The Whole Story on Two-Weapon Fighting 6

A Twitter thread the other day explored a lot of the issues around two-weapon fighting in 5e, so I wanted to write a blog post that covered the whole deal, including potential changes to correct things that I see as issues. Stands-in-the-Fire crunched a lot of the numbers on this a few years back, and I’ll be drawing on his work heavily while also proposing alternate solutions.

And now, a word of warning. (Now a warning?)

This is an 5,000+ word post. Feel free to skip through the sections by header name if, for example, you just want to get to the House Rule Proposals.


The Fundamentals

In the Player’s Handbook, two-weapon fighting works like this. You have a light weapon in each hand, and you use the Attack action. After you attack with that first weapon (any number of times, determined by class features), you can make one attack with your offhand weapon as a bonus action. You don’t add your ability score modifier to offhand damage unless your modifier is negative. If either weapon has the thrown property, you can throw it. (I’ve put the rule in my own words.)

To be clear, and to mollify the true rules wonks of my audience (hey, Dan, what’s up, congrats on the job), offhand is not a rules term. It’s a really useful shorthand for “the weapon you make the bonus action attack with.” We good? Good.

Breaking that down a phrase at a time, for the implications:

  • a light weapon in each hand: This is a pretty tight control on the biggest damage die that you can use not only in your offhand, but also in your main hand. At base, you’re not going bigger than d6 main/d6 offhand. In this way, even in rounds that you don’t use your offhand weapon, your choice to go for two-weapon fighting still means you’re using a lower-damage main-hand weapon.
    • Most specifically irksome to my preferences, you can’t punch with an empty hand while you have a sword in the other and call it two-weapon fighting, because unarmed strikes don’t have the light quality; and you can’t pair up rapier and dagger without buying a feat.
  • you use the Attack action: This one particularly bites Beast Master rangers – as written, when they command their beasts to attack, they have not taken the Attack action themselves, so they can’t make an offhand attack. This isn’t hard to fix with a houserule, but houserule fixes are found below. There are other specific cases of this as well: the Hunter ranger’s Whirlwind Attack, greenflame blade and other SCAG cantrips (technically the Cast a Spell action), and so forth. On the other hand, Grapples and Shoves do replace attacks in the Attack action, so that’s some extra tactical flexibility.
  • After you attack with that first weapon: There are specific use cases where it would be really nice to attack with your offhand weapon first, but you can’t do that. Consider that throwing a weapon is a ranged attack, so suffers disadvantage if you’re within 5 feet of an enemy. No, you’ve got to rush an enemy that you might not kill to attack with your main hand. (You can throw both weapons, if they both have the thrown property, but that’s almost never a great move.)
  • you can make one attack with your offhand weapon as a bonus action: This clause is, of course, the reason we’re here. More attacks are good! More attacks are more chances to deal damage, maybe even crit! A bonus action is a very real cost, though, and it means something different for every class and subclass. I’ll look at a lot of the common ones a little later, but Mearls has made noise about wishing that two-weapon fighting stayed clear of bonus actions entirely.
    • Further, the fact that it’s one attack is great at low levels, but it offers no scaling function short of magic weapons. This matters as Extra Attack comes into the game, to say nothing of fighters with Extra Attack 2 & 3. (Extra Attack 3 is at 20th level and can be safely ignored for our purposes here, but Extra Attack 2 comes at 11th level and matters plenty.) Your main-hand attack is dealing d6 + stat with each attack, compared to a great weapon fighter’s 1d12 or 2d6 + stat with each attack.
  • You don’t add your ability score modifier to the damage unless the modifier is negative: This means that your net damage expression is (d6 + stat) + d6, rather than 2 * (d6 + stat). Fighters and rangers have a Fighting Style option to reverse this clause. Obviously, if the damage modifier is negative, you have no business fighting with this kind of weapon anyway.
  • If either weapon has the thrown property, you can throw it: In addition to its superficial function, this rules out hand crossbows, flintlock pistols, slings, and so on – the non-thrown ranged weapons that don’t have the two-handed property. (There’s a feat for this, sort of.)

That’s the core of it. One more relevant piece: you can only draw or stow one weapon for free each round (your Interact with an Object action). Beyond that, you’re spending an action, which you obviously do not want to do, so if you’re starting from sheathed weapons, you’re just not fighting with two weapons on your first round (but see below).


Exceptions and Use Cases

There are a few key options that make big changes to the above.

