Two-Weapon Fighting 5e Basic Rules
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
Two-Weapon Fighting Style 5e
Dual Wielder Feat 5e
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.
Player’s Handbook, pg. 165
Two-Weapon Fighting 5e
Two-weapon fighting gets a bad wrap in DnD 5e, and the math seems to support the griping. That being said, dual-wielding weapons is undeniably flavorful and attractive for certain players. Not to mention that some classes and subclasses do see legitimate benefits from using two-weapon fighting.
Before we get into it, here’s how I’ll be using terms throughout this article:
Two-weapon fighting. I’m referring to the basic rules of two-weapon fighting as outlined in the Player’s Handbook on page 195. Every character in the game can engage in two-weapon fighting.
Two-weapon fighting style. I’m referring to the specific rules of the two-weapon fighting style, as outlined in the Player’s Handbook on pages 82 and 91. Fighters and Rangers are the only classes that have automatic access to two-weapon fighting style.
A feat introduced in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, Fighting Initiate, allows for any character that has proficiency with a martial weapon to learn the two-weapon fighting style (TCoE 80).
Dual Wielder. I’m referring to the specific rules of the Dual Wielder feat, as outlined in the Player’s Handbook on page 165. Any character can choose this feat. I’ll do my best to only use the term “dual wielding” in the context of a character with this feat (even though it feels way more natural than “two-weapon fighting.”)
“Off-hand.” DnD 5e has no technical mechanics for “main-hand” or “off-hand” weapons. For the sake of brevity, I’ll be using the term “off-hand” to refer to the hand holding the weapon that will be used for the bonus action attack granted by two-weapon fighting. I’ll continue putting “off-hand” in quotes to emphasize that this is not a technical term.
Hold up! Are you just here for the basics of two-weapon fighting? Skip to our beginner’s section below to get a no-nonsense description of how two-weapon fighting works in 5e.
How Does Two-Weapon Fighting Work in 5e?
When a player is holding a light weapon in each hand, they can attack with each on their turn. Mechanically, this is how it works:
Player A is holding a light weapon in each hand at the start of their turn, or draws one of the weapons on their turn.
Player A takes the Attack action against Creature B, using a weapon in one hand.
Regardless of the attack’s result, Player A now has a bonus action available.
For the rest of Player A’s turn, they can use a bonus action to attack with the weapon in their other hand.
If Player A’s bonus action attack hits, they do not add their ability modifier to its damage, unless the modifier is negative.
Players only have one bonus action per turn, regardless of how many attacks they have per turn (PHB 189). Players can break up their attacks with movement, object interactions, etc. (PHB 190). Players can also throw one or both of the weapons if they have the “thrown” property.
Let’s look at a simple example:
She uses her bonus action to immediately attack the same Kobold using the scimitar in her left hand, still with +5 to hit. It lands, but this time she only deals 1d6 slashing damage. She does not get to add her +3 ability modifier to the bonus attack’s damage.
Note that if this player’s Strength modifier was -1, then both damage rolls would be 1d6-1, because a negative modifier is applied to both attacks.
We’ll cover the oh-so-common “Extra Attack” question first thing in the rules section below, but for now, more basics.
How Does the Two-Weapon Fighting Style Work in 5e?
When a player has the two-weapon fighting style, they still attack using the rules outlined in the section above. The only difference is that they add their ability modifier to the bonus attack as well as their first attack.
I didn’t mention it above, but when using a finesse weapon (which the highest damage light weapons — scimitars and short swords — both are), you can use Strength or Dexterity as your ability modifier for the attack and damage rolls (PHB 147).
So to use our Fighter from above, both of her attacks would deal 1d6+3 slashing damage.Fighters and Rangers are the only classes in DnD 5e that have access to the two-weapon fighting style as part of their core features. However, any class can choose the two-weapon fighting style when they select the Fighting Initiate feat introduced in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything.
How Does the Dual Wielder Feat Work in 5e?
Dual Wielder is a feat that grants additional defensive and offensive advantages to characters who fight with two weapons (PHB 165).
