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Question

For a rogue, in this specific case a Thief, is there any reason to prioritize the use of dual daggers as opposed to dual short swords, or a rapier?

Context

I am running a campaign and the party rogue has decided to keep his dual daggers instead of changing to dual short swords or other options. I have tried to find any instance where daggers have some form of advantage (beside the thrown property, which he has never used and is unlikely to, based on party composition).

I found a question that answered that dual daggers might yield more damage per round than a single rapier, but are short swords simply better? Or have I missed something? He is more familiar with 3.5e, so perhaps he is superimposing an old rule?

The next part of the adventure provides a number of +1 weapons that no one can actually use, so I plan to substitute them for more useful items, and hope this can help inform my decision of what to give him.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Hello Baergren! We recommend that posters wait at least a day before accepting an answer: this site is used and seen by people around the world, and it takes time for people to see new questions and vote on them. A little delayed gratification ends up with better answers, and also helps the whole community help you. \$\endgroup\$ – PipperChip Oct 30 '17 at 18:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ I know that this isn't actually the question, but... not every character-creation choice has to be for mechanical reasons. "Because my character wouldn't use swords" is a perfectly valid reason. \$\endgroup\$ – Walt Nov 1 '17 at 19:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ Regarding your last paragraph, if you want to give out useful magic items, give out items that are useful both mechanically, and to the character's story. That is, don't force him to optimize. If you think he'll be underpowered with daggers, give him a dagger with an extra little kick. (It doesn't need to be much.) \$\endgroup\$ – Tim Grant Nov 2 '17 at 2:13
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In terms of dealing lethal damage, a dagger is strictly inferior to a short sword--to a user proficient in both.

Daggers, however, have all the benefits in-game that they enjoy in real life: they are smaller and easier to conceal, lighter, throwable, cheaper, and a little easier to use. (Cf. wizards who, as a class, can use daggers but not short swords.)

I should note, also, that the expected difference in damage from the weapon is 1 point per hit. For your rogue, this will become less and less impactful over time, as sneak attack damage is independent of base weapon. The "non-optimal" nature of the choice to wield daggers becomes pretty trivial when we're looking at d4+5d6 vs d6+5d6.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Trading one point of damage (on average) for a thematic weapon choice is actually pretty common, and nothing to worry about. For a multi-attacking fighter or ranger it might be a slightly bigger deal, but since rogues depend on single powerful sneak attacks -- yeah, the weapon damage die size doesn't matter much. \$\endgroup\$ – Darth Pseudonym Oct 30 '17 at 18:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also, any rogue that goes for dual daggers gets brownie points for choosing style and roleplaying over purely mechanical bonuses. \$\endgroup\$ – Mindwin Nov 1 '17 at 19:37
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Tactical analysis

Rules-wise, there is no inherent benefit in choosing dual daggers over dual shortswords, apart from the usually negligible differences in monetary cost and weight and the thrown property you mentioned. However, an enchanted dagger is usually better than a mundane shortsword, so it is possible for a determined dagger user to keep up if they get magical weapons such as the Dagger of Venom (Dungeon Master's Guide, p161).

It is also noteworthy that the thrown property of the daggers can be a fairly significant benefit in the hands of a capable rogue. Thrown daggers are eligible to trigger sneak attacks - this can be done with other ranged weapons as well, but daggers are advantageous for the action economy. Switching between a dedicated ranged weapon and a pair of swords takes time, while wielding another dagger to replace a thrown one is a free action. Therefore we could characterize a bow as the optimal weapon for a rogue who intends to stay at range, the twin short swords for those who want to inflict damage in melee, and dual daggers or shortsword with dagger for those who want to deal damage in melee while keeping a ranged option for flexibility.

A little note regarding the above, though: the Player's Handbook is a bit vague on whether one actually has to wield a weapon before throwing it. Everyone I've played with has assumed that, since the thrown property lacks an explicit mention that drawing the projectile is a part of the action, one indeed has to separately wield the weapon (note that the ammunition property does state that drawing the projectile is a part of the action). Whichever way you interpret it is your choice, but be aware that allowing throwing daggers without wielding them will reduce the relative utility of daggers as melee weapons. If you follow the common ruling that thrown weapons have to be wielded first, the thrown property makes them worthwhile - make sure the player of the rogue is aware of this.

