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Multi-Attacking and Dual Wielding D&D 5e Combat Basics

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Whenever I begin a campaign with new players, it’s exciting as they hack and slash their way through kobolds and goblins. Early challenges are simple with monsters attacking and moving once per turn. Eventually, monsters like Owlbears begin swiping and biting at them in a single turn. New players start asking questions: “Why do they get two attacks while I only get one?”

Many players imagine themselves running around the D&D battlefield slicing hordes of enemies and becoming a legend in imagined worlds. In pursuit of this goal, they may choose a multi-attacking feat as they level up. This is one of the earliest instances where a play may make character choices that sound cool, but ultimately mechanically conflict with their expectations. They might stack themselves with bonus-action options that compete with one another each round. New players need help understanding how to make additional attacks, especially when they want to fight with two weapons at once.

I will review terminology to understand the basics of multi-attacking and dual-wielding. I’ll discuss classes and whether they benefit from multi-attacking and dual-wielding.

Erevan authored this article to help new players understand the language of actions in D&D 5e. Flutes is the editor and publisher.


It’s necessary to define terms. Incorrect use of mechanical terms used interchangeably or incorrectly can result in confusion. I’ll keep these short for reference if things become confusing.

Basic Game Mechanic Terminology

Action – An action is a basic unit of combat it constitutes what you are going to do. Often the action will be to attack. A basic turn consists of one action, the use of movement, and a potential bonus. You can use a reaction during your turn, but reactions often trigger during other creatures’ turns. There is also “free action” (which is not an “Action”) available to interact with simple objects like doorknobs or to draw one weapon.

Attack – This is an option that falls under actions that one can take during combat. Making an attack in combat will typically mean a character is taking the attack action. Attacks can be weapon or spell attacks, melee or ranged. Many abilities function only with certain types of attacks, so it’s important to recognize these terms. Attacks involve an attack roll with a d20 plus any modifiers attempting to match or exceed a target’s Armor Class (AC).

Bonus action – This term is misleading; a bonus action is not an additional “Action.” You may only use bonus actions for abilities and mechanics that specifically use bonus actions. You can use a single bonus action during your turn. Bonus actions are not interchangeable with actions. Ex: Barbarians can use a bonus action to enter Rage, then use their action to take the Attack action and make melee weapon attacks with it. A Barbarian cannot use its action to enter its Rage because the Rage feature says it requires a bonus action to use.

Multi-attacking Terminology

Extra Attack – This is a class feature that many classes possess to empower the basic Attack action with additional attacks. This allows you to use multiple attacks with a single action. A character with Extra Attack still uses the Attack action, but the Attack action is better for them because it involves several attacks. This does not give you two actions and is essentially the “multi-attack” that many monsters have. It does not count as a bonus action, and you can not replace this extra attack with another action. It must be another attack.

Multiattack – While this is a common colloquial description for any instance of attacking more than once, this is a term in the 5e rules that solely refers to a monster stat block ability called Multiattack. It often describes the combination of attacks and other abilities a monster can use in a round of combat. Find these in the Monster Manual and other books that contain monster stat blocks, such as Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft, Volo’s Guide to Monsters, and Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes.

Two-weapon Fighting – Also called dual wielding, two-weapon fighting involves holding two weapons (one each hand) with intent to attack with each. You can dual wield in D&D 5e by holding two light weapons.

Two-weapon fighting is also a Fighting Style available to Fighters and Ranger. You can add your damage modifier to your offhand bonus action attack with this Fighting Style. I use the term “Two-weapon Fighting” a lot in this article to generally refer to dual wielding. I will specify if I’m talking about the Fighting Style.

It’s notable that you can technically hold two weapons and attack once with each when you have Extra Attack (two total attacks). You don’t need to carry light weapons when attacking in this way, but you won’t qualify for the bonus action attack if they’re not light weapons. This really only benefits you if you have multiple magic weapons with different effects that you want to use in the same round. Short of that, you might as well hold a weapon with two hands or hold a shield in one hand.

The Rules of Multi-attacking

For a normal attack, the rules are simple: roll a d20 and add modifiers to see if you hit the monster based on its Armor Class. The PHB says “the two most common modifiers to the roll are an ability modifier and the character’s proficiency bonus.” Here is a quick overview of these for new players and a good refresher for the experienced.

For our example, we have a level-one fighter with a strength of seventeen and dexterity of twelve. Their proficiency bonus would be +2 since they are still level one. Now if they were using something like a greatsword that relies on the character’s Strength modifier, they would add +3 (because strength is seventeen) as their ability modifier. This would give them a total melee attack modifier of +5 with a greatsword. If we alter the example to use a rapier, which has the finesse attribute, we could add either +3 for Strength or +1 for Dexterity, but not both. Ranged weapon attacks with thrown weapons use the Strength modifier, and they rely on the Dexterity modifier if fired from a bow or ammunition-based weapons.