+1 AC while holding two melee weapons
The ability to use two-weapon fighting with non-light, one-handed weapons
The abillity to draw/stow two one-handed weapons as a free object interaction
There are no prerequisites for getting the Dual Wielder feat.
The major benefits of the Dual Wielder feat are that it mititages the lost +2 AC potential of a shield, it increases the player’s damage potential to 1d8 per weapon, and it allows a player to whip out their weapons more quickly. The 1d8 per weapon happens because non-light, one handed weapons become available:
Note that an upgrade of dealing 2d6 per round to 2d8 per round is equivalent to +2 damage per round (assuming all attacks land, of course). For example, rolling 1d6 for two separate scimitar attacks will deal an average of 7 damage. Rolling 1d8 for two separate rapier attacks will deal an average of 9 damage.
The last benefit of Dual Wielder involves a technical rule that most players and DMs either miss or choose to ignore. Technically, players can only interact with one object for free per turn (PHB 190). Drawing and/or sheathing a weapon technically falls under this, so that, RAW, a player would have to expend an action in order to draw their second weapon.
Almost every DM waves this rule away as silly and not fun (and cheeseable, via “dropping an item not counting as an object interaction at all” trick). In other words, this “benefit” of Dual Wielder doesn’t matter at all.
How Do Two-Weapon Fighting and Extra Attack Work in 5e?
If a character has the Extra Attack class feature and is using two-weapon fighting, they can use the bonus action attack granted from two-weapon fighting after any one attack of their turn.
Players only ever have one bonus action per turn; because two-weapon fighting’s “off-hand” attack requires the use of this bonus action, a player will only ever get +1 attack per turn from two-weapon fighting, regardless of how many other attacks they have on their turn.
Note that this also applies to Fighter’s Action Surge class feature.
Two-Weapon Fighting 5e Rules
Now onto the other commonly-asked about rules regarding two-weapon fighting in DnD 5e:
Anyone wielding two light weapons can use two-weapon fighting. There are absolutely no prerequisites to engage in two-weapon fighting. A player just needs to have two free hands (read, no spellcasters who hope to cast spells with a somatic component) and two light weapons to put in them.
Players can normally only use two-weapon fighting with light weapons. This limits each weapon’s maximum damage to 1d6 (scimitar or shortsword). A player with the Dual Wielder feat can overcome this limitation and use non-light, onehanded weapons while two-weapon fighting.
A player must be wielding both weapons at the time of attack to use two-weapon fighting. This was confirmed in the Sage Advice Compendium (SAC 14). If that’s good enough for you, move onto the next rule; if you’re curious about the details of why this is the case, read on.
Due to the wording of two-weapon fighting, if a player isn’t currently holding a weapon in their “off-hand” at the moment of attack with their “main-hand” weapon, their “main-hand” attack won’t grant a player the bonus action to attack with their “off-hand.”
Let’s turn back to the rules, with my emphasis added: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.
Two instances of the present continuous tense in the same sentence typically implies that the two things are happening simultaneously, especially in something as precise as a set of rules. In other words, when a player takes their first, “main-hand” attack, they need to already be holding their “off-hand” weapon if they hope to attack with it on the same turn.
Why does this matter? If you have the ability to unsheath your second weapon before your first attack, this doesn’t matter at all.
But if you’re a cheeseball metagamer who’s trying to benefit from two different fighting styles in the same round of combat…
A player can’t benefit from the dueling or great weapon fighting styles in the same round of combat as they benefit from two-weapon fighting style. By failing to understand the above rule (willingly or otherwise), players might think that they can benefit from multiple offensive fighting styles at once.
For instance, the dueling fighting style gives a benefit while wielding only one melee weapon in one hand, and the great weapon fighting style gives a benefit while wielding a melee weapon with two hands.
Both rules as written and rules as intended, a player cannot start their turn with one weapon (one- or two-handed), attack with it (using the benefit of dueling or great weapon fighting styles), and then equip a second weapon and use a bonus action to attack with their “off-hand” weapon.
A player can throw one (or both) of their weapons using two-weapon fighting. Any weapon with the thrown property can be thrown as the main attack or the bonus attack action when two-weapon fighting.
