Expert. Crossbow Expert lets you use crossbows in melee, ignore Loading, and lets you use a bonus action to attack with a hand crossbow if you attack with a one-handed weapon. This can include another hand crossbow.

This feat is a lot of fun, and can be really good to make a build around. However, this is technically not dual wielding. This is an entirely different mechanic, and you need the Feat to use a Hand Crossbow in your offhand at all.

8. What Are The Best Weapons for Dual Wielding?

In general, Dual Wielding will have you use the highest damaging option that you have available.

The Light Weapons are as follows: Club, Dagger, Handaxe, Light Hammer, Sickle, Scimitar, Shortsword.

  • Club is useless.
  • Dagger has low damage, but can be thrown and has Finesse.
  • Handaxe can be thrown and does a good 1d6 damage.
  • Light Hammer is bad Handaxe.
  • Sickle is bad Dagger.
  • Scimitar and Shortsword are basically the same weapon. They deal 1d6 damage and are Finesse.

Without taking the feat, either Handaxe or Shortsword is our suggestion. Handaxe is better for Strength characters, as it has the option to be thrown in emergencies.

Concluding Our Dual Wielding 5E Guide

There are many misconceptions about the rules for dual wielding in D&D, and we hope to have cleared them up with this guide. Any thoughts or questions on our Dual Wielding 5E Guide? Hit us up in the comment section!

About Travis Scoundrel 527 Articles
A life long gamer, Travis spends his time writing about and playing games when he's not suing people or hanging out with his family.

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