How Does Dual Wielding Work in DnD 5e, Photo Sketch of Handaxes

Your Simple Guide to Dual Wielding in DnD 5e

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Are you looking to make a dual wielding character for your next Dungeons & Dragons 5e game?
 
There seems to be a bit of confusion on how to dual wield. So, let’s go over the mechanics, the usable weapons in 5e, and whether dual wielding in 5e is any good or not.

  1. 5e’s Dual Wielding Rules
  2. Dual Wieldable Weapons
  3. Is Dual Wielding Good?
  4. Dual Wielding FAQs

Let’s get started.

How Does Dual Wielding Work in 5e?

Photo Sketch of Woman Dual Wielding Sais
Dual Wielding in 5e is Actually Pretty Easy & Any Class Can Do It

First off, let’s clear up some of the mud right away; while it’s often referred to as "dual-wielding" the proper term is actually Two-Weapon Fighting. This distinction is important because of the Dual Wielder feat that we’ll get into a bit later.

But, since it’s pretty colloquially accepted, I’m still gonna call it dual wielding. Just keep that in mind.

Now then, the rules for dual wielding in 5e are pretty straight forward.

"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."

From p. 195 of the Player’s Handbook or DnD Beyond: Combat Rules

So, what does this mean?

Basically, any character can dual wield in 5e so long as they use two weapons with the Light property.

Whenever you use the Attack action you can make an additional attack with your off-hand weapon as a bonus action. You still add your Attack Modifier to the attempt. But, the catch is you don’t add your Damage Modifier to the second attack should you score a hit. That is, unless you have a negative modifier.

Can You Dual Wield Without Two-Weapon Fighting?

Here’s where some of the confusion comes in.

Firstly; yes, you can dual wield without the Two-Weapon Fighting Fighting Style. But, I’m gonna need to break this down.

Some classes get a feature called Fighting Style. And, one of the options you can choose is called Two-Weapon Fighting. Which isn’t at all confusing when you also have a section in the PHB on combat in 5e called Two-Weapon Fighting.

Anyway, the feature is different from the general rule.

All it does is let you add your Damage Modifier to the off-hand attack. So, it’s a slight buff to your dual wielding character.

So, to answer the question in full; yes, you can engage in two-weapon gighting without the Two-Weapon Fighting Fighting Style option.

Got it?

Two-Weapon Fighting & Extra Attack

So, what happens if you have the Extra Attack feature and attack while dual wielding?

Honestly, not a lot.

While dual wielding means you can take a swing with your off-hand weapon, it uses your bonus action. Extra Attack means you get to attack twice when you take the Attack action. But, you still only get one bonus action per turn.

Basically, it means when you take the Attack action, you attack twice thanks to Extra Attack. Then, you can use your bonus action to make an attack with your off-hand weapon.

Here’s the series of events:

  1. You declare you’re taking the Attack action on your turn
  2. You make your first attack
  3. Resolve damage if you hit
  4. You make your second attack
  5. Resolve damage if you hit
  6. You declare you’re using your bonus action to make an attack with your off-hand weapon
  7. Resolve damage if you hit

Now, this is all assuming you’re only at 5th level and only get the one extra attack.

The important thing to remember is you use your bonus action to make an off-hand attack if you’re dual wielding. And, you only get one bonus action per turn.

So, you don’t get another off-hand attack with the Extra Attack feature because you don’t get another bonus action to use.

The Dual Wielder Feat

Now, the complicate things even further, let me introduce you to Dual Wielder.

From page 72 of the PHB:

"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 be able to draw or stow only one."

Let’s unpack this.

First off, you get a bonus to your Armor Class with this feat so long as you’re wielding two one-handed weapons. Which is nice considering martial characters are often in the thick of combat. And, since your one hand is too occupied to bother holding a shield, every bit of protection helps.

Next, Dual Wielder lifts the restriction on only allowing you to use weapons with the Light property. But, your weapons still need to be one-handed or have the Versatile property. Weapons like the longsword, battleaxe, or spear among many others. So, no dual wielding greataxes or glaives…

…As cool as that would be.

And lastly, the feat lets you draw or stow two weapons instead of one at a time. Rules as Written, you get one Free Action per turn. Don’t worry if you missed this in the PHB. It’s…not really explained well at all.

But, on page 190 of the PHB and in the combat section on DnD Beyond, you can only draw or sheathe one weapon at a time as your Free Action.

So, Dual Wielder lifts this restriction in the rules by letting your draw/stow two.

…Or, more likely, this won’t matter and your table ignores this rule because it sucks and isn’t fun.

What Weapons Can You Dual Wield in DnD?

Photo Sketch of Two Daggers
You Can Only Dual Wield Two Weapons That Have the Light Property…Unless You Take the Dual Wielder Feat

You can dual wield any weapon that has the Light property. The trick is that both weapons need to have this property.

