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The bard has always been a bit of an unusual class. One thing, though, that I've really enjoyed about the bard is that they get Exotic Weapon Proficiency (whip) for free.

However, after playing a bit in Pathfinder, I'm continually bewildered by how restrictive the whip is:

A whip deals no damage to any creature with an armor bonus of +1 or higher or a natural armor bonus of +3 or higher. The whip is treated as a melee weapon with 15-foot reach, though you don't threaten the area into which you can make an attack. In addition, unlike most other weapons with reach, you can use it against foes anywhere within your reach (including adjacent foes).

The rules are similar in D&D 3.5 / 3, if I recall correctly.

I understand that it is more of a strategic weapon, but in Pathfinder, they've made the whip a bit more useful in the sense that there are feats like Whip Mastery (No longer provoke attacks of opportunity, deal lethal damage, remove armor restriction) and Improved Whip Mastery (Threaten natural reach + 5), but it still seems extremely restrictive (considering any other class would have had to have to be Proficient with the whip, and have Weapon Focus (whip)).

In summary: effectively using the whip requires numerous feats, whips don't threaten, don't deal much damage (or any lethal damage), and provoke attacks of opportunity.

Why is the whip so restricted?


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You could always rely on the Scorpion Whip (from Ultime Combat) :) It is a light weapon, deals 1d4 lethal damage and provides a +2 bonus when making combat performance checks. – Erik Burigo May 17 '12 at 21:33
up vote 22 down vote accepted

To quote the 3.5 rulebook:

Because a whip can wrap around an enemy's leg or other limb, you can make a trip attack with it. If you are tripped during your own trip attempt, you can drop the whip to avoid being tripped.

When using a whip, you get a +2 bonus on opposed attack rolls made to disarm an opponent (including the roll to keep from being disarmed if the attack fails).

A 15 foot flank trip attack, where the bad-guy getting up provokes an attack of opportunity from the main fighter is incredibly powerful, even if you do no "damage".

These same rules are in Pathfinder (pgs 143-145). Whips are listed as disarm, nonlethal, trip weapons on the table on page on 143, then from 144-145:

Disarm: When you use a disarm weapon, you get a +2 bonus on Combat Maneuver Checks to disarm an enemy.

Nonlethal: These weapons deal nonlethal damage (see Chapter 8).

Trip: You can use a trip weapon to make trip attacks. If you are tripped during your own trip attempt, you can drop the weapon to avoid being tripped.

Again ... that trip attack is invaluable. The only "more broken" weapon is the spiked chain in 3.5, which does threaten the 10' reach and allows a trip attack, which means you get a free trip attack on bad-guy again when he tries to get up, along with your normal attacks once you trip him (one of my favorite characters ever was a Dwarf Fighter specializing in a spiked chain).

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Yup... high Dex + Spiked Chain + Finesse + Combat Reflexes + Improved Trip was a monster. – lorimer May 18 '12 at 2:49
I don't think you can trip a character who's standing up. Since opportunity attacks resolve before the actual action, the character's still prone and, provided you use the opportunity attack to trip him, he then stands up normally. – Zachiel Aug 14 '12 at 0:18

Realism. Or, if you're a pedant, verisimilitude... Killing someone with a whip or even using one is a nontrivial operation in real life, and Pathfinder, and 3e D&D from which it sprang, still considers some degree of simulation of the real world to be a virtue.

Also, balance in the face of cheese-weasels. If the weapon really had a 5'-15' threat range it would be super sweet and unprecedented in a weapon, and people would make sure every otherwise non-melee guy (casters... off hands for people not using them...) were carrying a whip so the 15' threat aura is there to let their party rogues go to town. Remember, you don't have to be proficient in it to use it! The "whip with light on it" becomes the favorite off-hand equipment. Suddenly, everyone's flanking!!! The dreaded "30' room with a whip-wielding rogue in each corner..." It would have an overwhelming effect on the game if it were not restrained.

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Because of balance

Reach is quite powerful, but the disadvantage that you need to be at distance weakens it substantially. The whip doesn't have this weakness, so I would assume the designers added the other restrictions for balance reasons.

If there was a weapon with 15 foot reach that could attack every square within that reach it would be a no-brainer - everyone outside of a few specialized builds would choose to fight with that weapon.

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Bullwhips are not good weapons. They cannot leave any lasting damage; a lash against bare skin can be extremely painful, and draw blood, but it cannot break bone or even cause deep wounds. In theory you could bleed someone to death, but it would take ages. The only real chance was psychological: overload your target's ability to cope with the pain. Against a target who can ignore or not feel that pain (certain drugs, an extremely rare genetic defect, pure grit), a bullwhip cannot do very much. And even regular, albeit heavy clothing could make it very difficult to get a real lash. Maneuvers to trip or disarm a person with a bullwhip are possible, but very difficult.

Dungeons & Dragons 3.x can't model all that very well; damage is heavily abstracted so "pain" is too fine a detail to get into, much less overwhelming pain. So nonlethal damage is used, even though bullwhips cannot forcibly knock someone out. And any armor bonus makes you immune, which is probably the most reasonable restriction on them. They can be used to trip or disarm, which is realistic enough, assuming fantasy heroics.

But then they cannot threaten. This, from a simulation perspective, is nonsense. The only real advantage a bullwhip provides is that it moves very, very suddenly, is almost impossible to visually track as it is twirled, and has enormous reach. That's why it is used to control animals: you can stay well out of their reach, you can't actually injure them, but they don't know that and the lash is very painful. Against a human opponent, he can run right to you: you'll get several free hits, which will hurt a great deal, but if he keeps charging there is little you can do about it.

