Assuming that your character has no less and no more than two functioning hands (kudos if not though, I like your style), you should probably know how to use them both to the greatest effect. Whilst wielding two weapons might seem twice as complicated, fear not! 5e has streamlined the mechanic so nicely that even your 6-INT barbarian could work it out.
How does two-weapon fighting in 5e work?
The rules for two-weapon fighting are laid out in the Player’s Handbook (PHB) as follows:
“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.”
In short, when you choose to take the Attack action whilst holding two light weapons, you can use your bonus action to attack again using the second weapon.
Let’s break the rules down.
Who can use two-weapon fighting?
“When you take the attack action”
The attack action is available to all classes, thus “you” refers to any player character. It’s not just martial characters that can use this feature, your tanks and spellcasters can, too!
Do I have to hit in order to use my bonus action attack?
“When you take the attack action”
The rules do not specify that you have to hit with your first attack in order to use your bonus action to attack again, so even if you miss on the first, you can get another swing in!
Does two-weapon fighting give you two attacks?
Nope, sorry. Having multiple attacks is still a class and level-specific perk.
Two-weapon fighting uses your bonus action for that turn and is separate from the Attack action itself. Therefore, you cannot use any other bonus actions available to your character on the turn in which you use this feature.
Furthermore, you don’t add your ability modifier to your bonus attack, it simply deals the damage rolled according to the weapon type. This damage is typically pretty low for light melee weapons (1d4-1d6).
Can I hit multiple enemies in one turn with two-weapon fighting?
Yep! The bonus action attack doesn’t have to target the same enemy as the Attack action.
What weapons can be used for two-weapon fighting?
“with a light melee weapon that you’re holding in one hand… a different light melee weapon that you’re holding in the other hand”
There are limits to the weapons eligible for this feature; they must both be melee weapons that have the light property.
Of the basic weapons, this includes:
- light hammers
Whether an improvised weapon has the light property and can be used with two-weapon fighting is up to your DM’s discretion!
What’s better than a dagger? Two daggers.
Can ranged weapons be used for two-weapon fighting?
Ranged weapons don’t count, however, if either of your weapons also has the thrown property (daggers, handaxes, lights hammers), you can choose to throw them instead.
Although this mechanic is based on wielding a weapon in each hand, it does not apply to weapons with the versatile property and therefore could be wielded in one hand (quarterstaffs, battleaxes, longswords and warhammers). This makes sense if you consider the size and weight of such weapons; whilst you might be able to hit something when holding them in one hand, it would be hard to do so and wield another weapon at the same time.
Can natural weapons be used for two-weapon fighting?
Natural weapons, such as claws and talons, are not usable for two-weapon fighting. Whilst you could argue that they don’t exactly weigh much, they do not have the light property and, more importantly, are not held or wielded.
These are the weapon limitations to two-weapon fighting as per the rules as written. As with anything in D&D, you can discuss specifics with your DM. Your character doesn’t have a spare dagger handy, but has picked up a dart? Maybe they’ll let you chuck that as your bonus action, seeing as it deals the same amount and type of damage.
Is dual wielding better than a shield?
Shields grant a +2 to AC, valuable protection in any case, and magical shields can offer even more. So why might you want to carry an extra weapon instead?
Shield proficiency; if you can’t carry a shield without incurring penalty anyway, you may as well consider carrying a weapon in your offhand!
Armour proficiency; similar to shields, the weight of armour (if any) that your character can wear without receiving disadvantage is dependent on your class and should be considered when deciding whether to carry a shield.
Dexterity score; your Dexterity modifier is what dictates your character’s base AC, so it’s vital in regard to choosing armour and shields.
Hit point maximum; the higher your HP, the more hits you can take, and the more you may want to focus on dealing extra damage instead of avoiding taking it.
Special abilities/features; there are buffs granted to certain classes that can increase AC or allow a character to reduce the damage they take. Such abilities might reduce the need for a shield.
Does dual wielding increase damage?
At low level, when additional features are thin on the ground and even light weapons make a decent dent in an enemy’s HP, yes, a bonus hit will often increase the amount of damage dealt in a single round.
However, as you ascend through the levels and gain higher proficiency and ability scores, spells, additional attacks, class features, bonus actions and so on, there are typically going to be any number of ways to spend a turn that result in more damage than a simple bonus action attack, or bonus actions that are far more useful.
How viable is two-weapon fighting in 5e?
This is where your character build as a whole comes into play. Let’s look at how each of the disadvantages of two-weapon fighting can be addressed.
How can the value/damage of a bonus action attack be increased?
The true value of the bonus action attack comes not in its base weapon damage, but in its ability to increase the chance of you getting at least one hit per turn. In 5e, there are many valuable damage-dealing abilities contingent on a hit, regardless of whether that hit is an action or a bonus action.
