Off Hand Attack 5e Guide

Off Hand Attack 5e Guide

Off-Hand Attack does not exist as a term in 5e. Off-Hand Weapon Fighting was a term in 1e. Off-Hand Attack is, however, a very useful general term for the different ways a character can accomplish fighting with two weapons at once. These ways can be broken down into three categories:

  • Two-Weapon Fighting the Bonus Action
  • Two-Weapon Fighting the Fighting Style
  • Dual Wielder

Welcome to a Off Hand Attack 5e Guide.

Two-Weapon Fighting the Bonus Action

Two-Weapon Fighting the Bonus Action is simply fighting with a weapon in each hand. The term Two-Weapon Fighting the Bonus Action distinguishes itself from Two-Weapon Fighting the Fighting Style and Dual Wielder in that it isn’t a fighting style or a feat.

Who can do Two-Weapon Fighting the Bonus Action?

Anyone. You don’t need to be any type of warrior. If Wally the Wizard with Strength 8 and Dexterity 10 wants to pull out two daggers and have at it, he can.

How do I do Two-Weapon Fighting the Bonus Action?

When your start your turn, make sure you have a light weapon in each hand.

When you make your attack with your primary weapon and if that action allows you enough time to have a bonus action, you can attack with your secondary, off-hand, weapon as a bonus action.

What is the Total Damage for Two-Weapon Fighting the Bonus Action?

Off Hand Attack 5e

You have normal damage plus normal modifiers for your primary weapon and no modifiers, except negative for your secondary weapon. The same goes for attack roles. Example:

Wally the Wizard runs out of spells, has no combat cantrips, and is forced to draw two non-magical daggers for a melee with a charging goblin because his friends are preoccupied fighting other goblins.

On Wally’s turn, he attacks once with his primary weapon, the dagger in his right hand. For his attack roll, he gets a plus +2 modifier for proficiency but no modifier for Dexterity. He gets no modifier for damage so his damage is 1d4/1-4 for his primary weapon.

Because Wally has time for a bonus action and cantrips are not useful for him in this situation, Wally uses his bonus action to make a second attack with his secondary weapon. This time, he gets no modifier, neither on his attack roll nor his damage roll, and simply does 1d4/1-4 for his secondary weapon.

The total potential damage for Wally’s turn, if both daggers hit the goblin, would be 2d4/2-8 points of damage, enough to potentially kill an ordinary goblin and double what Wally would normally do if he were only fighting with one dagger in one hand.

Because daggers are a finesse weapon, Wally can choose to use his Dexterity as a modifier instead of his Strength.

If the player is absent-minded and chooses to use Wally’s Strength score of 8 to make the attacks instead of his Dexterity score of 10, both attacks would suffer a -1 penalty due to low Strength, on both the attack roll and the damage roll.

His damage would be 1d4 -1/1-3 for each attack for a total of 2-6 points of damage if both daggers should hit the goblin in the same turn.

What is the Total Cost Two-Weapon Fighting the Bonus Action?

The cost of Two-Weapon Fighting the Bonus Action is one bonus action and whatever it takes to have both hands free to grab and hold both weapons.

That’s it. You don’t have to buy it like you would a feat and it does not affect your primary weapon use, provided that your primary weapon is a light, one-handed weapon, in any way.

Is Two-Weapon Fighting the Bonus Action Good?

Two-Weapon Fighting

Two-Weapon Fighting the Bonus Action is a good option to have because it costs you nothing. It may not always, however, be a good option to choose depending on what other options you have available.

If Wally has some combat cantrips that he can use during a melee, he might prefer to do that. Otherwise, Two-Weapon Fighting the Bonus Action isn’t a bad option for him because he has nothing to lose.

He can’t use a shield, he’s not using a two-handed weapon like a quarterstaff, and his melee attacks aren’t so great anyway. Provided he doesn’t have any available spell attacks in that situation, Two-Weapon Fighting the Bonus Action is a good option because it doubles his damage potential.

Now let’s look at the case of Bruenor the Dwarven Fighter, taken from the character build template in Player’s Handbook (PHB), p. 10-15. 

He normally fights with battleaxe and shield. He couldn’t engage in Two-Weapon Fighting the Bonus Action without dropping his shield and giving up the bonus to his Armor Class (AC).

Were he without a shield, he might opt to use Two-Weapon Fighting the Bonus Action by drawing two light weapons with which he is proficient, like double hand axes.

This would require him to lose 2 potential points of damage by having to give up his battleaxe, which is not a light weapon. He would, however, gain an additional 6 points of damage from his second weapon for a potential net gain of 4 points. 