The only limitation on a player throwing both of their weapons each turn is the fact that, technically, you can only draw two weapons at a time for free (SAC 13). The Dual Wielder feat removes this limitation, as do most DMs who don’t care about this rule.
A player must use the Attack action in order to use two-weapon fighting’s bonus action attack. That means that melee spell attacks like Booming Blade don’t qualify, because those are “cast a spell” actions, not attack actions.
This also applies to shoving a creature, which is “a special melee attack that doesn’t involve the use of a weapon” and therefore doesn’t qualify for two-weapon fighting, which requires attacks to be made with light weapons (SAC 13).
The trigger for two-weapon fighting’s bonus action is attacking with a light melee weapon that you’re holding in one hand. So you don’t need to complete your Attack action – just one attack that meets the requirements to trigger the bonus action.
A player can break up their attacks. A player doesn’t need to immediately use their bonus action attack. If they have movement, class features, object interactions, etc. that they want to perform between their “main-hand” attack and their “off-hand” attack, they’re free to do so (PHB 190).
Unarmed strikes cannot work with two-weapon fighting. Again, because two-weapon fighting is very specific about requiring light, one-handed melee weapons. The Dual Wielder feat removes the “light” stipulation, but retains the “one-handed” one, so there’s no way to get around this.
A nice DM might allow for Natural Weapons to count for two-weapon fighting, especially if its central to a character build. But RAW, even that doesn’t fly, as Natural Weapons like a Tabaxi’s claws still aren’t classed as light or one-handed.
With Extra Attacks, the player can choose which attack to add the bonus action two-weapon fighting to. I covered the necessary elements of this already, but I felt an extra example couldn’t hurt:Say a level 5 Fighter has a scimitar in one hand and a dagger in his other hand. The first attack given is assumed to be the “main-hand,” while the two-weapon fighting attack is the “off-hand.” Extra attacks can be taken with either weapon.
Scimitar is slash, dagger is stab. Here are the Fighter’s possible attack options, using Extra Attack (EA) and two-weapon fighting (TWF):
With the scimitar in the “main hand”:
Slash > Slash (EA) > Stab (TWF)
Slash > Stab (TWF) > Slash (EA)
Slash > Stab (TWF) > Stab (EA)
Slash > Stab (EA) > Stab (TWF)
Stab > Stab (EA) > Slash (TWF)
Stab > Slash (TWF) > Stab (EA)
Stab > Slash (TWF) > Slash (EA)
Stab > Slash (EA) > Slash (TWF)
With the dagger in the “main hand”:
Even as the Fighter gains more EAs, he will only ever have one TWF.
Opportunity attacks can only involve one melee attack. From the rules, “to make the opportunity attack, you use your reaction to make one melee attack against the provoking creature” (PHB 195, emphasis added).
The Dual Wielder feat allows for two-weapon fighting with versatile weapons, like warhammers, longswords, and battleaxes. These weapons can be used one-handed for 1d8 damage, or two-handed for 1d10 damage. A player with the Dual Wielder feat can engage in two-weapon fighting while using these as one-handed weapons, and can wield one in each hand.
However, just like our rules above about great weapon fighting and two-weapon fighting on the same turn (you can’t do it), you can’t start a turn by taking a two-handed, 1d10 smack with a versatile weapon, then unsheath a second weapon for a bonus attack via two-weapon fighting.
Barbarian’s Rage damage applies to the bonus attack from two-weapon fighting. Barbarians have a class feature, Rage, that applies bonus damage to melee weapon attacks (PHB 48). This damage is added to every single attack that lands, including those granted by two-weapon fighting’s bonus action.
However, because Rage requires a bonus action to activate, a Barbarian will not be able to use two-weapon fighting on the same turn as they activate Rage.
You don’t need two-weapon fighting style to get the Dual Wielder feat. The Dual Wielder feat has no prerequisites whatsoever. Just as every character can freely engage in two-weapon fighting, every player can acquire the Dual Wielder feat.
Is Two-Weapon Fighting Good in 5e?
No, two-weapon fighting isn’t good in 5e; or, more accurately, two-weapon fighting is often suboptimal in 5e. However, that’s more to do with the other options available to martial classes than something wrong with two-weapon fighting. While comparatively poor, two-weapon fighting is by no means unplayable or even noticeably bad.