These abilities include: Hunter’s Mark (Ranger), Divine Smite (Paladin), Rage Damage (Barbarian) and Sneak Attack (Rogue). Additional subclass features; Hexblade’s Curse (The Hexblade Warlock) and Psychic Blades (College of Whispers Bard), for instance, also benefit from any chance to hit.
Bards. Not just plinky-plonky note pluckers.
Is the Dual Wielder feat a good idea?
If you’re planning to consistently use two weapons, it sure is! Here’s why:
“You gain a +1 bonus to AC while you are wielding a separate melee weapon in each hand.”
This half makes up for the lack of a shield.
“You can use two-weapon fighting even when the one-handed melee weapons you are wielding aren’t light.”
Ultimately, this allows you to trade up d6s for d8s (including versatile weapons, so if you switched it up and stowed/threw one weapon, you can have a d10 weapon and use your bonus action another way).
“You can draw or stow two one-handed weapons when you would normally be able to draw or stow only one.”
Your two weapons basically count as one for purposes of drawing/stowing, which will benefit you if you have a particularly strict DM.
If you’re not going all in on this two-weapon deal, though, you’re probably better off sticking with the ability score increase or another feat.
What is the Two-weapon Fighting Style?
To make a dual-wielding build more effective, the possibility of adopting the two-weapon fighting style ought to be considered. This feature allows a character’s ability modifier to be added to the bonus attack, negating another of the feature’s drawbacks. It’s available to Fighters, Rangers and College of Swords Bards.
Is two-weapon fighting worth it in 5e?
At early levels, when you’re running low on spell slots and abilities, faced with several low-HP enemies, trying to stop the bad guy who’s looking hurt and thinking of slipping away or just struggling to get a hit, spending a few gold on a couple of daggers to have handy certainly isn’t a bad idea.
At higher levels, it takes some finesse to get the most out of wielding two weapons, but there is still a fun and interesting range of builds that can make it work.
Two weapon fighting can give powerful advantages
A Level 4 Barbarian with high Dexterity and Constitution will have unarmoured defence (allowing Constitution modifier to be added AC when not wearing armour). Thus, they have a high AC and high HP and might forgo a shield in favour of an extra hit with a weapon in their off hand.
On their first turn in combat, they will want to use their bonus action to Rage. However, an extra chance to hit on each subsequent turn is then valuable to the barbarian as they can add their Rage Damage to every hit.
The Dual Wielder feat can be disregarded in favour of ability score increases here; choosing DEX, CON (for AC) or STR (for damage), reaping the benefits of these increases in other areas as well.
The Barbarian can finish off the Gnoll in front of them with their club for their Action, and dispatch the other Gnoll 20ft away by throwing their light hammer with their Bonus Action.
A Level 7 Rogue with high Dexterity and wearing light armour will have Uncanny Dodge and Evasion (neither of which use a bonus action), and therefore can feasibly withstand melee combat without a shield (which they can’t use anyway).
They miss the beaten-up and angry Frost Giant with their one Attack. They could Bonus Action Disengage, but their ally is flanking, so they chance another try with the second of their glimmering shortswords as their Bonus Action. Not only is it a hit, it’s a crit! A doubled Sneak Attack roll means that they’re able to leap up and sever the Giant’s femoral artery. Huzzah!
A Level 12 Gloomstalker Ranger, not requiring a shield due to their high Dexterity and medium armour, has mastered the Two-weapon Fighting Style and has the Dual Wielder feat. They’re wielding two rapiers, for which they can use Dexterity as their attack and damage modifier.
They’ve tracked down their enemy, a Rakshasa, cast Hunter’s Mark from their hiding place, and are now entering combat. Thanks to Dread Ambusher, they’re first in the initiative order, can use an extra 10ft of movement to get into melee with their enemy and have an extra attack to use this round, meaning they can attack three times in one Attack action. They only hit once, but are determined to make this first round count. So that one hit becomes three, using Stalker’s Flurry and their Bonus Action to attack with their off hand. Each hit contains their Dexterity modifier and Hunter’s Mark damage, and the Rakshasa already looks sore when the rest of the party catch up.
And there are many other class/subclass configurations that can really make dual-wielding, aside from looking very cool, really pack a punch!
Is 2d6 better than 1d12?
One final point on probability. It may not be immediately obvious, but having damage from two d6 weapons is better than having a single 1d12 weapon. The more dice for the same maximum outcome, the better!
Results with several lower-value dice are more consistent than one higher-value die, and using more dice raises the minimum outcome (using the scenario proposed in the question; 2d6 will roll at least 2, rather than 1d12 which will roll at least 1). And if you want more maths; the average for a roll of 1d12 is 6.5, whereas the average for a roll of 2d6 is 7.
Maths aside, it’s always best to try and build a character you’re going to have fun with, but you’re certainly not hamstringing yourself with two-weapon fighting, in the right mix, it can be very potent!