Do you need the Improved Unarmed Strike feat to avoid provoking attacks of opportunities when using cestus, brass knuckles, spiked bauntlets, or any weapon that considers its actions as an unarmed strike attack?

  • \$\begingroup\$ You may want to make the title clearer \$\endgroup\$ Jul 20, 2017 at 16:49

2 Answers 2


As a weapon, no.

Cestus, Brass knuckles, spiked gauntlets, and normal gauntlets are all their own light weapons. They are not Unarmed Strikes, which are a different pseudo-weapon. As such, using them as weapons works just like using a shortsword (except gauntlets have a perk in this regard, see below).

But if you modify your Unarmed Strike...

Cestus, Brass Knuckles, and Gauntlets (not spiked) allow you to deal lethal damage with your Unarmed Strikes. This is wholly separate from using them as a weapon in their own right. Notably, since you aren't using them as a weapon but as a modifier to your Unarmed Strike, any weapon enchantments wouldn't apply- you aren't using the +1 Flaming Cestus, you're using your own Unarmed Strike. Going one at a time for using them as modifiers and not as weapons:

  • Cestus: You count as armed, and thus can take Attacks of Opportunity with Unarmed Strikes. Since you're considered armed, you don't provoke Attacks of Opportunity just for using your Unarmed Strike either.

  • Brass Knuckles: These only say you deal lethal damage, but do not mention counting as armed. You are unarmed, so you can't take Attacks of Opportunity and you provoke Attacks of Opportunity for attacking. Improved Unarmed Strike would alleviate these.

  • Gauntlets: These are the same as Brass Knuckles for this purpose. You still aren't armed. Gauntlets have an extra caveat though: even using them as a weapon the attack counts as an unarmed attack. This is a category of attack which includes Unarmed Strikes, as well as natural attacks and a few others. Some abilities (Stunning Fist) require Unarmed Attacks, while others require the specific Unarmed Strike.

  • Spiked Gauntlets: They don't do anything for Unarmed Strikes. Spiked gauntlets are only weapons. It's a short sword with different dice.

As an addendum, take care to always note the specific difference between Unarmed Strike and Unarmed Attacks. "Unarmed Attacks" is a set which includes Unarmed Strikes, as well as Gauntlet attacks and others.

  • \$\begingroup\$ @FlashRebel Unarmed Attacks don't provoke Attacks of Opportunity, specifically Unarmed Strikes provoke Attacks of Opportunity (if Unarmed Attacks in general provoked, then Natural attacks provoke). All of them are standard light weapons which can also be used to modify Unarmed Strike to deal lethal damage. \$\endgroup\$
    – Delioth
    Jul 20, 2017 at 20:47
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ d20pfsrd.com/gamemastering/combat/#Table-Actions-in-Combat The rules clearly mention that all unarmed attacks provoke attacks of opportunity. \$\endgroup\$
    – user26561
    Jul 21, 2017 at 9:18
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Gauntlets (not spiked) are not light weapons, oddly enough - and are indeed classified as an "unarmed attack" along with unarmed strike. \$\endgroup\$
    – Wyrmwood
    Jul 21, 2017 at 20:00

According to the Weapons tables, Both the unarmed strike and the gauntlet are in the "Unarmed attacks" table and even the gauntlet's description clearly mentions that attacking with the gauntlet is considered an unarmed attack that deals lethal damage by default, that by the Combat rules provokes attacks of opportunity.

The cestus, the brass knuckle and the spiked gauntlet are all in the "Light weapons" table, then all attacks made with them are treated as armed attacks and have no reason to provoke attacks of opportunity, and even if flavor text can be confusing sometimes, an attack not considered an unarmed attack is an armed attack.

Then you need Improved Unarmed Strike to be "considered armed when unarmed" and thus not provoke attacks of opportunity with the unarmed strike and the gauntlet, but not with the other three weapons.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Please note: " Without this feat, you are considered unarmed when attacking with an unarmed strike". IUS does not state that you are unarmed when making an unarmed attack, but specifically an unarmed strike. The table you mention describes unarmed attacks. IUS does not apply to unarmed attacks, just to specifically unarmed strikes. IUS explicitly cannot affect use of a gauntlet - it neither mentions gauntlets nor the category of attacks that gauntlets belong to. \$\endgroup\$
    – Delioth
    Jul 20, 2017 at 21:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ "You are considered to be armed when unarmed" - Improved Unarmed Strike. This isn't limited to the unarmed strike without a gauntlet. By the way, making a distinction between unarmed attacks and unarmed strikes is ridiculous since both terms mean the exact same thing. \$\endgroup\$
    – user26561
    Jul 21, 2017 at 9:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ They might mean the same thing in regular english, but they are explicitly different things in Pathfinder rules. Also, the same feat you cite states "Without this feat, you are considered unarmed when attacking with an unarmed strike". It says nothing about being unarmed when attacking with anything else, like a natural attack or a gauntlet. \$\endgroup\$
    – Delioth
    Jul 21, 2017 at 14:58

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