In fact, for the first four levels of play, two-weapon fighting actually has an edge. Before the Extra Attack feature becomes available to martial classes at level 5, two-weapon fighting represents the only consistent way to eke out multiple attacks every round.
Even without the two-weapon fighting style, the ability modifier-less “off-hand” attack also gives a second chance to land a critical strike or trigger other on-hit effects.
Two-weapon fighting only becomes comparatively bad once players get the Extra Attack feature. At that point, the +2 AC bonus of sword-and-board, the extra-big damage of great weapon fighting, and the added utility of reach from polearms become more attractive.
This problem is exacerbated with Fighters once they hit level 11 and get a second Extra attack. Basic math shows that two-weapon fighting’s benefit diminishes the more attacks a character has. All things being equal, going from 1 attack to 2 attacks is a 100% damage boost. Going from 3 attacks to 4 attacks is only a 33% bonus.
Another reason why two-weapon fighting is universally awkward to use, especially at higher levels, is that it requires a bonus action — that thing that players only get one of each turn. This can range from a minor annoyance on some subclasses, to making it downright unplayable on others (looking at you, Beast Master Rangers).
I’m not going to get into the nitty-gritty math of why two-weapon fighting falls behind other options, but suffice it to say that most characters and builds will do more overall damage and/or get greater utility by using a different approach.
Is Dual Wielder a Good Feat in 5e?
No, Dual Wielder is not a good feat in 5e. In fact, Dual Wielder’s relative weakness is a big part of why two-weapon fighting falls behind in its niche compared to other combat styles.
Upgrading your weapons from light (1d6) to non-light (1d8) results in an average gain of +2 damage per round of combat. If a player were to take ability score improvement for Strength or Dexterity, they would gain the same benefit (assuming they’re two-weapon fighting in either scenario).
Not to mention that Strength and Dexterity ASIs come with a host of other benefits, like an increased chance to hit, saving throw bonuses, and improved ability checks. Going for Dexterity will even match the +1 AC from Dual Wielder.
That being said, a Strength- and/or Dexterity-capped player might find their best straight-up damage boost, as well as a small defensive boon, in the Dual Wielder feat if they’re committed to two-weapon fighting.
If you’re looking for a more thorough tear-down of why the Dual Wielder feat ain’t so hot, I highly recommend ThinkDM’s great article on the subject.
Who Should Use Two-Weapon Fighting in 5e
While two-weapon fighting might be suboptimal for most characters, it does make sense on certain classes and builds. The unifying factor for all of these situations is that two-weapon fighting is good because it gives more chances to trigger on-hit effects.
Without further ado, here are the classes that will see the best results from using two-weapon fighting in DnD 5e:
Barbarian. One word: Rage. This class feature allows the player to add damage (between +2 to +4, depending on level) to every Strength-based melee attack they land. Barbarians can do this between 2-6 times per long rest.
Entering a Rage requires a bonus action, so a player won’t be able to use their two-weapon fighting bonus action attack on the same turn. However, Rage lasts for 1 minute, so a Barbarian can still benefit from two-weapon fighting and Rage for 9 rounds of combat.
Besides bringing two-weapon fighting’s damage to a competitive level with great-weapon fighting, a Barbarian cutting down swaths of enemies in a flurry of steel and blood just makes sense thematically.
Rogue. Rogues are drawn to two-weapon fighting for one reason: Sneak Attack. A Rogue does between 1d6 and 10d6 more damage (level-dependent) when they can land a Sneak Attack. They need advantage on the attack and/or an ally within 5 feet of their target to get this bonus damage.
Most Rogues make triggering this a primary goal each round of combat. However, the bonus damage from Sneak Attack doesn’t do any good if the attack doesn’t land in the first place. Two-weapon fighting gives a bonus chance to land an attack and trigger this critically important damage. Do note that Sneak Attack can only trigger once per turn.
On the downside, dual-wielding Rogues miss out on being able to use their Cunning Action feature each turn, since it also requires a bonus action.
Paladin. Thematically, a person wielding two light weapons isn’t what comes to most people’s minds when they think of a Paladin. And between levels 5-11, two-weapon fighting really isn’t that good on Paladins.
