Crossbow Expert 5E: DnD Feat Guide

Crossbow Expert is a relatively simple feat in 5th Edition that aims to do exactly what it says: make a player an expert at using the crossbow for ranged attacks. While that doesn’t sound super special or exciting, not all of the best feats do. For fans of this devastating medieval ranged weapon, this might be a feat worth considering, especially if the are focusing on ranged attacks.

The 5e crossbow feat is worth it in a very narrow set of circumstances in very “by the book” 5th Ed games. Generally speaking experienced players agree that this feat is worth skipping most of the time, but is useful for players set on using crossbows.

So how does the crossbow expert feat hold up compared to others in 5th Edition? Is this something that crossbow wielding players should consider? Should this really be called light crossbow expert as a feat?

gnome crossbow expert
Crossbow Expert: for the right characters it just works. (Original illustration by pendleburyannette)

Breaking Down the Crossbow Expert Feat

The crossbow isn’t a bad option as a weapon. It gets a bit of bad rap because often a heavy crossbow is compared to a longbow, and in fairness the longbow is going to win that contest as it did often in medieval battles. Extra long range and the ability to shoot twice a turn versus once makes up for the potential of +2 extra damage with the crossbow.

However, hand crossbows offer a high level of versatility for certain classes that traditionally would have seen as the ranged weapon as an afterthought. One d6 isn’t great, but the ability to fire twice, have a hidden hand crossbow, or otherwise supplement a character that otherwise just wouldn’t do anything with a bonus action then the right crossbow suddenly looks good.

Directly from the Player’s Handbook:


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

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

Crossbow Expert, 5E PHB


So with the actual definition out of the way, let’s look at each of these feat features in detail and see how they hold up.

Benefit #1: Ignore the loading property of crossbows.

This won’t matter most of the time because it doesn’t apply to heavy crossbows at all. Since a free hand is always needed for a heavy crossbow there is only one shot per action, period. However, ignoring the loading property of crossbows can be a benefit for a player who uses hand crossbows.

By being able to ignore the loading properties a player could fire a hand crossbow twice in one turn: once as an action and once as a bonus action (see benefit #3).

So if you’ve built a PC designed to fight that way, then great, but that’s the only situation where this particular benefit of the crossbow expert feat is going to come in handy.

Benefit #2: Being within 5 feet of a hostile doesn’t cause disadvantage on ranged crossbow attacks.

This is bread and butter of the feat. The thing a PC fighting at range doesn’t want to see is the enemy close the gap. Because the penalty for ranged attack when an enemy gets in close can make life incredibly difficult. For those of us who struggle with dice rolling as is, it could be prohibitively so.

Taking away disadvantage and being able to use these weapons close up is one of the best features of the 5E Crossbow Expert feat. It’s solid, in line mechanically, and makes sense with what this feat is trying to do.

Benefit #3: When you use the Attack action with a one handed weapon you can use a bonus action to attack with a hand crossbow.

This has potential to be really good in certain situations, for a ranger who is built for close combat (for some reason) or for the rogue. In fact after a sneak attack with one hand a shot with a poisoned bolt from a hand crossbow can be a nasty surprise and an appropriate follow up. There is one major problem with this: the rogue tends to use their bonus action all the time, in particular to disengage, back into the shadows, or take cover.

Choosing that extra attack is going to make them feel extra exposed in many circumstances. Sometimes it might be worth it. But that does mean that this particular bonus will be used less often with the class that seems most built or setup to benefit from it.

However, for other classes this might still work. See bard – action to cast a spell, bonus action to shoot a bolt.

No one is going to build a min-max character around this feat but in very specialized situations it could actually be quite useful.

5E Classes That Should Consider the Crossbow Expert Feat

This is actually really interesting because this is one of the feats that isn’t necessarily built around certain classes. It’s a feat that comes with certain builds or just weird campaigns where certain patterns emerge. Obviously, classes more prone to use crossbows are going to get the most benefit from taking the feat which does tend to limit the options.

Fighters

This only applies if fighters are based on distance fighting, which is almost never the case. Especially since extra attack generally applies to melee weapons. However with all the extra attacks and the ability to ignore the crossbow loading need, you can theoretically go old style multi-shot hand crossbow in an Old West speed shooting type style.

But it’s an odd way to build a fighter so it’s very uncommon. That said, fighter is one of the classes that can optimize the feat the best, the issue is that doesn’t mean this feat is best for optimizing the class and that’s the big difference. Can make for a very fun non-optimized character at high levels though.

