Player’s Handbook, page 195
Unarmed Strikes 5e
Many players love the idea of a brawling adventurer who solves problems with their fists rather than pesky weapons or tricksy spells. But, as in almost every other roleplaying game in the canon, unarmed strikes in Dungeons and Dragons are (almost) never the optimal choice.
That said, the Monk class relies on unarmed strikes for a number of their features. And with big changes hinted at in the most recent Unearthed Arcana, the future of unarmed strikes may be very different than the current rules suggest.
This article will cover:
How unarmed strikes work and how to calculate unarmed attack damage
How to improve your unarmed strikes
Monks’ unarmed strikes
Rules for unarmed strikes
Unearthed Arcana’s new rules for unarmed strikes
How Do Unarmed Strikes Work in 5e?
Unarmed strikes are melee weapon attacks made without weapons, but the attacker’s body instead. All creatures are proficient in unarmed strikes. For an unarmed strike attack roll, roll a d20 and attack your Strength modifier and proficiency bonus.
For example, if your Strength modifier is +2 and your proficiency bonus is +3, the result of your unarmed strike attack roll is d20 + 2 + 3. If the result matches or exceeds the target’s AC, the attack lands.
How Do You Calculate Unarmed Strike Damage in 5e?
To calculate unarmed strike damage, you simply add 1 to your Strength modifier. You do not add your proficiency bonus to an unarmed strike’s damage. Unarmed strikes deal bludgeoning damage.
For example, if your Strength modifier is +2, your unarmed strike will deal 3 bludgeoning damage on hit.
How to Improve Unarmed Strikes in 5e
There are several ways to improve your unarmed strikes in DnD, from choosing a race with Natural Weapons, to picking up spells, feats, subclass features, and fighting styles that can boost your brawling capabilities. And, most potent of all, choosing the Monk class will really unleash the full fury of your character’s fists.
Races With Natural Weapons in 5e
Natural weapons are a physical part of a creature, like fangs, claws, and horns. Several playable races have access to natural weapons, which are usable whenever a player makes an unarmed strike.
Unlike regular unarmed strikes, unarmed strikes with natural weapons count as weapons (Sage Advice Compendium, page 14).
Here are all of the playable races with natural weapons in DnD 5e:
|1d4 + Strength slashing
|1d4 + Strength bludgeoning
|1d4 + Constitution piercing
|Advantage when below half hit points; may empower yourself based on proficiency bonus per rest
|1d4 + Strength slashing
|Optional Racial feat from Xanathar's (pg. 74)
|1d4 + Strength slashing
|1d6 + Strength bludgeoning
|On hit, gain temporary hit points equal to Contitution modifier. Bonus action; usable once per rest.
|1d6 + Strength piercing
|May use as a bonus action after Dashing more than 20 feet
|1d4 + Strength bludgeoning
|1d6 + Strength
|Only usable while shifted
|1d4 + Strength slashing
|1d4 + Strength slashing
Spells, Feats, Subclass Features, and Fighting Styles
There are other, more niche ways of improving your unarmed strike damage and capability:
Alter Self (Spell). A 2nd-level transmutation spell that allows the caster to gain Natural Weapons (of the caster’s choice) for up to 1 hour. These deal 1d6 damage of the appropriate damage type (e.g., piercing for horns, bludgeoning for hooves, slashing for claws, etc.).
These natural weapons are also magic and have a +1 bonus to attack and damage rolls.
Tavern Brawler (Feat). Changes unarmed strike damage from 1 + Strength modifier to 1d4 + Strength modifier. Also allows the player to grapple the target as a bonus action if they hit them with an unarmed strike.
Barbarian: Path of the Beast (Subclass Feature). A 3rd-level feature that allows the Barbarian to gain natural weapons (bite, claws, or tail) while raging. These attacks deal greater damage than normal natural weapons and also include powerful rider effects as well.
