One of the players in a Pathfinder game in which I am playing is arguing that characters should be able to get the additional attack for fighting with two weapons when attacking as a standard action, instead of a full-round action which is normally required to get additional attacks.

He argues that a character that dual wields a longsword and a shortsword with Two-Weapon Fighting and Improved Two-Weapon Fighting is a decent amount worse than a character that wields a greatsword and has Power Attack and Vital Strike.

Full Argument:

Two weapon Joe
Point buy (ultimate min max 15 point buy)
Lvl 11 (so he can get most of the twf feat chain)
15 dex +2 race +2 levels = 19 (twf req)
15 str
Feats TWF, Improved TWF, Greater TWF (and some others but these are the important)

Weapons +2 Flaming Frost Longsword, +2 flaming Frost short sword (note this is almost all of the chars WBL)

BAB +11 +2 str +2 weapon = +15, so Standard action TWF +13 (-2 twf)/+13 (-2 twf)/+8 (additional -5 ImpTWF)/+3 (additional -10 Great TWF)

Assuming all hit (not very likely) dmg 1d8+2 str +2 weapon +1d6 fire, 1d6 frost, 1d6+1 str (+same modifiers) x3

Average dmg 4.5+10.5 +13 physical frost +14(4x3.5) +14(4x3.5) fire. Total:56 combined dmg/round

Two handed bob
Lvl 11
16 str +2 race +2 level: total 20
and still has 5 points to spread around to other stats
Feats: power attack, Vital stike, Improved Vital stike
Weapon +2 Flaming frost Greatsword (still has tons of wealth left over for other stuff)
BAB: 11+5str+2weapon= +18 to hit. Standard attack vital Strike power attack: +15 (-3 pow attack).
Damage: 6d6+7 str +9 power attack +2 weapon +1d6 frost +1d6 fire
Average: 39 physical +3.5 fire +3.5 frost Total = 46 combined dmg

Total Average twf with standard: 56 combined
Total Average two weapon: 46 dmg.

Adding dr 5 and elemental resistance (not that uncommon at level 11)
TWF now deals: 8 damage
Two handed deals: 33 still and he has 32000gp extra to boost his combat effectiveness

I'm personally of the opinion that this restriction is in the game for some reason, especially since it survived the transition from 3.5 to Pathfinder, but I can't really wrap my head around the reason.

Ignoring the potential to slow down the game with additional attacks and looking strictly at balance, is two-weapon fighting only as a full-round action instead of as part as a standard attack action really balanced versus fighting with a two-handed weapon?

To clarify after reading AceCalhoon post. I was only calculating adding my house rule to allow the standard action additional TWF attacks. to allow a TWF to have mobility and keep up with damage roughly to a Two handed fighter. So that is why I didn't include the itterative attacks from BAB


7 Answers 7


The TWF fighter does less damage than a two-handed fighter on a single attack action (about 35% less), but virtually ties with a full attack action. Letting the TWF fighter always get his full attack damage significantly unbalances the equation in the other direction.

The thing is, whichever configuration you take, you can work on infinitely twinking it out. Two-weapon fighting is better when you want many more attacks. Being a rogue with sneak attack is the number one example of this. Or if you bleed per attack (like with Bloody Assault). Or use poison. Or use the various critical effects from the critical feats. Or want to use some of those attacks for trip/disarm/sunder attacks. There's a bunch of ways to increase your TWF damage by stacking "per hit" things on top.

Two-handed is better when something has DR or you're only getting one attack action in. Per-attack damage plusses and minuses and additional conditions affect a two-weapon fighter much more than a two-handed fighter - a "bard bonus" is multiplied in value by number of attacks. And as you note, you have to get a full attack to get those other attacks... But that's the same thing with a L11 two-handed fighter, they lose out on a lot of attacks when they can't stick and hit.

A straight fighter will do more dps in an abstract sense with a two-handed weapon than two-weapon fighting, if all he does is straightforward hitting without any other interesting feats. But if you change the TWF rules, your player is just going to turn around and layer the other TWF twinks on top and suddenly it's the more powerful thing, and you have to start worrying about your two-hander player... Because he who inflicts the most damage wins the game, apparently.

Also, there's a difference between optimization and real play. Real adventurers find gear, they don't "have 32000 to spend on it." I've played and GMed a lot of Pathfinder, and players have run and enjoyed two-weapon characters as much as two-hander characters. (Sword and board, however, sucks.)