Crossbow Expert has three elements, and two of them affect points I’ve made above. The second element gets rid of that pesky “disadvantage while within 5 feet of an enemy” business, and the third completely changes your potential weapon array to allow any one-handed weapon in your main hand (so all those d8 martial weapons – longsword, rapier, battleaxe, etc.) and a hand crossbow in your offhand. Having bought a feat, you’re now allowed (d8 + stat) main hand damage and (d6 + stat) offhand damage.

Wait, what? You get your stat bonus to damage with the hand crossbow? Well… yes. In formal rules parsing, this option does not in any way touch on the core two-weapon fighting rules. This feat gives you explicit permission to fight a certain way, and “has no relation to the rule on two-weapon fighting” (see Jeremy Crawford’s tweet). This is a stylish option, if not necessarily solving the power-scaling questions.

Dual Wielder is the feat most obviously relevant. It also does three things: while you wield two melee weapons (sorry, hand crossbow folks), you gain +1 AC; your melee weapons don’t have to have the light property (so two longswords or two rapiers or whatever are fine); and you can draw or stow two weapons as part of an Interact with an Object action. (Truly, Interact actions are the most ignored part of the technical action economy, but they also lubricate the whole system.)

Well, this is obviously a great step up for a two-weapon fighter: another point of average damage in the main and offhand, and a point of AC. With this feat, you’re positioned between weapon-and-shield and great weapon styles, in damage output and AC. That positioning doesn’t hold up well once magic shields or Fighting Style features are on the table, though, because the Dueling style is so forking good.

Polearm Master is, of course, not two-weapon fighting at all (except that it is). This feat lets you treat the butt end of a glaive, halberd, quarterstaff, or spear as a weapon that deals d4 + stat damage as a bonus action, when you use the Attack action with that weapon. As with Crossbow Expert, these rules don’t touch the two-weapon fighting core rule: they merely resemble it strongly. Your damage expectation is (d6, d8, or d10 + stat) in your main hand, and (d4 + stat) in your offhand. The glaive and halberd scale up quite nicely with Extra Attack. (Just for funsies, see my houserule on spear damage below as well.) Moreover, the glaive and halberd qualify for Great Weapon Fighting Style and Great Weapon Mastery, while this feat covers the benefit of the Two-Weapon Fighting Style.

That about covers it for two-weapon fighting feats in official content. I shudder to imagine how many have been released on DTRPG or the DM’s Guild. I’m not going digging. Next up, a bit of class-by-class breakdown for how classes and subclasses intersect with two-weapon fighting.



The core barbarian of course needs a bonus action to rage, and really never wants to be in a fight where they’re not raging if they can help it. They also want the biggest weapons available, though weapon-and-shield can work, because… would you rather Brutal Critical gave you an extra d12 or an extra d6? In principle, getting your rage damage with an extra attack per round is nice, but it doesn’t balance out what you’re losing by using smaller weapons, except at the lowest levels of play.

Path of the Berserker goes about as far into blocking off two-weapon fighting as it could go – your extra Frenzy attack is a bonus action.

Path of the Storm Herald is all about those awesome aura effects… that cost a bonus action to use. That’s a hard blocker on two-weapon fighting. To say nothing of the fact that Storm Aura (Sea) is a bonus action lightning zap that does scale up in damage with level! So yeah, it’s a non-starter and a half. Thematically, though, Storm Herald seems very sympathetic to two-weapon fighting, and it’s one of the specific cases I want to rejigger the rules to support. We’ll get there.

Path of the Zealot is one of the least-worst for barbarian two-weapon fighting, under current rules – Divine Fury makes it extra important to land some kind of hit every round.

Stands-in-the-Fire argues persuasively for adding Fighting Styles to the barbarian class, and goes deeper on some of the points I’m making here.


The bard is exceedingly dependent on bonus actions, both for Bardic Inspiration and for spells like healing word. You could try to spend most of your dice before each fight, but that cuts way into your ability to respond dynamically to problems. Two of the XGTE Bardic Colleges turn this on its ear:

College of Swords goes heavily for two-weapon fighting, blurring the lines between Bardic Inspiration and Combat Superiority. It even grants the Two-Weapon Fighting Style as an option, and lets you expend your dice as part of a successful strike, rather than as a separate action.

College of Whispers is less explicitly designed for two-weapon fighting, but Psychic Blades functions sort of like a rogue’s Sneak Attack. What you care about is being as sure as possible that you land a hit every round so that you can spend a die and deal your damage. (Uh, you should let your whole party know in advance that you are Not That Kind of Bard, and they will not be receiving any of your Bardic Inspiration dice.)


