how do crossbows work dnd 5e

Crossbows have several properties, most unique among them being “loading” property. Here’s how the loading property works, along with crossbows’ other properties:

  • Loading property. You can only fire one piece of ammunition when you take an action, bonus action, or reaction to fire a crossbow, regardless of the number of attacks you can normally make. This means that a character with Extra Attack can only make one attack with a crossbow per turn, even though the Attack action typically allows them to take multiple attacks.

    This property can be ignored if a character has the Crossbow Expert feat, the first bullet point of which reads, “you ignore the loading quality of crossbows with which you are proficient.”

  • Ammunition. You need a crossbow bolt to attack with a crossbow. Each time you attack, you expend a single crossbow bolt. Drawing the ammunition is part of the attack. If you’re loading a one-handed weapon, you need a free hand to reload it (so you can’t have a weapon or a shield in your offhand). Only half of your crossbow bolts survive; the other half are lost permanently.

  • Range. Each crossbow type has a range that includes two numbers in this notation: “(X/Y).” The X refers to the weapon’s normal range. The Y refers to the weapon’s maximum range. If you attack beyond the weapon’s normal range, you have disadvantage on the attack roll. You can’t attack a target farther away than the Y value.

  • Two-handed. Light and Heavy crossbows are two-handed. This means they require two free hands to attack. They can still be carried with one hand.

  • Light. The Hand crossbow is a light weapon, meaning you can use it for two-weapon fighting (taking a bonus action attack after attacking with a different light weapon), but only with the Crossbow Expert feat. Otherwise, the ammunition property requires you to have a free hand to load the weapon.

  • Heavy. Heavy crossbows are heavy. Small and Tiny creatures have disadvantage with heavy weapons

Putting it All Together

  • You can only fire one crossbow attack per turn (unless you have the Crossbow Expert feat).

  • You need a free hand to load a hand crossbow (ammunition property).

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