A pair of man's hands holding a finely crafted dagger
DnD 5e: Why Use Daggers?

Written by Phil

Phil was a world-traveler, writing, playing games, and exploring. Now he lives in Toronto and plays D&D, Root, and Terraforming Mars online. Most recently, he has been exploring the asymmetric games by Leder Games. Links to Other Writing: Persuasive Writing; Coffee Website.

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In 5e, daggers are often overshadowed by their bigger cousins – the long swords, great axes, and scythes. “Why should I wield a puny dagger in Dungeons & Dragons when I can be swinging around a massive greatsword?

Daggers have several traits going for them you won’t find anywhere else. They are lightweight, can be used as ranged weapons, wielded two-handed, easily concealed, and used as a tool. Daggers are good for more than just stabbing someone in the back! 

Despite its small size – the dagger can compete reasonably well with other weapons. In some situations, the dagger can consistently outperform other weapons. 

The limits of the dagger aren’t defined by its stats – but rather the creativity of the player wielding ‘em. So, if you’re looking for reasons or ways to use daggers – then fellow adventurers, read on! 

What are a Dagger’s Features?

Before we continue, we’re going to take a look at the dagger’s basic stats: 

Dagger (Player’s Handbook, pg 149)

  • (melee weapon, simple) 
  • Damage Type: Piercing 
  • Damage: 1d4 
  • Item Rarity: Standard 
  • Properties: Finesse, light,  thrown 
  • Range: 20/60 
  • Weight: 1 

Let’s point out the obvious: daggers have one of the lowest damage die as a weapon (beaten only by blow darts). With a 1d4, it isn’t going to quickly eviscerate monsters anytime soon.

It’s not the damage, however, that makes daggers impressive – it’s the traits. 

Daggers are the only melee weapons with 3 traits, which give them versatility and power. To better demonstrate the dagger’s greatness, let’s examine each trait. 


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Dagger Rules-As-Written

Thrown 

Player’s Handbook (PHB Pg. 147)

Unlike most melee weapons, daggers can be thrown. Sure – throwing daggers isn’t as ideal as firing arrows from a crossbow, but it has its applications. 

Is the Necromancer getting away with just a sliver of health left? Throw a dagger. With a maximum range of 60ft, you’re going to hit most things in a dungeon. If you’re a rogue or another squishy class – throwing a dagger from behind the frontline will keep your hide intact while still allowing you to deal damage. 

Daggers don’t have to be used as a means to kill, though. Need to push a switch at the other end of the room? See an opportunity to drop a chandelier on some bad guys? Throw a dagger. As long as you describe your intentions and roll well – you can do a hell of a lot of things

Finesse

Player’s Handbook (Pg. 147)

The finesse trait brings up two important things. 

First, it opens opportunities for massive damage with the rogue’s sneak attack trait. Sneak attack compensates for the dagger’s puny damage – allowing rogues to devastate enemies with a hidden blade. 

Second, it allows you to choose between strength or dexterity to use for damage or modifiers, which can be useful for all classes. 

While that doesn’t sound like a large benefit, it can come in handy. Some monsters, such as the shadow (Monster Manual pg. 269), can drain your strength – debilitating your modifiers for both attack and damage rolls. Having access to both dexterity and strength allows you to maintain some damage output in the face of reduced ability scores.

Alternatively, if your allies are disarmed – you can toss them a dagger, and they can re-enter the fray! Be sure to specify that you’re not throwing it at them blade first!

Light

Player’s Handbook (Pg. 147) 

The light trait is a no-brainer. The dagger is lightweight – weighing only a pound – allowing you to carry a dozen of these and chuck them at enemies, no problemo. 

Practically any class can have a dagger in their inventory with little trouble. Even when I play wizards, I have daggers as a backup plan, just in case I find myself in melee combat. 

Enemies are likely to be carrying daggers – giving you a constant source of throwing dagger ammunition. More importantly, the light property allows you to dual wield daggers! 

Dual-wielding daggers will allow you to make an extra attack as a bonus action – albeit without the benefit of a positive modifier for damage (Player’s Handbook Pg. 195). 

