Hand Crossbow 5e: A Comprehensive Guide

The hand crossbow in DnD 5e is a compact and versatile weapon that has captivated adventurers with its quick and efficient attacks, stealthy sneak attacks, and overall style.

It allows for rapid-fire assaults, particularly when wielded in pairs, making it an attractive choice for characters seeking high-damage output. Its one-handed design enables characters to maintain a free hand for spellcasting or other actions, enhancing their flexibility in combat.

With its accessibility to multiple classes, ease of acquisition, and cool factor, the hand crossbow has become a popular choice for players looking to add a touch of finesse and deadly precision to their characters’ arsenal in D&D 5e.

Mechanics and Basics

In DnD 5e, understanding the core mechanics and rules governing hand crossbows is crucial for effectively utilizing this weapon in your adventures. Let’s delve into the specifics of range, ammunition, and reloading mechanics associated with the hand crossbow.


The hand crossbow has a relatively short range compared to other ranged weapons. Its normal range is 30 feet and its long-range is 120 feet. This means that when attacking a target within 30 feet, you do so without any disadvantage.

However, if you want to attack a target beyond 30 feet but within 120 feet, you roll the attack with a disadvantage.


Hand crossbows require ammunition in the form of bolts to be fired. Bolts are specifically designed for crossbows and cannot be used with other ranged weapons like bows.

When wielding a hand crossbow, you need to have ammunition in your inventory to make attacks. Bolts are expended with each shot, and it’s important to keep track of your ammunition to ensure you have enough during encounters.


One of the key aspects of the hand crossbow’s mechanics is its reloading property. After making an attack with a hand crossbow, it requires a free hand to reload.

This means that if you are dual-wielding hand crossbows, you can make an additional attack with your bonus action using the second-hand crossbow, but you won’t be able to reload both of them on the same turn unless you have a feature that allows you to do so.

Reloading a hand crossbow with a free hand can be done as part of the same action or bonus action used to attack.

Hand Crossbow 5e Proficiency

In DnD 5e, several classes and subclasses are proficient with hand crossbows, allowing adventurers to fully utilize the weapon’s capabilities.

Let’s take a look at the classes and subclasses that have proficiency with hand crossbows and explore the benefits of choosing a class that can wield this versatile weapon.


Rogues are proficient with hand crossbows, and they can make great use of this weapon. The hand crossbow’s quick attacks and ability to perform sneak attacks from a distance align perfectly with the rogue’s playstyle.

Sneak Attack damage can be applied when the conditions are met, making the hand crossbow a deadly tool for rogues who want to deal significant damage while maintaining their stealthy approach.


Fighters have access to all martial weapons, including the hand crossbow. This versatile class can make effective use of the hand crossbow’s rapid-fire capabilities, especially when combined with the Crossbow Expert feat.

Hand Crossbow 5e Proficiency

Fighters can utilize the hand crossbow as a secondary ranged option to complement their melee prowess, providing a versatile and adaptable combat style.


Rangers have proficiency with martial weapons, which include the hand crossbow. This weapon can be a valuable addition to a ranger’s arsenal, allowing them to engage enemies from a distance while utilizing their spellcasting and nature-based abilities.

Rangers can combine their archery-focused features, such as the Archery fighting style, to enhance their accuracy and damage with the hand crossbow.


Artificers, specifically those of the Battle Smith subclass, gain proficiency with martial weapons, including the hand crossbow. Artificers excel at crafting magical items and infusing them with arcane energy.

By choosing a hand crossbow as their weapon of choice, Battle Smith artificers can benefit from the weapon’s versatility and employ their unique class features, such as Steel Defender, to further enhance their combat capabilities.

Benefits of Class Proficient

Choosing a class that is proficient with hand crossbows brings several benefits:


Hand crossbows provide a ranged option for classes that primarily focus on melee combat, granting versatility in engaging enemies from a distance or when ranged attacks are advantageous.