Since the peanut gallery demands "math," here's some reasonably maxed out L11 characters, using all the Paizoey goodness. Each has more special abilites than one can reasonably enumerate, but I tried to stick to "jack up the numbers" options as much as possible. Full builds are below, but the relevant stuff here is that:

  • 2HGuy, attack action: +23 (4d6+29/19-20 plus 1d6 fire plus 1d6 cold) 19-20 x2 - power attack, overhand chop is giving double STR to damage, vital strike, furious focus
  • 2HGuy full attack: +23/+15/+10 (2d6+25/19-20 plus 1d6 fire plus 1d6 cold, 2d6+29 for attacks 2 and 3 from backswing) 19-20 x2
  • 2WFGuy, attack action: +15 (1d6+15/17-20 plus 1d6 fire)/+15 (1d6+12/17-20 plus 1d6 cold) 17-20 x2 - two attacks from Doublestrike, piranha strike is like Power Attack for Dex, if he hits with both then 1d10+1 rend, if he crits +2d6 bleed, agile weapon enhancement gives +dex to damage
  • 2WFGuy, full attack: +17/+12/+7 (1d6+17/17-20 plus 1d6 fire)/+17/+12/+7 (1d6+14/17-20 plus 1d6 cold) 17-20 x2, if he hits with both then 1d10+(1.5x Strength modifier) rend, if he crits +2d6 bleed, agile weapon enhancement gives +dex to damage, +2/+2 during full attack from twin blades, and also +4 AC bonus from two-weapon defense and defensive flurry)

Versus let's say AC 25, the average DPS (including crits and rend) for each is:

  • 2HGuy, attack action: 55.67 (plus maybe shaken)
  • 2HGuy, full attack: 87.06 (plus almost guaranteed shaken)
  • 2WFGuy, attack action: 35.55 (plus two points of bleed)
  • 2WFGuy, full attack: 81.80 (plus 5 points of bleed ongoing)

So yes obviously, in high mobility situations the 2WF guy loses out (though he does get two attacks, not one, from his archetype), but he's pretty much neck and neck in a full attack situation, any slight change to any of these numbers makes the winner of the full attack follies go back and forth. Both these characters have loads of other fun stuff to do, they have more feats than they know what to do with. The TWF guys is obviously much tighter on feats and stuff. Keep in mind this is a straight fighter compare, and there's other ways to fill out TWF and all those rogues with sneak attack can stack a lot of damage on... Go look at some build guides and there's plenty of L11 twf builds out there that do a lot more than this.

Does the TWF guy lose? Yes. But the question is, "is the answer to let him have his 81-point full attack with a standard action?" The answer to that is no, it unbalances it back the other way.

Full builds

Because everyone has stat boost items I usually don't add them, but in this case I decided to make up the wealth differential caused by the weapons with a +4 belt of strength.


Human (Kellid) Fighter (Two-Handed Fighter) 11 (Pathfinder RPG Advanced Player's Guide 0)
N Medium humanoid (human)
Init +1; Senses Perception -1


AC 11, touch 11, flat-footed 10 (+1 Dex)
hp 114 (11d10+44)
Fort +10, Ref +4, Will +2


Speed 30 ft.
Melee +2 cruel flaming frost greatsword +20/+15/+10 (2d6+25/19-20 plus 1d6 fire plus 1d6 cold)
Special Attacks backswing, overhand chop, piledriver, shattering strike, weapon trainings (heavy blades +2, pole arms +1)


Str 24, Dex 13, Con 16, Int 9, Wis 9, Cha 9
Base Atk +11; CMB +15 (+19 bull rush, +18 sunder); CMD 29 (31 vs. bull rush, 32 vs. sunder)
Feats Bull Rush StrikeAPG, Cornugon Smash, Dazing AssaultAPG, Dreadful CarnageAPG, Furious FocusAPG, Greater Bull Rush, Horn of the Criosphinx, Improved Bull Rush, Power Attack, Pushing AssaultAPG, Vital Strike, Weapon Focus (greatsword), Weapon Specialization (greatsword)
Skills Acrobatics +12, Intimidate +13
Languages Common, Hallit
Other Gear +2 cruel flaming frost greatsword, belt of giant strength +4, 150 gp

