Thanks to extensive practice with the crossbow, you gain the following benefits:
You ignore the loading quality of crossbows with which you are proficient.
Being within 5 feet of a hostile creature doesn’t impose disadvantage on your ranged attack rolls.
When you use the Attack action and attack with a one handed weapon, you can use a bonus action to attack with a hand crossbow you are holding.
Player’s Handbook, pg. 165
Crossbow Expert 5e
Crossbow Expert is widely considered one of the most powerful feats in the game. And with good reason; it removes half of the drawbacks of fighting with a ranged weapon AND introduces a perk that helps outstrip the damage of other ranged weapons.
I’ll cover exactly how it works and why it’s so good.
What Does Crossbow Expert Do in 5e?
Crossbow expert removes one drawback of crossbows and one drawback of ranged attacks, while adding an extra bonus action attack with a hand crossbow each round.
Let’s break this down part by part:
Ignore the loading quality of crossbows. A weapon with the loading quality restricts a player to one attack per round, regardless of the number of attacks they can normally make (PHB 147). Crossbow expert lets you ignore this restriction and attack multiple times per round with such a weapon (usually a hand crossbow, because of the feat’s final bullet).
This is what makes the feat essential for classes with Extra Attack who want to use a crossbow.
Ignore attack disadvantage for close-range ranged attacks. Normally, when a hostile creature is within 5 feet of you, you have disadvantage on ranged attacks (PHB 195). With Crossbow Expert, you ignore this.
Bonus action attack. If you attack with ANY one handed weapon (hand crossbow included), you can use a bonus action to attack with a hand crossbow. And yes, it can be the same hand crossbow. You just need a hand free to load the weapon, since the feat doesn’t allow you to ignore the Ammunition property of the weapon (which requires a free hand to load).
How Do I Use Crossbow Expert in 5e?
Pair it with Sharpshooter. Sharpshooter is the (mathematically) best feat for ranged characters in the game. It gives you the option to have -5 on an attack roll in exchange for +10 damage if that attack lands. The more attacks you make, the better this feat becomes. The bonus action attack afforded by Crossbow Expert is one of the easiest and most reliable ways in the game to get more Sharpshooter chances.
Plus, the Sharpshooter’s other two bullet points remove disadvantage on long-ranged attacks and allow you to ignore the bonus AC against ranged attacks that creatures get from half (+2 AC) and three-quarters (+5) cover. That first point is especially useful, considering that you’re otherwise limited to a 30-foot range on your hand crossbow. Sharpshooter quadruples your effective range to 120 feet.
Basically, these two feats combined allow you to ignore all of the downsides of being a ranged attacker, which, combined with the massive damage per round that competes (and often beats) melee martial builds, makes for one of the best martial playstyles in the game.
Get the Archery fighting style. Fighters and Rangers can get this fighting style, which grants a straight-up +2 bonus to attack rolls with ranged weapons. This is a massive bonus that ensures you’ll also be the most accurate member of your party, along with all that sweet damage.
Is Crossbow Expert 5e a Good Feat?
Yes, Crossbow Expert is a great feat, bordering on overpowered. The feat is especially good for certain classes:
Fighter. Fighters have access to the most ability score improvements (and therefore feats) of any class in the game, meaning a CBE/SS (Crossbow Expert/Sharpshooter) build comes online at 6th level (without any variant human shenanigans). Plus, Fighters can get the Archery Fighting style to make their ranged attacks more accurate, especially useful when you’re giving yourself -5 to an attack from Sharpshooter.
This is extra good on a subclass like Battle Master, where you can get Precision Attack to do even more to counteract the attack penalty from SS. And you have stuff like Menacing Attack to keep melee enemies away or Trip Attack to knock enemies prone from a distance.
Ranger. Rangers also have the archery fighting style and are naturally great fits for ranged weapon builds thematically and mechanically. The one thing is that your bonus actions may be spoken for, what with Hunter’s Mark and many subclass features.
But even without that bonus attack every round, the ability to ignore melee range disadvantage and the loading property of crossbows all the time is still dead useful.