Let us look at the damage tables for Bruenor, so we can decide for ourselves which is the better option:

Bruenor’s Weapon System damage per turn if all attacks hit
Battle Axe 1d8+3 (4-11) (7 on average)
Double Hand Axes 1d6+3 (4-9) + 1d6 = 5-17 total (9 average)

As you can see from the table above, Bruenor will do a significant amount more damage by using the Two-Weapon Fighting Bonus Action, if all of his attacks hit. The problem is that he gets no bonus on his attack rolls for his secondary weapon while his primary gets a +5 bonus on attack rolls.

Therefore, his attacks with his secondary/off-hand weapon will most likely hit much less often, so it is more difficult to calculate whether or not the increase in damage is worth the sacrifice of Bruenor giving up his shield and battleaxe. 

Two-Weapon Fighting the Fighting Style

Two-Weapon Fighting

Two-Weapon Fighting the Fighting Style is different from Two-Weapon Fighting, the Bonus Action in that is a fighting style. You also get the full benefit of modifiers for you off-hand/secondary weapon when you choose Two-Weapon Fighting the Fighting Style.

Who can do Two-Weapon Fighting the Fighting Style?

Fighters and rangers, 2nd level and above, can do Two-Weapon Fighting the Fighting Style. If I were the DM (dungeon master), I would allow monks and possibly rogues to do it as well, even though that isn’t specified in the rules.

My logic is that there are plenty of examples of monks doing some type of two-weapon fighting with expert skill, even in real life.

Not all fighters and rangers can do Two-Weapon Fighting. At 2nd level, fighters and rangers must choose a Fighting Style. One of many is Two-Weapon Fighting.

If the character chooses any other Fighting Style, the player cannot do Two-Weapon Fighting the Fighting Style, although he or she can still perform Two-Weapon Fighting the Bonus Action.

How do I do Two-Weapon Fighting the Fighting Style?

Your character does Two-Weapon Fighting the same way they do Two-Weapon Fighting the Bonus Action, on the bonus action of his or her turn. The difference here is that you get all of the same advantages with your second weapon as with your first, provided that you have proficiency with both. Example:

Bruenor from above reaches 2nd level and decides to lose his shield to adapt the Fighting Style of Two-Weapon Fighting. His primary weapon, a battleaxe, is not a light weapon, so he discards it because both weapons need to be light weapons. He purchases a second handaxe so that he can use 2 light weapons. 

Since Bruenor is proficient with both the battleaxe and the handaxe, he gets his +2 proficiency bonus for both weapons. Since he has a Strength of 17, he gets +3 ability bonus on his attack rolls for each weapon.

He now has a +5 attack bonus for both his battleaxe and his handaxe. Were he only capable of Two-Weapon Fighting the Bonus Action, he would get the bonus for one handaxe but not both.

What is the Total Damage for Two-Weapon Fighting the Fighting Style?

Unlike Two-Weapon Fighting the Bonus Action, Two-Weapon Fighting allows you to make full use of damage bonuses on both attacks. 

In Bruenor’s case, he gets the full damage bonus from his +3 Strength modifier for both his battleaxe and his handaxe. His total damage:

  • Primary handaxe 1d6 +3 (4-9)
  • Secondary handaxe 1d6 +3 (4-9)

Grand total = 8-18 points of damage/turn

What is the Total Cost of Two-Weapon Fighting the Fighting Style?

Two-Weapon Fighting the Bonus Action

The total cost of Two-Weapon Fighting is the commitment to make this one’s Fighting Style. The Bruenor character-build from PHB was inspired by the character of the same name as created by R.A. Salvatore in his Icewind Dale Trilogy

That Bruenor never chose to have a Two-Weapon Fighting Style. That is because the decision to take one particular Fighting Style closes the door to taking another. You can only have one Fighting Style. For example, you can’t have both Archery and Two-Weapon Fighting.

Bruenor’s friend, Drizzt Do’Urden, however, did take the Two-Weapon Fighting Style. Salvatore’s Homeland depicts Drizzt’s upbringing and the depth of his commitment to his Two-Weapon Fighting Style. Drizz’t chose double scimitars to be his weapon of choice at an early age and trained under a master instructor.

As a good-hearted drow in a society that was evil, he did not fit in. For many years, his two scimitars were his only friends, only increasing his commitment to his Two-Weapon Style. 

There are examples of Drizz’t using a bow and other weapons, but that simply shows his proficiency. He was proficient in many weapons, but he was only a master of one weapon system, the double scimitars.

Is Two-Weapon Fighting the Fighting Style Good?

That is a personal choice. Upon reaching 2nd level, every fighter and ranger has to choose a Fighting Style. Each individual player/character has to make the choice that is right for him or her.

Personally, I think Two-Weapon Fighting is the best Fighting Style in the game for a fighter or ranger. You are literally able to double your attacks and your damage per turn, at least at the lower levels. IMHO, the other Fighting Styles do not come close in benefits within 5e rules. 