However, at 11th level, Paladins get the Improved Divine Smite class feature, which causes all melee weapon hits to deal an extra 1d8 radiant damage. This can trigger multiple times per turn. This represents an average of +4.5 radiant damage per hit.
Essentially, from 11th-level onwards, Paladins are constantly getting an empowered version of a Barbarian’s Rage feature — not too shabby for a player interested in two-weapon fighting.
The downside is that Paladins also like to cast spells sometimes, and without the War Caster feat, it can be awkward to cast spells while trying to use both of their weapons (although the cheesy, yet RAW-sound “drop the weapon, cast a spell, pick the weapon back up” trick is always available).
Most Rangers. Rangers are the only class on this list that actually has two-weapon fighting style as an option (without feats), but that’s not the primary reason two-weapon fighting works so well with them.
Hunter’s Mark, the class’s signature ability, adds 1d6 damage per hit — an average of 3.5. It requires a bonus action to cast, so a Ranger can’t use their bonus action attack on the same turn as they cast it.
However, the spell’s long duration and ability to transfer between targets throughout the day means that it’s a reliable source of bonus damage. And again, the more damage a player does on-hit, the more attractive two-weapon fighting becomes.
Who Shouldn’t Use Two-Weapon Fighting in 5e
Now for the classes that don’t see much benefit from two-weapon fighting:
Monk. A central feature of the Monk class is their ability to make one unarmed strike as a bonus action after attacking. Because of this, and the way their unarmed damage scales from 1d4 to 1d10 as they level, there’s really no point in equipping a 1d6 light weapon in their offhand.
Fighter. Fighter gets two-weapon fighting style as a choice, so you might assume it’s a good option. And two-weapon fighting isn’t terrible all the time for Fighters; from levels 1-4 it’s actually pretty great, and from levels 5-11 it’s okay (but definitely suboptimal).
At level 11, though, when Fighters get a second Extra Attack, that two-weapon fighting becomes noticeably and inarguably inferior. Anyone trying to maximize their damage is best off picking up a greatsword; even a polearm starts to win on damage alone, without even taking its added utility into account.
Again, two-weapon fighting isn’t bad on Fighters. It’s just that all of the problems of two-weapon fighting become magnified on Fighters, while all the strengths of the other options become more apparent.
Ranger (Beast Master). Beast Master Rangers and two-weapon fighting don’t mix at all, if you’re sticking with the rules as written. Using the base rules from the Player’s Handbook, attacking with their pet requires them to use their Extra Attack class feature or give up their own attack.
That’s okay once they’re 5th level, but levels 3 and 4 sure do feel bad — either their pet doesn’t attack, or they take 0 attacks (since they need to take at least one attack to trigger their bonus action attack from two-weapon fighting).
Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything attempted to fix this awkwardness by making it so that a Ranger could use a bonus action to command their pet to use its own “attack” action from its stat block. Huzzah for all Beast Master Rangers — except those who need that bonus action every turn, like Rangers hoping to dual wield some badass weapons.
For them, they’re still capped at 3 total offensive actions per turn, the same as a non-Beast Master Ranger. They can either: Attack > EA > Pet Attack (bonus action) or Attack > TWF Attack (bonus action) > EA. Very, very lame, and something we’ll touch on in the DM tips below.
Most spellcasters. While some Warlocks might think that Hex would work pretty well with two-weapon fighting, much the way Hunter’s Mark does for Rangers, they should think again. Spellcasters need a free hand to cast spells with somatic components (86% of spells in 5e), so two-weapon fighting is just too awkward to justify in most cases.
On the other hand, the War Caster feat can get you over this hurdle, so don’t let me completely squash your battle-mage dreams. It’s just usually a bit simpler to pull off with a different approach.
DM Tips for Two-Weapon Fighting in 5e
For DMs hoping to help players that want to utilize two-weapon fighting for their character, keep these tips in mind:
Let players draw both weapons regardless of the Dual Wielder feat. The “one free object interaction per round of combat” thing is a necessary rule for stopping shenanigans from players. However, when it prevents a player from literally equipping their weapons, it’s just stupid.
