D&D characters tend to spend a great deal of time fighting. Even characters who strive to be placid and diplomatic eventually find it necessary to come to blows with a foe now and then -- unless they're willing to flee or simply become monster snacks.
The game offers characters numerous ways to spruce up their fighting styles. Perhaps the most accessible martial flourish is fighting with both hands using either a two-handed weapon or a weapon in each hand. Anyone who can afford the requisite equipment can fight this way.
Unfortunately, two-handed fighting carries a few disadvantages, and doing it well often requires a bigger investment than buying a weapon or two. Some two-handed fighting options also can plunge a character into a morass of combat modifiers and obscure combat rules. This series examines two-handed fighting in detail and seeks to smooth out some of the rules tangles that await two-handed combatants.
Some Key Terms
Here's a brief list of terminology used in this series.
Light, One-Handed, and Two-Handed Weapons: A measure of just how much effort it takes to wield a weapon in combat.
A light weapon is small and handy enough to wield very easily in one hand -- even a creature's off hand (see below). Light weapons are particularly useful when fighting with a weapon in each hand. They're also convenient when you're grappling or otherwise restricted in your movements (such as when a big monster has swallowed you whole).
A one-handed weapon is small enough to wield in one hand, but not so easily wielded as a light weapon. A one-handed weapon is bigger than a light weapon and has sufficient length and heft to allow you to use both hands to wield it and possibly deal some extra damage with a successful hit (depending on your Strength score).
A two-handed weapon is simply too big to wield in one hand.
See page 113 in the Player's Handbook for a comprehensive discussion of weapon sizes.
A manufactured weapon allows a combatant with a high base attack bonus to make iterativeattacks when using the full attack action.
Natural Weapon: An appendage or other body part (such as teeth or claws) that a creature can use to attack other creatures or objects. Natural weaponry can deal normal (lethal) damage without recourse to a class feature or feat, such as Improved Unarmed Strike. Creatures fighting with natural weapons do not gain iterativeattacks from a high base attack bonus when using the full attack action.
A creature could have fighting appendages that are not natural weapons. For example, a human's fists are not natural weapons. A human fighting with her fists is considered unarmed and she deals nonlethal damage with her attacks. A class feature or a feat such as Improved Unarmed Strike allows a human to function as though armed with a manufactured weapon.
Off Hand, Off-Hand Weapon: When attacking with two weapons, the character must designate one of his hands as his off hand; the weapon held in that hand is treated as his off-hand weapon. The game rules don’t really care about whether you’re right-handed or left-handed, and it’s even OK to change your off hand designation from one round to the next.
Attacks with the off hand take a -4 penalty on the attack roll (see page 311 in the Player's Handbook) and only half the character’s Strength bonus (rounded down) applies to damage from the attack. Fighting with a weapon in each hand brings even bigger penalties.
When a character fights with a weapon in each hand, the weapon held in the off hand is called the off-hand weapon.
Primary Hand, Primary Weapon: If a character is only attacking with a single weapon, it’s fine to treat that as a primary weapon, regardless of what hand it’s held in. When a character fights with two weapons, he can designate either one as his primary weapon.
Attacks with the primary hand gain the character's full Strength bonus on damage rolls. Attacks with a primary weapon in a two-weapon attack take a penalty on the attack roll because attacking with two weapons at once proves very tricky.
Two-Handed Fighting Basics
This series deals mainly with rules for humanoid characters with two arms and two legs who fight with manufactured weapons.
The rules offer characters wishing to fight with both hands three options as noted below:
That covers the basics. Next week, we'll consider two-weapon fighting in more detail.
About the Author
Skip Williams keeps busy with freelance projects for several different game companies and was the Sage of Dragon Magazine for many years. Skip is a co-designer of the D&D 3rd Edition game and the chief architect of the Monster Manual. When not devising swift and cruel deaths for player characters, Skip putters in his kitchen or garden (rabbits and deer are not Skip's friends) or works on repairing and improving the century-old farmhouse that he shares with his wife, Penny, and a growing menagerie of pets.
©1995-2008 Wizards of the Coast, Inc., a subsidiary of Hasbro, Inc. All Rights Reserved.