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In D&D 5e, can a 5th-level fighter shoot a hand crossbow 4 times per turn using the Crossbow Expert feat?

The fighter's Extra Attack feature says (PHB, p. 72):

Beginning at 5th level, you can attack twice, instead of once, whenever you take the Attack action on your turn.

The Crossbow Expert feat says (PHB, p. 165):

  • You ignore the loading quality of crossbows with which you are proficient.

  • [...]

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

Is the following statement valid?

The fighter is holding a hand crossbow. He begins his turn. He takes an Attack action; using his Extra Attack feature along with the first benefit of Crossbow Expert, he shoots twice during this action. Then he takes a bonus action. Using the last benefit of Crossbow Expert, he makes this an Attack action. He is limited to using a hand crossbow during this action. He shoots twice using his Extra Attack feature. (Assume he can do this with the same hand crossbow.)

It is ambiguous whether "you can use a bonus action to attack" means "you can use a bonus action to take exactly one shot" or "you can use your bonus action for the round as an Attack action". Or even if it does mean "you can use a bonus action to take one shot", it is ambiguous whether it means "an Attack action in which you use a one-handed weapon gives you an opportunity to shoot during your bonus action" or "a one-handed weapon attack made during an Attack action gives you an opportunity to shoot during your bonus action". (One bonus shot per Attack action, or one bonus shot per attack within the Attack action?)

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Your first ambiguity isn't really ambiguous at all. The distinction between an Attack action and an attack is pretty clear. Heck, both of the quotes in your question make that distinction.

For reference, the Attack action is defined as:

The most common action to take in combat is the Attack action, whether you are swinging a sword, firing an arrow from a bow, or brawling with your fists.

With this action, you make one melee or ranged attack. See the “Making an Attack” section for the rules that govern attacks.

Certain features, such as the Extra Attack feature of the fighter, allow you to make more than one attack with this action.

Just like the quotes in your question, it refers to the Attack action and an attack as two entirely separate things. So "you can use a bonus action to attack" means that you can use a bonus action to make one attack, not to take the Attack action.

Your second ambiguity is ambiguous; it could mean that each attack with a one-handed weapon allows you to use a bonus action to attack or that the Attack action as a whole does. Fortunately, it doesn't really matter, because:

You can take only one bonus action on your turn, so you must choose which bonus action to use when you have more than one available.

So even if every attack you make with a one-handed weapon allows you to make an attack as a bonus action, you can still only take one bonus action and make one attack.

To address your comment, we have the preceding text from the definition of bonus actions:

You can take a bonus action only when a special ability, spell, or other feature of the game states that you can do something as a bonus action. You otherwise don’t have a bonus action to take.

You don't have a bonus action that Crossbow Expert allows you to make attacks with. Crossbow Expert gives you a bonus action consisting of a single attack. Even if it gives you that bonus action twice, (or up to 4 times for high level Fighters), you can still only take it once.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think this answer would be improved by somewhere (lede or foot, whichever's your style) saying in so many words "you can fire three times." \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Jan 6 '17 at 2:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ If Dual Wielding of any sort let you make an Attack Action with your Bonus Action...Fighters would be woodchippers. A high level fighter would be dropping 8 attacks per round. 12, when they popped Action Surge. \$\endgroup\$ – guildsbounty Jul 7 '17 at 13:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ @guildsbounty that's only at 20th level, which is max level. The high level fighter starts to get 3 attacks at 11th level, so your illustration is more useful for that (6 attacks per round) and 9 with action surge ... \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Feb 4 '18 at 14:23
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To cover the aspect of how many attacks the fighter would get:

http://dnd.wizards.com/articles/features/sageadvice_feats

Do the first and third benefits of Crossbow Expert turn a hand crossbow into a semiautomatic weapon? The short answer is no.

The first benefit of the feat lets you ignore the loading property (PH, 147) of the hand crossbow if you’re proficient with that weapon. The upshot is that you can fire it more than once if you have a feature like Extra Attack. You’re still limited, however, by the fact that the weapon has the ammunition property (PH, 146). The latter property requires you to have a bolt to fire from the hand crossbow, and the hand crossbow isn’t going to load itself (unless it’s magical or a gnomish invention). You need to load each bolt into the weapon, and doing so requires a hand.

To dig deeper into this point, take a look at the following sentence in the definition of the ammunition property: “Drawing the ammunition from a quiver, case, or other container is part of the attack.” The sentence tells us two important things. First, you’re assumed to be drawing—that is, extracting with your hand—the ammunition from a container. Second, the act of drawing the ammunition is included in the attack and therefore doesn’t require its own action and doesn’t use up your free interaction with an object on your turn.

What does that all mean for a hand crossbow? It means Crossbow Expert makes it possible to fire a hand crossbow more than once with a feature like Extra Attack, provided that you have enough ammunition and you have a hand free to load it for each shot.

Does Crossbow Expert let you fire a hand crossbow and then fire it again as a bonus action? It does! Take a look at the feat’s third benefit. It says you can attack with a hand crossbow as a bonus action when you use the Attack action to attack with a one-handed weapon. A hand crossbow is a one-handed weapon, so it can, indeed, be used for both attacks, assuming you have a hand free to load the hand crossbow between the two attacks.