Quick Attacks

The hand crossbow’s ability to make rapid-fire attacks, especially when dual-wielded or combined with the Crossbow Expert feat, can significantly increase damage output and make characters formidable in combat.

Sneak Attacks and Special Abilities

Classes like rogues can combine their unique class features, such as Sneak Attack, with the hand crossbow’s attacks to deal devastating damage to enemies, particularly when they have an advantage or target creatures within 5 feet of allies.

Playstyle and Flavor

Using a hand crossbow can add a touch of style and flair to your character, enhancing the thematic elements of your chosen class or subclass.

Whether it’s the swashbuckling rogue, the nimble ranger, the masterful fighter, or the ingenious artificer, wielding a hand crossbow can contribute to the overall flavor and enjoyment of your character’s story.

Hand Crossbow vs Other Ranged Weapons

When comparing the hand crossbow to other ranged weapons in Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition (5e), it’s important to consider factors such as damage, range, and utility.

Each weapon has its own advantages and drawbacks, so let’s analyze the pros and cons of using a hand crossbow compared to alternative options.


The longbow is a popular alternative to the hand crossbow, known for its high damage potential and long range. The longbow deals 1d8 piercing damage, surpassing the hand crossbow’s 1d6 damage, making it a better choice for maximizing damage output.

It also has a normal range of 150 feet and a long range of 600 feet, allowing archers to engage enemies from a safe distance.

However, the longbow requires both hands to wield, limiting the character’s ability to perform other actions that require a free hand, and it is incompatible with Two-Weapon Fighting.


The short bow is favored for its ease of use and versatility. It can be wielded with a single hand, allowing characters to keep their other hand free for spellcasting or using a shield.

Hand Crossbow vs Other Ranged Weapons

The short bow has a normal range of 80 feet and a long range of 320 feet, providing a respectable reach for ranged attacks.

However, it deals the same amount of damage as the hand crossbow (1d6 piercing damage) and is limited to one attack per turn, lacking the rapid-fire capabilities of the hand crossbow when used for Two-Weapon Fighting.

Heavy Crossbow

The heavy crossbow is a more powerful but slower option compared to the hand crossbow. It deals 1d10 piercing damage, surpassing the hand crossbow’s damage output.

It also has a normal range of 100 feet and a long range of 400 feet, offering greater reach. However, the heavy crossbow has the Loading property, requiring an action to reload and limiting the number of attacks per turn.

It also requires two hands to wield, preventing the use of a shield or performing other actions that require a free hand. Additionally, it lacks the Light property, so it cannot be used for Two-Weapon Fighting like the hand crossbow.

Feats Enhance Hand Crossbows

In DnD 5e, there are several feats and abilities that can enhance the effectiveness of hand crossbows. These options provide additional benefits and utility to characters who specialize in using this ranged weapon. Let’s explore some of these feats and abilities:

Crossbow Expert

The Crossbow Expert feat is a popular choice for characters who want to maximize their hand crossbow prowess. It provides the following benefits:

  • Ignore Loading Property: With this feat, characters can ignore the Loading property of the hand crossbow. This means they can make multiple attacks with a hand crossbow in a single turn, including using their bonus action to make an additional attack.
  • Close-Quarters Shooter: This feature allows characters to make ranged attacks with a hand crossbow while in melee range without a disadvantage. This can be invaluable in situations where enemies are in close proximity.
  • Bonus Action Attack: Crossbow Expert grants characters the ability to make an additional hand crossbow attack as a bonus action after making an attack with a one-handed weapon. This further enhances the hand crossbow’s rapid-fire capabilities.

Spells and Magical Items

Certain spells and magical items can also enhance the effectiveness of hand crossbows. Here are a couple of examples:

  • Swift Quiver Spell: This 5th-level spell allows a character to make two additional attacks as a bonus action when using a hand crossbow. It greatly amplifies the rapid-fire potential of the weapon.
  • Magical Hand Crossbows: Characters may come across magical hand crossbows as loot or rewards. These can have enchantments that increase damage, grant additional bonuses, or have unique properties that make them more effective in combat.