Uh… yeah, no. It’s not impossible to make a viable two-weapon fighter out of a cleric, but it’s no one’s go-to. Healing word and spiritual weapon form a strong argument against, to say nothing of the difficulty of getting good damage out of a simple light weapon. If your domain grants martial weapons, that’s some help; if you can fold in Dual Wielder, fighting with two warhammers is awesome. Divine Strike can only take effect once per turn, but that does mean that you want to land at least one hit every turn if possible. A Variant human with Dual Wielding can arguably get somewhere with Tempest or Trickery (no martial weapons, but dual dagger is a fun aesthetic). Just recognize that two-weapon fighting is always going to be a bit of square-peg-round-hole gameplay for clerics.


Everything I just said about clerics is much more true here, except that you start with scimitar proficiency. No Extra Attack, no Divine Strike. Circle of the Shepherd may be one of the most plausible Circles, but… aie. Your spell list is also not making any great effort to help here. Even flame blade is only improving main-hand damage.


Now we’re talking about a class that, broadly, cares about supporting two-weapon fighting. The Two-Weapon Fighting Style lets you add your attack stat modifier to offhand damage, which is great. On the other hand, two-weapon fighting gets no help at all from Action Surge (this especially matters in comparison to other fighting styles), and directly interferes with Second Wind. Fighters also get more Extra Attacks than any other class, so their main hand damage (or great weapon damage) matters more. The fighter’s situation is central to my argument for taking another look at the two-weapon fighting rules.

Champion Archetype: Attacking more often means critting more often, and the Champion is all about fishing for crits. The Additional Fighting Style can be Defense, to shore up any AC that may be lacking from not carrying a shield.

Battle Master Archetype: Both of the two-weapon fighters in my Aurikesh campaign are Battle Masters. Making more attacks means getting more chances to spend Combat Superiority dice exactly when you want to, especially early in a fight when they can be the most decisive. That said – Commander’s Strike and Rally both cost your bonus action.

Samurai Archetype: You might come into this archetype expecting it to support, like, this dude. You would be disappointed, because the Fighting Spirit feature uses your bonus actions. Oh, sure, you only get 3 uses of Fighting Spirit per day until 10th level, so you can just accept that you’re not going to use your offhand weapon on those rounds. Of course, I sincerely doubt that anyone signing up for the Samurai is thinking, “Two shortswords, perfect!” So even if you’re trying to be Miyamoto Musashi, you need Dual Wielder. This archetype is another of my strongest arguments for some of the alternate rules I’m offering below.


The monk’s secret is that their whole body is a weapon, so they’re always “two”-weapon fighting. Because of the structure of Flurry of Blows, Patient Defense, and Step of the Wind, and how they intersect with bonus actions, you would absolutely never go for two-weapon fighting as a monk. At best, you’re trading (d4 + stat) for a d6, and that’s a bad trade every day of the week unless you have an unbelievably good magic item, at low level, that you’re not better off wielding in your main hand. You’d also lose use of Deflect Missiles. I don’t want to support two-weapon fighting for monks, to be clear, and that’s a challenge that I’ll have to address when I get to suggested fixes.


This is one of the places where my aesthetic goal differs sharply from WotC’s. I think a two-weapon fighting paladin, or an archer paladin, sound like great concepts, but WotC left those out of their Fighting Style options. In fairness, two-weapon fighting would be a trap for paladins under current rules, because of all those smite spells that are bonus actions to cast, but burning spell slots for Divine Smite never goes out of style. I guess what I want to say is that you can trim the Fighting Style list to constrain the way people will play certain classes, but you’ll get surprising new takes on those classes and spark new visions of what they can be if you leave those options open.


No class cares more specifically about supporting two-weapon fighting than ranger. Not even close. It also goes on to do it rather… badly – thanks, hunter’s mark! The core of the issue is that the class wants you to choose between archery (never costs a bonus action) and two-weapon fighting (always costs a bonus action), and then makes one of your most go-to spells a bonus action to cast, and a bonus action repeatedly throughout its duration to shift to a new target. At least it pays when you hit with your offhand.

I’m glad they give rangers Two-Weapon Fighting Style, but WotC would have done them a much better favor to also give them Great Weapon Fighting Style as an option. Ensnaring strike, and zephyr’s strike from XGTE – same problem. Um, buckle up, because I’m about to talk about the difficult parts of two-weapon fighting with each ranger Conclave (the one part of the Revised Ranger that I am 500% committed to making stick).