And if you want to give up on the idea of ever using that bonus action attack, you can simply upgrade to a heavy crossbow and get more damage out of your regular attacks — the first two bullets still benefit all crossbows, after all.
Rogue. Rogues also suffer from bonus action bloat, what with Cunning Action and a whole slew of subclass features. But the ability to make bonus action attacks from range is excellent for ranged Rogue builds. It equates to more chances to hit per round, which translates into more Sneak Attack procs, the main source of Rogue damage.
Plus, if you ever do get caught in melee range, you can keep using this trick without losing Sneak Attack, because you won’t get disadvantage from attacking with a ranged weapon next to hostiles.
What Are the Rules for Crossbow Expert in 5e?
Crossbow Expert applies to ranged spell attacks. This is an intentional benefit of the feat, as the game’s designers wanted “at least one element that can benefit a character more broadly” (SAC 8). So if you cast a Fire Bolt or Eldritch Blast while an enemy is within 5 feet of you, you don’t suffer disadvantage on the attack roll as you normally would (PHB 195).
You still need a free hand to reload; Crossbow Expert does not allow you to ignore the Ammunition property. Weapons with the ammunition property, like crossbows, require that you load each projectile into the weapon, which requires a free hand (SAC 9; PHB 146).
So, while you CAN dual wield two hand crossbows and fire each of them on the same turn (if they’re both already loaded), you’ll need to put one away or drop one in order to reload the other. That’s why, functionally, you never actually dual wield hand crossbows with Crossbow Expert; it’s unnecessary, as you get the same number of attacks by just holding one hand crossbow and reloading it with your free hand.
Side note: this is also why you can’t wear a shield with a hand crossbow.
You can use ANY one-handed attack for the first attack. Multiple one-handed weapons in D&D can make ranged attacks, and Crossbow Expert “allows for all sorts of fun combos” — a single crossbow firing twice, a crossbow and a dagger, a sling and a crossbow, a pistol and a crossbow, or, the standard option, two attacks with the same hand crossbow.
All crossbows benefit from Crossbow Expert. The light crossbow and heavy crossbow are both two-handed weapons, but they still work just fine with Crossbow Expert. You can make multiple attacks per turn with them, ignoring the loading property and disadvantage from hostile creatures within 5 feet of you when making a ranged attack.
However, CBE’s third bullet point allowing for a bonus action attack with a hand crossbow does not function with light or heavy crossbows.
Crossbow Expert functions with the Net weapon. Normally, you can only make one attack per turn when using the Net weapon, even if you have a way to make multiple attacks per turn (PHB 148). However, with Crossbow Expert, you can still take the bonus action attack with a hand crossbow after attacking with a net.
You also lose the disadvantage from close-ranged attacks with the net, which is quite important considering the limited range of the weapon (15 feet).
Crossbow Expert FAQ
Does Crossbow Expert let you fire a hand crossbow twice? Yes, Crossbow Expert lets you fire a hand crossbow twice in one turn. Normally, even if you had Extra Attack, you wouldn’t be able to attack twice in one round with a crossbow, because crossbows have the loading property, which limits you to one attack with the weapon per turn.
However, Crossbow Expert allows you to ignore this restriction and attack twice with a crossbow in the same turn. Moreover, the feat’s third bullet grants a bonus action attack after using the Attack action with any one-handed weapon, which a hand crossbow is. Taken together, a player with Extra Attack and Crossbow Expert can attack three times in a single turn with a hand crossbow (or more, if you’re a higher-leveled Fighter with more Extra Attacks).
Can you dual wield crossbows with Crossbow Expert? Yes, you can dual wield hand crossbows with Crossbow Expert. However, as they require a free hand to load (because of the Ammunition weapon property), you would only be able to take one shot with each of them before putting one away/dropping one in order to have your hand free to reload the other.
Functionally, there’s no reason to dual wield two hand crossbows. You get just as many attacks without the hassle by simply using one hand crossbow and leaving the other hand free to reload it multiple times per turn. That’s kinda a big point of the feat.