[RPG] What are the advantages to fighting with a 1-handed weapon and a free hand


So, in a melee combat situation in D&D 5E, I am to understand that there are 4 options as to the variants of weapon-wielding a person can use.

  1. Two-handed. A character wields a single, usually heavy/two-handed/versatile weapon with two hands. The advantage of this is increased damage per hit.
  2. Dual-wielding. By default (ie. no feats), a character can wield a light weapon in one hand, whilst wielding another light weapon in their offhand. They can use their bonus action to attack using the aforementioned offhand, without applying their ability modifier to the damage.
  3. One-handed with a shield. Easy to understand – foregoing damage for a shield to give a +2 bonus to AC. Moreso if the shield is magical, etc etc.
  4. One-handed. Here is where my question lies.

Now, as far as I can see, every option has a strength that makes it more attractive than the others for various reasons. All except #4: one-handed. Two-handed allows more damage, dual-wielding allows more damage/versatility, shield allows extra AC, but what does plain old one-handed give?

What I have found so far: classes like ranger can give a +2 damage bonus if you pick the dueling fighting style. You also have the freedom of a free hand during the fight (for grappling, though a two-handed fighter can reasonably take one hand off their weapon to grapple), as well as the ability to use your bonus action for something other than attacking with your offhand. Still, this feels weak.

So, what is there that one-handed fighting offers that other styles do not?

Best Answer

A Free Hand.

In order to Grapple a target, you need a free hand

In order to cast a spell with Somatic and/or Material components, you need a free hand. (Note: War Caster alleviates the Somatic limit.)

If you want to be able to manipulate objects in the environment around you (without having to sheathe or drop a weapon), you need a free hand.

So, in general, two sorts of character benefit from this loadout.


^Slang term for a Spellblade, Swordmage, etc. Someone who fights with melee weapons and magic. If both hands are occupied you cannot cast spells with Material Components. If you do not have the War Caster feat, you also cannot cast spells with Somatic components. This severely limits the spells that you can use.

Thus, a character like a Bladesinger or Arcane Trickster will get a lot of mileage out of 1H only.


You can't grapple if you don't have a free hand, but you only need one free hand in order to grapple. So any character built as a grappler will be best served to use this pairing. You have a free hand to grab your opponent, and then a hand with a weapon in it to pummel them with once you've grabbed them.

Anyone who can't use shields or 2-handers, and wants to save their Bonus Action for something else.

Your statement:

By default (ie. no feats), a character can wield a heavy/regular/light weapon in one hand, whilst wielding a light weapon in their offhand.

is incorrect. PHB 195 says

When you take the Attack action and attack with a light melee weapon that you're holding in one hand, you can use a bonus action to attack with a different light melee weapon that you're holding in the other hand.

Emphasis Mine. By default, dual-wielders must dual-wield light weapons only...both hands. You must have the Dual Wielder feat in order to use non-light weapons in either hand. Thus, a feat-less character with 1H only can use a higher damage main hand weapon than a feat-less character who is dual-wielding. A Rogue (or other character who cannot use Shields or Two-Handers effectively) who wants a higher damage main attack, and to save their Bonus Action for something else would also be well suited to the 1H only set up.


Ultimately, yes. If you are a pure melee fighter, not using one of your hands to fight is generally a mechanical disadvantage. Most characters whose primary combat method is melee brawling are best suited to make use of both of their hands when fighting. Whether that's 2 weapons, 1H and Shield, or a 2-hander.

But, if you're a gish a grappler, or you want to save that Bonus Action (and can't use two-handers or shields)...1H and free hand is powerful.