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Daggers in DnD 5e: The Very Versatile Finesse Weapon

If you’re a little new to DnD you might look at daggers and find yourself asking, “Why bother?”. After all, they do much less damage than a spear or greatsword. 

However, advanced players will know that while a dagger won’t always hold the center stage no adventurer should go without at least one or two.

Every class has proficiency with this fantastically versatile weapon, and it’s a great fallback option if you lose your primary weapon or need to appear disarmed. 

This guide will provide a primer on the mechanics of daggers, how to use them, and how to take advantage of their versatility. 

Dagger Mechanics

The dagger is a simple weapon (as opposed to a martial weapon) with a multitude of properties. It is a finesse, light, range (20/60), and thrown weapon. In fact, it has more properties than any of the DnD 5e weapons, making it fantastically versatile, if a little underpowered. 

The dagger deals just 1d4 base damage with a successful hit, though of course a critical hit, class ability, or a magic dagger might modify this base damage. 

While your DM ultimately sets the price of weapons, the Player’s Handbook (page 149) sets the price of daggers at 2 gp. This is relatively cheap for bladed weapons, a longsword costs 15 gp and a greatsword costs 50 gp. 

Lastly, a dagger has the same melee as other standard melee weapons; 5 feet. 

Finesse

The Player’s Handbook says that:

When making an attack with a finesse weapon you use your choice of your Strength or Dexterity modifier for the attack and damage rolls. You must use the same modifier for both rolls. (Page, 147)

This is a fantastic ability for characters who rolled badly on their ability scores or who simply would like to allocate their points elsewhere. 

Dexterity-based characters can be extremely powerful. While most weapons use your Strength score, the dagger, along with a handful of other weapons, lets you use Dexterity instead.

Since Dexterity is also used to calculate your AC and determine your initiative bonus (as well as being the ability modifier for several kinds of skill checks and saves), finesse weapons let you reach a higher attack and damage more quickly, without giving up much.

Light

Light weapons are, according to the Player’s Handbook, “small and easy to handle, making it ideal for use when fighting with two weapons” (Page 147). 

Anyone can fight with two weapons in DnD 5e. However, doing so with weapons that do not have the “light” property requires a specialized feat. 

Thus, dual-wielding daggers, or wielding another light weapon plus a dagger allows you to easily access two-weapon fighting without worrying about spending a feat on it.

This gives you the option of an additional attack each round as a bonus action whose attack and damage rolls cannot benefit from your Strength or Dexterity modifier. 

Range (20/60)

The Player’s Handbook says that:

A weapon that can be used to make a ranged attack has a range shown in parentheses after the ammunition or thrown property. The range lists two numbers. The first is the weapon’s normal range in feet, and the second indicates the weapon’s maximum range. When attacking a target beyond normal range, you have disadvantage on the attack roll. You can’t attack a target beyond the weapon’s long range. (Page 147)

The range property essentially allows you to throw a dagger at a target within 20 feet, or within 60 feet at disadvantage. It’s important to note that while you can technically throw any object, including bladed weapons, using a melee weapon as a ranged weapon if it doesn’t have the ranged feature incurs penalties.

The main difference is that you will not be able to use your proficiency bonus when attacking with an improvised weapon. 

Melee weapons used as ranged weapons will also only do 1d4 points of damage, and they have an identical range increment to daggers.

Daggers are designed to be ranged weapons, and since every class is proficient with them it’s always better to have a dagger you can throw rather than tossing your sword away in combat. It will do the same amount of damage at the same range, but you’ll have a much larger chance of actually hitting your target. 

Thrown 

The rules for the thrown property are mostly just an extension of the rules for the range property. The Player’s Handbooks states that, 

If a weapon has the thrown property, you can throw the weapon to make a ranged attack. If the weapon is a melee weapon, you use the same ability modifier for that attack roll and damage roll that you would use for a melee attack with the weapon.

For example, if you throw a handaxe, you use your Strength, but if you throw a dagger, you can use either your Strength or your Dexterity, since the dagger has the finesse property. (Page 147)

This property exists mainly to clarify which modifiers you can use, though with a dagger this just means you can use either modifier, whichever is most convenient for you. 

Dagger Tactics and Uses

Daggers have several interesting uses. 

While the dagger is not often used as a character’s primary weapon, it’s worth noting that if your damage output is based primarily on the additional damage you get from class features, like a Rogue’s sneak attack, then a dagger is a fine choice. Especially at higher levels, 1d4+5d6 of damage is not significantly different from 1d8+5d6 damage. 

However, many characters wish to optimize their damage and so will still use a rapier (which also has the finesse property, or something similar. 