Hunter Conclave

  • Colossus Slayer just wants you to land one hit per turn; the good thing here is that if you hit a fresh target with your main hand, your offhand gets the damage kicker.
  • Giant Killer and Horde Breaker are “for” melee types, but it sure would be better with a great weapon, wouldn’t it? Or at least a longsword and shield?
  • Whirlwind Attack, as I mentioned above, is not an Attack action, so it never permits an offhand attack. A great weapon is a better choice here than two-weapon fighting.

Beast Master Conclave

  • I mentioned this above, but as written, everything about this Conclave is a bad fit for two-weapon fighting. Yes, you can use your companion for the Help action or taking up space and making opportunity attacks. Those are fairly valid approaches, but the features you pick up as you advance (especially Bestial Fury) don’t want you to do that. They want you to command the beast to use the Attack action, and that triggers your attacks.
  • Oh, and Exceptional Training lets you order your beast to Help as a bonus action. Great for archers! Terrible for two-weapon fighters.

Gloom Stalker Conclave

  • Actually, this one’s pretty friendly to two-weapon fighting, at least compared to Hunter and Beast Master. Stalker’s Flurry wants you to draw a miss (it doesn’t do anything until you do), so making more attacks is a positive. I might still argue that it’s a tiny bit better to use bigger weapons, but this is probably as close as it’s going to come without highly restrictive mechanics.

Horizon Walker Conclave

  • There’s no plausible way to play this in current two-weapon fighting rules. The definitive combat feature, Planar Warrior, costs a bonus action. We’re done here. I mean, Distant Strike would be so cool with two-weapon fighting, but you’re just not going to soldier on through all those levels to get there.
  • Ethereal Step – also a bonus action. Yeah, it’s like that.

Monster Slayer Conclave

  • Slayer’s Prey takes a bonus action to start up, but at least it’s just that one. (And you can still cast hunter’s mark on the same creature if you want.) It’s +1d6 the first time each round that you hit the creature. Slayer’s Prey only works once per short rest. Could be worse.

So that gives us… one Conclave that supports two-weapon fighting, and arguably two (Hunter and Monster Slayer) that don’t quite screw you over for it. Then there’s Beast Master and Horizon Walker, that get you coming and going. If there were no other reason to change the two-weapon fighting rules, the fact that they’re in such tension with the class most intended to use them ought to do it.


Back in 3.x, rogues were super friendly to two-weapon fighting, and I don’t think it’s crazy to want dual-dagger, dual-shortsword, or rapier-and-dagger to be good ideas in 5e. To a certain extent, they are: rogues have a huge 1/round damage kicker, so an offhand weapon is another chance to do the part that matters. Your Dex modifier to damage (or absence thereof) is background noise compared to 3d6 and better.

On the other hand, only the monk puts as much mojo into the bonus action as the rogue does, because Cunning Action is such a huge part of their round-by-round gameplay. Dash, Disengage, or Hide – that’s Skirmishing 101. The class and subclass design know this, and tack things onto Cunning Action rather than competing with them (such as the Thief’s Fast Hands feature).


  • As hard as Assassinate is to land, if “any hit you score against a creature that is surprised is a critical hit,” then land. more. hits. Also, if Death Strike can see use, you have to land a hit. Do not roll once and just miss.


  • This nominally wants to be an archery rogue, but there’s a little room to play it as a two-weapon fighter. Sudden Strike goes all the way redundant, though.


  • This one actually is designed for two-weapon fighting, though it doesn’t explicitly permit the most classic of all two-weapon, swashbuckling styles (not arguing historical accuracy, but supporting fiction): rapier and dagger. We’re still talking about two shortswords or, with Dual Wielder, two rapiers. (Do not get humpty at me about dual rapier. It is cool.)
  • Point is, Fancy Footwork actually takes some of the burden off of Cunning Action by giving you a free Disengage from one target when you make a melee attack against a creature – so two weapons means two creatures that can’t make opportunity attacks when you dance away from them.
  • Elegant Maneuver uses a bonus action, but it’s mostly for exploration challenges or saving your bacon from grapplers. When you need to escape a grapple badly enough, then sure, you can lose that offhand damage.


There aren’t any official-release melee-friendly sorcerers outside of UA, so I’m skipping this completely. God, I miss the D&D Next early sorcerer drafts. (And check out my Royal sorcerer, if you haven’t already!) Talking about this gives me an idea for a dual-dagger fire-themed sorcerer, though.


