Two-weapon fighting can be a confusing skill to understand for players new to Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition. I know it was for me. Or maybe I was just stoned a lot. Anyway, I’m here to answer the question: what can you do to make two weapon fighting fun in 5e?
By the end of this article, you will understand:
- How two weapon fighting works in 5e
- Why 5e rules do not make two weapon fighting fun
- What you can do to make two weapon fighting fun
- Is two weapon fighting worth it?
How does Two Weapon Fighting work in 5e?
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.Player’s Handbook, pg. 195
First, everyone can fight with two weapons
You don’t need any feats or special abilities. All you need is two light weapons.
Light weapons include:
- Club (1d4 Bludgeoning)
- Dagger (1d4 Piercing)
- Handaxe (1d6 Slashing)
- Light Hammer (1d4 Bludgeoning)
- Sickle (1d4 Slashing)
- Scimitar (1d6 Slashing)
- Shortsword (1d6 Piercing)
If those options seem limited to you, I created a list of tips to make your character unique, including how to create your own weapons in 5e.
Second, your bonus action is used to attack with your off-hand weapon
Let’s say you’re wielding a shortsword in your main hand and a dagger in your off-hand. You use your Attack action to attack with the shortsword and then you use your bonus action to attack with the dagger.
However, when you attack with your off-hand weapon, you do not apply your ability modifier to the damage.
What does this look like?
- You are holding a light weapon in each hand at the start of your turn
- You take the Attack action against a monster with a weapon in your main hand
- Regardless of whether your attack is successful, you have a bonus action
- You use your Bonus Action to attack with the weapon in your off-hand
- If your bonus action attack hits, you do not add your ability modifier to the damage (unless the modifier is negative)
Let’s take an example from my first character, Drach, a dragonborn fighter:
- Drach has a +3 Strength modifier, a +2 proficiency bonus, and has one handaxe in each hand
- He attacks an orc using the handaxe in his right hand (main hand) with +5 to hit (+3 Strength modifier +2 proficiency bonus)
- Drach lands the attack, and he does 1d6+3 slashing damage (the +3 is from his Strength ability modifier)
- He uses his bonus action to immediately attack the same orc using the handaxe in his left hand (off-hand), still with +5 to hit
- It lands, but this time he only deals 1d6 slashing damage. He does not get to add his +3 ability modifier to the damage of the bonus attack
This leads us to the Two Weapon fighting style available to fighters and rangers.
The Two Weapon Fighting Style does not make Two Weapon fighting fun
The fighter and ranger classes have the option of selecting a fighting style.
The Two Weapon fighting style allows the hero to apply the ability modifier to the off-hand attack. So rather than just doing 1d6 slashing damage with his off-hand weapon in the last step of the example above, Drach does 1d6+3 slashing damage.
D&D 5e rules do not make Two Weapon fighting fun
When you picture a fantasy hero fighting with a weapon in each hand, what crosses your mind?
The first image my mind conjures is Legolas slicing down orcs with his elven blades in a seemingly elegant dance of metal slicing through air and flesh with sprays of blood behind him.
But what do 5e rules want it to look like?
Let’s take Drach to level 11 when he acquires the second Extra Attack feature. This means he can attack 3 times during his Attack action.
If he attacks with a single weapon, he can make 3 attacks during his combat round. And he can use any weapon.
But if he attacks with two weapons, he can make… 3 attacks + 1 attack with his bonus action. And he has to use light weapons. AND because he uses his bonus action to attack, he can’t use his bonus action for anything else.
So, in order to commit to two weapon fighting:
- you have to use light weapons so you do less damage
- you can’t use your bonus action for anything else if you want to do a little more damage with your off-hand weapon
- at higher levels you sacrifice the damage output of deadlier weapons just for the option of performing one more attack with a light weapon
In comparison to the other fighting styles:
- Archery—You gain a +2 bonus to attack rolls you make with ranged weapons.
- Defense—While you are wearing armor, you gain a +1 bonus to AC.