Almost every DM ignores this rule; you should too.
Let Natural Weapons count for two-weapon fighting. If a player is really excited about a Tabaxi or Aarakocra character they want to build, and this character relies on a flurry of unarmed strikes (but isn’t a Monk), allow them to count their Natural Weapons as light weapons to qualify for two-weapon fighting.
It really won’t do any harm; in fact, Natural Weapons’ base damage is only 1d4, so if you’re feeling extra nice, you might even let them bump that up to 1d6 to match the optimal available option.
Give Beast Master Rangers a break. Wizards of the Coast kinda dropped the ball on Beast Master Rangers, leaving DMs to clean up the mess. With regard to two-weapon fighting, figure out a way that allows them to use both their pet attack and their “off-hand” attack on the same turn.
At my table, I call the pet’s action a “pet action,” while two-weapon fighting’s attack retains its “bonus action” status. This way, a Ranger still has to make choices about how to use their bonus action, but they’re always able to command their pet (that is why they chose the subclass, after all!)
Change the rules. Two-weapon fighting isn’t unplayable, but if you’re unhappy with its power level, you can always change things up.
I don’t want to get into specific home brews and house rules in this article, but plenty of people on the internet have. Here’s one from 5e game designer Mike Mearls on Sage Advice, for example (and the thread continuation).
Do some research, do some math, and work with your players to bring two-weapon fighting feel balanced and fun to play.
Two-Weapon Fighting for Beginners
Any character can dual wield. Two-weapon fighting only requires that both weapons be “light,” as classified on page 147 of the Player’s Handbook.
A player does not add their ability modifier to the “off-hand” attack’s damage. Normally, when a player attacks with a weapon and it lands, they add their Strength modifier to their damage roll (or Dexterity, in some cases).
So if a player lands a scimitar attack and has a +3 Strength modifier, they’ll roll a d6 and add 3 to the result to calculate their attack’s damage.
But when a player attacks with a scimitar in their “off-hand,” they only roll a d6 to calculate their attacks damage — they don’t add their +3 Strength modifier. Note that if their Strength modifier was something negative like -2, this would apply to both the main-hand and off-hand attacks.
The “off-hand” attack requires a bonus action. Players only have a maximum of one bonus action each turn. Most bonus actions are triggered by something; in the case of two-weapon fighting, a bonus action becomes available to you the moment you attack with your “main-hand” weapon.
A player can break up their attacks. Just because a player gets a bonus action right after attacking with their “main-hand” weapon, doesn’t mean they have to use it immediately.
A player can move 10 feet, attack Target X, and then move 20 feet more, and attack Target Y with their bonus action attack using their “off-hand” weapon.
Weapons for Two-Weapon Fighting in 5e
Without the Dual Wielder feat, a character can engage in two-weapon fighting with any of the following one-handed light weapons:
Simple Melee Weapons
Club: 1d4 bludgeoning
Dagger: 1d4 piercing, finesse, thrown (20/60)
Handaxe: 1d6 slashing, thrown (20/60)
Light Hammer 1d4 bludgeoning, thrown (20/60)
Sickle 1d4 slashing
Scimitar: 1d6 slashing, finesse
Shortsword: 1d6 piercing, finesse
Martial Melee Weapons
With the Dual Wielder feat, a character can engage in two-weapon fighting with any of the following one-handed non-light weapons:
Simple Melee Weapons
Javelin: 1d6 piercing, thrown (30/120)
Mace: 1d6 bludgeoning
Quarterstaff: 1d6 bludgeoning, versatile (1d8)
Spear: 1d6 piercing, thrown (20/60), veratile (1d8)
Battleaxe: 1d8 slashing, versatile (1d10)
Flail: 1d8 bludgeoning
Longsword: 1d8 slashing, versatile (1d10)
Morningstar: 1d8 piercing
Rapier: 1d8 piercing, finesse
War Pick: 1d8 piercing
Warhammer: 1d8 bludgeoning, versatile (1d10)
Whip: 1d4 slashing, finesse, reach
Martial Melee Weapons
Note that versatile weapons must be wielded as one-handed weapons to be eligible for two-weapon fighting.