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 Expert feat is worthwhile for a narrow group of characters during very “by the book” 5th Ed DnD games. Generally speaking, experienced players agree that this feat is worth skipping most of the time, but has a niche home for players dedicated to using crossbows.

So how does the Crossbow Expert 5E feat hold up compared to others in 5th Edition? Is this really something that crossbow wielding players should consider? Should this really be called light crossbow expert as a feat? Let’s break it down and find out!

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

Breaking Down the Crossbow Expert 5E Feat

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

5E’s hand crossbows, however, offer a high level of versatility for certain classes that traditionally would have seen this light ranged weapon as an afterthought.

One d6 of damage isn’t great, but the ability to fire twice, have a hidden weapon on standby, or otherwise supplement a character that normally wouldn’t do anything with a bonus action suddenly makes this compact crossbow look really 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, p. 165


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 is primarily useful for classes that have access to the Extra Attack feature. Since the Loading property means you can only take one shot per action, period, being able to ignore this tremendous hindrance opens up the ability to get multiple crossbow attacks out of an action each round for fighters, rangers, and other martial ranged class archetypes.

That said, it’s also worth remembering that since a free hand is always needed to reload a crossbow thanks to the Ammunition property, it unfortunately doesn’t allow you to reload a hand crossbow if you’re dual wielding or using a shield. Once you shoot your shot, you’ll need to juggle your equipment to get another.

Not a problem for rogues, as they lack shield proficiency, but could be a point of contention for other classes.

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

This is the bread and butter of the feat. The first thing a PC fighting at range doesn’t want to see is an enemy closing the gap. Rolling at disadvantage typically reduces your odds of a successful attack by 20-25%, which can make life incredibly difficult. Especially for those of us who struggle with dice rolling as is.

Suddenly, the enemy that is now in your face will force you to choose between making an attack that is now more likely to miss than hit, taking an attack of opportunity to step back before attacking, or disengaging as your action, forfeiting your attack in the process.

Taking away disadvantage and being able to use any type of ranged attack, including spells, close up to avoid this terrible set of options is one of the best features of the 5E Crossbow Expert feat.

It’s a solid perk, in line mechanically (if you can reload a crossbow under duress, all other ranged weapons or spells with fewer moving parts will be comparatively easier), 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 the potential to be really good in certain situations, especially for a ranger who is built for close combat (for some reason), an artificer with a Repeating Shot infusion in their hand crossbow, 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 from a fight, fade back into the shadows to Hide, or Dash to 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.

Despite the shortcoming of crowding bonus actions for classes that commonly use them, rogues and several other classes can still find several opportunities to showcase Crossbow Expert’s usefulness as a package. While it is unlikely that someone will build a min-max character around this feat, there’s definitely untapped potential that is underappreciated.

5E Classes That Should Take the Crossbow Expert Feat

This is actually really interesting because this is one of the 5E feats that isn’t designed around specific classes. It really just comes in handy for certain builds or weird campaigns where particular patterns emerge. Obviously, classes more prone to using crossbows are going to get the most benefit from taking this feat, but that still leaves several good options.

Artificers

The Battle Smith is one of the best class archetypes to take advantage of the Crossbow Expert feat. Between their martial weapon proficiency and the Repeating Shot infusion, you’re able to get around both the loading and ammunition properties of any crossbow, effectively freeing up a hand when using hand crossbows (and duplicating a benefit of the Crossbow Expert feat…oops).

With that extra hand, a Battle Smith is allowed to hold a shield to boost their AC, but they can also become an incredibly capable two-weapon fighter thanks to the the Battle Ready archetype feature swapping Intelligence for Strength or Dexterity on attack and damage rolls.

Add in Crossbow Expert’s ability to perform a bonus attack with a hand crossbow when attacking with any one-handed weapon, and you won’t need a ton of high stats to deal high weapon damage, you’re no longer restricted to light weapons, and you’re not denied your ability modifier for damage with your off-hand weapon!

Pair your ranged attacks with Sharpshooter, and you’ll be hell on wheels up close or at a distance. If you really want to min-max, you can spend 2 attunements and infusions to dual wield hand crossbows expressly for this purpose, then flank with your Steel Defender to gain advantage on your attacks, but that’s an awful lot of resources to tie up for this specific trick.

Additionally, an attack with your offhand weapon while dual wielding and Crossbow Expert’s extra attack both take up a bonus action. Since you can only take 1 bonus action a turn, you can’t really go full machine gun here without a DM bending the rules, but still a very cool character concept if you have your heart set on the double hand crossbow build.

Just remember to take War Caster so you can cast spells while your hands are full. And if you need a few levels before you can collect all these feats, Crossbow Expert will just as easily let you shoot Fire Bolts at enemies that get in your face.

Note: There is a little room for ambiguity when determining whether this build is viable in the Player’s Handbook due to how the Ammunition weapon property is worded. While there hasn’t been an official ruling clarifying this, 5E rules expert Jeremy Crawford weighed in on this subject during a Q&A session, which is good enough for us and most other DMs.

Bards

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.

This is especially true since you can get away with a one-stat focus (Charisma) build with bards. Dexterity tends to be the next stat up, which helps with AC and crossbow attacks, allowing the Crossbow Expert feat to potentially turn an afterthought for the bard (ranged attacks) into an option that can actually do something in a pinch.

It’s not a top tier feat for most bards, but in the right party or situation it might be worth a look. If you really want it to shine as a primary part of your character’s combat technique, consider pursuing the College of Valor, as you’ll be able to gain the Extra Attack feature and branch out to the heavy crossbow when needed as well.