Dual Wielder

Dual Wielder

Dual Wielder is different from Two-Weapon Fighting in that it allows the wielder to use two one-handed weapons that are not light. For Two-Weapon Fighting, one of the weapons needs to be a light weapon. In addition, the wielder gets the following benefits:

  • -1 to AC when using both weapons
  • the ability to draw or stow both weapons, even if he or she would normally be only able to draw or stow only one

Who can do Dual Wielder?

Anyone who reaches 4th level or above, regardless of class.

How do I do Dual Wielder?

Dual Wielder is a feat. When you gain a certain level, such as 4th level, you have the option of choosing to have one of your ability scores raised or to gain the ability to perform a feat. Example:

Wally the Wizard manages to survive his melee with the goblin, barely. He is traumatized by the experience for a long time and still feels that way even when he reaches 4th level.

As a 4th level wizard, he has the option of increasing one of his ability scores or learning a feat. Most wizards would opt to increase their ability scores or choose a feat related to magic, but Wally just has not been the same since that goblin. Therefore, he spends his feat on Dual Wield so he can fight with 2 battleaxes at once.

Of course, he will get no bonuses because he is not proficient with battle axes. Furthermore, he will suffer a penalty on attack and damage roles because his Strength score is 8.

The point, however, is that if we go by RAW (rules as written) in PHB, there is nothing that prevents any player character from any class picking Dual Wield and having a ridiculous weapon choice.

That being said, picking a weapon that is not light does not allow you to pick a weapon that can only be used with two hands, like a greatsword or a greataxe. Therefore, Wally couldn’t use his Dual Wield to fight with two halberds at once.

What is the Total Damage for Dual Wield Fighting?

The total damage for Dual Weapon Fighting would be the full bonuses and penalties for both weapons.

In the case of Wally the Wizard with his two battle-axes:

  • 1st axe: 1d8-1 (1-7) 
  • 2nd axe: 1d8-1 (1-7)

Grand Total: 2-14 points (6 average) per turn if both axes hit

Wally suffers the full penalty on both attack roles and damage roles because of his Strength of 8, but he looks really cool and scary doing it.

Let us say that Bruenor the Dwarven Fighter, upon reaching 4th level, also chooses Dual Wielder Fighting and also chooses double battle axes.

Because he has proficiency in battle axes, he would get a +2 on his attack rolls.

Because he has a Strength score of 17, he would get +3 on both attack and damage rolls.

Therefore, his total modifiers, assuming that his axes are not magical, would be +5 for attack rolls and +3 for damage rolls. His damage per turn would be:

  • 1st axe: d1-8+3 (4-11)
  • 2nd axe: d1-8+3 (4-11)

Grand Total: 8-22 points (14 average) per turn if both axes hit

What is the Total Cost of Dual Wield Fighting?

Dual Wielder

The cost of Dual Wield Fighting is 1 feat.

Is Dual Weapon Fighting good?

In game terms, I would have to say usually no. That is my personal opinion.

For the price of 1 feat, a character like Bruenor could increase his Strength from 17 to 18 and get a +4 modifier to both attack and defense rolls. If he takes the Two-Weapon Fighting Style and uses double hand axes, his damage would be:

  • 1st axe: d1-6+4 (5-10)
  • 2nd axe: d1-6+4 (5-10)

Grand total: 10-20 points (16 average) per turn if both axes hit

Notice that although the potential grand total is lower, the average grand total is actually higher. Having an additional plus to your damage would probably pay off more over time than having a slightly higher die for rolling damage.

In addition, more damage would be done with a higher strength score because characters like Bruenor would hit their targets more often due to having a higher attack bonus.

Rolling an 8-sided die for damage rather than a 6-sided die for damage makes you no more likely to actually hit your target. Furthermore, there might be several situations, like lifting swimming in rough waters, or climbing, where having a high strength score could prove useful.

Of course, one could choose the Archery Fighting Style and then later spend a feat on Dual Wield, but that does not seem very practical for most characters.

I do not know your characters or your campaign, however, so you might have a situation in which an archer with Dual Wield is the perfect combination. The point is options are always a good thing.

FAQs

Question: Can I Stack My Attacks by Adding Some Type of Off-hand Weapon Fighting to My Multiple Attacks when I Reach Higher Levels?

Answer: Sort of. When you employ some type of off-hand fighting as a bonus action, it gives you one extra attack on your turn, not your multiple attacks.

When you get the multiple attack ability at higher levels, you still can get one additional attack per turn as a bonus action. What you don’t get is one additional bonus action on every attack. Example:

Drizz’t the Ranger, on reaching 2nd level, chooses Two-Weapon Fighting as his Fighting Style with double scimitars as his weapon. He can make a second attack as a bonus action with his off-hand and still keep all modifiers for proficiency and ability. When he reached 5th level, he gets 2 attacks.