The three big considerations here, as I see it, are hex, the Pact of the Blade, and the Hexblade patron. It sounds more redundant than it actually is. I do want to see two-weapon fighting at least get onto the table as an option.

  • Hex, of course, has all the same considerations as hunter’s mark. Bonus action to cast, bonus action to transfer targets.
  • Pact of the Blade obviously only grants one weapon. Lifedrinker only adds your Cha bonus to damage with that one weapon. Rapier is a popular choice for bladelocks, for all the obvious reasons. They’re also natively proficient in simple weapons, so rapier-and-dagger might be achievable. The reason to want this in the first place is to get bladelocks a little closer to parity with eldritch blast spam. (I’ve written a lot about eldritch blast already – give it a look.) Somehow getting to d8 + Dex + Cha + d6 in the main hand and d4 + d6 in the offhand would be something (leaving out the Extra Attack of Thirsting Blade).
  • The Hexblade’s Curse feature is very friendly to two-weapon fighting, other than its initial bonus action to use. A flat add to damage on any hit, and critting on 19-20, is great for any kind of attack roll – more attack rolls is better.
  • Hex Warrior then lets you fight with rapiers, if you want, or even double longswords if you have Dual Wielder, and all you need is Charisma. I believe a technical reading of the last sentence of this feature means you can use this benefit on one non-pact weapon and extend it to your pact weapon. It’s an odd phrasing.


No one looks to the wizard for two-weapon fighting, but at least with the Bladesinger Tradition, it’s not completely unthinkable.

  • Bladesong prevents you from “us[ing] two hands to make an attack with a weapon,” but I think it should still be okay to use one hand and then, later, the other? It’s a strange phrasing and a strange design decision. Anyway, it’s not until Song of Victory at 14th level that two-weapon fighting gets a clear benefit here. (Let’s set aside for the moment how ungainly the whole subclass is in the first place, and how Song of Defense needs to show up approximately 8 levels earlier.)

That gets us through all of the current core classes. The drafts of the mystic and artificer that we’ve seen don’t show a ton of promise, unless they really work hard to make the Soulknife good after all this time.


The Problem, in a Nutshell

To put it as succinctly as possible: two-weapon fighting is a damage-focused style that doesn’t keep up with the other damage-focused style, great weapon fighting.  Its bonus action cost is part of why; the other part is that offhand damage has very few ways to improve, level over level, while main-hand damage improves for many classes thanks to Extra Attack and other features. Some of those features can support offhand damage, such as Sneak Attack, because they work just once per turn but only on a hit.

The big challenge: well, it wouldn’t be hard to get to too good. Here’s where Stands-in-the-Fire’s number-crunching comes in. He rightly points out that the Dueling Fighting Style scales so very, very well, and doesn’t ask anything else of your action economy. Now, to be clear, he’s mainly comparing the Fighting Style features, while I’m looking at the situation both with and without the Fighting Style features.

He proposes a fix, and I did not write this post to subtweet him or critique his fix. I do have a differing set of priorities, though – I want to support two-weapon fighting (lower case, therefore not the Fighting Style feature) for more classes than fighter and ranger, while also not making it an obvious move for monks. I absolutely want to get it completely out of the bonus action – if I’ve impressed no other idea upon you in the whole of this post, I hope you see how making two-weapon fighting a bonus action thing has contorted and constrained the rest of the design.

One more major design constraint for my approach: within a single Attack action, you only attack once with your offhand weapon. I don’t want to get into “3 main hand, 2+ offhand” math grinds like you see in mid-to-late 3.x. There are very good reasons that Action Surge doesn’t happen all the time.


House Rule Proposals

Two-Weapon Fighting (Player’s Handbook, Chapter 9, Combat)

You can wield two weapons at the same time, and attack with both as part of a single Attack action, if: both weapons have the light property, one weapon is a one-handed weapon and the other is a ranged weapon without the two-handed property, or one is a one-handed weapon and the other deals no more than d4 damage. Choose one weapon as primary and one as secondary; you can change this choice at the beginning of any turn. You only add your ability score modifier to the damage bonus of the primary weapon, unless that modifier is negative. You can choose the order in which you attack with these weapons during your Attack action.


Extra Attack (Player’s Handbook, Chapter 3, Classes)

Beginning at nth level, you can attack twice, instead of once, whenever you take the Attack action on your turn. If you wield two weapons as part of this attack, you make two attacks with your primary weapon and one attack with your secondary weapon.

