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Unarmed Strike 5e DnD

Weapons of all manner appear in the DnD world. From primitive clubs to ornate crossbows, from swords and spears, axes and arrows through to, depending on the technology preference of your campaign, simple gunpowder weapons.

But sometimes, even the most prepared and highly-trained warriors find themselves without a weapon when they need one. Some classes even specialize in hand-to-hand, unarmed combat. It is such situations and such classes who have come to rely on the Unarmed Strike 5e.

What is an Unarmed Strike?

The definition of an Unarmed Strike is pretty much what you imagine for the name. It is an attack a character makes with their fists, legs, shoulder, elbow, or other body parts. Even when wielding weapons, a character can attempt to use such an attack in combination with the weapon they are wielding, often in the form of additional kicks, shoulder barges, punches with a free hand, and headbutts.

In game terms, when you perform an Unarmed Strike against a foe, you roll a d20 and then add your Strength and Proficiency modifiers to see if you hit. Everyone is automatically proficient with unarmed strikes, so you get your proficiency modifier no matter what. If the hit is successful, you deal 1 point of Bludgeoning damage, plus the strength modifier to your victim.

As your body is essentially your weapon, you are considered to be constantly ready to administer such attacks without having to choose and draw a weapon.

Making the Most of the Unarmed Strike

Although everyone understands the basics of Unarmed Strike (even the timidest and non-threatening characters will use their natural defenses to defend themselves when cornered), some classes and feats combine to make Unarmed Strike more potent.

The Monk

If you want to get the most out of playing a character that excels in unarmed combat, then you should choose the Monk as your character class. Initial damage from a Monks Unarmed Strike is 1d4. At levels 5, 11, and 17, this damage roll increases to 1d6, 1d8, and 1d10, respectively.

Monks also can use Dexterity as an attack modifier instead of Strength, a reminder that sure combat techniques are not about brute force but landing well-positioned blows in vulnerable and vital locations. Also, after using the Attack Action, a Monk may spend a Bonus Action to attack with an unarmed strike again. Pow!

Monks also have access to the mystical energy known as ki. The expenditure of these allows access to several other unarmed combat fighting techniques, which combine well with Unarmed Strike. At level 6, a Monk’s fists are always regarded as magical, without the need for magical enhancements. 

Other Improvements on Unarmed Strike 5e

The Monk might be the master of unarmed combat, but there are other ways of increasing the potential of the Unarmed Strike. Clawed creatures such as Tabaxi get a bonus to their Unarmed Strike for the additional damage that such raking fists or taloned feet inflict. This is usually capped at 1d4 damage. That isn’t a patch on what the Monk can generate at higher levels, but it is much better than the usual 1 damage + Strength modifier.

The only other class to come close to the Monk’s unarmed prowess is the Fighter (as well as subgroups such as Paladin, Barbarian, etc.) if they opt for the Unarmed Fighting Style. This option boosts Unarmed Strikes from 1 damage to 1d6 and up to 1d8 if they are not also using shield or weapons.

This means that the Fighter’s one powerful attack at lower levels is comparable to the Monk’s ability to launch more, less devastating attacks. The Monk eventually outranks the Fighter as you move up through the levels. 

Magic items can also have a bonus effect on using Unarmed Strike. Items like the Dragon Hide or the Eldritch Claw tattoo are valuable aids in dealing additional damage. The latter is incredibly effective, as it can increase your attack range and give you magical unarmed attacks.

This can be extremely useful since it allows the Monk to stay a safe distance from melee range. Monks generally have low HP and never want to spend longer than necessary as a front-line combatant. Better to have a heavily armed Fighter or a beef-cake Berserker hold the line and let the Monk dance through the melee, taking advantage of what opportunities arise.

Final Thoughts on Unarmed Strike 5e

Unarmed Strikes are not the most effective forms of attack. No matter how good the attacker, a chop to the throat is no substitute for a Two-Handed Great Axe hurtling down on an opponent. But sometimes, the situation calls for it.

If you find yourself weaponless and without even the most rudimentary object to batter your opponent, it is always worth knowing that you can at least land a few decent punches or kicks when and where they least expect it.

We hope you enjoyed our Unarmed Strike 5e guide, why not check out some of our other guides including Dash Action 5e and Inspiration 5e.


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