Special Abilities

Backswing (Ex) Attacks after the first in a full attack receive 2x STR bonus.
Bull Rush Strike Critical hit's confirmation roll is a Bull Rush maneuver check.
Cornugon Smash When you damage an opponent with a Power Attack, you may make an immediate Intimidate check as a free action to attempt to demoralize your opponent.
Dazing Assault (DC 21) -5 to all attacks and maneuvers but struck foes are dazed 1 rd (Fort neg).
Dreadful Carnage If you reduce an enemy to 0 or fewer HP, you can make an intimidate check to demoralize all enemies within 30' as a free action.
Furious Focus If you are wielding a weapon in two hands, ignore the penalty for your first attack of each turn.
Greater Bull Rush When bull rushing, foe's movement provokes AoO from your allies.
Horn of the Criosphinx Add 2x your Str bonus to damage rolls on charges while wielding a two handed weapon.
Improved Bull Rush You don't provoke attacks of opportunity when bull rushing.
Overhand Chop (Ex) Single attacks with two-handed weapons receive double STR bonus.
Piledriver (Ex) Standard action: attack with a two handed weapon, if successful, free bull rush or trip w/o AoO.
Power Attack -3/+6 You can subtract from your attack roll to add to your damage.
Pushing Assault If you are wielding a weapon in two hands, push the target 5' back instead of dealing power attack damage.
Shattering Strike +3 (Ex) +3 Sunder and damage vs. objects.
Vital Strike Standard action: x2 weapon damage dice.
Weapon Training (Blades, Heavy) +2 (Ex) +2 Attack, Damage, CMB, CMD with Heavy Blades
Weapon Training (Pole Arms) +1 (Ex) +1 Attack, Damage, CMB, CMD with Pole Arms


Human (Kellid) Fighter (Two-Weapon Fighter) 11 (Pathfinder RPG Advanced Player's Guide 0)
N Medium humanoid (human)
Init +5; Senses Perception -1


AC 16, touch 15, flat-footed 11 (+1 shield, +5 Dex)
hp 114 (11d10+44)
Fort +10, Ref +8, Will +2 (+3 vs. fear)
Defensive Abilities bravery +3, defensive flurry


Speed 30 ft.
Melee +2 agile flaming cold iron shortsword +15/+10/+5 (1d6+15/17-20 plus 1d6 fire) and
   +2 agile frost mithral shortsword +15/+10/+5 (1d6+12/17-20 plus 1d6 cold)
Special Attacks doublestrike, improved balance, twin blades


Str 13, Dex 20, Con 16, Int 9, Wis 9, Cha 9
Base Atk +11; CMB +9; CMD 27
Feats Bleeding Critical, Critical Focus, Double Slice, Greater Two-Weapon Fighting, Improved Critical (shortsword), Improved Two-Weapon Fighting, Piranha Strike, Two-Weapon Defense, Two-Weapon Fighting, Two-Weapon Rend, Weapon Finesse, Weapon Focus (shortsword), Weapon Specialization (shortsword)
Skills Acrobatics +16, Intimidate +13
Languages Common, Hallit
Other Gear +2 agile flaming cold iron shortsword, +2 agile frost mithral shortsword, 150 gp

Special Abilities

Bleeding Critical Critical Hits deal 2d6 bleed damage.
Bravery +3 (Ex) +3 to Will save vs. Fear
Critical Focus +4 to confirm critical hits.
Defensive Flurry +3 (Ex) +3 AC vs. melee when making a full-attack with both weapons.
Doublestrike (Ex) Standard action: Attack once with each weapon (normal two-weapon penalties).
Improved Balance -1 (Ex) Reduce the penalties for two-weapon fighting or count off-handed one-handed weapon as light.
Piranha Strike -3/+6 You can subtract from your attack roll to add to your damage with light weapons.
Twin Blades +2 (Ex) +2 to hit and damage when making a full attack with both weapons.
Two-Weapon Defense +1 to AC while wielding 2 weapons. +2 when doing so defensively.
Two-Weapon Rend Deal extra 1d10+(1.5x strength modifier) if you hit a foe with both main and off hand weapons.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ The characterization of 87 + shaken as "virtually ties" with 82 + 5 bleed is inaccurate. On the first attack, the damage is the same, but bleeding doesn't stack with itself, plus the shaken effect is considerable, especially if you or allies have other fear effects that can escalate that into being frightened or panicked. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Aug 27, 2014 at 19:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ 87 to 82 is a virtual tie given all the variables in play here. And Bleeding Critical does indeed stack with itself unlike most bleed effects, see d20pfsrd.com/feats/combat-feats/…. Of course the two-hander himself can sicken the shaken using his cruel weapon enhancement. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Aug 27, 2014 at 20:14

Two-weapon fighting has a number of perks over two-handed fighting, although I'm not saying the math comes out entirely equally. Now I admit many of these, require a full attack to take advantage of, but they are useful in discussion about the two fighting styles.