There’s a common misconception (or choice to ignore the rules as written which is fair) that only your off-hand weapon needs to have the Light

So, here’s the list of weapons in the PHB you can dual wield:

Simple Weapons

  • Club
  • Dagger
  • Handaxe
  • Light Hammer
  • Sickle

Martial Weapons

  • Scimitar
  • Shortsword
  • Crossbow, hand*

So, if you want a dual wielding character, you need to use two of these listed weapons.

*But, here’s the exception. While, yes, you can dual wield hand crossbows you can only attack with each one once when you use an action or bonus action. The Loading weapon property puts this restriction on them.

…Well, unless you take the Crossbow Expert feat. But, that’s a different thing altogether.

Is Dual Wielding Good in 5e?

Photo Sketch of Three People Dual Wielding Swords
Mathematically, Dual Wielding in 5e has a Drop-Off, But It’s Arguably Unnoticeable

Well, that depends on who you ask.

Dual wielding in DnD 5e is sub-optimal. But, that doesn’t mean it’s bad.

For one, the mechanics aren’t in your favor.

Since dual wielding uses up your bonus action to make that second attack, that means your character’s action economy becomes limited if that’s all you want to do.

So, classes like the Cleric or Druid are flat-out bad choices to fight using two weapons. They have loads of spells that use their bonus action. So, it’s almost always a better option to cast one of those over attacking with their off-hand.

For that matter, unless you have the War Caster feat, any spellcaster is sub-optimal for dual wielding.

But, the Barbarian, Paladin, and Rogue are all pretty good choices if you want a dual wielding character. Each of them have relatively few options for their bonus action. So, that means you can take that bonus action swing all you want. And, having that second, off-hand attack means you have a higher chance of rolling a critical hit, potentially increasing your damage output.

Mathematically, there’s a bit of a drop-off in damage for Two-Weapon Fighting compared to Great Weapon Fighting. This post here on StackExchange explains how the two stack against each other.

Basically, Two-Weapon Fighting outpaces Great Weapon Fighting in the early levels (by about 1 damager per round). But, by 20th level, the tables flip and GWF becomes the mathematically better option by about 10 damage per round.

Honestly, it’s not that much of a difference (especially at those levels). And personally, I don’t think you’d notice since combat in DnD 5e swings dramatically in either direction as far as damage output goes.

Now, thematically…dual wielding is pretty cool.

I get this is subjective. But, the image of someone using two swords or axes is so prevalent in media it’s hard to ignore.

Whether its the dual cutlass wielding pirate or the viking slinging two axes, the image is too badass to ignore.

Dual Wield FAQs

Photo Sketch of Hooded Person Dual Wielding Daggers

So, with all this out of the way, here are a few frequently asked questions on two-weapon fighting.

If you have others, please leave a comment and I’ll do my best to help.

Can Any Class Dual Wield?

Yes. Any of the classes in DnD 5e can dual wield.

The question on whether they’re good at it or not is the issue.

Some classes are better suited for two-weapon fighting like the Barbarian, Paladin, and Rogue. While others are less than ideal like the Cleric, Druid, and, ironically, the Fighter.

Does Dual Wielding Count as Two Attacks?

Yes and no.

Making an attack with your off-hand isn’t technically considered an Attack Action. But, spells and abilities that depend on attacks or hits can trigger when you make your second attack.

This is why Paladins make alright dual wielders. They can use their Divine Smite feature on both attacks; the normal one from the Attack Action and the bonus action one with their off-hand.

So, no in that making an attack with your bonus action isn’t an Attack Action. And yes in that you’re still making an attack.

It’s all semantics, really.

Can you Dual Wield Rapiers in DnD 5e?

This always seems to be the weapon people go to when they want to dual wield.

You can’t dual wield rapiers by default in DnD 5e. You need to take the Dual Wielder feat in order to do that.

Can You Dual Wield Heavy Weapons in 5e?

Technically, yes. You can dual wield weapons with the Heavy property in DnD 5e.

While it is true you can engage in two-weapon fighting with heavy weapons there’s a trick to it. Besides requiring the Dual Wielder feat.

A lot of weapons in 5e with the Heavy property also have the Two-Handed property. Which means you can’t dual wield them even with the Dual Wielder feat.

 

That about covers it for how dual wielding works in DnD 5e.

To summarize:

  1. Anyone can engage in two-weapon fighting
  2. You can only use weapons with the Light property unless you take the Dual Wielder feat
  3. Attacking with your off-hand uses your bonus action
  4. You don’t add your damage to the off-hand attack unless you have the Two-Weapon Fighting Fighting Style
  5. Extra Attack doesn’t affect dual wielding since you only ever get one bonus action on your turn

And, while it may be sub-optimal from a mathematic stance, remember to play the character you want to play. Don’t let people bully you into playing a different build just because they feel like dual wielding is bad.

And honestly, the biggest thing to remember is that dual wielding uses your bonus action. So, be mindful of what you can do as a bonus action.

Have you played dual wielding characters before? Do you have any questions about two-weapon fighting I might’ve left out? Leave a comment below and we can talk about it.

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