Because Drizz’t has Two-Weapon Fighting as his Fighting Style, he gets one additional attack per turn as a bonus action. Therefore, Dirzz’t has a total of 3 attacks per turn and has full modifiers for proficiency and ability; he doesn’t get 4 attacks.

Two-Handed Fighting/Dual Wield don’t actually double your attacks, they simply add an attack as a bonus action, only once to your turn.
Were Drizz’t a fighter instead of a ranger, he would have even more opportunities for multiple attacks at higher levels. At 11th level, Drizz’t would normally be allowed 3 attacks per round, but, because he has Two-Weapon Fighting as his Fighting Style, he can make a total of 4 attacks per round.

At 20th level, Drizz’t would normally be allowed 4 attacks per round, but, because he has Two-Weapon Fighting as his Fighting Style, he can make a total of 5 attacks per round.

After 20th level, Drizz’t wouldn’t be able to get any additional multiple attack benefits and 5 attacks per round would be his maximum without magical aid.

Question: Can I have One Weapon as a Light Weapon and One Weapon as non-light Weapon?

Answer: RAW, not unless you have Dual Wield. Of course, your DM might choose to allow it. I would. One of the most famous swordsmen in Japan, Miyamoto Musashi, invented such a style and it is still taught to this day.

It uses 1 long sword (katana) and 1 short sword (wakizashi) and hardly looks like the equivalent of using 2 longswords or 2 battle axes. Musashi’s 2-sword fencing style is literally a Two-Weapon Fighting Style of Fighting for the real world.

Question: Does a Finesse Weapon Count as a Light Weapon?

Answer: RAW, not really, but I think most DMs would allow it. Florentine fencing is also, literally a Two-Weapon Fighting Style of Fighting for the real world. It uses rapier and dagger and was so common that it was featured in the fight scenes in Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juilet (1968).

I am sure that Romeo and Tybalt, as Verona aristocrats, knew how to fight, but I would hardly expect them to be high-level weapon masters capable of Dual Wield. After all, Romeo was only fifteen at the time of the play.

Question: Can I Mix Up My Light Weapons for Two-Weapon Fighting and Dual Wield?

Answer: RAW, it doesn’t say you can’t. There is no reason why Drizz’t couldn’t have chosen 1 scimitar and 1 shortsword. There is no reason why Wally the Wizard couldn’t have chosen 1 battle axe and 1 longsword.

It may sound strange, but a weapon expert may have legitimate reasons to mix up his or her weapons: confusing opponents, having both a mid and a short-range weapon, having one weapon for parrying/capturing the opponent’s weapon and one for attacking/breaking the opponent’s weapon, etc.

Question: Once I Choose Two Weapons for Two-weapon Fighting and/or Dual Wield, can I Change My Mind about which Specific Weapons Later?

Answer: RAW, it doesn’t say you can’t. IMHO, DMs should limit this. Example:

Drizz’t survives a fierce battle with an Iron Golem, but his twin scimitars are stuck in the body of the monster. He grabs 2 shortswords from the bodies of 2 fallen drow enemies. Should he gain the full bonuses as he would with 2 scimitars?

Any martial artist who has watched Two-Weapon fighters train would agree that the training is different, depending on the weapon. That being said, many martial arts systems have their practitioners practice many variants of Two-Weapon fighting: double saber (scimitar), double stick (club), stick and dagger, double dagger, etc.

Conclusion

Dungeons & Dragons is a game of role-playing and problem-solving. In such a game, a large variety of options to choose from make for better play.

The concept of some type of Off-Hand Attack, whether as a bonus action, fighting style, or through Dual Wield, is an additional option for the players to employ or discard at their discretion.

More importantly, these options are not magical. If my character wants to pick up two weapons and fight, that should be his or her option. If my character is Wally the Wizard, he might not be able to fight with those weapons well, but the pursuit of that option should be my decision and I should be prepared to live with the consequences.

If I tell my DM that the 1st level Wally picks up to 2 battle axes from the ground to fight a goblin, the DM should not say:

The axes magically fall out of your hand because you are a wizard without Dual Wield.

When the DM does something like that, he or she deprives the players of their free agency. Most of my readers and I could probably pick up two battleaxes and swing them around, but we might have a very hard time successfully hitting an opponent who bears weapon, armor, and shield.

In a desperate situation, however, we might choose to go for broke and that should be our choice to make.

A better response from the DM would be:

The battleaxes feel heavy and awkward. You can try to win against the goblin, but you will suffer a severe penalty on both attacks in addition to the penalty you would suffer for having a Strength of 8 and not being proficient with battle axes. Would you still like to try?

Calculating the odds, making choices, and living with the consequences is what role-playing is all about. Come to think of it, that’s what life is all about.

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