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The Travelers of the Multiverse Unearthed Arcana includes a playable insectoid race called the thri-kreen that has 4 arms, each of which is capable of wielding weapons, albeit with some limitations:

Secondary Arms. You have two slightly smaller secondary arms below your primary pair of arms. The secondary arms function like your primary arms, with the following exceptions:

  • You can use a secondary arm to wield a weapon that has the light property, but you can’t use a secondary arm to wield other kinds of weapons.
  • You can’t wield a shield with a secondary arm.

For example, a thri-kreen could wield a greatsword with their 2 primary arms and a shortsword with each secondary arm and then make one attack with each sword using Extra Attack and Two-Weapon Fighting, something that would be impossible for a 2-armed character. Still, this specific combo appears to be well-balanced, because the average damage is the same as simply attacking twice with the greatsword: 4d6+2*STR total damage if all attacks hit (and attacking with only the greatsword doesn't even require a bonus action).

However, one could imagine that this might not be true of all weapon combinations.

Is there any combination of weapons that will allow a thri-kreen, with their 4 arms, to deal more average damage than a 2-handed character with the same stats (i.e. same ability scores, same non-racial features, same class levels, etc.)? Or does the action economy prevent things from getting too, er, out of hand?

To narrow the scope of the question, you may assume that the only relevant non-racial feature is Extra Attack, but feel free to go into more detail if your combo depends on a specific class feature or feat.

(Obviously having 4 arms with hands has other benefits, such as being able to manipulate other objects even while holding 2 weapons, or wielding 3 weapons and a shield at once, but for the purposes of this question I'm only asking about damage.)


Reminder: Two Weapon Fighting only triggers from making an attack with a one-handed weapon, even if you take the Dual Wielder feat. So 2 Greatsword attacks + 1 Shortsword attack isn't possible with standard Extra Attack + Bonus Action.

(TWF): 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. [...]

(Dual Wielder): You can use two-weapon fighting even when the one-handed melee weapons you are wielding aren't light.

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Crossbow Expert with Hand Crossbow and Shield

One way to view this combo is “higher AC when using a hand crossbow”, which isn’t what the question asks. However, Crossbow Expert is widely regarded as one of the strongest feats, especially in the early game, as it allows an additional attack to be made with your bonus action. So this qualifies as “more damage” by allowing a known powerful combo to now be used while wielding a shield, thereby increasing the damage cap of a shield wearer.

As the hand crossbow has the light property, it can be wielded in one of the small arms, while the shield is wielded in one of the normal size arms, with the remaining free arms available for loading the crossbow.

This allows for interesting builds, such as a typical “sword and board” fighter to use a sword and shield in their primary arms, and get a free hand crossbow shot off every turn with their bonus action.

Two Weapon Fighting...but with a shield.

There’s a pattern here. This works similarly as above, but with two light melee weapons instead of a hand crossbow. This works to add a free bonus action attack to a traditional sword and board user.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Slightly outside the parameters of my question, but I find "higher damage for shield users" to be a compelling framing. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 9 at 0:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @RyanC.Thompson Yeah, the idea is that it opens up some of the bonus action attack features that previously couldn't be used while wielding a shield. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 9 at 1:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ Sad that there’s no combo that would work with a traditional kreen gythka (heavy, two-handed double weapon). I wonder how reasonable it would be to rule that a thri-kreen could wield a gythka in a main hand and a secondary hand, and a shield in the other main hand. Would be an even-better version of your latter option, but maybe that’s OK—after all, makes sense that the kreen would naturally favor the weapon they traditionally favor. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Oct 9 at 1:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan There's even rules precedent for a traditional weapon with special mechanics, the Valenar elves' double-bladed scimitar. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 9 at 2:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ I just realized that you can even do slightly better than just TWF with a shield: hold 2 light weapons, one non-light weapon, and a shield (e.g. 2 scimitars and a rapier). Then attack with Extra attack using the non-light weapon and one light weapon, then TWF to get the bonus action attack with the 2nd light weapon. This ends up being slightly more damage on average than either 2 attacks with a non-light weapon or 3 attacks with a light weapon, and you get to have the shield as well. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 9 at 5:15
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Weapons and spell focus.

You can wield a two-handed weapon or weapon and shield in your primary hands, and a spell focus in one or both of your secondary hands, allowing you to fight with your primary hands and cast spells with your secondary hands.

