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Years ago efforts were made to discuss use of two hand crossbows/dual wielding. It was determined that loading was a problem and such gear would not work past the first shot.

Interestingly, rapid loading crossbows with clips exist, but this is a more recent automatic invention, that is, not even remotely medieval or Swords & Sorcery Friendly. Let us assume a fantasy version. This could be done via a Flying Sword relative, the Animated Weapon, a clever gnome mechanic, a part of a skeleton that re-loads the crossbow, a golem-based weapon that moves itself to reload or any number of possibilities. Let us assume that, in a magical world, making a self-loading crossbow is easily done. We are then skipping over how this 'creature' works with its 'owner' for now.

Assuming this self-loading hand crossbow is allowed, and the specific mechanism that causes it to self-load has no other mechanical impacts, what are the ramifications for RAW combat? Examples of the sorts of effects I'm thinking of:

  • Can a ranger now use two crossbows similar to a Demon Hunter in Diablo 3?
  • Would they have to focus on a single target?
  • Is this even allowed via the RAW-rules experience?

What are the consequences of a crossbow without the loading property?

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The overarching effect will be that crossbows will become more attractive weapons than they are now, favor combat tactics taking place over intermediate distances, and may edge out some weapons (particularly if wielding two hand crossbows). It's unlikely to seriously unbalance your game.

Crossbows are ranged weapons, meaning that you can deal damage while remaining outside of melee range and so reduce the risk of taking damage yourself for each attack you make. This is similar to any ranged weapon, such as a longbow, with some differences in effective and maximum ranges (30/120 for a hand crossbow, versus 150/600 for a longbow).

However, longbows have the Two-Handed property and so require two hands to use, meaning that most characters will be able to wield only one bow at a time. Hand crossbows do not have that property, and so two could be wielded at once. This excludes light and heavy crossbows, which also have the Two-Handed property (h/t Theik).

This is usually balanced by the Loading property, which limits each crossbow to a single attack per turn. Due to this, even dual-wielding crossbows in the manner suggested in the question would provide an uneven benefit because each attack creates the need to use an action to reload the crossbow for another attack. Even using two crossbows wouldn't overcome the fact that each one can only fire every other turn.

Removing the Loading property undermines that balance at no cost, effectively doubling damage output over the course of combat without any other factors. Now a character wielding a crossbow gets to make a ranged attack every single turn, at minimum, even without Extra Attack, while also keeping a hand free for other purposes (including holding another crossbow, or always having a shield equipped to use). Anything which allows the character to attack using a Reaction or Bonus Action (particularly Crossbow Expert) would mean more attacks. When Extra Attack is available as well damage output increases even more.

Those sorts of options aren't available to any other weapon-- melee requires getting into melee range, which carries additional risk to the character, and "traditional" ranged attackers don't necessarily get to dual wield (longbow), ignore ammunition (javelin), or make multiple attacks per turn (spellcasting). And since hand crossbows deal a base damage ranging from 1d6, you have created a situation in which an attacker engaging over intermediate distances will almost certainly be worse off for using anything but a crossbow. Crossbows go from being one option among several, with advantages and drawbacks, to being an option with no drawbacks while retaining its advantages, even without the Crossbow Expert feat.

Without the Loading property, crossbows become twice as good (if you're only using one) to slightly more than that (if you're using two with Crossbow Expert). It will also make the Crossbow Expert feat slightly less attractive, as it can be used every turn "for free" but would almost certainly have allowed a character to elide the Loading property in the first place.


The specific bullet points in the question:

  1. Holding two crossbows will be possible for any character, not just Rangers. But using them effectively will require the Crossbow Expert feat, as otherwise there is no reason you couldn't use a single crossbow for each available Attack (without Loading, that is). And as written, there is no reason the one-handed weapon attack which triggers Crossbow Expert's crossbow attack via Bonus Action couldn't be the same crossbow (since we're ignoring Loading). Two-Weapon Fighting and Dual Wielder are both only for melee weapons, so they add nothing to this.

  2. No, you don't have to focus on a single target when making additional attacks whether they are on different turns or the same turn through Extra Attack. Crossbow Expert doesn't limit valid targets to those targeted by the first weapon attack. Neither Dual-Wielding nor Two-Weapon Fighting alter this, but those aren't available for ranged weapons and so it's doubly irrelevant.

