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If a character had only one hand available, but they were holding a two-handed weapon, what would the penalty for the attack and damage be?

I'd imagine the result would be significantly less effective than using a proper one-handed weapon. The only ruling I can find is that you need two hands to wield a two-handed weapon, but it seems a bit extreme that you can't even try to make a one handed swing.

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From real-world fighting, simply apply disadvantage

As you point out, the PHB simply states that you cannot use a two-handed weapon with one hand. However, there are some real-world examples of people wielding a two-handed weapon with one hand. For example, this youtube video shows a trained swordsman using a huge zweihander with one hand, though he clearly has some difficulty. From this video, you can see that the sword can still be used as a sword, albeit more cumbersome. Therefore, I would rule that it's still more effective than an improvised weapon.

Also, ruling that it's an improvised weapon is a little weird--you're saying that picking up a greatsword is mechanically equivalent to picking up a tree branch. I know that 5e doesn't have much granularity in its rules, but it still doesn't sit well with me.

Disadvantage is fine for game balance too

Consider the costs and benefits that a character gains while using a two-handed weapon. The two-handed weapon does, on average, only 2 dmg more than the one-handed variety, and they give up a shield or spellcasting. Assuming that they cannot benefit from the relevant fighting style or feats, applying disadvantage seems appropriate. Disadvantage is still a significant penalty, so this ruling won't incentivize long-term use of two-handed weapons one-handed, without being as punishing as forcing it to be an improvised weapon.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Isn't there an issue with the fact that if the character already has disadvantage for another reason he could switch to a two-handed weapon one-handed without extra penalty? It's min-max, but if this was the rule, a two-hand wielder coul always acarry a shield, and start wielding it whenver he'll have disadvantage anyways. \$\endgroup\$ – Martin Epsz Feb 18 '18 at 9:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ Game balance wise, this rule makes using a greatsword one-handed in the darkness is no worse than using it two-handed. You might want to talk about double disadvantage and justify why that isn't a problem (I actually doubt it really is) \$\endgroup\$ – Yakk Feb 18 '18 at 17:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'd agree about double disadvantage not being a problem, as in general players aren't going to be able to abuse builds that have inherent disadvantage. \$\endgroup\$ – Xavier Lebec Feb 18 '18 at 19:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ Why I'm accepting this as the answer: It avoids the awkward implication of the improvised weapon approach that a greatsword doesn't resemble a longsword. It also makes sense in terms of the weapon being too heavy for one hand, as disadvantage is already an existing penalty for weapons being too heavy. Finally, it's simple and quick to implement. Thanks. \$\endgroup\$ – Xavier Lebec Feb 18 '18 at 19:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ You could just also remove proficiency, as they trained to use it 2 handed \$\endgroup\$ – KingdomGnark Aug 4 '18 at 8:16
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I'd rule the following: in one hand, the two-handed weapon becomes an improvised weapon, losing the proficiency bonus on its attack roll unless you have the Tavern Brawler feat. Since it does not resemble a [one handed] weapon, it deals 1d4 damage on a hit. It keeps its reach property as normal if applicable.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Suggest you consider citing the improvised weapons rule to support your ruling. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Feb 17 '18 at 20:05
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I would do the same as if a small character used a heavy weapon, or a medium character used a large weapon (as from an ogre or such). He attacks with disadvantage.

I don't think more than that is needed for game balance. Disadvantage is a pretty strong penalty, equivalent to about -5 to hit, while using a 2-handed weapon in one hand is really not a very big bonus, equivalent to about +2 damage and perhaps reach.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I foresee a slight potential for cheese with this ruling, because disadvantage does not stack. For instance, not able to see your opponent, = grab a shield for extra protection, and still attack with the greatsword . . . at no additional penalty. Fine for a quick ruling, it feels right and I'd probably rule the same, just it might need revising if any player decides to push for a loophole. Same applies to IcyFire's answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Neil Slater Feb 17 '18 at 21:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ But I think that is counterbalanced a bit by not being able to ever attack with advantage that way. I think this is a minor issue, and any character that is willing to attack with disadvantage in order to be free to attack with other disadvantages without further penalty, I'm OK with that. The same is already true for small characters with heavy weapons, or medium characters with large weapons. \$\endgroup\$ – Phil Boncer Feb 17 '18 at 21:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NeilSlater I can't think of a scenario where the benefit of the cheese outweighs disadvantage, though, because, as PhilBoncer points out, disadvantage is a huge penalty. A crafty PC might be able to mitigate it a bit, but they'll still be net negative in terms of bonuses. \$\endgroup\$ – Icyfire Feb 18 '18 at 8:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ I see what he is saying. The idea is that if you are fighting at disadvantage anyway, say in darkness, or against an invisible opponent, or are a Drow in the sunlight, then this rule would allow you to decide to swing a 2-handed sword with one hand at no extra penalty. That's true, but I don't think it's significant. I don't see this dynamic being widely abused by halflings with halberds now, and don't think it would become wide practice among one-handed fighters either. \$\endgroup\$ – Phil Boncer Feb 18 '18 at 8:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ Nope. It says very clearly on p.173 of the PHB: "If circumstances cause a roll to have both advantage and disadvantage, you are considered to have neither of them, and you roll 1d20. This is true even if multiple circumstances impose disadvantage and only one grants advantage or vice versa. In such a situation, you have neither advantage nor disadvantage." \$\endgroup\$ – Phil Boncer Feb 18 '18 at 19:37
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1. Less control: have them attack at disadvantage

Everyone has mentioned rolling with disadvantage and it makes a lot of sense especially when you consider the video from Icyfire’s answer demonstrating how a trained swordsman struggles when trying to use a two-handed weapon with one hand.