Additional Clause (Fighter Class): The number of attacks increases to three when you reach 11th level in this class and to four when you reach 20th level in this class. If you wield two weapons as part of these attacks, you make three attacks (11th level) or four attacks (20th level) with your primary weapon, and one attack with your secondary weapon. You gain a +2 bonus to damage rolls with your secondary weapon at 11th level; at 20th level, this bonus increases to +4.


Martial Arts (Player’s Handbook, Chapter 3, Classes)

“When you use the Attack action with an unarmed strike or one (emphasis added) monk weapon on your turn…”

(The rest of Martial Arts remains unchanged – I just want to clarify that monks don’t benefit from secondary weapons and Martial Arts at the same time.)


Dual Wielder (Player’s Handbook, Chapter 6, Customization Options)

Second bullet point: You can wield two weapons at the same time, and attack with both as part of a single Attack action, as long as you can wield each weapon with one hand.


Borrowed House Rules

Looking at some math a little more, I’m just embracing Stands-in-the-Fire’s take on using the bonus action to add your ability score modifier to offhand damage. “When you take the attack action, if you are wielding a light weapon in one hand, you may make an attack with a different light weapon in your other hand. You don’t add your ability modifier to this damage of this attack, unless you spend you bonus action to do so.”

Rewording it lightly for my use here: “As a bonus action, you can add your ability score modifier to attacks you make with your secondary weapon until the end of your turn.

Likewise, I’m adapting one of Dan Dillon’s house rules for the Beast Master ranger: “When you command the beast to Attack, it counts as you taking the Attack action for purposes of using two-weapon fighting.”

Rewording it lightly for my use here: “When you command the beast to Attack, if you wield two weapons, you can make one attack with your secondary weapon… Once you have the Extra Attack feature, you can make one attack with your primary weapon and one attack with your secondary weapon, if you wield two weapons.”


Off Topic, But While You’re Here

Spears and Tridents: If you are proficient with martial weapons, when you wield a spear or trident it deals 1d8 piercing damage, or 1d10 when used with two hands to make a melee attack.


Design Notes

Oh boy, the design notes. To some extent I have to hope that the arguments make themselves by now – that I have laid out my ideas in enough detail that it’s obvious how I came to my conclusions. I did a bit of scratchpad math, ignoring things like critical hits, magic items, and possible buffs, as I worked. I’ve kept that in, below, for those of you who care to interpret it.

The weapon combinations that qualify for two-weapon fighting are explicitly more complicated than before. I had more possibilities I wanted to definitively permit, up to and including two flintlock pistols. I don’t have good rules language right now to indicate that you can’t reload both each round, which the loading property technically allows. For the moment, that’s getting left as an exercise for the reader.

This is involved enough that there are absolutely going to be errors, things I’ve missed, or additional tiny rules tweaks I meant to write but slipped my mind once I got to that part of the post. As written, rogues have it so good that literally every melee rogue should fight with two weapons, and that’s not really intended. I don’t have a solution yet, though. The problem is that they don’t have appealing melee alternatives the way other weapon-users do.

Basically, any time I’ve created a situation where two-weapon fighting is always the objective best, then I’ve done it wrong. When it comes to feedback, though, I’m going to be so much more okay with “here are some oversights, math errors, or places where this gets too complicated” than “the two-weapon fighting rules are perfect, don’t change them,” because not even WotC’s designers think that. You don’t have to like my fixes to potentially get something of use out of the rest of the post.


Scratchpad math for fighters:

Greatsword (does not incorporate Great Weapon Fighting Style)

1: 2d6 + 5, avg 12 — Action Surge 24

5: 4d6 + 10, avg 24 — Action Surge 48

11: 6d6 + 15, avg 36 — Action Surge 72

20: 8d6 + 20, avg 48 — Action Surge 96

TWF (lines 1, 3, 5, 7 incorporate 2W Fighting Style and my Extra Attack Additional Clause)

1: 1d6 + 5, 1d6 + 5, avg 17 — Action Surge 34

SitF variant*: 1d6 + 5, 1d6, avg 12/17 — Action Surge 24/29

5: 2d6 + 10, 1d6 + 5, avg 25.5 — Action Surge 51

SitF variant: 2d6 + 10, 1d6, avg 20.5/25.5 — Action Surge 41/46

11: 3d6 + 15, 1d6 + 7, avg 36 — Action Surge 72

SitF variant: 3d6 + 15, 1d6 + 2**, avg 31/36 — Action Surge 62/67

20: 4d6 + 20, 1d6 + 9, avg 46.5 — Action Surge 93

SitF variant: 4d6 + 20, 1d6 + 4**, avg 41.5/46.5 — Action Surge 83/88

*Stands-in-the-Fire’s variant. The average numbers before the slash indicate no ability score bonus; numbers after the slash indicate one application of ability score bonus, in keeping with his model. My model above specifically permits you to apply the damage twice if you Action Surge, so imagine an extra +5.