Unarmed Fighting Style. Fighting syle available to Fighters and anyone who takes the Fighting Initiate feat (TCoE 80). Increases unarmed strike damage to 1d6 + Strength modifier, increasing to 1d8 when the player isn’t wielding a weapon or shield.
Also allows for 1d4 bludgeoning damage per turn to be dealt to a creature that the player is grappling.
Eldritch Claw Tattoo (Magic Item; TCoE 126). Uncommon magic tattoo that makes unarmed strikes magical and gives a +1 bonus to unarmed strikes’ attack and damage rolls. Also provides a once-a-day ability that increases unarmed strike reach to 15 feet and increases their damage by an extra 1d6 force damage.
Monk’s Unarmed Strikes
Monks have more powerful and more varied unarmed strike options than any other class. Let’s break it down:
Martial Arts. This 1st-level class feature changes a Monk’s unarmed strike damage to 1d4, increasing to 1d10 as the Monk levels.
Additionally, allows the monk to make an unarmed strike as a bonus action whenever they attack with a Monk weapon or an unarmed strike.
Flurry of Blows. 2nd-level class feature. A monk may spend 1 ki point to make two unarmed strikes as a bonus action.
Ki-Fueled Attack. Optional 3rd-level class feature from Tasha’s (pg. 48). Allows a Monk to make an unarmed strike as a bonus action on their turn whenever they spend 1 or more ki point.
Ki-Empowered Strikes. 6th-level class feature that makes unarmed strikes magical, overcoming nonmagical resistance and immunity.
Additionally, several Monk subclass features have ways to further empower unarmed attacks.
DnD Unarmed Strike Rules in 5e
The rules for unarmed strikes in 5e are as follows:
You add your proficiency bonus to unarmed strikes’ attack roll, but not its damage roll. All creatures are proficient with unarmed strikes, so you add your proficiency bonus and Strength modifier to your attack roll. However, you do not add your proficiency bonus to unarmed strikes’ damage, which, at its base, is 1 + Strength modifier.
You do not need a free hand to make an unarmed strike. Unarmed strikes do not require the use of your fists — headbutts, kicks, elbows, etc., can all be used to make an unarmed strike (PHB 195).
“Unarmed strikes count as melee weapon attacks despite not being weapons” (Sage Advice Compendium, pg. 5). This means that unarmed strikes work with features that require melee weapon attacks (of which there are many).
Unarmed strike does not function with features that require weapon damage. Because unarmed strikes are not technically weapons. This only has a few niche interactions. For example:
The Savage Attacker feat doesn’t work with unarmed strikes. Beacause this feat “relies on a weapon’s damage dice, and an unarmed strike isn’t a weapon” (SAC 10).
Natural weapons are weapons. “Things described as weapons by the rules, including natural weapons, are indeed weapons” (SAC 14). Despite natural weapons being used to make unarmed strikes, they are still considered weapons. This means that they do work with things like Divine Smite and Savage Attacker.
Unarmed strikes can be used for Extra Attacks. “Extra Attack imposes no limitation on what you use for the attacks” (SAC 3).
Monks’ Martial Arts feature doesn’t make unarmed strikes into finesse weapons. Although the effect is similar, the feature “doesn’t confer that property” specifically (SAC 5).
Rogue’s Sneak Attack doesn’t work with unarmed strikes (even a Monk multiclasser). Because unarmed strikes are not finesse weapons, which the Sneak Attack feature requires.
New Unarmed Strike Rules From Unearthed Arcana 2022: Character Origins
Playtest material from Wizards of the Coast reveals new changes planned for One D&D, the update of 5e’s ruleset we can expect to go live in 2024. These are not official rules as written at this time, but players are encouraged to try out playtest material.
Follow this link to download all currently available playtest material. You can also provide Wizads of the Coast with feedback on their proposed changes, so stay tuned and let your opinions be known. We all get to take part in making the next generation of Dungeons and Dragons.
Here are the details on the new rules for Unarmed Strikes, found on page 20 of Unearthed Arcana: Character Origins. This was released on August 18, 2022.