Modifying Hand Crossbow 5e

In Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition (5e), hand crossbows can be modified and enchanted to maximize their potential and provide additional benefits to the wielder.

Here are some ways to modify and enchant hand crossbows, along with examples of magical properties and enhancements:

Masterwork Quality

A masterwork hand crossbow is a finely crafted weapon that offers superior craftsmanship and accuracy. It provides a +1 bonus to attack rolls made with the weapon, increasing the likelihood of hitting targets.

Weapon Enchantments

Hand crossbows can be enchanted with various magical properties to enhance their effectiveness. Here are some examples:

  • +1, +2, or +3 Enhancement: These enchantments increase the attack and damage rolls of the hand crossbow by +1, +2, or +3, respectively. They significantly boost the weapon’s overall power.
  • Seeking: A hand crossbow with the Seeking enchantment automatically adjusts its aim to strike true. It gains a +1 bonus to attack rolls against targets with a partial cover or those benefiting from the benefits of the Dodge action.
  • Dancing: A hand crossbow with the Dancing enchantment can move and attack on its own. As a bonus action, the wielder can command the crossbow to make an attack, allowing for additional attacks during their turn.
  • Elemental Damage: Enchantments such as Frost, Fire, or Lightning can imbue the hand crossbow with additional elemental damage. Each successful hit with the crossbow adds the specified elemental damage to the target.

Weapon Modifications

Characters can modify their hand crossbows by incorporating special components or attachments. Here are a few examples:

  • Quick-Reload Mechanism: This modification allows the hand crossbow to be reloaded as a bonus action instead of an action, significantly increasing the number of attacks per turn.
  • Improved Grip: An improved grip modification enhances the wielder’s accuracy and control over the hand crossbow, granting a +1 bonus to attack rolls made with the weapon.
  • Retractable Bayonet: This modification adds a retractable bayonet to the hand crossbow, allowing the wielder to make melee attacks with the weapon if an enemy gets too close.

Special Ammunition Options

In Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition (5e), there are special types of ammunition that can be used with hand crossbows, providing additional effects, advantages, and limitations.

These special ammunition options can enhance the versatility and tactical options for characters wielding hand crossbows. Let’s explore some of these options:

Bolts of Slaying

Bolts of slaying are rare and powerful ammunition designed to deal devastating damage against specific creature types. These bolts are typically crafted to target creatures such as dragons, giants, or undead.

When fired from a hand crossbow, they have an increased chance of inflicting critical hits and dealing extra damage against the designated creature type. However, due to their specialized nature, they are often limited in quantity and can be quite expensive or difficult to obtain.

Poisoned Bolts

Poisoned bolts are coated with toxic substances that can inflict additional damage or impair the target.

When a poisoned bolt hits a creature, it may require the target to make a saving throw or suffer from the effects of the poison, such as taking additional damage over time, becoming paralyzed, or being affected by other debilitating conditions.

Poisoned bolts can be particularly effective against enemies with low poison resistance or immunity. However, using poisoned bolts requires a steady supply of poison and can be illegal or frowned upon in certain settings.

Elemental Bolts

Elemental bolts are specially crafted ammunition infused with elemental energy. These bolts can deliver additional elemental damage upon hitting a target.

For example, fire bolts can set enemies ablaze, causing ongoing fire damage, while ice bolts can freeze or slow down targets. Elemental bolts provide a means to exploit elemental vulnerabilities or bypass resistances.

However, they can be more challenging to acquire and may require specific resources or expertise to craft.

Blunt Bolts

Blunt bolts are designed to deliver non-lethal force rather than causing physical harm. These bolts are ideal for characters who wish to incapacitate or subdue enemies without killing them.

Blunt bolts can be used to knock out or disarm opponents, allowing characters to capture or interrogate them. However, they are less effective at dealing with damage compared to traditional piercing bolts.

They may not be suitable for situations where lethal force is necessary or permitted.

Fighting Styles

When it comes to wielding a hand crossbow in Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition (5e), choosing the right fighting style can greatly enhance a character’s combat effectiveness.