Smuggling Weapons

The dagger’s greatest advantage is it’s small size. While this may not always be relevant, this makes a dagger the best weapon to smuggle into areas. While it is of course up to your DM whether or not you need to smuggle weapons anywhere, or how exactly weapon smuggling will work, daggers are still the logical choice.

Their only competition is darts, which do a comparable amount of damage but aren’t designed to be used in melee combat. Daggers are. You can throw them, but you can also use them to defend yourself. 

Backup Ranged Weapon

Outside of smuggling situations, daggers make great fallback weapons, especially for Dexterity based characters who can take advantage of the daggers finesse property, and melee characters who need the occasional portable ranged option. 

While there are many ranged options, like crossbows and longbows, these can take time to get out and require carrying additional equipment. Many of these ranged weapons are two handed, requiring you to drop your primary weapon, rarely a good idea. 

Daggers can be strapped pretty much anywhere and while they will use up your free object interaction to unsheathe, won’t make you drop anything. 

Of course, a sling can fit this role as well if you prefer bludgeoning damage. 

Dual Wielding

Daggers also make excellent offhand weapons. If you like dual wielding, you wield a scimitar or other light weapon in your main hand while keeping a dagger for your bonus action off-hand attacks.

While some characters who like to dual-wield prefer to take two scimitars or two short swords in order to maximize their damage outputs (both these weapons do 1d6, rather than 1d4 damage), I recommend taking a dagger instead.

This is because daggers can be more effectively thrown, if need be, allowing you to keep an emergency ranged option if you can’t get close to your enemy. You can throw a dagger as either your bonus action offhand attack, or your main attack.

If you keep multiple daggers on you then this won’t even greatly impede your normal attacks. You can throw a dagger and then draw another one as part of your free item interaction. 

Keep in mind that if you’re dual wielding, you still only get to unsheathe one weapon per round for free. It pays to keep both weapons drawn if you’re in a dungeon or similar situation where combat might start at any moment. 

If you really want to be able to unsheathe both your blades in the same round without spending your action, you’ll need to get the Dual Wielder feat. 

You also won’t be able to add your modifier to your attack and damage rolls (unless they’re negative, in which case you have to add them). 

When you think of dual wielding, many people imagine a Rogue or Ranger. However, in cases where magic is suppressed, even a Wizard can effectively dual-wield daggers. While Wizards are much too squishy for melee combat, if there’s no other option but to fight without magic you may as well do as much damage as you can. 

Utility

Lastly, daggers are small blades and can of course be used for just about anything you can imagine using a small blade for. 

You can carve wood, cut rope, lever open chests, or jam wheels with a dagger. Of course, you can also do most of these with other weapons as well, but your DM may decide to impose disadvantage if you try to cut the ropes holding your ally with a greatsword. 

It’s best to use common sense when using daggers for utility purposes, as both a DM and a player. 

Common Questions About Daggers

Are daggers good in 5e?

Daggers are certainly useful, but it’s difficult to say one weapon is good or bad. Rather, daggers have specific uses, as fallback options and weapons that can be easily hidden. I certainly recommend that every DnD character keep a dagger on them, just in case.

What is the point of daggers in 5e?

DnD 5e uses daggers as a baseline weapon that everyone is proficient in which does damage. Every character is also proficient with unarmed strikes, but these attacks do very little damage for everyone but the Monk.

Daggers are cheap, readily available, and every class can use them well, so their low damage is able to provide a sort of floor to the power of weapons. Taking martial classes or feats to gain access to other weapons represents an upgrade to the default. 

Is the dagger a simple weapon?

Yes, daggers belong to the simple weapon category. In the world of DnD this means that they are relatively easy to learn how to use and their construction is not difficult when compared to the metalworking techniques needed to make a good sword or the mechanical expertise required to put together a well-functioning crossbow.

What is the attack bonus for a dagger?

The attack bonus for a dagger is your Strength or Dexterity (your choice) + Proficiency + any miscellaneous class bonuses + any magical bonuses. That is to say, daggers do not use a special calculation for their attack bonus than any other weapon. 

Key Takeaways

Daggers are common, cheap, and versatile weapons that anyone can use well. Since every class has proficiency with daggers, and daggers are excellent backup weapons, there is little reason for an adventurer not to keep a dagger or four strapped to their belt, attached to chest strap, or hidden in a boot. 

While daggers are unlikely to be used as anyone’s primary weapon, there are a multitude of circumstances they can be useful in.

Daggers are great concealable weapons, can be a ranged option for characters that usually fight in melee, or be a good option for your offhand weapon when dual wielding.

It’s best to keep at least 1 or 2 daggers on your person, even if you don’t usually use them (like if you’re a magic user, for example). If you ever need them, for example if your opponent casts Antimagic Field, you’ll feel like a genius for being prepared!