More open situations

Depending on your playstyle, the player may receive benefits from having highly concealable weapons. For example if the campaign is heavy on "social stealth" where the player characters are expected to blend into crowds without being obviously threatening, having daggers instead of swords can be a considerable boon to the point of making mundane daggers superior to shortswords. The actual difference depends heavily on the type of challenges encountered by the party and how the GM treats these challenges.

Bonus: brief comparison to rapier

As the rogue gains levels, their sneak attack will gradually become their dominant source of damage to the point of making the weapon's base damage die almost meaningless. Compared to the rapier option, dual short swords and dual daggers are indeed usually better, largely because they have a greater probability to hit than a single rapier blow and thus provide the rogue a greater chance to activate the sneak attack. A less known, and usually far less significant benefit the short swords and daggers is their ability to strike underwater without disadvantage (Player's Handbook, p198; basic rules).

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 just for the underwater factoid. I was not aware of that. \$\endgroup\$ – keithcurtis Oct 31 '17 at 1:09
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For a rogue, the benefit of any two-weapon style as opposed to a rapier is being able to trade their bonus action for a second chance at making contact, to activate that big sneak attack. You hit with the first strike, that's great, you have a bonus action to use with Cunning Action. You miss, you have the option of making a second attack roll instead. Most rogues don't go for the second swing if the first one already hit; the extra 2-4 damage just isn't worth staying close to an active enemy, in most cases.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks, I hadn't considered the second attempt for a sneak attack would be so critical, but with the other answers here this makes perfect sense. \$\endgroup\$ – Baergren Oct 30 '17 at 18:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ I tend to think of dual-wielding for rogues as "advantage even when I don't have advantage." It's not about landing the second hit, it's about landing the first Sneak Attack... sometimes it takes a second swing to do that. \$\endgroup\$ – T.J.L. Jan 10 '18 at 14:14
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You are correct from a straight damage perspective, the only thing daggers offer over short swords is the ability to be thrown.

Other things to consider with daggers, though, is that they are easier to conceal, cheaper, and much more thematic for a "thief."

The difference between a d6 and a d4 is only 1 damage on average (2.5 average damage for a d4, 3.5 average damage for a d6), so maybe the second set of factors is more worth it to your player than 1 damage.

I'd ask him about it. If he's cool taking the (very slightly) inferior option, give him daggers! It's not unusual for a player to take the thematic option for such a small performance hit.

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In the case of the rogue, your sneak attack damage renders the base damage die of the weapon used practically negligible. At level 3, your sneak attack is already 2d6, equivalent to a greatsword.

This means that the most important factor in choosing a weapon is how well it will help you deal sneak attack damage. When a sneak attack is dealing 6d6, then it really doesn't matter whether the base damage die is 1d4 or 1d6, does it?

Daggers have the Finesse, Light, and Thrown (range 20/60) qualities. This means that they can be used in Two-Weapon Fighting (an extra attack = extra chance to deal sneak attack damage if the first attack misses). This also means they can be thrown accurately up to 20 feet, still dealing sneak attack damage. Thematically, they are also common and easily hidden, making your DM much more likely to allow you to attempt to sneak it into, say, a fancy banquet or meeting with a mob boss.

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The biggest advantage is that it is a role-playing choice, and that adds to the overall feel of the campaign.

There are real situations in which daggers have an advantage over larger weapons, especially over something like a rapier. And that advantage is that once you are at grappling distance, longer weapons are less effective, while daggers reach their maximum effectiveness. In a melee, where people are crowded and knocked together, and in close combat and narrow spaces, daggers have traditionally been more feared than long blades. So you might consider a house rule that accounts for this effectiveness of daggers at close range, if you can't find anything appropriate in the books.

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