07 February 2012

My classic D&D two-weapon fighting rule

(I mean “guideline”, not “rule”. There are no rules, only guidelines)

I’ve written many times that I do not find a second attack to model anything well in D&D. Especially two-weapon fighting.

First, let’s be clear that I’m (mostly) not including “shield” as a weapon here. D&D already has rules for shields, and I’m—currently—not interested in changing that.

There’s an argument to be made that two-weapon fighting was actually pretty rare in real life, so it is OK if the game doesn’t support it. A character can still carry two weapons attacking with either one each round. There are even some advantages to doing that if the weapons are different.

I believe, however, that there really is an advantage to fighting with two weapons, and I want my game to reflect that. I don’t, however, want two-weapon fighting to be so good that a player is foolish not to choose it. (And the benefits of a free hand should also be considered!)

So, this is the rule:

When fighting with two weapons, for each attack the player designates a primary weapon. The attack is resolved as if the character is only wielding the primary weapon but with a +1 “to hit”. Fighting with two weapons does not grant any additional attacks.

If asked to rationalize it, I will do it so thusly: I actually believe that a second weapon most often plays a defensive role. But…this tends to be less static blocks or parries so much as creating an opening for the primary weapon. Of course, D&D combat is abstract, so such rationalizations are always suspect.

Also, I’m not entirely convinced that the specific secondary weapon makes much difference. They each have advantages and disadvantages. This rule doesn’t penalize a player for choosing to use a longer (more expensive) second weapon, but neither does it penalize a player for choosing a shorter/cheaper second weapon.

We will also “reskin” the dagger as a buckler:

A buckler is the same price as a dagger. It is treated as a second weapon rather than as a shield, so it gives the above +1 “to hit”. The wielder also has the option of treating the buckler as a primary weapon (a buckler bash) doing d4 damage.


Brendan said...

That's a very nice guideline. I would be quite happy to play using it.

This is my own favorite take:


Re: buckler bash. Is a normal shield bash treated the same way, or would it do more damage if you were to make a ruling? Actually, does basic D&D have an "official" shield bash rule?

Matthew James Stanham said...

Shields as lethal weapons have never really sat too well with me in D&D. Still, the biggest obstacle is the general conceit in the game that appendages = attacks. I would like to be consistent in that regard, I think, Mariliths and all. :D

blake said...

Then every wizard & every thief 9if you have them) will fight with 2 weapons for the +1 To Hit.

They cannot use a shield anyway so what have they got to lose?

Robert Fisher said...


There is no official shield bash rule to my knowledge.

I probably wouldn't have a regular shield do more damage. Generally, I think a shield bash is abstracted away in D&D. You could narrate it as part of any attack a shield using character makes.

It is just kind of a mechanical "artifact" of my reskinning a dagger that results in the buckler bash rule.

That said, with a bigger shield, I've certainly felt that I might "bash" with it to throw an opponent off balance or something. Whenever I pick up my buckler, though, I can definitely see just out-and-out hitting someone with it. So, this works for me.

Robert Fisher said...


Good point!

I'm not sure if that's a bad thing.

And should I let mages use shields? If they are using a sword then why not? Though it would keep them from casting. Casting with one hand while using a shield in the other would be weird though. Maybe just rule that they cant cast at all while using a shield?

Brendan said...


What they have to lose is a free hand. That hand could be doing all sorts of interesting things, like holding a torch.

Actually, I don't have any problem with wizards and thieves fighting with two weapons. If they are wading into melee they probably are not long for this world anyways.

Robert Fisher said...

Since torches are listed on my weapon table, holding a torch in your off-hand could be considered two-weapon fighting and get the +1 “to hit”. ^_^

And, again, I’m not sure if I consider that a problem.

I’m tempted to label a torch an improvised weapon (which I could argue doesn’t give you the TWF benefit) and drop it’s damage even more. It seems to me that a torch is much more useful at keeping enemies at bay than actually doing damage.

For that matter, someone could argue that an empty fist should give them the TWF benefit too. ^_^