Once you determine you can hit, you calculate the damage. In this case, one would roll their 2d6 for the greatsword. You would add your ability modifier (+3) to the damage but not the proficiency bonus. A damage roll of 10 becomes 13 after the Strength modifier is added.

Two-weapon Fighting

Attacking with two weapons (dual wielding weapons in each hand) comes with requirements. You must use the Attack action followed by a bonus action to attack with the weapon you didn’t attack with before. You require two weapons with the ‘light’ property (meaning lightweight) to engage in two-weapon fighting. The Dual Wielder feat allows the use of non-light weapons. Any character can dual wield. Several martial classes possess Fighting Styles and can select feats that make two-weapon fighting more viable.

The bonus action to attack is becoming more and more restrictive as D&D 5e progresses and adds other options for bonus actions. Action economies are becoming crowded, making bonus actions premium resources to consider for your character. If you are a ranger, you can not attack with your bonus action with two-weapon fighting and cast Hunter’s Mark in the same turn since Hunter’s Mark requires a bonus action. That’s a PHB example, and it only becomes more complicated when using recent publications like Xanathar’s Guide to Everything and Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything.

You can find light weapons in the PHB weapons table on page 149.

Simple melee weapons that are light: club, dagger, handaxe, light hammer, and sickle.

Martial melee weapons that are light: scimitar and shortsword.

Weapons do not need to be the same type of weapon to use with two-weapon fighting. You could dual wield with a dagger in one hand and a shortsword in the other.

Two-weapon Fighting Style (Martial Class Feature)

Fighting Style features are available to martial classes like the Fighter. The ‘Two-weapon Fighting’ Fighting Style (great naming, I know) allows the bonus-action attack of a dual wielder to add the damage modifier of a regular attack. If you haven’t caught on yet, it takes a lot of features and feats to make dual two-weapon fighting a worthwhile tactic for your character…

Dual Wielder Feat

Dual Wielder will upgrade your two-weapon fighting. This feat grants a +1 bonus to your AC while you hold two weapons in your hands. Additionally, you can draw or stow two weapons within one free action instead of two. You may recall that I mentioned free actions earlier; by RAW, a character couldn’t draw two weapons in the same turn. The majority of players ignore or hate this detail.

This feat also eliminates the limitation of dual-wielding light melee weapons, allowing you to dual-wield other one-handed weapons that are not light. This opens up many simple melee weapons (mace, quarterstaff, and spear) and martial melee weapons (battleaxe, flail, lance, longword, morningstar, trident, war pick, warhammer, and whip).

You can read Flutes’ review of this feat (and all feats) in this comprehensive article that talks about each feat.

Class-based Multi-attacking

Many PHB character classes allow more attacks per action. Each class has slight variations, however, which are important to know. When used correctly, multi-attacking can significantly change the playstyle of your character. Sometimes subclasses will create new opportunities for multi-attacking. While there are many variations of classes, I will focus on those in the PHB.

Barbarian Multi-attacking

Gains Extra Attack at level five regardless of Path you choose. The additional attack gained will add modifiers to damage, unlike dual wielding.

Path of the Berserker

The Path of Berserker gains Frenzy at level three. Frenzy’s bonus action attack option can use any weapon. This would give you three total attacks at level five (two normal attacks and one bonus action attack). Two-weapon fighting would be an inferior choice for this path. It’s best to use the biggest melee weapon you can with a few javelins for potential ranged attacks.

You can read about a Berserker revision here, authored by Flutes and the Flutes Loot community.

Bard Multi-attacking

Bards do not receive Extra Attack unless they select the College of Valor or the College of Swords subclasses.

College of Valor/Swords

Valor Bards gain proficiency with martial weapons and Extra Attack at level six. The best part of being a Valor Bard is not the weapons and attacks, however. This subclass is defensive in that it gains proficiency with medium armor and shields. Shields are better for Bards. The Bard won’t augment its attacks much (if at all), so two-weapon fighting is a poor option. Bards also don’t receive Fighting Styles. They can be formidable archers, but that’s about it. I recommend sticking to shields.

Same basic concept for College of Swords, but no shield proficiency.

Cleric Multi-attacking

Clerics, like bards, must rely on Domain subclasses for multi-attacking abilities or obtain them through feats/multiclassing.

War Domain

This Domain gains proficiency with martial weapons and has a bonus action option as a limited resource at level one. Again, this would not be an ideal class for the two-weapon fighting as it would be replacing your bonus action with something weaker. Besides, Clerics are excellent shield bearers that gain little or nothing from two-weapon fighting.

Flutes rates the War Domain and other Cleric subclasses in this other article.

Fighter Multi-attacking

The Fighter gains Extra Attack, but it is also the only class that improves its Extra Attack feature at higher levels to attack more than twice (levels eleven and twenty). The Fighter can also utilize its bonus action for two-weapon fighting due to its lack of reliance on bonus actions for other abilities (usually). It’s notable that Action Surge will not grant a second bonus action in a turn.

