Offhand Attack 5e
Published on December 1, 2022, Last modified on March 16th, 2023
We love the idea of dual-wielding weapons. Legolas and his twin blades, Kratos and his Chaos blades, heck, even dual pistols, are a typical “awesome moment” in action movies. But when it comes to Dungeons & Dragons, the idea has always been somewhat restrictive. It turns out that using your non-dominant hand is kinda hard.
Magali Villeneuve - Wizards of the Coast - Act of Heroism
Table of Contents
Offhand Attacks in D&D
Funnily enough, there is no such term as “offhand attacks” in the official D&D 5e rules. This is actually a carryover term from the original D&D rules. Nowadays, we know this as two-weapon fighting, which doesn’t explain the mechanic well.
In 3.5e, anyone could attack with their offhand weapon at a -6 penalty for their main hand weapon and -10 for their offhand, with these penalties dropping by -2 if your offhand is “light”. Thankfully, 4e simplified this by making it a rule you can’t attack with both weapons in a turn without a specific class power.
In this article, we’ll cover how offhand attacks work in 5e and how they can be affected by other game mechanics.
What Are Offhand Attacks in 5e?
As we covered earlier, offhand attacks aren’t really the correct term. The Player’s Handbook calls this two-weapon fighting (p.195), which all classes can take advantage of. Essentially, it’s the ability to have a weapon in each of your hands and use them both as attacks. It seems simple, right?
How Do Offhand Attacks Work in 5e?
5e has simplified a lot of mechanics, including offhand attacks. You’ll need a light weapon in each hand to take advantage of this. When you take an Attack action with one of your light melee weapons, you can use your bonus action to attack with the weapon in your other hand. However, this second attack does not receive a damage bonus from your ability modifier unless it’s negative.
Mechanics That Affect Offhand Attacks
There aren’t many things that directly affect offhand attacks. But, if you’re looking to make your own two-weapon fighting build, here are some things that can help even out the odds:
Fighting Style: Two-Weapon Fighting
As expected, the fighting style centered around using both hands works with offhand attacks. It simply removes the downside of not having the additional damage from your ability modifier to your offhand attacks. This is available for College of Swords bards, fighters, and rangers. Other classes can learn this fighting style with the Fighting Initiate feat.
Dual Wielder (Feat)
Another option is to pick up the Dual Wielder feat. This feat allows you to ignore the light property of your two weapons, allowing you to use any combination of weapons you’d like to. You also get a +1 bonus to your AC. However, according to ThinkDM, the math shows that you’re (probably) better off with ASIs over this feat. It does allow you to have some fun combinations, though.
What 5e Builds Are Best Using Offhand Attacks?
If you’re a melee build and don’t use your bonus action regularly, offhand attacking might be right for you. Here are some questions to ask yourself to see if you might want to commit to offhand attacks:
Do you have a way to stack damage on hit?
Things like the barbarian’s Rage damage bonus, the ranger’s hunter’s mark, and the paladin’s Improved Divine Smite want you to hit your enemies as many times as possible. They can apply damage multiple times per turn and can make up for the lack of damage modifiers (if you don’t want to invest in Two-Weapon Fighting.) Other things that can make offhand attacks worthwhile are damage abilities that only activate on hit, like the rogue’s Sneak Attack and paladin’s Divine Smite. These abilities are in place so that these classes can keep up damage-wise with the sheer number of Extra Attacks fighters get. If you miss your primary attacks, you’ll want a lifeline that can potentially net you a burst of damage.
Do you want to wield a shield?
If you’re looking to bump your AC up +2 so you can tank for your party, it may seem daunting giving that extra survivability up. The Dual Wielder feat can help mitigate this, but especially at lower levels the extra +1 AC can make a relatively large difference.
Do you want to use a heavy weapon?
Builds that stack into STR usually end up with Great Weapon Master so they’re able to output as much damage as possible. If you’re looking to optimize your build for damage, however boring and linear it may be, building your character around offhand attacking usually isn’t for you.