Normally, casting a spell with a weapon and shield would require the Warcaster feat, and casting one with a two-handed weapon would require you to use a Spell Component Pouch if it requires a Material Component (you can release the grip on a two-handed weapon with one hand and perform the Somatic Components with the freed-up hand).

For instance, a Thri-Kreen Eldritch Knight Fighter can cast Haste on themselves while carrying a weapon and shield in their primary hands and an Arcane Focus or Spell-Component Pouch in their secondary hands without the Warcaster feat while a similar character of another race could not before promptly attacking with the granted bonus Action, or cast a spell like Shocking Grasp to attack with Advantage before immediately following up with a regular longsword attack using the Eldritch Knight's Eldritch Strike feature.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This is definitely an increase in flexibility, but does it somehow enable higher damage as well? \$\endgroup\$ Oct 9 at 12:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ @RyanC.Thompson Off of the top of my head, an Eldritch Knight Fighter would be able to benefit from it thanks to their Eldritch Smite ability, and there are buffing spells like Elemental Weapon that can increase damage. \$\endgroup\$
    – nick012000
    Oct 9 at 12:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ It seems like the EK example is not specific to a 4-armed character. You can make your attack, then stow your weapon using your free object interaction, then action surge to cast the spell. Buff spells with somatic components like Elemental Weapon could probably be managed similarly (e.g. casting the spell and then touching the handle of your sheathed sword and drawing it). Having 4 arms makes this all easier, but it doesn't seem to be required, unless I'm missing something. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 9 at 13:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ @RyanC.Thompson The Eldritch Knight can't use a shield and cast a spell while wielding a weapon without Warcaster. \$\endgroup\$
    – nick012000
    Oct 9 at 13:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Ryan Only in those scenarios. There are times they just can't do that, and this helps them expend less resources which means more damage later on. Or, for an example: A fighter cannot, while holding a shield and sword, cast a material component spell and then take the Attack action using Action Surge. Flexibility, by definition, means you are be able to do something you otherwise could not have done, that just is an increase in damage under the right conditions \$\endgroup\$ Oct 9 at 15:00
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Multiple thrown weapon attacks without Thrown Weapon Fighting

Unless a character has Thrown Weapon Fighting fighting style from Tasha's Cauldron of Everything they are limited to drawing only a single weapon per round to throw. They will soon be limited to only throwing the one weapon they draw each turn. But before that they can either make three attacks (by holding two weapons and drawing the third one between attacks) on the first turn or two attacks on the first and two on the second turn.

In contrast as Thri-keen can hold four weapons they can make up to five attacks the first turn or sustain two attacks per turn for 5 rounds.

That is other races can make the following number of throws on their turn after starting combat:

  • 2,2,1,1...
  • 3,1,1...

While Thri-keen can throw the following times:

  • 5,1,1...
  • 4,2,1,1...
  • 3,3,1,1...
  • 2,2,2,2,2,1,1...

This is especially relevant for two types of characters:

Rogues using two weapon fighting

Rogues using two weapon fighting can use their bonus action to throw daggers for another chance at sneak attack damage while staying at range. In almost all circumstances a second attack with a dagger will do more damage than a slightly higher base damage from other ranged weapons even if the bonus action would otherwise be used to get an advantage. The only drawback for this build is that the benefit gained by using Thri-keen will only kick in at the third round of the combat.

First strike or backup for melee Fighters

If a Fighter chooses to specialize in strength based melee weapons there will be some situations where enemies are out of reach either temporarily or permanently. By being prepared for combat with 4 drawn Handaxes and e.g. Greatsword ready to be drawn a fighter can be confident his first turn won't be spent dealing no damage by dashing to an enemy instead of attacking it. The five attacks on his turn can be made as soon as level 5 by using Action Surge. Even in a middle of a fight having two handaxes at the ready means that you can make up to three attacks when you otherwise couldn't either because the opponent fled or the previous one was killed and the next one is too far away.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ If I remember correctly, the thri-keen were originally presented in the Fiend Folio as using crystal throwing star type missile weapons (along with crystal bladed spears). \$\endgroup\$
    – Dave
    Oct 10 at 12:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Dave Monster Manual II, I believe. But yes, tri-pointed crystal throwing weapons. I think they also had something about other races without an exoskeleton would damage themselves trying to use them. Or maybe I just had some head-canon about that. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 10 at 14:27
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With the Fighting Style Two-Weapon Fighting

The Fighting Style Two-Weapon Fighting, available to fighters and rangers, allows you to add your ability score modifier to the damage of the off-hand attack. To then take your example:

  • Attacking twice with a greatsword deals 4d6 + 2×STR damage.
  • Attacking once with a greatsword then twice with shortswords deals 4d6 + 3×STR damage.

