Dual wielding is just cool, isn’t it?
Whether you’re slashing through enemies with two swords or laying down some pain with a pair of warhammers, there’s just something visually awesome about dual wielding in D&D 5e.
Whether you’re taking inspiration from popular characters like Drizzt Do’Urden with his twin scimitars, Dwalin from The Hobbit with his axes, or any other such awesome and memorable characters, D&D 5e makes it possible!
Now, it’s worth mentioning that making a dual wielding character is going to take some early-game investments. Just be prepared!
So let’s go ahead and dive right into our explanation of dual wielding in D&D 5e!
Why Dual Wield in 5e?
Beyond looking cool, dual wielding is a great way to increase your damage output at lower levels.
Classes like Fighters and Rangers don’t get their Extra Attack feature until 5th level, so dual wielding lets them use their bonus action to take a swing with their offhand weapon.
At early levels, martial characters typically don’t have many options for using their bonus action. Dual wielding gives them an opportunity to take full advantage of their turn!
We’ll go into how these classes can further improve their ability to dual wield in a bit. But first, let’s take a closer look at the mechanics of dual wielding in D&D 5e.
Explaining Dual Wielding Mechanics
So, let’s address the elephant room before we continue any further: the Rules as Written don’t refer to it as “dual wielding.” If you’re looking up any rules for dual wielding in D&D 5e, you’ll find it referred to as “Two-Weapon Fighting.”
These rules can be found in the Player’s Handbook in the Melee Attacks section of page 195.
Requirements to Dual Wield Weapons in 5e
To dual wield in 5e, both weapons must have the “light” property. The Dual Wielder feat (which we’ll cover later in this article) overcomes this requirement.
The following weapons have the “light” property and can be used for dual wielding in D&D 5e:
- Light Hammers
Attacking While Dual Wielding
When dual wielding, you must make your Attack action with a light weapon in one hand. Using your bonus action, you can make another attack with a light weapon that you are holding in your other hand.
If the attack on your bonus action hits, you do not add your ability modifier to the attack’s damage. However, if your ability modifier is negative, it is still subtracted from the damage of the attack.
Maybe you want to attack an enemy, but they’re just out of reach. Why not just throw your weapon at them?
If either of your weapons has the thrown property, you can throw them using the dual wielding rules we covered above.
Drawing Your Weapons
Typically, drawing your weapon is a free action as a part of your movement and action. The Player’s Handbook mentions this in a box on page 190 and on page 193 as part of the “Use an Object” section.
However, drawing your second weapon isn’t a part of this unless you take the Dual Wielder feat.
If you have not taken the Dual Wielder feat, you must take the “Use an Object” action to draw your second weapon.
This is a seemingly minor detail, but it’s definitely one worth factoring in when deciding whether or not you’re going to fight with two weapons.
Can Any Class Dual Wield in 5e?
Alright… so… yes, any class can dual wield in D&D 5e as long as they fit the requirements.
But that doesn’t mean that every class should dual wield.
Casters need to have at least one free hand to cast their spells whether using an arcane focus or digging in their spell component pouch.
I’m not saying your wizard can’t charge in with two blades to lay down some hurt. I’m just saying it’s a bit of a weird decision…
Rogues and Dual Wielding
Rogues have the most to gain from dual wielding.
Unless they want to spend 5 levels multiclassing into a class like Ranger or Fighter, the Rogue does not get the Extra Attack ability.
They make up for this with their Sneak Attack damage, but are still faced with a slight problem:
What if they miss?
If the Rogue misses with their primary attack, dual wielding a second weapon can help them to still take advantage of their Sneak Attack ability.
Just keep in mind, though, that Rogues can only use their Sneak Attack once per turn!
That said, Rogues already have several options when it comes to using their bonus action. All Rogues can use their Cunning Action, but some subclasses have other features that require a bonus action such as the Mastermind’s Master of Tactics ability (from Xanathar’s Guide to Everything) or the Thief’s Fast Hands.
Dual Wielder Feat
The Dual Wielder feat is on page 165 of the Player’s Handbook and, as you’d guess, gives you bonuses to dual wielding.
When you take this feat, get a +1 bonus to your AC when dual wielding weapons. Additionally, you’re able to draw both of your weapons when you would normally only be able to draw one.
But the best part?
The weapons that you use no longer need to have the “light” property!
If you want to go swinging into battle with dual battleaxes, warhammers, or any other one-handed weapon, this is how you do it!
Just be aware, unless you’re playing as a Variant Human (who gets a free feat at 1st level), you will have to choose between taking this feat or an Ability Score Improvement.
This can be a tough choice and is definitely an investment at those early levels. We talk about this a bit more in our Leveling Up article.
Generally speaking, it’s a more optimized decision to boost your Strength or Dexterity (as appropriate for your class and weapon of choice) Ability Scores before taking this feat since those scores affect your damage, attack rolls, and skills.
But don’t feel beholden to what is the “optimal” strategy. If you want to fight with dual battleaxes, go for it! Enemies will be too busy running for cover to scream at you for being “sub-optimal.”
Taking the Two-Weapon Fighting Style
The Two-Weapon Fighting Style does exactly what it says: helps you fight better when dual wielding.
Fighters and Rangers get access to this Fighting Style at 1st and 2nd level respectively.
When taking the Two-Weapon Fighting Style, you are able to add your ability modifier to the damage of your attacks with your offhand weapon.
If you are playing a Fighter or Ranger, you will definitely want to pick this one up early. Being able to add your ability modifier to your offhand damage is a pretty sizable boost!
If you are playing another class, such as the Rogue, you may find it worth taking a level or two in one of these classes so that you can get access to the Two Weapon Fighting Style.
So… Is Dual Wielding Worth It in 5e?
This almost feels like a bit of a cop-out, but Dual Wielding is absolutely worth it if that’s how you want your character to fight.
Mathematically, Dual Wielding is not necessarily the “optimized” choice. Realistically, a character has more staying power by using the classic “sword and board” or Great Weapon Fighting builds. Especially if you forego using a shield so that you can dual wield, you’re denying yourself access to extra AC at lower levels when the threat of death is far more real.
Meanwhile, by the time you start gaining access to Extra Attacks, dual wielding becomes noticeably less useful than striking with a heavy-hitter like a greatsword or greataxe.
But that’s not to say that Dual Wielding is all flavor with no use!
You may not deal as much damage with a single attack, but having extra chances to hit is always a good thing!
Dual wielding mostly shines in the early levels before characters gain access to Extra Attacks. As I mentioned, you’re giving up AC to focus more on your damage output. It’s a risk, for sure, but you know what they say about “no risk, no reward!”
So, yes, Dual Wielding in 5e is worth it in 5e. Your character should play based on your vision for them and not necessarily sticking to the “meta” of what’s optimized or not. Furthermore, Dual Wielding fills a specific niche (particularly at early levels) for damage output and action economy.
Conclusions – Dual Wielding in D&D 5e
Grass grows, sun shines, and dual wielding is cooler than a Frost Giant’s snow cone.
The rules for dual wielding in 5e are pretty straightforward, you just need to make sure that you keep them in mind when playing. Fortunately, taking the Dual Wielder feat and Two-Weapon Fighting Style overcome most of the standard rules for dual wielding.
So go forth like the one-person army you are and get to swinging to your heart’s content!