The Two Weapon Fighting Issue
Two Weapon Fighting has been a recent issue in D&D 5e, the standard rule requires that you take the Attack action with a light weapon and to also be wielding a light weapon in your other hand. Should you connect with the attack it does not add your damage modifier to the damage roll unless it is a negative modifier. This has been seen by many as an improper use of the action economy. Two-Weapon Fighting requires a bonus action to anywhere from 1 to 6 extra damage depending on your weapon (in extreme cases up to 8). In the case of a d4 it is an average of 2.5 to 3.5 extra damage on top of a potential additional 2.5 to 3.5 plus the damage modifier. In comparison, a great sword has an average damage of 7 before the strength modifier. At best, in a perfect condition where the two weapon fighter and great weapon fighter are both using what would do 2d6+ 5 damage, the great weapon fighter can manage to deal the whole 17 damage in a single stroke. The two weapon fighter has a smaller chance to deal that same damage having to roll an additional attack. Case closed: Great weapon beats two weapon fighting. Therefore, all other fighting styles win by default.
The Two Weapon Fighting Misconception
The fight isn’t over yet. Two Weapon Fighting is more versatile than a lot of players claim it to be. Many complaints come from players who are fans of 3.5 and Pathfinder where two-weapon fighting will yield as many off hand attacks as main hand attacks. Most of the complaints concern the use of the fighter class when using the two-weapon fighting style versus the great weapon fighting style, but there is some interesting math when it comes to the “superior” reroll ability of the great weapon fighter. There is only a twenty-two percent chance of getting a result of 3 through 6, after the reroll. The other seventy-eight percent chance is spent on either rolling a 3 through 6 the first time, or rolling a 1 and 2 twice. Two-Weapon Fighting Style confers the bonus damage from your modifier. No chance necessary beyond the initial attack roll. The other damage focused style, Dueling, confers an extra +2 bonus to every hit. A 20th level fighter can expect an extra +8 damage after four attacks. Great weapon fighters have access to the great weapon master feat. For the cost of a -5 penalty to the attack roll, you can get a +10 to damage. A 20th level character’s proficiency bonus is almost totally nullified in this fashion. This will result in their ability modifier being tampered with further penalizing the attack. This narrows the chances of that perfect swing everyone’s math seems to hinge upon.
If deck building in Magic the Gathering taught me anything, look for triggers. Two weapon fighting grants five attacks a round to a fighter with all the extra attacks. Abilities that are contingent upon attacking a creature function in that frame, such as the Mobile feat. That is five creatures you could maneuver past. This makes two-weapon fighting more versatile, especially for battle masters. It also utilizes the arguably “dead” bonus action of the fighter in perfect health. To be fair, Great Weapon Master, offers a bonus action for slaying a creature and getting to attack a different one. Though these potential attack triggers are more abundant when dual wielding.
The Dual Wielder feat, confers the ability to use non-light weapons while two weapon fighting, and a +1 bonus to AC. Static abilities, in my opinion are better than conditional abilities. Two-Weapon Fighter may be using Dexterity as their attack modifier, probably using scimitars as the base weapon if we are being “optimal.” A Dex Fighter as such with Dual Wielder could then begin using two rapiers at once, with several other advantages beyond merely attacking. They have an improved AC while wearing light armor, a better Dexterity save that is used more often than Strength saves, and has more applications in the list of skills. With all that considered, a two-weapon fighting character with Dual Wielder and a dexterity score of 20, is looking at a non-magical AC of 19, without even using a shield.
Multiclass characters who won’t get Extra Attack, but have the two weapon fighting style gain a large benefit from the extra damage.
How Two-Weapon Fighting Works in Reality
Throughout history and martial arts there have been a number of functional two weapon fighting styles, many of which nowhere near as complicated as they would seem, with less restrictions than Wizards of the Coast would impose. When a real world fighter is using two weapons there is generally a specific purpose to the fighting style of those weapons specifically. In the case of say, the European rapier and dagger. The dagger functions as a parry weapon that has the secondary function of being used to attack. Even in the case of the Japanese daisho in which the wakizashi was used in tandem with the katana, the main hand katana still would take precedence. Weapons with shorter reach are naturally harder to attack with because of the distance that must be closed. It requires much more training to maneuver around a weapon with longer reach to close in to the point a shorter weapon requires. Thus, the longer weapon tends to be favored until the point where the shorter weapon becomes viable.
In a recent sparring session of mine, as my sparring partner swung in a vertical motion, I could block with more stability and had another weapon to capitalize on the opening created by the swing that is usually missed when having to defend with the only weapon available. In this case, dodging would cause the attacker to react and the fight continues at the same rate. It isn’t through some blinding, spinning, flurry of dual handed swings that are best utilized. In fact, the other sparring partner I have tends to resort to these attacks only to be struck as he is mid flurry. For what the action economy is, it is fairly close to the pattern in which two weapons are utilized in most two weapon martial arts.
How to Use Two-Weapon Fighting in Your Game
So, you might be thinking, so how do I make two-weapon fighting better? Well, really, you don’t, you can only build characters that it works for by using magic items, class features, and feats that offer you options when making more attacks and hitting more often.
For DMs, it may help if you illustrate combat in a way that does not translate stroke for stroke. For instance, perhaps a single attack roll isn’t just one hit, but an exchange of hits punctuated by a hit at the end of a flurry of action. The idea that in six seconds someone can swing a sword twice is a little ridiculous. Especially if by other means, someone else is swinging it twice as fast and they aren’t even a quick character. If you illustrate your encounters well in the narrative, players often focus on how interesting or fun the narrative seemed. When we recount D&D stories, or roleplaying game stories in general, we tend to talk about the accomplishments of our characters. Whether it is, “I jumped this high,” or “I was deflecting arrows with my fists.” The players want their characters, regardless of concept, to be cool. That is where the griping about two-weapon fighting comes in to play, players want the numbers to bolster their character. If they feel like their character should be able to swing a pair of scimitars in a storm of steel, then they want the rolls to match, but if you give them a better experience than the dice themselves offer, perhaps they won’t want an improvement to damage… but for those who do:
When you hit a creature with the attack granted by your bonus action when fighting with two weapons, if you hit the same creature with one of the attacks granted by your Attack action, your off hand attack deals an extra 1d10 damage.
While you are fighting with a weapon in each hand, if you do not attack with your off-hand as a bonus action, you a +1 bonus to your AC until the start of your next turn.
If you attack with your off-hand as a bonus action on your turn, when a creature attacks you with a melee attack, you may use your reaction to gain +1 to your AC. If you have the Two-Weapon Fighting style, these bonuses both increase by 1.
With this feat, the average damage between a great weapon and two weapon fighter, with the maximum number attacks becomes equal in our great sword and scimitar examples. Enjoy, optimizers.
(Art: Todd Lockwood, from the Drizzt Do’Urden series)