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In the equipment section of the D&D basic rules, it lists "light" as a weapon property of the hand crossbow.

The "light" property offers the following attributes:

Light. A light weapon is small and easy to handle, making it ideal for use when fighting with two weapons. See the rules for two-weapon fighting in chapter 9.

So, this would mean I can use my hand crossbow in two weapon fighting... Great! However, in the TWF rules in chapter 9 it says the following:

When you take the Attack action and attack with a light melee weapon that you’re holding in one hand, you can use a bonus action to attack with a different light melee weapon that you’re holding in the other hand.

Two weapon fighting only applies to melee weapons! Why does the hand crossbow have the light property? What purpose is it serving?

Now with the addition of the Feats in the players handbook my question still remains. The feat for crossbow expert says the following:

Crossbow Expert
Thanks to extensive practice with the crossbow, you gain the following benefits:

  • You ignore the loading quality of crossbows with which you are proficient.
  • Being within 5 feet of a hostile creature doesn't impose disadvantage on your ranged attacked rolls.
  • When you use the Attack action and you attack with a one-handed weapon, you can use a bonus action to attack with a loaded hand crossbow you are holding.

As you can see the feet replaces the Two weapon fighting rules, and so the light keyword is still not needed.

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Dual-wielding hand crossbows is what happens when John Woo runs out of gunpowder. :) – Codes with Hammer Jul 22 at 17:16

6 Answers 6

up vote 8 down vote accepted

You could use a loaded crossbow (hand or otherwise) as an improvised melee weapon to stab your opponent with the bolt. There is now a feat called "Tavern Brawler" that allows virtually unrestricted use of improvised weapons, thus making dual-wielding hand crossbows and using them for both ranged and melee combat a viable strategy specifically because they have the light property.

Tavern Brawler, PHB Page 159

Accustomed to rough-and-tumble fighting using whatever weapons happen to be at hand, you gain the following benefits:

• Increase your Strength or Constitution score by 1, to a maximum of 20.

• You are proficient with improvised weapons and unarmed strikes.

• Your unarmed strike uses a d4 for damage.

• When you hit a creature with an unarmed strike or an improvised weapon on your turn, you can use a bonus action to attempt to grapple the target.

Improvised Weapons, PHB Page 138

Sometimes characters don’t have their weapons and have to attack with whatever is close at hand. An improvised weapon includes any object you can wield in one or two hands, such as broken glass, a table leg, a frying pan, a wagon wheel, or a dead goblin.

In many cases, an improvised weapon is similar to an actual weapon and can be treated as such. For example, a table leg is akin to a club. At the DM’s option, a character proficient with a weapon can use a similar object as if it were that weapon and use his or her proficiency bonus.

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Oh... why not a live goblin? Now, on that one, how to you judge the weight of the weapon and its damage? – Alexis Wilke Feb 15 at 5:51
I don't understand the whole dual-wielding hand crossbows. Sure to bash someone over the head with, fine. But to fire as ranged weapons, if you're wielding two, how do you reload? – PurpleVermont Aug 8 at 2:56
@PurpleVermont Releasing your grip from a weapon and re-gripping it are both free actions that can be taken during your turn. Designers have confirmed this with spellcasters using two-handed weapons while still being able to manipulate a components pouch or focus and perform somatic components. Since the hand crossbow is small and light, I see no reason why you couldn't tie the handle to your wrist with a short piece of hemp rope so that it will dangle freely once released allowing you to quickly re-grip it once you are done using that hand to reload the crossbow in your other hand. – Dyndrilliac Aug 8 at 11:17
I don't think I'd allow that if I were DMing. Letting go of the 2nd hand on a 2-handed weapon is a lot different than letting go with the only hand holding a weapon, and leaving it dangling from a rope attached to your wrist ;-) – PurpleVermont Aug 9 at 4:14
@dyndrilliac but surely they were letting go of the reins temporarily to reload, which are much easier to re-grab. They weren't letting their weapons dangle and then re-grabbing them with the same hand. – PurpleVermont Aug 10 at 1:11

Ruleswise as of now, none

There are no class features or combat rules that benefit a player for dual-wielding hand crossbows as of the release of Basic and the Starter Set.