The choice of fighting style can be crucial in maximizing the potential of a hand crossbow and ensuring a character’s success in battle. Here are two popular fighting styles that synergize well with hand crossbows:

Archery Fighting Style

The Archery fighting style is a popular choice for characters specializing in ranged combat, including those wielding hand crossbows. This fighting style offers the following benefits:

  • Increased Accuracy: Characters gain a +2 bonus to attack rolls made with ranged weapons, including hand crossbows. This bonus greatly improves the chances of hitting targets, maximizing damage output.
  • Consistent Damage: Hand crossbows typically have a lower damage die compared to other ranged weapons. However, the bonus provided by the Archery fighting style helps offset this disadvantage, ensuring a consistent and reliable damage output.

By choosing the Archery fighting style, characters can become deadly marksmen with their hand crossbows, consistently hitting their targets and dealing significant damage.

Two-Weapon Fighting Style

The Two-Weapon Fighting style is a suitable choice for characters who prefer dual-wielding hand crossbows, allowing them to make additional attacks as a bonus action.

Although the hand crossbow itself doesn’t have the Light property required for Two-Weapon Fighting, characters can still utilize this fighting style with the following considerations:

Crossbow Expert Feat: Characters can take the Crossbow Expert feat, which allows them to ignore the Loading property of the hand crossbow and make an additional attack as a bonus action.

This synergizes well with the Two-Weapon Fighting style, enabling characters to make multiple attacks with their hand crossbows each turn.

Dual Wielder Feat: Another option is to take the Dual Wielder feat, which grants the ability to dual-wield weapons that lack the Light property. This allows characters to wield two-hand crossbows and make multiple attacks as part of their action and bonus action.

Tactical Tips and Strategies

When utilizing a hand crossbow in combat within Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition (5e), employing effective tactics and strategies can significantly improve a character’s chances of success. Here are some tactical tips to consider when using a hand crossbow:

Maintain Distance

The hand crossbow’s advantage lies in its range, allowing characters to engage enemies from a safe distance. Capitalize on this by positioning yourself strategically, taking advantage of cover and obstacles to maintain distance from melee-focused opponents.

This allows you to deal damage while minimizing the risk of being engaged in close-quarters combat.

Target Vulnerabilities

Assess your enemies’ vulnerabilities and adjust your ammunition accordingly. Utilize special types of ammunition such as Bolts of Slaying, Poisoned Bolts, or Elemental Bolts to exploit weaknesses and maximize your damage output.

Adapt your strategy to each encounter and use the appropriate ammunition to gain an advantage.

Mobility and Positioning

Utilize your character’s mobility to your advantage. Hand crossbows can be used effectively while on the move, allowing you to reposition yourself and maintain advantageous positions.

Consider taking advantage of the Mobility feat or spells like Expeditious Retreat to enhance your maneuverability and tactical options.

Coordination with Allies

Coordinate your attacks with your fellow adventurers. Communicate and strategize with your party members to create synergistic tactics. For example, focus fire on a single target to quickly eliminate threats or coordinate attacks with spellcasters to exploit debuffs or control effects.

Utilize Stealth

As a ranged character, stealth can be your ally. Take advantage of your character’s stealth capabilities, utilizing cover and shadows to remain unseen and gain an advantage on attack rolls. Surprise rounds and attacking from concealed positions can provide a significant edge.

Crafting a Hand Crossbow 5e

Crafting a hand crossbow in Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition (5e) can be a rewarding endeavor for characters with the necessary proficiency and access to the required materials.

Tactical Tips and Strategies

While the specific process may vary depending on the campaign setting and the Dungeon Master’s guidelines, here is a general outline of how one could go about crafting a hand crossbow:

Proficiency and Blueprint

The character undertaking the crafting process should possess proficiency in the appropriate tools, such as Smith’s tools or Woodcarver’s tools. Additionally, they should have access to a detailed blueprint or design for the hand crossbow they intend to create.