Fighters can choose a Fighting Style at level one, including Two-weapon Fighting. Since the Fighter can add its ability modifier to the damage of a second weapon with the Fighting Style at level one, it can make a viable dual wielder at low levels to boost its damage output. It’s not necessarily the best option for damage output, but it’s a more viable dual-wielding option that many classes receive at low levels. Variant Humans and Custom Lineages can even learn the Dual Wielder feat at level one for additional viability with two-weapon fighting.

Battle Master

Battle Master maneuvers can work well with a dual wielder if the character isn’t relying on maneuvers that require their bonus action (conflicting with the bonus action attack of the offhand). Many of the Fighter’s maneuvers activate when you hit an opponent with a weapon attack, augmenting them with additional damage and effects. The fighter potentially attacks three times in one round of combat at level three. With enough Superiority Dice available, those three attacks become empowered by three different maneuvers. Doing so will focus threats down.  This could be very beneficial in many situations to control the battlefield.

For example, the Pushing Attack Maneuver potentially pushes an enemy fifteen feet away from you with each hit. With 3 hits you could easily move an enemy away from a vulnerable teammate or perhaps send a monster off the side of a cliff or into some other environmental hazard. There are many other maneuvers that would benefit from the multi-attacking potential of the Fighter.

Monk Multi-attacking

Two-weapon fighting would be horrible for a Monk since it can already attack as a bonus action.

Paladin Multi-attacking

Paladins are not particularly suited for two-weapon fighting. They can’t afford the extra feats to become viable with it. Even if you were to select two-weapon fighting as a feat, many paladins have martial weapons which would not be useable in that situation. Shields are also great for Paladins.

Paladins receive Fighting Styles (level two) and Extra Attack (level five), but it’s not a great idea to focus on dual wielding. You might wonder if it’s good to have more attacks as a Paladin for more Divine Smite potential; yes, it is good, but there are better ways to achieve this. Polearm Master or Great Weapon Master are prime examples of better options for Paladins.

Ranger Multi-attacking

Ranger practically built to benefit from multi-attacking if you prefer a melee Ranger over a ranged attacker. The Ranger can choose a Fighting Style at level two to boost its dual-wielding power. Extra Attack comes at the standard level five. Using Hunter’s Mark will boost your damage since you’re attacking more often, but it conflicts with your bonus action when you cast it or mark a creature.

Recent Ranger Conclave subclasses (TCoE and XGtE) have additional options for their bonus action economy. These additions make two-weapon fighting weaker for Rangers.


You can choose Horde Breaker at level three to make you the slice and dice master… but it’s not great. It only works once per turn for one additional attack, and the attack must be on another creature up close. You can use it once per turn.

You gain additional multi-attack options at level eleven. Volley lets you shoot arrows at all targets in a ten-foot radius within range as an action. If you run out of ammo, it’s time to slice and dice with Horde Breaker. Whirlwind Attack is the other option if you don’t like ranged attacks. You melee attacks against any number of creatures within five feet in exchange for your action.

Beast Master

The Beast Master has always had problems with its bonus action, so it’s a horrible option for two-weapon fighting if you plan to use your beast companion at all.

Movement and Multi-attacking

There are features that give you multiple attacks that require attacks to resolve before moving. The Hunter Ranger’s Whirlwind Attack is an example. Outside of those specific instances, the norm is to move between your attacks. This is because page 190 of the PHB specifically says so in the ‘Breaking Up Your Move’ section. It says you can move between your attacks if you use an action that involves making attacks.


D&D 5e mechanics for multi-attacking are deceptively complex (simple when understood). While everyone wants to hack and slash like they always imagined, sometimes the benefits cut into other benefits that your class inherently possesses. There are many times where a multi-attacking feat damages your character’s abilities, which is something that both new and old players may not recognize.

Learn the mechanics and choose your multi-attack options wisely. Be especially careful with dual-wielding since it’s a particularly weak mechanic of the game.

Erevan authored this article to help new players understand the language of actions in D&D 5e. Flutes is the editor and publisher.

4 thoughts on “<b>Multi-Attacking and Dual Wielding</b> D&D 5e Combat Basics”

  1. Nice clear article, however you missed one basic option. Extra Attack allows you wield two one-handed weapons and make one attack with each (or two attacks with either), there’s no light weapon restriction.

    If you’re wielding two mundane longswords there’s not much point (you’re better off with one longsword and a shield), however it can be useful if you’re wielding two weapons with different damage types and fighting a crowd of enemies with a mixture of resistances and vulnerabilities, or if you’ve picked up two magic weapons that both have additional effects when wielded and/or on a hit.

  2. College of Swords Bards also receive an extra attack at level 6. They also can choose between two-weapon fighting or dueling at level 3. Curious to what you think about this option for a dual wielding character.

    1. Thank you, Cosmic. I added that detail to make the article more complete.
      I’m not a fan of dual-wielding in D&D 5e, but pretty much anyone with the Fighting Style to support swinging two weapons can do fine with it. The College of Swords Bard can do fine with it. Medium armor helps, but your hitpoints are still lower than martial classes. You’ll behave kinda like a Rogue.

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