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At first glance dual wielding two weapons and two handing a single large weapon seem to be competing to fill the same role of martial damage per round. However, I have the feeling that like in past systems each fills its own niche and neither is better than the other for every situation. For example there was a tendency for rogues to prefer dual wielding to sneak attack as much as possible.

I'm currently playing a dwarf cleric with the war domain using the play test rules. Our DM is letting us tweak our characters when we convert them to the using the PHB. I currently wield a maul but was wondering if it would be beneficial to switch my weapon of choice. My highest stat is WIS (16) followed by STR (14) then CON and DEX (both 12). I want to be able to hold my own in melee combat while also casting spells when needed. The rest of my party is a rogue, a dual-wielding, dexterity based fighter and a bard.

What are the significant differences between dual wielding and two-handing for a cleric?

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    \$\begingroup\$ See: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/44241/… \$\endgroup\$ – Joshua Aslan Smith Aug 13 '14 at 15:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ You'll need to specify what you are looking for, not ask for a general comparison. See the related question for their damage output comparison. Choosing which Sub-class/path is much more important in 5e in terms of which options and approaches your character has. \$\endgroup\$ – Joshua Aslan Smith Aug 13 '14 at 15:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ Note that the theorycrafting around this choice is currently very contentious, partly because nobody has played the game enough to gather evidence to separate the armchair theory from the tested truths. The necessary grains of salt to take with any advice are currently quite large. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Aug 13 '14 at 16:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ Are you going to boost Str and Wis to 20 or are you going to take a feat related to your weapon choice? \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Aug 13 '14 at 16:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'll probably increase my STR and WIS as I want to increase my saving throw DC and the rogue and fighter seem to be able to handle hitting things well enough. \$\endgroup\$ – MonkeezOnFire Aug 13 '14 at 16:35
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It really depends. for a cleric, they are functionally identical.

Here are the damage expressions:

Two hander: 2d6 + str

TWF: 1d6 + str, 1d6

Literally exactly the same when you factor in that your to-hit is going to be the exact same number for both. You only get your Divine strike (I think War domain gets that at 8 and 14 like the Life cleric does) on the first hit so that does favor TWF slightly at 8 and more at 14.

The next thing to look at is the action economy. TWF uses your bonus action every round. Whereas GWF leaves it free. You've got some bonus action spells you might want to use.

Lastly, there is feat selection. A melee cleric is MAD (Multiple Ability Dependent) so you might not want to actually pick up a feat and let both your stats run up to 20, but if you could settle for an 18 str, you might want to pick up the feat related to your fighting style. The GWF feat gives you extra attacks, but the TWF feat lets you wield one handed weapons rather than only light weapons and boosts your AC a bit.

Really, looking at the numbers, the decision is entirely up to you and how you want to play the character, they are quite similar. I give the damage edge to TWF, and the action economy edge to GWF. Ultimately though, at high levels, your cantrips might end up doing more damage than your weapon attacks anyways.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Note that Divine Strike (not Spiritual Weapon) triggers on the first hit, not the first attack. This makes multiple attacks useful by increasing the chance of landing at least one attack. Not nearly as useful as an ability that applies every attack, but still, it does make up for the loss of a bonus action. \$\endgroup\$ – Paul Hutton Aug 14 '14 at 2:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PaulHutton noted and updated. It's a bit more of a tradeoff then \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Aug 14 '14 at 2:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @waxeagle What's MADD? \$\endgroup\$ – eimyr Aug 14 '14 at 9:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @eimyr I think I got an extra D on there, multi ability dependent, generally a character who needs 3 abilities, the melee cleric is one of the few 5e characters who needs even 2 (other than Con, everyone needs con) \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Aug 14 '14 at 10:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ You should mention "War Priest" domain feature, that lets the priest to make another attack with 2H weapon using their bonus action, but can be used only several times a day. So the outcome will depend on how many encounters per day the priest has. \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor Aug 14 '17 at 9:24
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Note: After having played a few sessions with this character I'm answering my own question.

A cleric with the War domain will favor two-handed weapons if they want to get the most out of their War Priest domain feature. The feature allows the cleric to attack as a bonus action after taking the attack action a limited number of times a day. Dual wielding clerics will see this feature mostly unused as two weapon fighting eats up the bonus action. Two handed weapons also deal more damage in a single hit, getting more damage out of this feature than using a sword and shield.