This blueprint provides the necessary specifications and measurements.

Gathering Materials

The character needs to acquire the necessary materials to construct the hand crossbow. This typically includes wood or metal for the frame, a string or cable for tension, and various small components such as bolts, screws, and springs.

The specific materials may depend on the character’s preferences, available resources, and the quality of the desired hand crossbow.

Crafting Process

Using the blueprint as a guide, the character begins the crafting process. They shape the wooden or metal frame, carefully aligning the components and ensuring proper tension for the string or cable.

They attach the trigger mechanism, reinforce critical areas, and make adjustments as needed to ensure functionality and durability.

Testing and Calibration

Once the hand crossbow is assembled, the character must test its functionality and make any necessary calibrations. They check the alignment of the string or cable, test the trigger mechanism, and ensure the crossbow’s accuracy and reliability.

This may involve firing test shots and making adjustments as needed.

Fine-Tuning and Finishing Touches

To complete the crafting process, the character adds any desired embellishments or personal touches to the hand crossbow. This could include decorative engravings, inlays, or customized grip materials.

These finishing touches not only enhance the visual appeal but also personalize the weapon to the character’s taste.

Enchantments and Enhancements

For characters with magical abilities or access to magical resources, the crafted hand crossbow can be further enhanced through enchantments.

This may involve seeking out a skilled enchanter or acquiring the necessary magical components to imbue the weapon with special properties, such as increased accuracy, enhanced damage, or additional magical effects.

Hand Crossbow 5e Variants

In Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition (5e), there are various hand crossbow variants and unique versions of the weapon that offer distinct features and abilities.

These variants and unique hand crossbows can provide characters with exciting options and enhance their gameplay experience. Here are a few notable examples:

Hand Crossbow of Speed

The Hand Crossbow of Speed is a magical variant that grants its wielder increased firing speed. This hand crossbow allows the character to make an additional attack as a bonus action after taking the Attack action.

It enables rapid-fire capabilities, making it a desirable choice for characters who seek to unleash a barrage of bolts in combat.

Hand Crossbow of Precision

The Hand Crossbow of Precision is a finely crafted variant that enhances accuracy and critical strikes. This hand crossbow grants its wielder a bonus to attack rolls and critical hit range.

With improved precision, characters using this variant can more reliably strike their targets and have an increased chance of dealing devastating critical hits.

Hand Crossbow of Seeking

The Hand Crossbow of Seeking is a unique hand crossbow with the ability to seek out its targets. These crossbow bolts possess a magical property that allows them to home in on their intended targets, ignoring partial or total cover.

It provides a significant advantage against opponents who rely on the cover or try to stay hidden, making it an excellent choice for characters who need to bypass defensive measures.

Hand Crossbow of Elemental Bolts

The Hand Crossbow of Elemental Bolts is a specialized variant that allows the character to infuse their bolts with elemental energy. This hand crossbow comes with a selection of interchangeable bolts, each imbued with a different elemental effect, such as fire, frost, or lightning.

The character can choose the appropriate bolt to exploit enemy vulnerabilities or create tactical advantages based on the situation.

Hand Crossbow of Silence

The Hand Crossbow of Silence is a unique hand crossbow designed for stealthy operations. When fired, it produces no sound, eliminating the risk of alerting nearby enemies.

This hand crossbow allows characters to maintain their stealth and surprise advantage, making it an invaluable tool for assassins and infiltrators.


Hand crossbows in DnD 5e offer a unique ranged weapon option. Compared to other ranged weapons, hand crossbows have lower damage and range but excel in versatility and one-handed use.

Longbows provide higher damage and longer range but require both hands. Shortbows have similar damage but a shorter range and can be used one-handed.

Heavy crossbows offer higher damage but require two hands and have a slower reload time. Special ammunition options and enchantments can enhance hand crossbows.

Consider proficiency, playstyle, and campaign context when choosing a hand crossbow. Be aware of common pitfalls like limited ammunition, reloading mechanics, and range limitations.

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