You’ll also look like a badass while doing it – but keep in mind a couple of caveats: you can’t draw two daggers and attack, as drawing two daggers will cost an action (Player’s Handbook, Pg. 190). We wrote an article on switching and drawing weapons in combat, found here.

If you intend to dual-wield daggers, investing in the dual wielder feat will allow you to draw two daggers and attack as normal (Player’s Handbook Pg. 165). 

Finally, making attacks through dual-wielding will cost you your bonus action. This is a big trade-off, as many class features and abilities require bonus actions – so making two attacks might not be worth it. 

Other Uses for Daggers

Of course, this is Dungeons & Dragons. There’s so much more that can be done with weapons with just your wit and imagination

Remember that the tips here are not based on the rules-as-written (RAW); it will be up to your DM’s discretion to interpret how this works. As long as you explain your intentions well and cooperate with your DM, you’ll be able to use your dagger in various creative ways.

Concealment 

Daggers are small weapons, usually 6 to 18 inches, meaning that they are easily concealed

If ever you’re in a situation (e.g., a king’s ball) that demands you to hand over your weapons, you can attempt to conceal your dagger. 

It’d be challenging to conceal a morningstar or a great axe unless you’re lucky and get Natural 20’s. In events where you might need to sneak a weapon in, check with your DM. They will hopefully allow you to make a sleight of hand check to hide the dagger. 

As a Tool 

Improvisation is part of the life of an adventurer. From solving deadly puzzles to surviving dastardly traps – part of the adventure is surviving on wit alone. Getting by will involve the creative use of – you guessed it – your dagger. 

Some potential uses:

  • Need to check for the trapped door? Slide your dagger around the frame of the door and see if you feel a tripwire or a switch
  • See a button or lever across the room you need to trigger? Use the thrown property of the dagger to hit it
  • Need to climb a high wall? Use your dagger as a makeshift piton (aka a climbing pick) 
  • Jam doors by spiking the dagger into the ground or between the door and frame
  • Use it for whittling small tools or spikes, potentially making tiger traps, wooden spikes for tents or blocking doors, or whatever else you can think of
  • Cut ropes, hung tapestries, or other finery that you may want to “borrow” from a dungeon

Sure – it won’t perform as well as tools dedicated to the job (e.g., thieves tools or alchemist’s supplies), but it’s better than nothing. 

Finally, if you end up breaking your dagger in the process, no problem; they’re only 2gp a piece, making them almost disposable. 


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Sneak Attacks

Another fun thing to do with daggers is exclusive to Rogues and their Sneak Attack. If you are in melee range and have a dagger in your off-hand, you can get a second chance at dealing some real damage.

The situation: You’ve used your attack action at melee range and you missed. With a dagger in your off-hand, you can use your bonus action to attack again. Sure, it’ll only do 1d4 from its base damage – but you can still get full use of your sneak attack die!

Note that this will not allow you to disengage on the turn as a bonus action, but it’s still a nice option to have!

Flavor Text

While this will depend on your DMs decisions, the weapons in D&D pale in comparison to what is available in the real world. As such, you sometimes have to “reskin” a weapon as something else. Shurikens, kunai, sai, or other small, bladed weapons can also use the dagger’s traits.

It may not add anything to the function of the dagger, it is another reason to have a couple on every character and still make sense with nearly every build.

Summary

  • Daggers should be a part of everyone’s arsenal, regardless of class. 
  • They’re simple weapons (everyone can use them), they only weigh 1lb (light), they only cost 2gp, and they can be in your off-hand for a bonus action attack—everyone should have a few on them.
  • Finesse: Can use Dexterity or Strength, so if you find yourself temporarily weakened, you still have a fallback.
  • Thrown: with a range of 20/60ft, you can hit most things in a dungeon, and can use it to trigger traps, flip switches and buttons, or drop chandeliers.
  • Improvisation: Use it as a makeshift piton (climbing spike), spike doors, force locks, discover hidden compartments, or pry gems from statues. Limited only by your imagination!

Though not the best in damage – the dagger offers unparalleled versatility that can work in the hands of a brilliant player. Whenever you join your next D&D session – better get to looting or purchasing several of your own! 

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