2. Less power: lower the dice by one type

There are several weapons that already have the versatile property, which means they’re supposed to be able to be wielded one-handed. These weapons still go down a dice type when you do this, though, to reflect the reduced power you have behind them.

3. Optional: Have pre-requisites

The thing with adding disadvantage alone is that, for instance, a gnome could wield a greataxe in the dark with just one hand, with another hand free for anything else, and despite the small size and lack of proficiency and everything else the only penalty they’d face is disadvantage. Have them successfully hide and it’s a straight roll!

Perhaps you could have a minimum strength requirement: only a character with a strength score above 15 can actually wield a two handed weapon with one hand; or maybe you homebrew a feat that allows this. In that case you might not even need to add all the other penalties...

4. Optional: Lose/alter the proficiency bonus

Losing the proficiency bonus entirely is a pretty intense penalty, especially at higher levels. It seems reasonable that if someone is proficient with a greatsword they’d be passable, at least, when using it one-handed. However, if you try with the other two elements and it still feels unbalanced, you could halve the proficiency bonus, for instance (rounding down as you do with everything in 5e.)

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Let them roll with disadvantage, remove their proficiency bonus (as it's not really how you learnt to use the weapon, so how can you be proficient?) and possibly reduce their ability modifier on hit if you feel it should only be a last resort technique.

The most important thing with this one is to just go with your gut and make sure you stick by it throughout the game!

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    \$\begingroup\$ Removing their proficiency bonus goes too far in my opinion. It’s also a bit unrealistic since someone trained with two-handed swords would probably still benefit from the training when using it with one hand only. \$\endgroup\$ – Michael Feb 18 '18 at 9:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ I would disagree about needing to stick by one ruling throughout the game, especially as a relatively new DM, as long as I'm upfront with my players about tweaking previous rulings to improve the game. \$\endgroup\$ – Xavier Lebec Feb 18 '18 at 19:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ @XavierLebec changing rules throughout the game can be both confusing and frustrating for players as they wouldn't know what to expect each time. If you suddenly change the rules which would bring the player to an even worse disadvantage that would just be annoying. If you do want to change it discuss after session and ask them what they think but most definitely don't do it randomly. \$\endgroup\$ – Yates Feb 18 '18 at 20:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasYates Of course I wouldn't change the rules randomly or throughout the game (which implies something very different from "stick[ing] to one ruling throughout the game."). But suppose I ruled 1/2 cover gave disadvantage to ranged attacks, only to remember later that the rule is actually +2 to AC against ranged attacks. If it came up again, I would let the players know I made a mistake, tell them what the actual rule in the book is, and continue to play the game as it was intended to be played. \$\endgroup\$ – Xavier Lebec Feb 19 '18 at 6:43
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I feel like they would definitely lose any proficiency bonus, but also they should have to make checks for maintaining a defensive stance with an unwieldy weapon. So instead of disadvantage on attack, they make an athletics check or opponents have advantage until next turn. I feel like it’s more disadvantages from how you defend yourself that round waving a big weapon in one hand, and strong characters should be better at that type of thing anyway. Center of gravity could be thrown hard at an opponent accurately but set you off footing that round.

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I would definately roll with disadvantage because it is a heavy weapon making the attack (in real life) slower, but i would not take the proficiency bonus away because (again in real life) when training with a weapon many practitioners often use a weapon intended for two hands with one. the concept is that it is harder to use with the one hand so when training it reinforces good form if you handicap yourself thusly

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    \$\begingroup\$ Have you tried it this way in your games? It's better to back up your answers with experience, if you can. \$\endgroup\$ – Jason_c_o Aug 4 '18 at 5:47
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My own personal House rule would be that the First couple rolls (what ever their Con modifier is are free and clear) with just disadvantage. After that I would start requiring a con save vs exhaustion. With the DC steadily getting harder every round by 1.

I have not used this exact rule in this exact setting of events. I have used very similar rules in similar settings. The added downside of Exhaustion makes it so that while players may still attempt this tactic they do so in a very limited fashion

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Rather than disadvantage, perhaps each time a character decides to attempt to swing a heavier blade than they know how, have them roll a strength check, DC of whatever you feel is appropriate, if they fail they telegraph their move and don't attack until their next turn, success and they get their attack. This way a weaker character wouldn't be able to manipulate blindness disadvantage, and the ability is more tied with the characters strength over just random luck

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