Rogues

Rogues come with hand crossbows and it fits the motif. They might have to strike in close combat or from a short distance, and once poisons come into the game (if your DM is so kind) these can be awesome. In fact, there’s a lot that makes you think the crossbow expert feat could be a great fit except…so much comes from the bonus action.

Rogues don’t get an extra attack, so they need to use the bonus action to take advantage of this, and rogues are one of the few classes that uses their bonus action a lot. Especially to come in, sneak attack, and then bonus action out of there. Giving that up keeps them exposed, which depending on the build they might not like.

That’s something to keep in mind, but since rogues do get an extra ability score increase and have some awesome class features that take care of skill rolls at higher levels, they may have “extra” space to pick up a feat that is situationally helpful, and in that situation crossbow expert is not the worst feat to take.

Rangers

Only once have I seen a ranger that was melee based as opposed to archery based, but for those of you who have a thematic reason for wanting to go this route and like the idea of multiple dice being added to hand crossbow shots from the likes of Hunter’s Mark or Colossus Slayer, this might be a feat for that very narrow and specific build.

5th Ed Classes that should consider the Crossbow Expert Feat: Fighters, Rangers, Rogues

5E Classes That Should Consider Taking the Crossbow Expert Feat

This isn’t instinctive, but bards start with hand crossbows, can sometimes find themselves in trouble when the charisma checks go wrong, and if they’re not casting a spell with a bonus action, they’re usually not doing anything with it. A hand crossbow could add that little bit of extra usefulness.

Especially since you can get away with a one-stat focus (Charisma) build with bards. Dex tends to be the next stat up, which helps with crossbows, and this feat could turn an afterthought for the bard (ranged attack) into something that could at least do something, especially if the main action was casting a spell.

It’s not a top tier feat for bard, but in the right party or situation it might be worth at least a look.

5th Ed Classes that should at least look at taking the Crossbow Expert Feat : Bards

5E Classes That Should NEVER Take the Crossbow Expert Feat

Honestly, this is a limited feat and while it can do some interesting things, it’s not going to make sense for most classes. Because of that the following classes are really never going to have a good reason to go for this feat in a build:

  • Artificers
  • Barbarians
  • Clerics
  • Druids
  • Monks
  • Paladins
  • Sorcerers
  • Warlocks
  • Wizards

I’m sure if someone set out to prove me wrong there might be an example where they could do this, but in normal builds and games these classes are going to be a hard pass for the crossbow expert feat in 5E.

5th Ed classes that should never take the Crossbow Expert Feat : Artificers, Barbarians, Clerics, Druids, Monks, Paladins, Sorcerers, Warlocks, Wizards

Final Feat Grade for Crossbow Expert 5E

Crossbow Expert Feat Grade: C

Is the 5E Crossbow Expert Feat Worth It?

If you are dead set on playing a crossbow-based ranged fighter in your party then maybe. It can also be situationally good for a rogue who has a hand crossbow with some sleep darts. In fact it can potentially be very useful in that case if poisons become widespread available to you. However, this is one of those feats that does what it’s meant to do and doesn’t add too much to the table.

Thematically it’s good, it stays on point with bonuses to make you feel like a master of the crossbow, however it won’t be that useful the majority of the time for the majority of players. It isn’t a D or F because this is a feat that offers exactly what a player who wants it actually wants. But that’s it. There’s nothing special here, either.

So it’s a “Meh” C grade that most players will just skim over.

Crossbow Expert Feat FAQ

Does the 5e crossbow expert feat allow you to fire a crossbow twice?

The crossbow expert feat allows a PC to fire a hand crossbow twice in a turn: once as an action and once as a bonus action, or using the Extra Attack feature if the PC has it. This does NOT apply to light or heavy crossbows.

What’s the point of the crossbow expert feat?

The main point of the crossbow expert feat is to allow hand crossbows to be used with extra attack and/or bonus action, as well as take away disadvantage during close quarters combat.

Should I double up crossbow expert with the sharpshooter feat?

Yes. If crossbow expert is going to be a major part of your build then there’s no reason to not double it up with one of the best ranged attack feats in the game.

Can I wield two hand crossbows in 5th Edition DnD?

Yes, this is absolutely possible but if you want to do this then you must take the crossbow expert feat to take away the reloading issue. Especially if using with extra attacks and a bonus action.

Sharpshooter or crossbow master?

Generally speaking sharpshooter is a much better feat in 5E than crossbow master. Sharpshooter is consistently one of the stronger feats in the game while crossbow master is very narrow and situational – and not even OP in those situations.

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