In the equipment section of the D&D basic rules, it lists "light" as a weapon property of the hand crossbow.

The "light" property offers the following attributes:

Light. A light weapon is small and easy to handle, making it ideal for use when fighting with two weapons. See the rules for two-weapon fighting in chapter 9.

So, this would mean I can use my hand crossbow in two weapon fighting... Great! However, in the TWF rules in chapter 9 it says the following:

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.

Two weapon fighting only applies to melee weapons! Why does the hand crossbow have the light property? What purpose is it serving?

Now with the addition of the Feats in the players handbook my question still remains. The feat for crossbow expert says the following:

Crossbow Expert
Thanks to extensive practice with the crossbow, you gain the following benefits:

  • You ignore the loading quality of crossbows with which you are proficient.
  • Being within 5 feet of a hostile creature doesn't impose disadvantage on your ranged attacked rolls.
  • When you use the Attack action and you attack with a one-handed weapon, you can use a bonus action to attack with a loaded hand crossbow you are holding.

As you can see the feat replaces the Two weapon fighting rules, and so the light keyword is still not needed.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I know the top voted answer was the best answer when this question was initially asked, but since Spelljammers was published the thri-kreen answer is the only answer that outlines a RAW mechanical benefit to the light property on hand crossbows. You may want to update the accepted answer to help make this question as useful as possible to future viewers. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 12, 2023 at 13:51

9 Answers 9


I want to challenge your approach to this. As you note, the Light property is defined like this:

Light. A light weapon is small and easy to handle, making it ideal for use when fighting with two weapons.

This property isn't just there as a computer function — it's also part of the basic description. A hand crossbow is small and easy to handle. And it is, as far as crossbows go, ideal for fighting with two weapons. You may need special practice and training (as represented by the feat) to take advantage of it, but it's undeniably better than any other crossbow for that case.

Is it true that mechanically there are no current rules which make particular use of this property? Meh. Probably so. But it does not mean the property shouldn't be there, because that kind of mechanical interaction isn't the only reason weapons have descriptions.

It might have been more elegant from a "the puzzle pieces must fit together!" perspective if Crossbow Expert said "a crossbow with the light property" instead of "hand crossbow", but I don't think that really would add much of actual value.

Of course, there's always the possibility of future features which apply to "light ranged weapons" or the like.

  • \$\begingroup\$ How does the proposed purpose of dual-wielding interact with the ammunition property that requires a free hand to reload? Are you just dual-wielding the hand crossbows to use as dual-wielded improvised melee weapons, or is there a way around the reload rule? \$\endgroup\$
    – Blaise
    Commented Oct 10, 2019 at 21:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Blaise Which proposed purpose? I don't know who "you" is in your comment, but I imagine you're using it to get off one cool shot in a dynamic situation and will either ditch the weapon in your other hand to reload, or drop the hand crossbow and close to melee, or go out the window, or whatever. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Oct 10, 2019 at 23:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Blaise: presumably it would interact the same way as with early real-world firearms that took a long time to reload: someone (e.g. a pirate boarding a ship) might have multiple pistols tied to their belt, and pull out / grab one (free object interaction), fire it (action or bonus action), and drop it (totally free). \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 8, 2021 at 22:05

Ruleswise as of now, none

There are no class features or combat rules that benefit a player for dual-wielding hand crossbows as of the release of Basic and the Starter Set.

With PHB's release it will probably see use...

We don't really know what the other class paths will be nor what the final feat list will be. Most likely a feat will make use of the light property on ranged weapons or a class like ranger or rogue will be able to dual-wield them.

From the PHB feat list preview I'd say Dual-Wielder or Crossbow Expert are the feats most likely to allow a player to hold a light crossbow in both hands and shoot at the same time/make an attack with both in one turn.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This answer should probably be edited since A) the PHB was released, and B) the question was edited a month after this answer was posted, to incorporate the results of a PHB analysis by the OP. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 19, 2016 at 17:03

You could use a loaded crossbow (hand or otherwise) as an improvised melee weapon to stab your opponent with the bolt. There is now a feat called "Tavern Brawler" that allows virtually unrestricted use of improvised weapons, thus making dual-wielding hand crossbows and using them for both ranged and melee combat a viable strategy specifically because they have the light property.