For a cleric of a different domain, weapon choice is largely personal preference as explained by wax eagle's and GMNoob's answers.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ There is also the issue of casting spells for which you need at least one free hand or the war caster feat. TWF does not give you a free hand without juggling free interactions and using up actions. GWF allows you to hold the two handed weapon in one hand while you are not attacking with it giving you that free hand. \$\endgroup\$ – Protonflux Aug 15 '17 at 10:53
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Here are the "rules" I would use:

  1. If you are going to take advantage of more than 2 "extra attacks", Two handed weapons is the better option.

  2. If you gain more from critical hits or once per round damage bonuses such as sneak attack damage dice, and those bonuses outclass the actual weapon damage itself (such as 3d6 sneak attack damage) then you will benefit more from dual wielding.

  3. If you need flexibility with an extra empty hand, (i.e. you don't have a warcaster feat, but you cast spells) it's better to work with dual wielding. This will depend on how you understand the somatic requirements, and if you think it's reasonable to attempt to maintain a two handed weapon being held in one hand while casting a spell.

  4. If you find one weapon type is "cooler" than the other, than take the cooler option, the difference in optimization is small enough to not alter how much fun you will have, or be noticeable in play.

That being said, you are better off as a war cleric giving yourself access to both. While you have your bonus actions to make a second attack, you are better off with a two handed weapon. However when you run out of those inspirations you will want to use either dual wielding or a weapon and shield (Preferably the weapon and Shield for added AC and Free Holy Symbol on the shield). By dual wielding, you can leave one weapon in your hand even when you cast spells so that you can make opportunity attacks after you have cast a spell as your action. (remove light weapon, cast spell, you still have a weapon to attack with, but if you remove the maul to cast the spell then you only have your unarmed attack for opportunity attacks) As a cleric of war, I would prepare myself to have a maul, a mace and shield, and two shortswords, and some range options as well. It will depend on how many of your 'currency actions' you have left or want to use.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm confused by #3. Did I miss something that makes casting with two weapons easier than casting with 1? I don't have access to the book right now. \$\endgroup\$ – MonkeezOnFire Aug 13 '14 at 17:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ @monkeezonfire it's possible my group misunderstood the rules, but you still need a free hand for somatic actions unless you take the war caster feet, I'll look it up and update if necessary. \$\endgroup\$ – GMNoob Aug 13 '14 at 17:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ @GMNoob I'm not sure if it is RAW, but I've seen the assumption in many places, that you can hold a 2-hand weapon in 1 hand while casting with the other, you just can't wield it effectively. So - take hand off weapon, cast spell, put hand back on weapon. \$\endgroup\$ – Adeptus Aug 14 '14 at 2:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ @adeptus that assumption seems wrong to me. Mearls said that quarterstaffs were made versatile specifically to allow casters to use them while casting. \$\endgroup\$ – GMNoob Aug 14 '14 at 4:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ @GMNoob Mearls says many things. Most of them are probably right, but I'd still weight them against common sense to see if they hold water. \$\endgroup\$ – El Suscriptor Justiciero Dec 29 '14 at 11:21
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Weapon damage output

Levels 1-7

TWF (Two-weapon fighting) wins a bit
The damage is identical, 2d6+Str (Maul) vs 1d6+Str+1d6 (2 Shortswords). It is a bit better to do the same damage spread out to two attacks:

  • If one of the enemies has only a few hit point, you hit it with one of the Shortswords, and after it is killed, you can use the other Shortsword agains a different enemy. With the Maul the rest of the damage is wasted
  • If the enemy is a spellcaster, two hits from the Shortswords forces two Concentration checks

Levels 8+

TWF wins
Divine Strike is usable once per turn, so having two attacks decreases the chance of it not being triggered. Just like you point out about Sneak Attack.

Spellcasting

TWF loses badly
If you use a Two-Handed weapon for attacks, you can let it go with one hand as a free action, to cast a spell with somatic components.
Paladins and Clerics can cast spells even if they wield a shield in one hand (tweet from Jeremy Crawford "The intent is that the shield hand can be used for a somatic component if the holy shield is used to cast the spell").
The Warcaster feat solves this problem.

Action economy

TWF loses
Pulling one weapon before the attack is part of the action. Pulling the second weapon is an action on its own, or you will have to wait until round two. You could run around with one of your weapons already in your hand, but most NPCs frown upon it.
The feat Dual Wielder helps with this, but it is still weaker than a Dex increase in every other aspect.

Conclusion

There are avantages of TWF, and if you want or have Warcaster for other reasons, it is better than two handed weapons.
If you get Extra Attack from multiclassing, use a two handed weapon.

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