**I’ve included my Extra Attack bonus damage with the secondary weapon here.


1: 1d8 + 7, avg 11.5 — Action Surge 23

5: 2d8 + 14, avg 23 — Action Surge 46

11: 3d8 + 21, avg 34.5 –Action Surge 69

20: 4d8 + 28, avg 46 — Action Surge 92


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6 thoughts on “The Whole Story on Two-Weapon Fighting

  • Jordan


    I really like this and will try incorporating it in my next game to playtest. My concern is that it does seem like an optimized option in a lot of cases, for a lot of character builds. TWF has some nice benefits beyond just damage, when magic weapons with extra damage dice are thrown in or abilities/powers that trigger upon a successful hit. It allows you to spread out damage/effects among a wider amount of opponents too. All of this is not to say it should be left alone, tying it to a bonus action limits so many character builds as you’ve discussed. I am just curious to hear your thoughts about the versatility TWF offers and how that factors into assessing its viability.

    Great stuff, thanks for the effort!

    • Brandes Stoddard Post author

      I agree that there are situations where TWF’s versatility has some payoffs, but I think great-weapon, sword-and-board, and archery styles still have enough of an edge that some work needs to happen. You’re under no obligation to agree with me, obviously! To take just a few of your use cases, though:

      Magic weapons with more than +1/+2/+3 are always (iirc) attunement items, whether we’re talking about +damage dice or +effects, so having two of those represents the TWF fighter paying a meaningful opportunity cost that other fighting styles don’t face. The TWF fighter is only applying that second weapon’s effect once in a round without sacrificing a chance for their first weapon’s effect, while other styles apply whatever effect they have with every attack.

      Because D&D isn’t a death-spiral system (while-bloodied effects aren’t a thing in 5e the way they are in 4e), the incentive to spread damage around is significantly suppressed. It’s not zero, but I think that one bonus-action attack to splash damage elsewhere is just not enough spreading to balance lower round-over-round throughput. If you had a really good effect you were dishing out reliably that debuffed an enemy but didn’t stack with itself, we’re getting somewhere, but there aren’t a ton of use cases for that, and fewer that aren’t TWF-hostile on their own (like Shoves or a paladin’s smite spells).

      Thanks for the conversation! Like I said, it’s okay if you don’t buy my argument. =)

  • Michael DeMarco

    I’ve just come across this, and I agree in principle with your thoughts on buffing TWF. However, I think the best solution is in a different direction. To me, it seems that TWF was sacrificed on the altar of balance when compared to 2h weapons. The price of that is action economy balance, and stylistic problems. As you point out, the iconic rapier/dagger combo is only permitted via feat, and then if you select a dagger as your offhand weapon, you’ve made a poor selection in most cases.

    What if instead, you scrap the requirement for light weapons and decouple the offhand strike’s damage die from the offhand weapon, and replace it with the value used for the monk’s martial arts? I know personally, if I hit something with my left hand, it’s not going to do as much damage as if I use the same weapon in my right. The scaling damage reflects the character’s improved strength and mastery of technique. With this rule, you can have your twin longswords at level 1 or your rapier/dagger combo at level 20 and the math should be pretty OK. Player agency is restored because you can pick the weapons you want without feeling you’ve gimped yourself, AND you have balanced damage numbers.

  • Sean

    No need to be over complicated here. House rule I established with my group was to simply add the following to the Dual Wield Feat.

    “Additionally, a character choosing this feat with the Extra Attack feature can immediately follow any successful weapon strike with a free secondary attack with a weapon held in their off hand against the same target. This can only happen once per FULL attack option,
    *Note* Monks employing their Martial Arts as their attack option do not gain this feature. Instead, a Monk who chooses this feat that has the Extra Attack feature is no longer required to spend Ki to activate Flurry of Blows”

    And yes the wording is specific to FULL attack option. Meaning it would work again during an Action Surge but not on the attack gained from being Hasted or while making an Attack of Opportunity for example.
    It still doesn’t catch the Great Weapon feat but at least it makes the gap more reasonable and you’re still getting a +1 AC and still have the option per normal of using your Bonus action to make an off hand attack.