Best Classes for Offhand Attacks
I do want to point out that, unfortunately, the way that 5e has been balanced, almost every build that heavily focuses on offhand attacking is suboptimal. That said, it’s still cool so below we’ve provided a couple of build options that can make the most of offhand attacks. Seeing as these builds are often feat-heavy and you’ll want the Dual Wielder feat as soon as possible, we’ve taken the variant human race so we can pick it up at 1st level.
Your initial bonus action in each combat will be to Rage, but after that, you can lay into people with two longswords amounting to 2d8 + STR + Rage(x2) damage per turn. A 4th level, you could also invest in the Fighting Initiate feat to grab Two-Weapon Fighting and turn your damage output into 2d8 + STR(x2) + Rage(x2). This is slightly worse than if you were to take Great Weapon Master and use a greatsword but sometimes that’s the cost of cool.
Despite Swords and Valor bards having access to Two-Weapon Fighting, this is probably one of the worse builds for offhand attacks. Unfortunately, with Bardic Inspiration and other potent spells taking up the bonus action slot, there will be few opportunities to use it to offhand attack.
Another rather subpar option, even with access to Two-Weapon Fighting and tons of feats. Fighters don’t have many uses for their bonus action, true. But, they also don’t have ways to add damage to their strikes. This can be somewhat mitigated with a hefty investment into Fey Touched to grab hex or hunter’s mark, though you’ll only be able to cast that once per long rest.
Before you get your Extra Attack at 5th level, you might want to consider running with an offhand attack build so you’re more likely to hit and get to use Divine Smite. It’s not really worth it past 5th level, unfortunately, so investing in the Dual Wielder feat would be unwise.
One of the better builds to run offhand attacks, honestly. Taking Dual Wielder at 1st level, then picking up Two-Weapon Fighting at 2nd level gets your build online fast. Then, you can use Favored Foe to mark your target and get an extra 1d4 once per turn. This results in 2d8 + STR + 2d4 by 2nd level, which is above even what Sharpshooter can produce. That said, after 5th level when you get your Extra Attack, it starts to trail off (while still being relatively effective). Once you’re out of Favored Foe uses, you can use hunter’s mark, though you’ll now be walking a fine line between using your bonus action to attack and using it to manage your spell.
Because rogues can’t use shields and are only optimized to use finesse weapons, it generally makes sense for them to carry around two shortswords just in case. Rogues have Cunning Action, which is a prominent use for their bonus action. But, if they miss their primary attack, they’ll want to have the option to attack again in order to land sneak attack damage. If you’re really looking to get into an offhand attack build with a rogue, you can even take the Mobile feat which allows you to freely disengage from an opponent if you target it with an attack. This can take the place of your Cunning Action, so you’re free to use your bonus action to offhand attack.
Sheathing The Swords
The image of dual-wielding weapons is one of the iconic parts of fantasy. They’re always cool to see, whether it’s elegant elven blades spinning in a whirlwind or twin scimitars swung wildly by pirates. With DnD 5e, all classes can use both main hand and offhand attacks, and it’s never been easier!
How do you feel about offhand attacks in 5e? Do you have your own homebrewed rules? Or did you find an interaction I missed? Let us know in the comments below, and feel free to check out our other 5e mechanics guides!
Offhand Attack 5e FAQs
Can rogues sneak attack with offhand attacks in 5e?
Yes, you can! Neither of these class abilities restricts you to a normal Attack action. Instead, they only care that you made a melee attack against a target. Remember, you can still only sneak attack once per round. If you miss your first attack, using your bonus action to offhand attack can be an excellent way to make sure you're still outputting damage.
Do offhand weapon attacks add modifiers in 5e?
Per RAW, you do get your bonuses to the attack roll, but not for your damage roll. This is only changed by the Two-Weapon Fighting fighting style.
Do you add proficiency to offhand weapon attack rolls 5e?
Per RAW, you still get your normal bonuses to your attack rolls. There is nothing in the Player’s Handbook or the Dungeon Master’s Guide that states you don’t get your proficiency bonus.
Can paladins smite with offhand attacks?
Yes! Although they normally don't get access to the Two-Weapon Fighting Fighting Style unless they take the Fighting Initiate feat so they're usually better off with a shield in their offhand, rather than another weapon.