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While there are several similar questions they all seem to deal with 3.5 or Pathfinder. This question may contain the key to the answer for this, but focuses on Wildshape, doesn't have an accepted answer despite being 4 years old, and only establishes that natural weapons aren't automatically unarmed strikes (not whether they can be used for said strikes) - a semantic detail that seems important here. I've been struggling to find an official position on this for 5e.

An answer to a related question asserts that only some examples of natural weapons can be used for unarmed strikes, giving this example from the Cat's Claws trait (VGtM, p. 115), which says:

[...] your claws are natural weapons, which you can use to make unarmed strikes...

This, however, seems ambiguous to me - is it saying that this specific example creates an exception where these natural weapons can be used for unarmed strikes? If so, the comma seems unnecessary and potentially misleading. A clearer way of putting it might be 'your claws are natural weapons and can be used to make unarmed strikes.' If it was intended the other way, though, it could be clearer to say 'your claws are natural weapons, and can therefore be used to make unarmed strikes.'

Of course, neither of these wordings are used, hence the confusion. Is there an official position on whether natural weapons (which I understand as being a part of the attacking creature's body) can be used for unarmed attacks (which I recall reading are somewhat defined as being made with body parts, certainly that's how it sounds in this JC tweet) by default1, or whether a specific exception must be made?

1. Also implied by the descriptive text, not that that's 5e specific though.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is a bit strange: the answer to your question is on-site here, but I don't think it's quite appropriate to close this question as a dupe of that one.... Not quite sure what's best, here. \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Apr 26 '19 at 3:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ @nitsua60 Feel free to reverse my closure if you don't think it's appropriate, obviously - I hadn't seen your comment. \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Apr 26 '19 at 3:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think that the question should not be closed as a duplicate of the closed question @nitsua60 linked - but I also don't think it should be closed as a duplicate of the question about Wild Shape in particular, because Wild Shape is governed by its own set of specific rules (even if, in this case, the answer is not reliant on them - in that they don't carve out a specific exception to the general rule). This question more broadly addresses all natural weapons, not just the specific case of Wild Shape. ...But I might just be biased because I took the time to write an answer here :P \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Apr 26 '19 at 4:11
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No, except where a trait or feature explicitly allows it.

The question you linked addresses the definition of a natural weapon: they are "natural" body parts that function as weapons. As Rubiksmoose's answer to that question cites, they are described in the intro to the Monster Manual (p. 10-11) or the corresponding portion of the basic rules:

The most common actions that a monster will take in combat are melee and ranged attacks. These can be spell attacks or weapon attack, where the "weapon" might be a manufactured item or a natural weapon such as a claw or tail spike.

Unarmed strikes are more readily defined in a player-facing document, the PHB or basic rules, specifically the section of the combat rules on melee combat:

Instead of using a weapon to make a melee weapon attack, you can use an unarmed strike: a punch, kick, head-butt, or similar forceful blow (none of which count as weapons). On a hit, an unarmed strike deals bludgeoning damage equal to 1 + your Strength modifier. You are proficient with your unarmed strikes.

As you can see, unarmed strikes are definitively not weapons. Whether natural weapons count for features that require a weapon seems to be a more controversial matter (though answers lean towards yes in most cases).

Given just those definitions, it might seem like there could be some overlap between natural weapons and unarmed strikes. Personally, I think natural weapons are generally defined in a way that those body parts that are natural weapons clearly function like weapons, whereas the examples given for unarmed strikes generally indicate the use of a mundane body part in a manner it's not usually suited for.

In the rules

The rulebooks don't seem to explicitly refute the possibility of natural weapons being used for unarmed strikes - but the rules also don't state as a general rule that natural weapons can be used for unarmed strikes.

For every playable race that does have natural weapons, it is explicitly stated that they can be used for unarmed strikes, suggesting that this is an exception to the general rule; otherwise it'd be very redundant.

For instance, lizardfolk have the Bite trait (VGtM, p. 113):

Your fanged maw is a natural weapon, which you can use to make unarmed strikes. If you hit with it, you deal piercing damage equal to 1d6 + your Strength modifier, instead of the bludgeoning damage normal for an unarmed strike.