An Unarmed Strike is a melee attack that involves you using your body to damage, grapple, or shove a target within your Reach.
Your bonus to hit with an Unarmed Strike equals your Strength modifier plus your Proficiency bonus. On a hit, your Unarmed Strike causes one of the following effects of your choice:
Damage. The target takes Bludgeoning Damage equal to 1 + your Strength modifier.
Grapple. The target is Grappled, and the grapple’s escape DC equals 8 + your Strength modifier + your Proficiency Bonus. This grapple is possible only if the taret is no more than one Size larger than you and if you have a free hand to grab the target.
Shove. You either push the target 5 feet away or knock the target Prone. This shove is possible only if the target is no more than one Size larger than you.
DnD 5e Unarmed Strike FAQ
DnD unarmed strike questions and answers:
Are unarmed strikes weapon attacks in 5e? Yes, unarmed strikes are considered weapon attacks in DnD 5e (Jeremy Crawford). Although they don’t involve using a traditional weapon, they are categorized as weapon attacks for the purpose of game mechanics and interactions.
How to calculate the damage of unarmed strikes in 5e: To calculate the damage of an unarmed strike in 5e, you typically deal 1 + your Strength modifier as bludgeoning damage. However, some classes or features may grant additional damage dice or modifiers. For example, a Monk’s Martial Arts feature allows them to deal additional damage as they level up, and a race with the Natural Weapons feature deals much more damage with unarmed attacks.
How to increase unarmed damage in 5e? The damage of unarmed strikes can be increased in several ways in 5e. Here are a few examples:
Monk’s Martial Arts feature: Monks gain the ability to use their Martial Arts die as additional damage when making unarmed strikes as they progress in levels.
Tavern Brawler feat: This feat allows characters to deal 1d4 + Strength modifier damage with unarmed strikes instead of the usual 1 + Strength modifier. This is an increase in the normal unarmed attack damage 5e has to offer.
Natural Weapons: A racial feature that typically causes unarmed strikes to deal 1d4 + Strength modifier damage, and sometimes changes to slashing instead of bludgeoning damage.
Are you proficient with unarmed strikes in 5e? Yes, characters are proficient with unarmed strikes in DnD 5e by default (Player’s Handbook, page 195). Proficiency with unarmed strikes is not tied to any specific weapon or class feature. However, it’s important to note that a character’s proficiency bonus is only added to attack rolls, not to the damage of an unarmed strike unless they have a feature or feat that specifies otherwise.
Are unarmed strikes finesse weapons in 5e? No, unarmed strikes are not considered finesse weapons in D&D 5e. The finesse property applies only to specific weapons listed as finesse weapons in the game. Unarmed strikes do not inherently have the finesse property, so they cannot benefit from the finesse feature or use Dexterity for attack and damage rolls unless a specific class feature or feat allows it.
What damage type is unarmed in 5e? The damage type of unarmed strikes in DnD 5e is typically bludgeoning. However, some character features or spells may modify the damage type of unarmed strikes, allowing them to deal a different type of damage, such as the Tabaxi race’s slashing damage with claws as natural weapons.
Does unarmed strike use Strength or Dexterity in 5e? By default, unarmed strikes in DnD 5e use the Strength modifier for both attack and damage rolls. However, some class features or feats, such as the Monk’s Martial Arts feature, allow characters to use Dexterity instead of Strength for attack and damage rolls with unarmed strikes. These features provide flexibility in determining which ability modifier to use based on the character’s build or preferences.
Do unarmed strikes count as dual wielding in 5e? No, unarmed strikes do not count as dual wielding in DnD 5e. Dual wielding (or two-weapon fighting) specifically refers to wielding two weapons, one in each hand, and making an additional attack with the off-hand weapon using the bonus action granted by the two-weapon fighting rules (both weapons must be ligt, unless the character has the Dual Wielder feat).
Unarmed strikes are separate from the concept of dual wielding, and characters cannot make two unarmed strikes on the same turn using the two-weapon fighting rules (however they can still use Extra Attack to do so).