Crossbow Expert feat in DnD 5E explained

It was a miscalculation, to say the least. The small hill the Fighter had hoped to provide discreet covering fire from, just happened to also be smack dab on the patrol route for the mercenary’s guards. As deep thwacks reverberated from his heavy crossbow, hurling bolts as thick as his thumb towards the spearmen attacking the Bard, the patrol and their hounds came out of the brush towards the prone arbalist. On instinct, the Fighter rolled to his feet, the lunging blades may have thrown off the aim of a lesser warrior, but years of training allowed him to calmly raise the crossbow and place a bolt through the throat of his nearest attacker. Letting the empty weapon drop on its sling to his side, he drew the hand crossbow from his hip and in a hail of pencil-sized projectiles, and ended the ambush as quickly as it began. 

When you build certain player character types in Dungeons & Dragons 5E, some feats jump out at you and keep coming up in videos, social media, and maybe even forum posts. Crossbow Expert, often referred to online as CBE, is undoubtedly one of these feats.

So let’s take a look at what makes up this feat:

  • You ignore the loading property of crossbows with which you are proficient. This allows you to make multiple attacks per turn with a crossbow, this is a must for any Extra Attack class that wants to primarily use a crossbow and enables the main use for point three.
  • Being within 5 feet of a hostile creature doesn’t impose disadvantage on your ranged attack rolls. One of the things that really cramps a ranged attack user’s style is enemies closing into melee distance, this point makes that a non-issue and facilitates some Gun-Fu action. Note – this applies to all ranged attacks, so spells like Fire Bolt and Guiding Bolt would also not be at disadvantage within 5ft of a hostile creature.
  • 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. This is what many think of when it comes to this feat; it’s commonly used to gain an additional attack when you’re using a hand crossbow as your primary weapon. That attack can be a nice damage bump on its own, but is often combined with Sharpshooter to gain another chance to leverage the +10 damage the latter  provides.       

So if you’re looking to play a crossbow user, this feat probably seems like a no-brainer, right? Well, now, hold your crossbow. Let’s take a look at what classes are best and worst for this feat:

Crossbow Expert is most useful for

  • Fighters – The additional ASIs a Fighter gets make picking up a feat relatively cheap, and Fighters have access to the Archery Fighting Style to get the most out of using a crossbow. Most subclasses won’t have a frequent use of your bonus action besides Second Wind, so there’s no real clash with the additional attack the feat gives.
  • Rogues – Well, maybe! As long as you don’t want to use Cunning Action a lot, then the additional attack can add a lot of damage to a Rogue–especially the additional opportunity to apply Sneak Attack each turn.

Crossbow Expert is least useful for

  • Barbarians and Paladins – Whilst these classes have extra attack, neither have any incentive to use ranged attacks regularly if at all.
  • Spellcasters – A spellcaster who uses a lot of ranged attack based spells might consider this feat to ensure their accuracy, in case they get rushed by a monster. That said, ASIs are expensive and they would only be using a single point of the feat. A better option would be for a caster considering Crossbow Expert for this reason, to instead choose the Gunner feat. Gunner provides the same no-disadvantage benefit whilst also allowing you to increase your Dex by one point, making it a more economical choice for a spell caster. 

You may have been expecting to see reference to the Ranger in the ‘most useful for’ section, as Rangers have access to Archery as a style and are classic ranged weapon users. They can certainly benefit from the feat, but they have a higher reliance on bonus actions for their spells, like Hunter’s Mark, Hail of Thorns, and Ensnaring Strike, and some subclass features. This presents an opportunity cost in using the bonus action attack or casting a spell as it locks you out of doing whichever you didn’t choose for that turn. Some Rangers may like to use a heavy crossbow for the larger damage die and forgo the bonus attack using a hand crossbow would provide. 

Hopefully, we at Dice Cove have provided valuable insight for you into the Crossbow Expert feat. If you’re considering feats for your next ASI, check out our Feat Spotlight section for more helpful articles on feats in 5E. Until next time, may your shots be crits, your crits be good, and your dice not roll off the table! 

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