Thus, the Level 5 Fighter gets 3 attacks per turn.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Does "Drawing the ammunition [...] is part of the attack" contradict "a hand free to load the hand crossbow between the two attacks", or is it just a poor choice of words? The second implies loading is not part of the attack since it happens "between" attacks, yet it also painstakingly explains that loading is part of the attack. If loading is part of an attack I assume you also need a free hand at the start of the first attack? \$\endgroup\$ – AnnanFay Jul 19 at 2:42
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A 5th-level fighter can't shoot 4 shots per turn, unless they use Action Surge.

In one turn, the fighter can use a hand crossbow to take:

  • 3 shots, using the Attack action and then using their bonus action (thanks to Crossbow Expert).
  • 5 total shots if they use Action Surge as well.

Bolts 1 & 2: The 5th-level fighter takes the Attack action on their turn, and is granted an extra attack when they do so thanks to the Extra Attack feature. Both these attacks can be made with the same hand crossbow (thanks to the Crossbow Expert feat), as long as one hand stays free to load. Loading is assumed to be a component of firing.

3rd bolt: The Crossbow Expert feat allows a single shot with a hand crossbow as a bonus action, as long as the character makes an attack with a one-handed weapon during their action. Since a hand crossbow is a one-handed weapon, either of the prior attacks meets the requirement for this benefit.

4th & 5th Bolt, using Action Surge: Action Surge permits the character to take one additional action. Therefore, at 5th level, taking the Attack action with this additional action grants two more attacks.

(The additional action from Action Surge could also be taken before the bonus-action attack from Crossbow Expert, instead of after it.)

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You're forgetting about how the third point in the "Crossbow Expert" feat is formulated. It states that you can use a bonus action to attack with a "loaded" hand crossbow.

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

Meaning that your bonus action only allows you to fire a hand crossbow that has already been loaded. It doesn't allow you to first load the crossbow.

At least that's how I interpret this.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The first part of the feat makes it effectively loaded at all times, as long as you have ammunition available. \$\endgroup\$ – T.J.L. Jul 7 '17 at 13:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ ... and a free hand. \$\endgroup\$ – daze413 Jul 7 '17 at 14:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ @T.J.L. as daze hints at, it doesn’t say you get to ignore the ammunition property \$\endgroup\$ – Jinglesting Aug 16 '19 at 18:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ The word "loaded" was removed from the feat in errata quite a while back (sometime in 2016 or so)... But regardless, OP's count of 4 attacks is wrong for a totally different reason: Crossbow Expert lets you make one attack as a bonus action - it doesn't grant you another Attack action. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Sep 9 at 2:28
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As a 5th level fighter wielding a single (not dual wielding) hand crossbow with the offhand free to reload (as per the ammunition property PH 146) you can fire THREE bolts per round, once per short/long rest the 2nd level action surge ability can be used to fire a FOURTH BOLT.

  • First bolt as part of your attack action.
  • Second bolt as bonus action granted by crossbow expert.
  • Third bolt from fighters 5th level second action.
  • Fourth bolt from action surge [1/rest].

This normally wouldn't be possible because the loading property (PH 147) requires time to reload but the crossbow expert feat bypasses thus you can use it multiple times in a single round but you still need to have a free hand to allow reloading the crossbow as part of the attack action. http://dnd.wizards.com/articles/features/sageadvice_feats

Now as for those wishing to dual wield two hand crossbows... you could, if loaded, fire off both but would not be able to reload them automatically (as part of the attack action, needs a free hand). However I would encourage DMs to ignore this, rather boring, technicality and allow players to wield a second crossbow as a purely aesthetic feature (act as if he is wielding one with the hand free to reload but read the flavor text as if the bolts actually came from two crossbows).

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    \$\begingroup\$ "5th level second action"- you mean second attack? And is there a reason an Action Surge can only fire once, don't you get a whole another Attack Action and therefore 2 attacks? \$\endgroup\$ – daze413 Dec 19 '17 at 7:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ Action Surge gets you a normal action. If you use it to take the Attack action, "Extra Attack" grants two shots, not one. Action (two shots via Extra Attack), Bonus Action (one shot via Crossbow Expert), 2nd Action via Action Surge (also two shots due to Extra Attack) - the total is five. \$\endgroup\$ – T.J.L. Jan 2 '18 at 21:13
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A Fighter lvl 5 with Crossbow Expert can, with Action Surge, attack 6 times:

1 & 2) 2 Normal Attacks (Extra Attack) in the Attack ACTION

3) 1 Attack as a Bonus Action (CROSSBOW EXPERT)

ACTION SURGE! (+ 1 ACTION and possible BONUS ACTION)

4 & 5) 2 Normal Attacks (Extra Attack) in the Attack ACTION

6) 1 Attack as a Bonus Action (CROSSBOW EXPERT)

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to the site. Please take the tour if you have already. Then, please tell us what this answer provides that much older and heavily upvoted answers do not? Note that Action Surge does not provide an additional bonus action each turn, just a regular action. The total is five with Action Surge and Crossbow Expert (2+2+1). \$\endgroup\$ – T.J.L. Apr 20 '18 at 17:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ Relevant Q&A: Does an Action Surge grant a second bonus action? As mentioned, it doesn't grant an extra bonus action - and the feature was errataed in 2020 to remove the unnecessarily confusing wording mentioning a bonus action. Action Surge now just reads: "Starting at 2nd level, you can push yourself beyond your normal limits for a moment. On your turn, you can take one additional action." \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Sep 9 at 2:32

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