Tavern Brawler, PHB Page 159

Accustomed to rough-and-tumble fighting using whatever weapons happen to be at hand, you gain the following benefits:

• Increase your Strength or Constitution score by 1, to a maximum of 20.

• You are proficient with improvised weapons and unarmed strikes.

• Your unarmed strike uses a d4 for damage.

• When you hit a creature with an unarmed strike or an improvised weapon on your turn, you can use a bonus action to attempt to grapple the target.

Improvised Weapons, PHB Page 138

Sometimes characters don’t have their weapons and have to attack with whatever is close at hand. An improvised weapon includes any object you can wield in one or two hands, such as broken glass, a table leg, a frying pan, a wagon wheel, or a dead goblin.

In many cases, an improvised weapon is similar to an actual weapon and can be treated as such. For example, a table leg is akin to a club. At the DM’s option, a character proficient with a weapon can use a similar object as if it were that weapon and use his or her proficiency bonus.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure if a weapon retains its traits being used as improvised weapon of another type. The hand crossbow has the "ammunition" and "loading" traits as well, but you ignore them if you use a crossbow as a club. \$\endgroup\$
    – enkryptor
    Commented May 13, 2017 at 9:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ @enkryptor Yes, but I was clearly talking about using it more like a dagger. You can't stab someone with a loaded bolt if you have no bolts and/or the crossbow isn't loaded - meaning both properties are still very much relevant. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 20, 2019 at 18:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ This question clarifies that when making an improvised attack in this way the crossbow would not count as a melee weapon at all: "Are Improvised Weapons used in melee actually melee weapons?" \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 11, 2019 at 18:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ This answer is blatantly wrong, once you use a crossbow as an improvised weapon, it no longer uses it normal properties. The DM might rule that using it in that way is comparable to using a dagger and use the dagger properties (and thus, light), but that is not RAW. \$\endgroup\$
    – Theik
    Commented Oct 11, 2019 at 8:44

A Thri-Kreen (Spelljammer: Adventures in SpaceAstral Adventurer’s Guide, p. 15) can wield a hand crossbow in one of its secondary hands, giving them more versatility.

For example, a Thri-Kreen wielding a greatsword in its two main hands (or, alternatively, a shield and a longsword) would be able to wield a hand crossbow in its secondary arms, which they wouldn't be able to do with a weapon that doesn't have the light property, like a blowgun. This enables greater versatility for the Thri-Kreen.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I've downvoted because the Thri-Kreen is not an official playable race. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 14, 2021 at 16:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ Thri-Kreen is now an official playable race from Spelljammers in Space. I recommend updating this answer to reflect that, as this is now the only (to my knowledge) actual mechanical benefit of the light property on hand crossbows using official materials. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 12, 2023 at 13:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkovisonStrike I suggest reversing your down vote (unless you see other issues with the answer), as it has now been officially published and is an objectively correct answer now. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 12, 2023 at 13:45

It is possible the light property is there to empower a DM to make an on-the-fly improvisation. For example, a DM could rule that light weapons give advantage on attempts to hide them from someone searching you for weapons.

You could also joke that the hand crossbow is there to cause lots and lots of posts on the official forums. :-)

  • Lots of links that no longer work because Wizards closed and deleted their forums.

There's basically no mechanics reason for the "light" flag.

I would houserule a player being able to dual-wield them, but allow only one shot with them. They don't have a free-hand to reload. Alternately, they could have a weapon in one hand and a light crossbow in another, to get that one shot off. If for some reason you have cartridge-loaded light crossbows, then that might be particularly cool.

There are also some 3.5 feats which allow two-handed weapons to be wielded one-handed. I could see homebrewing an equivalent feat in 5e to allow dual-wielding heavy repeating crossbows for a particularly dedicated player/character.

