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I am unable to find a clear ruling about the following.

A PC (let's call him Bob) is wielding a spiked heavy shield with one of his hands and is threatening an opponent. As a matter of fact, Bob uses this shield as his weapon.

Is Bob allowed to perform a trip attempt against his opponent using a unarmed strike? And would this unarmed strike suffer the usual dual wield atk roll penalties for being performed while wielding another weapon (aka the spiked heavy shield)? If so, what would this penalties be?

Thanks in advance for any light you'll be able to shed on this matter.

Oleg

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The Player's Handbook on Strike, Unarmed, in part, says, "A Medium character deals 1d3 points of nonlethal damage with an unarmed strike, which may be a punch, kick, head butt, or other type of attack" (121). In other words, Bob can make an unarmed strike even if his hands are full. (The SRD omits all examples, even these pedestrian ones.)

On Trip, in part, says, "You can try to trip an opponent as an unarmed melee attack" (158). Some manufactured weapons allow their wielders to make trip attacks with those weapons, but a heavy shield isn't one. Absent more information, if Bob wants to make a trip attempt, Bob must make that trip attempt with his unarmed strike.

On Two-weapon Fighting, in part, says, "If you wield a second weapon in your off hand, you can get one extra attack per round with that weapon" (160). However, although you can get that extra attack per round, you don't have to use that extra attack per round, and if you don't use that extra attack, you aren't—according to the rules' definition of the term—two-weapon fighting. (Think of it as the game emphasizing the fighting part instead of the two-weapon part.)

So, to sum, on Bob's turn, he could take…

  • a standard action to make a standard attack with his heavy shield.
  • a standard action to make a standard attack with his unarmed strike.
  • a standard action to make a trip attempt with his unarmed strike.
  • a full round action to make a full attack with, in any combination, his shield and unarmed strikes, as is normal for Bob's base attack bonus. That is, if Bob's base attack bonus is +6, he can take a full-round action to make a full attack, one attack at his normal +6 bonus and second attack at a −5 penalty. Although Bob may interleave shield bashes and elbow strikes, this is not two-weapon fighting. Bob is not getting an extra attack.
  • a full-round action to make a full attack, gaining an extra attack from two-weapon fighting. That is, Bob makes all of his normal attacks with his shield then also makes an unarmed strike or a trip attempt using his unarmed strike. Without other modifiers, he suffers a −4 penalty on his attack rolls with the shield and a −8 penalty on his attack roll with the unarmed strike. These penalties can be mitigated with feats and such.
  • a full-round action to make a full attack, gaining an extra attack from two-weapon fighting. That is, Bob makes all of his normal attacks with his unarmed strike—each of which can, instead, be a trip attempt with an unarmed strike—then also makes an attack with his heavy shield. Without other modifiers, he suffers a −6 penalty on his attack rolls with the unarmed strike and a −10 penalty on his attack roll with the shield. These penalties can be mitigated with feats and such.
  • a full-round action to make a full attack, gaining an extra attack from two-weapon fighting. That is, Bob makes all of his normal attacks with his unarmed strike—each of which can, instead, be a trip attempt with an unarmed strike—then also makes an unarmed strike—which, again, can be a trip attempt with an unarmed strike. Without other modifiers, he suffers a −4 penalty on his attack rolls with the first batch (which may be just one) of unarmed strikes and a −8 penalty on his attack roll with the extra unarmed strike attack that he got for two-weapon fighting. These penalties can be mitigated with feats and such.

Fans debate that last option. Don't be surprised to find a campaign where unarmed two-weapon fighting is disallowed.

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