    • Stephen Wetherup

      All really good ideas and I will be trying to test them in my next game. But, I wonder if we can’t make the mechanics a touch simpler and I find the Bonus action where you can only use your offhand once, feels like the player gets cheated for taking two weapons. Especially those Rangers that get Whirlwind and then strangely tuck one weapon to their body while spinning getting half the dice damage as a GW user.

      I would like to float the idea of (1) no bonus action required (i.e. two weapons attack every attack) and (2) lowering the damage output per hand such as -2 to damage modifier. Everything else stays such as no dmg bonus for off hand and only light weapons.

      Two-Weapon Fighting gives you exactly what it says, you can add dmg mod to off-hand if you take this as a Ranger or Fighter but still at a -2 per hand.

      Dual Wield exactly how stated +1AC, 1 handed weapons allowed (essentially +1 to dmg per hand), dual draw.

      So, a Fighter with 4 attacks can get 2d8+2*(dmg mod-2) four times a round, in essence 8 longsword attacks including dmg modifiers – 16 and a Ranger maxes at 4 attacks (2 per hand). My calculations put this on par with GWF with Great Weapon Master feat except the 2 weapon option pulls ahead a little when fighting higher AC’s. Unless I’m calculating something wrong here. My problem is with Dual Wield giving +1 to AC which might give my two-weapon fighters an advantage over 2 handed weapons and GWM. Thought are very welcome

  • Mark Verougstraete

    This is by far the best and most well reasoned out article that I have found regarding the insufficiencies of Two-Weapon fighting (TWF) and it really got me thinking. As you have so clearly laid out, the core problem with TWF is that the damage falls behind when compared to two-handed weapons and the dueling style fighting style. The one issue that I have with it is that it is a boost to every class across the board whether or not it they should be able to TWF or not. And to some classes it becomes the objective best build that classes likes Rogues will go to since there is now no cost to TWF, which is the exact problem that we are trying to correct with two handed weapons being the objective best damage option currently.

    So I had the thought that you could give specific classes and sub classes a “two-weapon fighting” proficiency of sorts that allows all of your house rules. However, that seemed a little cumbersome having to make that decision for every class and subclass and then again every time a new source book comes out. Then I realized that you could tie it all to martial weapon proficiency (MWP).

    Here is why I think that might be better than giving every character these buffs to two weapon fighting.
    – You are specifically trying to make two-weapon fighting more comparable with characters who can deal increased damage through two handed weapons. The only characters that can wield two handed weapons without penalty (ignoring the feat weapon master) are characters that received MWP from their class. This limits the buffs to two-weapon fighting to classes/subclasses who are expected to deal the majority of their damage through weapon attacks.
    – Classes like Rogue and College of Whispers, who’s damage is largely independent of the weapon they are using, can still make an additional offhand attack, but it still comes at the cost of using their bonus action instead of cunning action, bardic inspiration, etc. Otherwise it is strictly better to always engage in two weapon fighting if you don’t have MWP or want to wield a shield, since they were not going to be using a shield, two-handed weapon, or need a hand free to cast spells anyways. This prevents TWF being the objective best for these classes. while allowing for it to be an equal option for classes that can wield two handed weapons.
    – There is now no need to change the monk Martial Arts feature unless you would be concerned about monks multiclassing to pick up MWP. In that case you can simple add to the sentence “You do not gain any benefits from this feature when you engage in Two-Weapon Fighting.”

    There are certain things that do not benefit from this change like Notably Pact of the Blade Warlocks who are not Hexblade Warlocks, College of Whispers Bards, and Bladesinging Wizards who receive any one weapon proficiency. Bladesingers specifically, while they could benefit from TWF, shouldn’t benefit from it since we are trying to bring TWF on the same level as THF.

    If you wanted to change to rules in the PHB rules to support these houserules, they could be changed accordingly.
    Two-Weapon Fighting
    Add the paragraph: “If you are Proficient with Martial Weapons, You may instead make this bonus attack as part of your attack action instead of using a bonus action.”

    Extra Attack (11th)
    Add the paragraph: “Additionally, when you engage in Two-Weapon fighting, You may make one additional bonus attacks for a total of two bonus attacks.”

    Anyways, thank you for the absolutely fantastic article and for giving some of the problems in 5e the thought and attention that they deserve.