I'm currently making a Level 4 character for a new campaign we'll be entering.

I've decided on a variant human dex based fighter.

  • Fighting style: duelist
  • Level 1 feat: defensive duelist
  • Level 4 feat: crossbow expert

Now, with these points in mind, and from my understanding of the rules, it should be possible to do the following:

  • Have the crossbow loaded and ready to be drawn and fired if needed.
  • Whilst wielding only a rapier, still benefit from the +2 damage (duelist)
  • If my rapier is already drawn at the start of my turn, draw and fire the hand crossbow as a bonus action
  • If both are already drawn at the start of my turn, fire the hand crossbow as a bonus action, stow it and make a melee attack with the rapier whilst still benefiting from the +2 damage (duelist) since, when I make that attack, I will be wielding only the rapier
  • I believe that in any case, I would still receive the +AC reaction from wielding the rapier (defensive duelist), whether or not I am holding the crossbow, since it's only stated that one must be wielding a finesse weapon
  • Where it gets a little unclear is how loading works.

    Crossbow expert states that one ignores the "loading" property of crossbows, but I can't really square this in my head as a visualisation.

    One still does need to load a crossbow with both hands, even if we're ignoring the "loading" mechanic. Could this just be flavoured as sheathing the rapier, loading the crossbow and drawing the rapier without using the "free draw/stow" portion of an action? Is ignoring the "loading" portion simply there to enable multiple shots per turn, but still requires a free hand?

At 5th level (extra attack), I assume this would also mean I could, alternatively, do any of the following, all on the same turn:

  • Fire three crossbow bolts (one as a bonus action)
  • Fire two crossbow bolts (one as a bonus action) and make a melee attack with my rapier (in any given order)
  • Make two melee attacks with my rapier and fire one crossbow bolt as a bonus action (in any given order)

The RAW is pretty clear that all of these are possible. But it just gets a little bit funky when it comes to how that would actually LOOK, and how loading would take place (not "loading" as defined in the game, since that's out of the equation due to Crossbow Expert, but loading as in plain English) and having to be specific about when to draw/stow or drop/pick up a given weapon to retain bonuses without it just looking ridiculously goofy. Like it would make more sense in this context; with the selected feats and fighting styles, and given that a hand crossbow would logically be very light and unlikely to actually interfere with the wielding of a one-handed finesse weapon like a rapier; that I should still be able to benefit from the +2 to damage (duelist) whilst still holding a recently discharged crossbow. That way we could avoid the awkward, unwieldy game mechanics around having to be super anal about putting away or dropping the crossbow and picking it back up in between attacks etc.

Basically, I'm just trying to find a way that this all makes aesthetic sense without turning my turns into a bore-fest of technicalities (for me, the DM and the other players) in order to obey the RAW on how this should all play out.

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ I'm going to work on cleaning up your answer - but you may want to submit your own interpretation as an answer rather than part of your question. Having it in there hides the actual question. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Sep 25 '18 at 17:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ Getting into this, I think you've got several questions embedded in here. The section on "Is it possible to do the following" - is really best done one at a time here. The first two bullet points are just restating some core rules, but the next two bullet points should really be their own questions ( we do better with one question per question here.) Once you've got those answers, you can likely submit the other 5th level questions as follow-ups if it's still unclear. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Sep 25 '18 at 18:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ The entire section beginning with "the RAW" and ending with "should all play out" is far too long and distracting. Please trim that a lot; like down to about three sentences so that you, in the end, restate the problem that it is that you are trying to solve. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Sep 25 '18 at 18:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ Somewhat related. \$\endgroup\$ – Tiggerous Sep 25 '18 at 22:28

You can't fire the crossbow and then use the rapier

If you want to attack with both weapons, in order to be able to use a bonus action crossbow attack, you have to have already used the rapier. This is expanded on in answers to this related question

When you use the Attack action and attack with a one handed weapon, you can use a bonus action to attack with a hand crossbow you are holding.

(emphasis mine)

Jeremy Crawford, lead designer has also addressed this with regards to the Shield Master feat:

If the existence of X is the condition for the existence of Y, X comes before Y.

You can, of course, use either the rapier or the crossbow as your Attack action and then fire the bonus action crossbow attack.

Loading a crossbow with a rapier in hand

While you can ignore the Loading property thanks to Crossbow Expert, you cannot ignore the Ammunition property which states:

you need a free hand to load a one-handed weapon

Whether you can "preload" a crossbow will be up to your GM. Without a bolt-clip (Credit to Dan O'Shea for the mention in the comments), the bolt may fall out while the hand crossbow is not being wielded for firing. There are no rules for bolt-clips but it may be a potential use for Tinker's Tools (ask your GM). This question expands on the concept of "preloading."

Drawing and Stowing

You can only draw or stow one object without using the Use an Object action, so you could not both load a hand crossbow and benefit from the Dueling Fighting Style as that would involve showing and drawing both weapons so you only have one in hand at a time.

You could do one or the other, however, by dropping the weapon you don't want (a free option) and then picking it up for your object interaction after loading the crossbow or benefitting from Dueling.

Extra Attack

Once you have Extra Attack, keep in mind that you can't use the attacks in "any given order", the bonus action attack may have to come last. This is because you maybe can't intercede a bonus action between attacks. This is a contentious topic and the top answer goes into some counter arguments for why the bonus action attack could be allowed. In short, ask your GM.

Even if you could intercede the bonus action, you could never fire a crossbow as a bonus action and then make two rapier attacks (one of the orders of your third bullet point) as that violates the first section of this answer.

A note on narration

I know many GMs (including myself) that allow for changes in the narrative as long as the mechanics are considered. Whether you are physically "dropping" the weapon and then picking it up or just stowing it for a moment. The outcome is almost always the same. Such fluff changes rarely cause issues but there are some edge cases that your GM should take into consideration.

An intelligent enemy may Ready an action to grab your hand crossbow after you drop it but before you pick it up to remove it from your arsenal. This would not be possible if you are just narrating it as hanging loose to not affect Dueling.


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