With any damage bonus that adds per attack

Again, take your example, where both methods deal 4d6 + 2×STR damage. However, the greatsword-only method does so in two attacks, while the the thri-kreen method does so in three attacks. As such, any damage bonus that adds once per attack give a greater benefit to the thri-kreen method. The game is rife with such bonuses: barbarian's Rage damage bonus, paladin's Improved Divine Smite, paladin's divine favour spell, the enlarge option of the enlarge/reduce spell, warlock's hex spell and ranger's similar hunter's mark spell, etc.

There are also some examples such as paladin's Divine Smite and a battlemaster fighter's damage-boosting manoeuvres that, while more attacks per turn don't give you more damage per short/long rest, they do allow you to unload more of that damage in a single turn, as you can use three smites/manoeuvres per turn, instead of just two.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 Two off the most iconic spells that add damage per attack are ranger's Hunter's mark and warlock's Hex. It might be worth adding those to the answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – SilentAxe
    Oct 11 at 16:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SilentAxe True, thanks. I'll add them in, but wouldn't necessarily recommend them for a build like this: the bonus actions spent shuffling those spells from enemy to enemy are bonus actions not spent stabbing enemies with that bonus damage. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 11 at 20:04
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Level 5 Thri-Kreen Hexblade Warlock

Pact of the Blade

18AC

Feats: Crossbow Expert

Eld Invocations: Thirsting Blade, Eldritch Mind, Improved Pact Weapon

Upper Hands: Longsword, Shield

Lower Hands: Hand Crossbow, Empty

Assume 3 for CHA and DEX

First Round: Hexblade's Curse, Longsword Attacks 2(1d8+CHA+3+1)

Second Round: Hex, Longsword Attacks 2(1d8+1d6+CHA+3+1)

Third Round: Longsword Attacks, Hand Crossbow [2(1d8+1d6+3+3+1)]+[1d6+1d6+3] OR an average 40 damage

For the third round (and every following round), here's the breakdown: Thirsting blade gives two attacks. so 2*[1d8 + Hex's 1d6 + Hexblade adds Charisma mod as damage(assuming 3) + Hexblade's curse adds prof bonus to any damage roll (+3 at level 5) + 1 damage from improved pact weapon]. Next, [1d6 crossbow damage thanks to crossbow expert feat, shoot as bonus action + hexblade curse damage+Hex Damage].

This is all before accounting for chance to hit, which is a +7 for the longsword (Hexblade uses CHA for attack bonus+Prof+Improved Pact Weapon), or crits (Hexblade's Curse gives crit on 19 or 20).

If instead of Crossbow Expert, we went for Polearm master(Glaive/Halberd), we would end up on the third turn with 2(1d10+1d6+3+3+1)+(1d4+1d6+3+3+1). That's an average of 45 damage, and now we are getting a +7 to all three attacks, and the bonus attack can crit on 19, but we drop down to 16AC.

The thri-kreen hexblade has a lot of options without having to sink feats into Warcaster.

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    – Someone_Evil
    Oct 12 at 21:03
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My suggestion is using two longswords in conjunction with the Dual Wielder feat (and two weapon fighting fighting style): 2d10+[2*STR_MOD]

Firstly, you wouldn't be able to use a greatsword as the two weapon fighting rules stipulate that the first attack also has to be with a light melee weapon.

"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."

The Dual Wielder feat also stipulates that the one handed weapons don't have to be light. Therefore, I don't think greatsword + extra light weapon is feasible.

"You can use two-weapon fighting even when the one handed melee weapons you are wielding aren’t light."

However, I propose using the two longswords for their one handed property, ignoring the need for light with the dual wield feat, but then utilising our extra pair of hands to hit with each one in a two handed manner using the longsword's versatile property. This lets us have our 1d10+STR_MOD damage (thanks to two weapon fighting fighting style) on both attacks.

I understand that the one handed weapons being used two handed and still using them for their one handed property is a bit iffy, but it's up for interpretation.

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    \$\begingroup\$ A thri-kreen's 3rd and 4th hands cannot be used to wield weapons that aren't light (such as longswords). \$\endgroup\$ Oct 9 at 18:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also, there is no one handed property. The TWF rule applies only to weapons that "you're holding in one hand". \$\endgroup\$ Oct 9 at 23:05
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    – V2Blast
    Oct 11 at 15:43

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