This works almost exactly like an attack of opportunity. Actually, you wouldn't even get as many AoOs as you might get attacks in reality. So the whip not threatening is absolutely unjustifiable, from simulation's perspective.


Tripping is one of the very few actually-kind-of-effective tactics that 3.x melee has access to. By tripping on AoOs, you can make it very difficult for many enemies to maneuver around you. Hardly impossible (Tumble avoids AoOs, magical flight cannot be tripped, teleporting avoids the problem altogether, plus bonuses vs. trip are common and can be large), just somewhat difficult, but that's about the best melee can do much of the time.

Since you rely on AoOs to be effective, having a large threatened area is important to you. Thus trip weapons with reach are valuable. The go-to weapon is the Guisarme: martial, trip, reach. The Spiked Chain is an option, for its continuous reach, though simply taking a hand off your Guisarme to trip with an unarmed strike works nearly as well, and doesn't cost a feat. In Core, for a Fighter, the lack of worthwhile feats means Exotic Weapon Proficiency for the Spiked Chain is only a matter of time, though Combat Expertise, Combat Reflexes, and Improved Trip are all much higher priorities. But even in Core, you're better off multiclassing out of Fighter, and then you might not get Spiked Chain until high levels, if at all. And out of Core, there are just better feats to take. It's not bad but you can do better.

So how would a Whip stack up if we houseruled it to threaten? Greater range, which is certainly valuable. But the damage is basically nonexistent, and you cannot take more than one AoO per provoking action, which means for anyone who would have to go into the regular reach's range is taking exactly the same number of attacks as he would with a Guisarme or Spiked Chain. So the only time the reach matters is if the enemy has to leave a square that the Whip threatens without having to do the same from a square the Guisarme or Spiked Chain threatens. That will come up but not all the time: it's not all clear that this is worth giving up basically all damage, plus possibly a feay if we compare to the Guisarme. For some people it might be, but for a lot of people, the damage will be a lot to lose (after all, you still have to pump Str for trip checks), and they may not have the feats for it.

Which would make it a balanced feat. It's useful, but not at all must-have. Wizards made a trend of usually overestimating the abilities of melee characters, and underestimating how great a cost a feat can be. As a result, they were overly conservative, particularly early on, with the power level of feats. And Paizo copied their Whip and inherited some of these problems, and throughout Pathfinder have demonstrated an even stronger trend to never give melee nice things.

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I disagree that it's realistic for a bull whip to threaten. Attacks of Opportunity are quick attacks to take advantage of an unexpected opportunity, on top of your regular attack. A bull whip is a large and slow weapon, requiring very large and obvious movements from its user. Once in motion, it moves quickly, but it's not constantly shifting and repositioning like a swird is. I think it's fairly comparable to a ranged weapon in that sense, and therefore shouldn't threaten. Not by default, at least. With a feat representing extraordinary mastery, it's different. – mcv Apr 10 '14 at 10:00
@mcv Bullwhip fighters fight with the whip constantly moving in a circular motion above their heads for exactly that reason. It keeps the whip's momentum up, makes it impossible to track, and allows extremely sudden strikes. – KRyan Apr 10 '14 at 11:42
Are there real bullwhip fighters? I had no idea. I've used a bullwhip myself, but that was pretty hard work and nothing like you describe. But I'm not exactly trained to fight with them. Perhaps those bullwhip fighters have those extra feats? – mcv Apr 10 '14 at 11:47
@mcv Exotic Weapon Proficiency should cover it; using a bullwhip as a tool is different from using it as a weapon, after all. And yes, fantasy heroics; no one gets tired swinging a sword all day, either. Anyway, I have to get ready for work so I cannot, right now, find the resources I was basing this answer on. My understanding is that people have trained in the use of a bullwhip as a weapon in reality, but rarely. In a lethal context, a knife in the other hand, or built into the handle of the whip, would have been used just to have something that could deal with someone who just charged in. – KRyan Apr 10 '14 at 11:57
Yeah, but weapon proficiency just means you can use it without penalty; it doesn't change how you use it. And I certainly wouldn't threaten with a whip. If I was prepared (readied attack), I might be able to hit a charger once, but after that, I'm in trouble (I suspect; I've never actually tried it). I'd love to know more about real life bullwhip fighters. I'll google for them when I get home. – mcv Apr 10 '14 at 12:30

For some of the magic classes which have special abilities such as the Magus, the ability to attack with a touch spell with the weapon is very powerful. Sure its not as great of a range as ranged touch spells, but now touch spells can be delivered safely, and you might even be able to trip like others were mentioning.

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This doesn’t really seem to answer the question; one example where the whip might be kind of useful doesn’t answer the question of why it is so restricted. If your answer is that this niche use justifies the whip’s existence by itself, you could make that argument (but you have to actually make that argument, and I think that’s a tough sell since the ability to channel a touch-attack spell through a whip was not present when the whip was written). – KRyan Jun 2 '15 at 17:56
I was mostly adding it to help support the other (mostly better) answers – Fering Jun 2 '15 at 17:57
Every answer has to be a complete and stand-alone answer to the question, though. At the very least, a link to the answer(s) you are supplementing is necessary, so that your answer can be read on its own (and its links followed) to get the full picture. But as with any other link, these links should have some summary. – KRyan Jun 2 '15 at 18:01
So that this is a real answer on its own, it's preferable that it answer the question independently by including any necessary statements, and refer to other answers only to give due credit. – SevenSidedDie Jun 2 '15 at 21:21

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