- Dueling—When you are wielding a melee weapon in one hand and no other weapons, you gain a +2 bonus to damage rolls with that weapon.
- Great Weapon Fighting—When you roll a 1 or 2 on a damage die for an attack you make with a melee weapon that you are wielding with two hands, you can reroll the die and must use the new roll, even if the new roll is a 1 or a 2. The weapon must have the two-handed or versatile property for you to gain this benefit.
- Protection—When a creature you can see attacks a target other than you that is within 5 feet of you, you can use your reaction to impose disadvantage on the attack roll. You must be wielding a shield.
None of these require you to sacrifice something like the Two Weapon fighting style does.
Sure, Dueling requires that you only have a weapon in one hand, but that means you can equip a shield in your other hand because shields aren’t weapons. So, not only do you get a +2 to your damage rolls, but you can also get an AC bonus from a shield.
And to use Great Weapon Fighting, you need to use a two-handed (or versatile) weapon, but that’s not much of a sacrifice when two-handed weapons do the most damage. And if you take the Great Weapon Fighting style, I assume it’s because you want to use great weapons.
Make Two Weapon Fighting Fun
I have one simple modification that will make the Two Weapon fighting style more appealing and inline with the world of fantasy heroes who can face off with actual gods.
With each attack action… you attack with both weapons (aka perform two attack rolls) and keep your bonus action.
Boom. Problem solved.
(As long as your DM allows it.)
But we keep a couple restrictions:
- You can only use light weapons—This is acceptable because as you attain each Extra Attack feature, your damage output scales accordingly. At level 1 you can attack twice, at level 5 you can attack four times, at level 11 you can attack six times, and at level 20 you can attack eight times.
- You can’t take a bonus action that would require a free hand unless you use a free action to drop one of the weapons.
This way, it still makes the Dual Wielder feat an attractive option, which grants you the following benefits:
- +1 bonus to AC while you are wielding a separate melee weapon in each hand.
- You can use two weapon fighting with one-handed melee weapons that don’t have the light property.
- You can draw or stow two one-handed weapons when you would normally be able to draw or stow only one.
Is Two Weapon Fighting Worth It in 5e?
It all depends on your build, but two-weapon fighting implies trading greater damage potential on fewer attacks for less damage spread out over many attacks.
This has 4 important implications:
- Individual attacks do less damage
- You don’t gain the AC benefit of a shield.
- You’re more likely to hit during your turn.
- You’re more likely to hit multiple times during your turn.
So, you’re giving up big damage and a +2 AC bonus from a shield. That’s the trade-off.
The next point is specifically important for rogues. Sneak attack is only available once per round, so you just need to get one hit in. Two weapon fighting increases your chances of hitting at least once so you can get that sneak attack damage in before ducking back into the shadows for the next strike.
Lastly, you get multiple hits in during a round. This is important when you have abilities that trigger with each hit. For example, barbarians do additional rage damage with each it. And rangers have hunter’s mark which adds 1d6 bonus damage with each hit.
To answer the question: two weapon fighting is worth it if you make my modification.
If you want to use the unmodified version, it’s worth it if you’re getting value out of making sure a single attack hits (like sneak attack). Or if you’re getting bonuses on every hit (like rage damage for the barbarian).
Otherwise, it’s worse than just grabbing a single weapon and a shield.
In Conclusion—Make Two Weapon Fighting Fun!
With that said, remember the most important rule of Dungeons and Dragons:
- HAVE FUN!
So create whatever character you want! Build the hero (or anti-hero) that will allow you to enjoy the game.
Dungeons and Dragons 5e is more about storytelling than optimizing your character’s build and abilities. Plus you’re on a team of (hopefully) competent adventurers, so any weakness your build might have will be compensated by the help you receive from your friends.
THE POWER OF FRIENDSHIP!
What do you think of two weapon fighting? What modifications have you used to make two weapon fighting more fun and/or challenging? Comment below and let me know so I can try it, too!
Want more? We have a ton of great tips to take your Dungeons & Dragons experience to the next level!