With PHB's release it will probably see use...

We don't really know what the other class paths will be nor what the final feat list will be. Most likely a feat will make use of the light property on ranged weapons or a class like ranger or rogue will be able to dual-wield them.

From the PHB feat list preview I'd say Dual-Wielder or Crossbow Expert are the feats most likely to allow a player to hold a light crossbow in both hands and shoot at the same time/make an attack with both in one turn.

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question has been updated, with crossbow feat rules. – GMNoob Aug 14 '14 at 16:22
Can you update this now that all the core books are out? – SevenSidedDie Jan 12 at 21:19
@SevenSidedDie I can, though I suspect it is still vestigial/a to be utilized keyword. – Joshua Aslan Smith Jan 13 at 13:59
Yeah, that's fine. Updating the phrasing to recognise the core books are released will make the answer current, even if its basic message stays the same. – SevenSidedDie Jan 13 at 15:15
In light of an attempt to duplicate this question "for PHB officialness": poke poke, update? – SevenSidedDie Feb 14 at 19:50

It is possible the light property is there to empower a DM to make an on-the-fly improvisation. For example, a DM could rule that light weapons give advantage on attempts to hide them from someone searching you for weapons.

You could also joke that the hand crossbow is there to cause lots and lots of posts on the official forums. :-)

  • Lots of links that no longer work because WIzards closed and deleted their forums.
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are they still available in the archive that ENWorld is creating? – nitsua60 yesterday
I will check when I get back somewhere that enworld is not blocked. :-) – Greenstone Walker yesterday

Well you left out the part about having the option to throw a light weapon instead of using it as a melee weapon if it has the thrown tag. I would assume that if you are allowed to throw a second weapon as a bonus action that the same exception would apply to firing the hand crossbow.

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GMNoob already knows about TWF allowing a dagger rouge, and its only tangentially related to his core question about why Light is a keyword/tag on the hand crossbow. – Joshua Aslan Smith Jul 22 '14 at 0:52
This is hilarious. I guess it does have a mechanical use. – doppelgreener Jul 22 '14 at 2:38
A handcrossbow can not be thrown but you can use it as an improvised melee weapon! – GMNoob Jul 22 '14 at 4:15
Quesion has been updated with feat rules. – GMNoob Aug 14 '14 at 16:22

There's basically no mechanics reason for the "light" flag.

I would houserule a player being able to dual-wield them, but allow only one shot with them. They don't have a free-hand to reload. Alternately, they could have a weapon in one hand and a light crossbow in another, to get that one shot off. If for some reason you have cartridge-loaded light crossbows, then that might be particularly cool.

There are also some 3.5 feats which allow two-handed weapons to be wielded one-handed. I could see homebrewing an equivalent feat in 5e to allow dual-wielding heavy repeating crossbows for a particularly dedicated player/character.

Approach "why is there a light flag, does this mean they are considered in dual wielding?" and answer it with "sure, why not?"

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Hi and welcome, What do 3.5 feats have to do with a 5e question? Just an FYI it might behoove you to slow down with the answers just a little bit and spend a bit more time on individual answers. A lot of your answers so far cover ground in existing answer without providing much new information. – wax eagle Jul 23 '14 at 12:47
@waxeagle The explanation for the 3.5 reference was in there but easy to miss. I edited it to make it really obvious, as all mentions of other editions should be in a rules answer. – SevenSidedDie Jul 23 '14 at 14:29
Question has been updated with feat rules. – GMNoob Aug 14 '14 at 16:23

You could wield the light crossbow in one hand and keep a shield in the other.

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You don't need the light property to do that. – SevenSidedDie Jan 12 at 16:42

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