  1. To start feats such as Greater Two-Weapon Fighting or Improved Two-Weapon Fighting give you way more attacks than an equivalent two-handed fighter.
  2. Damage dispersal - with two attacks as a full attack, you can attack twice as many creatures. A greatsword is great against a dragon, but if you need to mow through a field of goblins more swings will help better than massive damage.
  3. Damage per attack abilities will get multiplied - the more hits you get, the more times you can apply sneak attack bonuses, or flaming weapon damage, bonus strength damage or even enchantment bonus damage. Admittedly, it will be a little more expensive to enchant two weapons.
  4. Disarm resistant - you are not completely neutered if you get disarmed.
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I'm sorry, but is this supposed to agree with the OP and say "yes, your player is right and it is unbalanced."? The intent of this answer is unclear. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jason_c_o
    Apr 10, 2014 at 6:35
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ @Jason_c_o: I'm reading from this answer that both styles have their advantages and disadvantages, therefore they're roughly balanced. There's more than just straight up regular damage, but if you care about just big buckets of regular damage (without sneak, fire or poison), then two-handed is better than two weapons, which is totally fair. A single style shouldn't be best at everything. \$\endgroup\$
    – mcv
    Apr 10, 2014 at 8:34

In 3.5 "there's a feat for that" you could grand-father that in... Or give your players time to re-build their character with an Archetype from the Advanced Players Guide. Two-Weapon Warrior is a crazy archetype that would give him the following ability at 9th level.

Doublestrike (Ex): At 9th level, a two-weapon warrior may, as a standard action, make one attack with both his primary and secondary weapons. The penalties for attacking with two weapons apply normally. This ability replaces weapon training 2.

If you don't have access to the APG, or any of the other books detailing the various archetypes you can check them out on the SRD. I know that in general my DM hates them, or he did before i showed him how much more fun and flavor they can provide players. Sometimes they can turn you into a "one trick pony" but otherwise they just take what you want to be good at, and make you better at it!

The 3.5 Feat from Complete Adventurer was Dual Strike:

Dual Strike

You are an expert skirmisher skilled at fighting with two weapons. Your extensive training with two weapons allows you to attack with both while moving through a chaotic combat or fighting a running battle.

Prerequisites: Improved Two-Weapon Fighting, Two-Weapon Fighting.

Benefit: As a standard action, you can make a melee attack with your primary weapon and your off-hand weapon. Both attacks use the same attack roll to determine success, using the worse of the two weapons’ attack modifiers. If you are using a one-handed or light weapon in your primary hand and a light weapon in your off hand, you take a –4 penalty on this attack roll; otherwise you take a –10 penalty.

Each weapon deals its normal damage. Damage reduction and other resistances apply separately against each weapon attack.

Special: When you make this attack, you apply precision-based damage (such as from sneak attack) only once. If you score a critical hit, only the weapon in your primary hand deals extra critical hit damage; your offhand weapon deals regular damage.

A fighter may select Dual Strike as one of his fighter bonus feats.

This feat has some interesting flavor, but it balances really well too: you only use one attack roll for your standard action, and at a decent penalty too. That giant you just carved an X into wouldn't be too happy.


I'm actually going to chime in against what seems to be the established wisdom here.

This is the reason that people with optimization experience generally extol the virtues of THF (Two-Handed Fighting) over TWF. Not only do you get the same str bonus (1.5x), with a better attack bonus, and generally even more weapon dice taking into account size increases (Enlarge Person, etc) and the like, you get it more reliably.