  3. No, this is definitely not allowed RAW. The rules clearly assign the Loading property to all crossbows, so removing that propery is already not RAW.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Solid post. Though i can now see how a few friendly / NPC Flying Swords could make the powerful Animate Objects spell and the Dancing Sword magic item obsolete. I feel i am forcing a game ruleset to be 'realistic', which is unfair. \$\endgroup\$ – Tim of Time Feb 11 at 18:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TimofTime I'm not sure I'd say that allowing crossbow that effectively never requires reloading time or effort is "more realistic" than what the rules already present, any more than allowing a machine gun would be, but that doesn't matter-- it's a game balance issue, not a verisimilitude issue. But it is a game, so if you would have more fun with this change and the other people at your table are OK with it then it's not so important if it unbalances the game or has other odd effects. \$\endgroup\$ – Upper_Case Feb 11 at 18:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ Where are you getting that crossbows don't have the two-handed property? Both the light and heavy crossbow are two-handed, just like the Longbow. Only the hand-crossbow is one-handed. In addition, Crossbow Expert will still only allow you to have a bonus attack with a hand-crossbow after attacking with a one handed weapon, so nothing changes there. I think you're vastly overestimating how good a crossbow is compared to a longbow. The only people who are going to get a benefit from it are characters with extra attack, and those would most likely still opt for a longbow. \$\endgroup\$ – Theik Feb 11 at 19:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Upper_Case But that's already supported in the game by default. The only advantage I can see to removing all the properties is that you can now do the hand crossbow gimmick with a shield. A longbow and a hand-crossbow leave you with exactly as many free hands, except for that one moment where you're actually attacking with the longbow. At all other times, you still have a free hand when you're just holding it in one hand. \$\endgroup\$ – Theik Feb 11 at 20:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Theik If that's the whole mechanical difference, then that's the answer to the question. The question asked for mechanical effects, not impressive and meaningful mechanical effects only. This answer has always addressed that the second crossbow offers nothing mechanical when Loading is elided and Crossbow Expert is included. \$\endgroup\$ – Upper_Case Feb 11 at 20:34
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You are complicating things way too much

You seem to have gone off the deep end into trying to solve a problem that doesn't really exist. Your main goal seems to be to dual-wield hand-crossbows, but that isn't really needed.

A single hand-crossbow can already be effectively 'dual-wielded' in that it allows an extra attack if you have the Crossbow Expert feat.

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.

A hand-crossbow is a one handed weapon, so you will be able to use a bonus action to fire it again, which is effectively all dual-wielding them would allow you to do.

You do not need to get rid of the ammunition property for that, it's already supported in the game. After that, wanting to use two hand-crossbows at the same time is just a stylistic choice. It clearly doesn't provide any benefit (in fact, you go down 1 free hand, while gaining no extra attacks over only using one hand-crossbow), so just ask your DM if you can fluff your character as using two hand-crossbows instead of the one. You're worse off for all intends and purposes.

This is also the only way you are going to be shooting crossbows more often, as dual-wielding is intended for melee weapons.

When you take the Attack action and attack with a light melee weapon that you’re holding in one hand, you can use a bonus action to attack with a different light melee weapon that you’re holding in the other hand.

Removing the ammunition property will not make you able to dual-wield hand-crossbows because they are not melee weapons. All you're achieving is that you now have a crossbow that no longer needs bolts and an extra free hand. Removing the Loading property makes crossbows a slightly more interesting choice for characters with Extra Attack, but still generally inferior to Longbows unless you're stacking Crossbow Expert anyway, in which case, you already ignored the Loading property. Perhaps the ability to wear a shield while using a hand-crossbow would be the most beneficial thing I could see happening with this change.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The crossbow expert feat also allows you to ignore the loading property of crossbows with which you are proficient. \$\endgroup\$ – illustro Feb 11 at 10:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ Loading is a fire-rate limiter. Ammunition is actually the property that requires a free hand to load, which Crossbow Expert doesn't remove. They're looking for a way to make that stylistic choice more than just handwavery. This answer seems somewhat dismissive of that desire. \$\endgroup\$ – T.J.L. Feb 11 at 15:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ @T.J.L. That's because it is a non-issue. Using one hand-crossbow with Crossbow Expert is already all you need to get the effect of dual-wielding, IE an extra attack. Wielding a second hand-crossbow is never going to be beneficial in any way, so why not simply handwave it and claim you're using two hand-crossbows if it makes no mechanical difference? OP is trying to fix a problem that doesn't actually exist. \$\endgroup\$ – Theik Feb 11 at 15:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ While a frame challenge is sometimes appropriate, in this case you're dismissing the querent's desire completely. They're talking about removing the ammunition property to get what they want, but you've failed to address what that property actually does. You haven't answered their question at all. \$\endgroup\$ – T.J.L. Feb 11 at 15:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ An answer got in for a [closed] question. That puck in the net - with no game allowed. Well, darn? \$\endgroup\$ – Tim of Time Feb 11 at 18:04

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