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So my question is about the third benefit to Crossbow expert:

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." https://dnd.wizards.com/articles/features/sageadvice_feats

Attacking with a crossbow requires a free hand to load the bolt (Ammunition property) as part of the attack. Does this mean you only have two options:

A) The trigger weapon is a hand crossbow, and you Bonus Action for one more attack.
(That would seem needlessly misleading)

or

B) You attack with (your choice of one-handed weapon), then drop/stow it to get your free hand, and bonus action attack with the hand crossbow.

On First read I thought it meant you could smoothly wield a sword and hand crossbow, but after considering the rules that seems to not be the case.

Extra thoughts:

1) Ammunition property, load as part of an attack, would mean you are attacking twice with one hand crossbow, not duel wielding hand crossbows.

2) Timing: Do you have to attack with the "one-handed weapon" before the bonus action crossbow attack since it is the triggering condition?

3) One-handed weapon would not include unarmed strikes.

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put on hold as too broad by Medix2, Szega, NathanS, GMNoob, GreySage Oct 10 at 15:22

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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You need a free hand to load a hand crossbow, but you can attack with any one-handed weapon to trigger

You are correct in that you need a free hand to reload your hand crossbow, which makes this part of crossbow master the easiest if you use a hand crossbow and nothing else, because triggering it with a hand crossbow means you can reload and fire again with your bonus action. But you are also perfectly capable of starting combat with a loaded hand crossbow, attacking with a sword and then using your bonus action to attack with the hand crossbow.

You'll then require a free hand to continue this strategy in the next round, so unless you have a magical self-loading hand crossbow, you'll indeed struggle to use a one-handed melee weapon and a hand crossbow for the entire duration of combat, unless you do some weird weapon dance or show up to the fight with a whole belt of preloaded hand crossbows.

This is most likely the one that is the safest assuming you can't have a dozen preloaded hand crossbows on your person:

  1. Start with loaded crossbow. If your DM rules that this is not a thing, skip to round 2.
  2. Round 1: Attack with sword, bonus action hand crossbow.
  3. Round 2: Attack with sword, free object interaction to sheath sword, bonus action hand crossbow now that you have a free hand.
  4. Round 3: Free object interaction to draw sword, attack with it, drop it (free action), bonus action hand crossbow now that you have a free hand.
  5. Round 4 onwards: Repeat round 3, but instead of using free object interaction to draw it, you'll use it to pick it up.

1) Ammunition property, load as part of an attack, would mean you are attacking twice with one hand crossbow, not duel wielding hand crossbows.

Not necessarily, you could have two loaded hand crossbows before the fight starts, and then attack with one, and use your bonus action with the other. However, you would be unable to reload them until you have a free hand. However, mechanically speaking, you are better of using one hand crossbow anyway, because it means you require fewer magical weapons. Ask your DM if he's okay with re-fluffing a single hand crossbow into a "brace of hand crossbows".

2) Timing: Do you have to attack with the "one-handed weapon" before the bonus action crossbow attack since it is the triggering condition?

Yes, you get a bonus action for attacking with a one-handed weapon, so you can't use the bonus action until you've used the main attack that triggers it.

3) One-handed weapon would not include unarmed strikes.

Correct, because that is not a one-handed weapon.

Houseruling: I've houseruled in the past that as part of being a crossbow expert, you can ignore the free hand requirement for reloading the hand crossbow as long as you're wielding a light weapon in your main hand. This worked perfectly fine for our swashbuckler who wanted to look cool. The bonus attack with a hand crossbow is hardly the strongest thing in existence, so penalizing somebody with having to do a weird weapon dance and potentially losing their melee weapon seems kind of unnecessary.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I think that having a loaded hand crossbow makes good sense, I would probably allow that as a house-rule in the realm preparing an action. It makes good sense to have a few loaded and drop them after firing. Like pirates and pistols. But a "loaded" crossbow has no basis in rules that I could find. \$\endgroup\$ – Emron Bardsley Oct 10 at 7:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ If your DM rules that a crossbow can't start out loaded, you'll have to start with the weapon dance right away at round 2, but the weapon dance will still work. \$\endgroup\$ – Theik Oct 10 at 7:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ There is another option. Carry a whole heap of pre-loaded hand crossbows and hang them on a bandolier. Each round use your free object interaction to grab one and fire it like a Deringer. Most fights don't last more than a minute as a rule so you'd only need about a dozen. \$\endgroup\$ – Allan Mills Oct 10 at 9:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ That also works, I'll add it, though it also suffers from 'is preloading crossbows 100% raw'. It also means you'll need quite a bit more strength, because a hand crossbow weighs 3 lbs, so that's 36 lbs worth of hand crossbows you're proposing carrying around. \$\endgroup\$ – Theik Oct 10 at 9:25
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So how I would think this is possible is simply that the crossbow is loaded, you attack with whatever weapon you have in your other hand and then shoot that crossbow. It may even be implied that you, being an "expert", can manage to load the hand crossbow even when your other hand is occupied.

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    \$\begingroup\$ That's reasoning by flavor and not by rules. And ignoring rules I supplied in the question. \$\endgroup\$ – Emron Bardsley Oct 10 at 7:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. Can you elaborate on your answer and support it by citing evidence or experience? \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Oct 10 at 7:25

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