Approach "why is there a light flag, does this mean they are considered in dual wielding?" and answer it with "sure, why not?"


In order to use Two Weapon Fighting, the weapons have to have the Light property. You can see reference to this from the Dual Wielder feat (PHB, page 165; emphasis mine):

You master fighting with two weapons, gaining the following benefits:

  • You gain a +1 bonus to AC while you are wielding a separate melee weapon in each hand.

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

  • You can draw or stow two one-handed weapons when you would normally be able to draw or stow only one.

So essentially, the Light property allows you to use the Hand Crossbow in your off-hand, and then the Crossbow Expert feat (PHB, p. 165) allows you to make an attack with it as a bonus action:

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

So with this information available, it would appear that the Light property is just a way to allow you to equip the Hand Crossbow to your offhand, and if you wish to make normal attacks with it, while it is equipped to your off hand, you would need the Crossbow Expert feat, and another one handed weapon in your main hand that also has the Light property, unless you want to take the Dual Wielder feat as well.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The two-weapon fighting rule says: "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 Crossbow Expert feat lets you make its bonus-action attack as long as you attack with any one-handed weapon as your Attack action. The two don't interact at all. (You also need a free hand to load a crossbow regardless.) \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Commented Oct 11, 2019 at 5:37

There are certain situations that may be effected by such property. For example, hanging from a cliff by dominant hand but must make a ranged attack with the off hand.

The PHB is to be interpreted by the DM. In my experience dual wielding two hand crossbows only works if the following is met:

  1. Crossbow Expert feat is in effect, thus no need to have a free hand to load the crossbow
  2. Duel Wielder feat is in effect (It states melee weapon but I would accept any light weapon as the only light ranged weapon is the hand crossbow, and unless it was intended to be used for dual wielding that classification seems pointless)
  3. Fighter class 10th LVL (2 fighting styles obtained) Archery and Two weapon fighting (add Prof. Bonus to off hand and +2 to attack rolls)
  4. Rogue class 10th LVL (possible Sneak attack 5d6 bonus to each attack damage roll)

Max damage output for one turn: (1d6+2)3 + (5D6)3
36 + 90 = 126 + (crit on prone enemy)=252 max possible

  • \$\begingroup\$ Crossbow Expert doesn't bypass needing a free hand to reload. Ignoring the Loading property lets Extra Attack work with weapons which would otherwise limit you to one attack per Attack Action. i.e. it means you can reload quickly, not without hands! \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 8, 2021 at 22:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ Your build with fighter 10 / rogue 10 + Crossbow Expert, with a single hand crossbow, can already make 3 attacks per round: two with the hand crossbow via normal Extra Attack, and one as a bonus action from Crossbow Expert. It's a waste of a feat to take Dual Wielder; that's adding nothing. Fighter 11 / Rogue 9 would have the same 5d6 Sneak Attack dice, but have Extra Attack (2) for 3 attacks per Action for a total of 4 per round. (Without Action Surge.) Note that Sneak Attack is at most once per turn. To get more than 1 per round, you need to make an attack as a reaction somehow. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 8, 2021 at 22:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ BTW, the rule that specifies needing a free hand to reload is the Ammunition property. That's separate from the Loading property (which means that loading is slow, unlike a longbow or sling.) Crossbow Expert only deals with the Loading property, not Ammunition. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 8, 2021 at 22:23

Well you left out the part about having the option to throw a light weapon instead of using it as a melee weapon if it has the thrown tag. I would assume that if you are allowed to throw a second weapon as a bonus action that the same exception would apply to firing the hand crossbow.

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    \$\begingroup\$ GMNoob already knows about TWF allowing a dagger rouge, and its only tangentially related to his core question about why Light is a keyword/tag on the hand crossbow. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 22, 2014 at 0:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ A handcrossbow can not be thrown but you can use it as an improvised melee weapon! \$\endgroup\$
    – GMNoob
    Commented Jul 22, 2014 at 4:15

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