Crossbow Expert: hand crossbow & shield
I’m working on stats for royal guards of a homebrew capital – using Guard Captain as template. I gave them a hand crossbow and the Crossbow Expert feat, thinking it would allow them to wield a shield in one hand and a hand crossbow in the other.
Crossbow Expert mentions on PHB p. 165:
• You ignore the loading quality 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.
At first I thought that would be enough to be wearing a shield while attacking with a hand crossbow, but the Loading property actually says:
Because of the time required to load this weapon, you can fire only one piece of ammunition from it when you use an action, bonus action, or reaction to fire it, regardless of the number of attacks you can normally make.
So “loading” refers to loading speed, and the feat makes you faster. It’s the Ammunition property that, by RAW (PHB p. 146), doesn’t allow wielding a shield while attacking with, and reloading, a hand crossbow:
[…] Drawing the ammunition from a quiver, case, or other container is part of the attack (you need a free hand to load a one-handed weapon). […]
- Extra Attack, Crossbow Expert, and hand crossbow: 4 shots per turn?
- How do you load a hand crossbow?
- How do you load a crossbow?
How would it unbalance gameplay to remove the limitation “requires a free hand to load” for hand crossbows? Thematically, it makes sense, because in my setting this city is rich enough to have such fancy technology as “semi-automatic” hand crossbows (however that would work). Since my world setting allows it, it would be only fair if it’s also an option for the PCs – if they happen to acquire such a weapon and/or training. I’m mostly interested in the shield & hand crossbow combination, but if I’m overlooking other potential exploits that would unbalance gameplay please inform me.
I’m fine with allowing it for NPCs (for my guards) because I can just calculate the new CR, based on increased DPR and AC. As DM I have enough control to keep that balanced at the table. When allowing it for PCs as well though, I’m not sure which unbalanced exploits I might be overlooking. A good answer includes an analysis of mechanical costs and benefits for PCs when removing the limitation “requires a free hand to load”.
To remove this limitation, I’m thinking of three possible ways:
- Tweaking the Ammunition property of hand crossbows specifically.
- Adding a feature to the Crossbow Expert feat.
- Solve it through magic by making the fancy crossbows of the royal guard uncommon magical weapons that can be reloaded without having a free hand.
An amazing answer includes a game balance analysis on these possible solution as well.