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I’m currently playing an unarmed monk. The build is to run as many attacks as I can without going too far into multi-classing fighter (I’ll go two levels in to pick up action surge). I’m considering multiclassing into Ranger as well, and to take Gloomstalker For the Dread Ambusher extra attacks. However, I’m not entirely clear whether it is compatible with unarmed strikes.

The first part of the feature is fine: “you can make one additional weapon attack as part of that action." An unarmed strike is a weapon attack, so no problem.

However, the next line says: "If that attack hits, the target takes an extra 1d8 damage of the weapon's damage type."

The attack wouldn’t be with a weapon. Does this mean that:

  1. unarmed strikes cannot be used with the Dread Ambusher ability at all

  2. that they can be used, but will not benefit from the D8 extra damage?

I could of course ask my DM very nicely if he’ll allow me to use it without penalty anyway.

Obviously I could just bring a weapon too, but since I’ll be hoping to trick out my unarmed with insignia of claws and hand wraps, the weapon will be a lower chance to hit. Also, it’s not the flavour I’m after to use weapons.

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Dread Ambusher not intended to work with unarmed strikes

There is precedent from a very similar situation with Divine Smite, where we have this Sage Advice Compendium entry

Can a paladin use Divine Smite when they hit using an unarmed strike? No. Divine Smite isn’t intended to work with unarmed strikes.
Divine Smite does work with a melee weapon attack, and an unarmed strike can be used to make such an attack. But the text of Divine Smite also refers to the “weapon’s damage,” and an unarmed strike isn’t a weapon.
If a DM decides to override this rule, no imbalance is created. Tying Divine Smite to weapons was a thematic choice on our part—paladins being traditionally associated with weapons. It was not a game balance choice.

The situation is essentially the same here: the unarmed strike is a weapon attack, but because the feature demands an actual weapon in resolving the effect, it won't work with unarmed strike. Based on this SAC answer, it would be your choice 1) Dread Ambusher does not work with unarmed strikes.

Note that the answer calls out this was due to flavor reasons in case of the paladin, not due to balance reasons. While that might differ in case of a gloomstalker/monk, it won't hurt to check with your DM if they are OK with it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ That’s very helpful, thanks. That seems a strong precedent. I think my DM would be amenable to allowing it if no imbalance is created - I guess they might suggest switching out the extra D8 for my martial arts die/unarmed damage die, which depending how I go may be less than that. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 24, 2023 at 16:23
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Depending on DM discretion there is no particular rules reason not to allow Dread Ambusher as an unarmed strike and to allow the full damage as written. The Dread Ambusher damage is based on it being a special ambush attack, not based on the specifics of any weapon, it does 1d8 regardless of whether the weapon you attack with is a blowgun or a greataxe.

It really depends on a) does DM allow XGE rules, b) general DM discretion. As a DM I would likely look for conflicting attributes, so while I would provisionally allow the above, I might say that if the monk took Way of the Shadows, they might have to elect certain skills being used rather than accumulating Shadows and Gloomstalker abilities in the same turn.

So long as "tricking out" didn't unbalance the game, I'd allow and encourage this sort of game play.

Of course, other DMs might say this wasn't allowed simply because it's their read that it's not the intent of the rules or because they think it imbalances the game. Definitely talk to your DM before doing it. My initial answer to a player would be "Sure, but you may find there are limitations at the time of use that we can't fully anticipate right now."

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Hmm, I'm curious why the down vote, a comment would've been helpful. \$\endgroup\$
    – Red Anne
    Nov 26, 2023 at 2:53

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