Seriously, 2d6+6 for THF, 1d6+4 + 1d6+2 for TWF, on the full attack. But on the charge? Or after a move? It's 2d6+6 for THF, and 1d6+4 for TWF, which is 5.5 less damage. And this isn't even looking at the fact that many TWF feats require Dex, or even Int, meaning even a Str-based TWFer is looking at 2 points or so less Str than a THF. Most rounds (depending on group), you are going to want to move and strike, or charge and strike. Very rarely will you be fighting something tough enough that you can spend rounds full attacking it. At least 50% of the time you will be charging or moving and striking, especially as a clearly identifiable melee combatant.

The thing that unbalances them is Vital Strike. It's Pathfinder's answer to the whole 'full attack problem' (the one that certain communities solved with the Full Attacks as Standard Actions houserule), which is that especially as things get higher level, full attacks get harder to pull off and fighters/barbarians rely on them a lot more. A THF weapon and Str damage is vastly more suited to the flat modifier of Vital Strike than a TWF weapon and str damage.

Another unbalancing factor is Power Attack. TWF generally gets more attacks, but due to attribute requirements of feats (Multiple Attribute Dependency), and the TWF penalties, has less attack power and can't afford to PA for as much (as well as having less feats to spend on PA and PA-enhancing feats), despite getting similar returns to the THF crowd.

There's a lot of factors that contribute to it, but the general consensus is that THF does better both at the low-optimization end of the scale and the higher. It has more feats, more attack power, more damage with PA or with Vital Strike, and allows more tactical mobility given ability to move and charge without quite as much pain.

Giving the effects of Dual Strike and Dual Hit (2 attacks as standard, 2 attacks as AoO) standard with the TWF feat seems perfectly reasonable. It might not fully close the gap, but it'd help out. I'd also let Vital Strike add the off-hand damage to the main-hand damage before multiplying it, just so it benefits both THF and TWF equally.


An additional thought or situation to consider is multiple opponents.

  • The Two-Handed Weapon user who is Power Attack and Vital Strike is only doing damage to one enemy, and any damage that exceeds that enemy's HP is lost. One could try to argue that this can be changed with Cleave, however if you look at the sidebar for Vital Strike, you notice that it can only be used with an attack action, classified as a particular standard actions, with is different from the special standard action use of Cleave.

  • The Two Weapon User will be able to distribute several attacks to everything around them, minimizing lost damage, and significantly increasing the potential for a critical strike somewhere in that mix. This is part of the base balance point for multiple attacks, and the full-round attack action allows for a five-foot step within the attacks, a feature not seen with Cleave or Great Cleave. This individual has a higher mobility and flexibility in combat, further supported by the high Dexterity required of the build.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ "minimizing lost damage" is a hobgoblin in my experience. Distributing attacks may in fact reduce the total number of attacks it takes to bring down several enemies, however, if you evenly distribute your attacks between, say, 3 opponents, you will suffer 3 attacks from those opponents until they are all down. Conversely, if you concentrate attacks on one opponent at a time, the number of enemy attacks are reduced to 2 when 1/3 or more of the total damage is delivered, then 1 at 2/3, and even though their may be some "lost damage", there's a lot less lost PC damage in the end :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Wyrmwood
    Jul 14, 2014 at 23:31

If the person is TWF without sneak attack or similar, you don't need to worry about them being too powerful. I would recommend allowing them, but explaining to the Rogue in the group that if they do the same, they can't double their sneak attack damage


For the most part the THF will win out in shear damage for most melee classes over the TWF. However that doesn't mean it's not balanced. Your loss in damage is traded for more versatility. The additional attacks give you more opportunities for Combat maneuvers as well as the two TWF is going to run through a large group of weaker enemies a lot faster then the THF. The Rogue takes the most benefit from TWF given the additional damage per attack which is why its not so easy to get in the position to get that extra damage otherwise it would be unbalanced.

In regards to your issue it boils down to GM discretion. My group goes by the concept you can't have everything. Taking something that isn't intended to be as powerful in one area and trying to make it as good or better is very heavy build dependent. You'll waste all your feats just to try to compare. At which point the other class will have a lot of other options you don't.

If your TWF player really wants to do more damage on a Standard Attack then it's up to you to modify a class to better fit the goal build, offer a custom feat or reuse/redesign Dual Strike from 3.5 or something of the like.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Commenting with down votes would help me to understand what I said wrong. Any "helpful" remarks would be appreciated. \$\endgroup\$
    – Codytr777
    Sep 16, 2014 at 16:17

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