Fighters

This only applies if fighters are based on distance fighting, which is frequently not the case. Luckily, Extra Attack applies just as effectively with ranged weapons as melee weapons, so with the ability to ignore the crossbow’s loading needs, you can theoretically go old style multi-shot hand crossbow in an Old West speed shooting type style.

Or simply get out the heaviest crossbow you can find and unload those d10s of damage when a hand crossbow’s shorter range just won’t cut it. Crossbow Expert lets you do both, so you can adapt easily on the fly.

That said, this is an odd way to build a fighter, so this build is very uncommon. Additionally, while fighter is one of the classes that can optimize the feat to its full potential, you’ll find the problem with this build is that the reverse isn’t true without some help from an artificer loaning out a Repeating Shot infusion.

The Crossbow Expert feat simply doesn’t bring the best out of the fighter class on its own, and that’s the big difference between the fighter and the Battle Smith. You’ll still get some solid damage out of the build though, making for a very fun non-optimized character at high levels.

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 enter the picture (if your DM is so kind), they can be awesome partners in crime. In fact, there’s a lot that makes you think the Crossbow Expert feat would be a great fit except…so much comes from the bonus action.

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

While this concern is worth keeping in mind, rogues do get an extra ability score increase and have some awesome class features that take care of skill rolls at higher levels, so they may have “extra” space to pick up a feat that is situationally helpful. Should this prove to be the case, 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 be capable close-quarters and ranged combatants, the idea of multiple dice being added to hand crossbow shots from the likes of Hunter’s Mark or Colossus Slayer is very attractive.

While a fairly narrow and specific build, Crossbow Expert fits here like a glove.

5th Ed Classes that should take the Crossbow Expert Feat (if focusing on crossbow attacks):

  • Artificer (Battle Smith)
  • Bard (College of Valor)
  • Fighter
  • Ranger
  • Rogue

5E Classes That Should Consider Taking the Crossbow Expert Feat

Clerics

Martial clerics (those with the Death, Tempest, Twilight, or War domains) have proficiency with all crossbows, and can use them effectively while moving around most battlefields.

Having the choice of a viable long or close range attack option through the heavy crossbow or being able to make multiple attacks with a hand crossbow will make it easier for you to conserve attack spells while contributing to a battle, which can be very important if you’re expecting more than one fight a day.

Non-martial clerics can also use the Crossbow Expert feat with light crossbows, but the versatility is diminished enough that it simply isn’t worth taking over several other feats most clerics prioritize.

Arcane Spellcasters Who Commonly Make Spell Attacks (Artificer, Sorcerer, Warlock, and Wizard)

If you’re a spellcaster who frequently finds themselves face to face with enemies because your DM likes imposing disadvantage on you while you’re trying to make spell attacks, this is a potential answer you can utilize.

While we would typically class this problem as “one of those weird campaigns with a specific pattern that emerged” because you’ve allegedly thrown one Eldritch Blast too many, you can take up a light crossbow and make the most of this challenging situation in a pinch.

Definitely not something we’d recommend outside of this scenario, however. There are too many other important feats a typical spellcaster should normally prioritize.

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

  • Artificer
  • Cleric
  • Sorcerer
  • Warlock
  • Wizard

5E Classes That Should NEVER Take the Crossbow Expert Feat

Honestly, Crossbow Expert is a limited feat. While it can do some interesting things, such as allowing you to make any type of ranged attack when an enemy is within 5 feet, it’s not going to make sense for most classes to prioritize. Because of that, the following classes are rarely or never going to have a good reason to go for this feat in a build:

  • Artificer (except Battle Smith)
  • Barbarian
  • Cleric (non-martial)
  • Druid
  • Monk
  • Paladin
  • Sorcerer
  • Warlock
  • Wizard

I’m sure if someone set out to prove me wrong, there might be an example we haven’t touched on where they could do something cool with Crossbow Expert, but we’ve covered most of the angles that are even remotely useful for these classes.

In normal builds and games, the Crossbow Expert feat just doesn’t do enough, making it a hard pass for most DnD players in 5E.

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-focused character in your party, then sure. It’s situationally good for rogues or other poisoners who have a hand crossbow with some sleep darts, and can potentially be very useful if poisons commonly become available to you. It enables some fun martial builds, and even has some niche applications for spellcasters and other ranged attacks.

Thematically this feat is great; it stays on point with bonuses to make you feel like a master of the crossbow. Unfortunately, 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 pretty much it. It doesn’t give you everything you’d arguably need to take full advantage of it for most two-weapon fighting or shield builds, as the Ammunition property shared by all crossbows requires you to have a hand completely free to reload even the one-handed hand crossbow.

In short, this is one of those feats that does what it’s meant to do very well, and doesn’t bring enough to the table to often justify it beyond that. So it’s a “Meh” C grade that most players will just skim over.

Crossbow Expert 5E 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 more when using the Extra Attack feature if the PC has it. The bonus action attack from this feat does NOT apply to light or heavy crossbows.

What’s the point of the Crossbow Expert feat?

The main points of the Crossbow Expert feat are to allow hand crossbows extra attacks through bonus actions and 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. That said, the Ammunition property of a hand crossbow will require a free hand for you to reload them, so you’ll only get one shot each with your crossbows if your hands are full.

If you want to do this within the rules as written, then you’ll need to solve this issue, which will probably require a Battle Smith artificer with Repeating Shot infusions. You should also take the Crossbow Expert feat to gain an extra hand crossbow attack with your bonus action.

Sharpshooter or Crossbow Expert?

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

Does Crossbow Expert work with spells in 5E?

Yes. The benefit that removes disadvantage on ranged attacks when you’re within 5 feet of a hostile creature applies to all ranged attacks, including ranged spell attacks that require an attack roll.

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