Tabaxi have the Cat's Claws trait (VGtM, p. 115):

Because of your claws, you have a climbing speed of 20 feet. In addition, your claws are natural weapons, which you can use to make unarmed strikes. If you hit with them, you deal slashing damage equal to 1d4 + your Strength modifier, instead of the bludgeoning damage normal for an unarmed strike.

Centaurs have the Hooves trait (GGtR, p. 16):

Your hooves are natural melee weapons, which you can use to make unarmed strikes. If you hit with them, you deal bludgeoning damage equal to 1d4 + your Strength modifier, instead of the bludgeoning damage normal for an unarmed strike.

Minotaurs have the Horns trait (GGtR, p. 19):

Your horns are natural melee weapons, which you can use to make unarmed strikes. If you hit with them, you deal piercing damage equal to 1d6 + your Strength modifier, instead of the bludgeoning damage normal for an unarmed strike.

And at 5th level, Simic Hybrids have the Grappling Appendages option for their Animal Enhancement trait (GGTR, p. 20):

You have two special appendages growing alongside your arms. Choose whether they’re both claws or tentacles. As an action, you can use one of them to try to grapple a creature. Each one is also a natural weapon, which you can use to make an unarmed strike. [...]

As you can see, every single time a playable race has a natural weapon, the rules clearly state that they can be used for unarmed strikes. If there were a general rule that natural weapons could be used for unarmed strikes, this would be a lot of needless repetition. The fact that it is repeated in this way every single time strongly indicates that the general rule is that natural weapons aren't used to make unarmed strikes, and that these racial traits define an exception to that rule.


Unofficial rulings

There is no official ruling on this issue given in the Sage Advice Compendium as of 2019. Unofficially, rules designer Jeremy Crawford has clearly stated many times on Twitter that natural weapons aren't used for unarmed strikes by default.

For instance, in this tweet:

Ok, Kung-fu panda idea. Moon Druid 2/monk 1. Does a beast's natural 'melee weapon attacks' count as 'unarmed strikes'?

A natural weapon (a claw, horn, bite, etc.) is not an unarmed strike.

A second user interjected, and Crawford responded:

Then explain the following: Alter Form giving you natural weapons that alter unarmed strikes, and Aarakorcas.

Those are exceptional abilities that change the nature of a character's unarmed strikes.

Crawford reiterated this again a few years later:

Am I right that attacks with natural weapons are still considered unarmed strikes rather than attacks with a weapon? E.g. for greenflame blade, silvered fists and similar.

An attack with a natural weapon is not an unarmed strike. An unarmed strike follows the unarmed strike rules in the Player's Handbook, no matter what type of creature is attacking. Some exceptional natural weapons, such as tabaxi claws, can be used for unarmed strikes.

And again:

Is a bite an unarmed strike? Do teeth count as natural weapons? Are we starting to go down a rabbit hole? Is the white knight talking backwards?

No (unless you have a special feature). Sometimes (depends on the creature). No. No.

He has consistently stated that attacks with natural weapons are not unarmed strikes, except where the rules clearly state an exception. This is consistent with the rules references above.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The fact that every playable race that has access to natural weapons has the phrase 'natural (...) weapon(s), which you can use to make unarmed strikes' could equally imply that they are natural weapons, and natural weapons can be used to make unarmed strikes - especially as there doesn't seem to be any exceptions (at least from the point of view of a playable character). Though if JC says they're not compatible with unarmed strikes by default, perhaps it's just suboptimal phrasing. I mean, with the sheer volume of material in the books it can't all be crystal straight away. \$\endgroup\$ – Isaac Reefman Apr 26 '19 at 6:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ Giving it some time has brought me around. This definitely seems the most logical ruling to me, and to be most in line with JC's existing rulings. \$\endgroup\$ – Isaac Reefman Dec 2 '19 at 2:10
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No, because of Monks in Wild Shape

If natural weapons can be used as unarmed strikes, a Druid 18/Monk 2 can do 25 damage1 with +10 to hit as a bonus action. Twice per short rest, it can be 2 attacks per bonus action.

If these are separate things, the bonus attack only does about 9 damage2, with 13 to hit. Much more balanced.

I guess not allowing this was a conscious decision by the game designers. Of course, now they have to make every racial natural attack an exception, but those do not cause balance issues with 1d4 or 1d6 damage.


1) Mammoth form, 29 damage against prone enemies
2) 1d4+7 as Martial Arts

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