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I'm trying to settle a coffee break argument - does a weapon proficiency for unarmed strike exist (either explicitly, or under some other more general weapon proficiency) under D&D 3.5 rules, and, if so, are monks automatically proficient in unarmed strike?

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4 Answers 4

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One: The Unarmed Strike is a Simple Weapon

It’s listed in the table of simple weapons. The errata rules clarify that in the case of a contradiction between rules text and a table, the text should be taken as correct (“text trumps table”), but no text states that Unarmed Strikes are anything but a Simple Weapon. Ergo, that is what they are, despite being very strange weapons in general.

Two: The Unarmed Strike is also sort-of a Natural Weapon

Despite being a simple weapon (a classification of manufactured weapon), and despite the fact that it generally follows the rules of manufactured weapons (e.g. iteratives), the Unarmed Strike is frequently treated as a natural weapon. You can use magic fang but not magic weapon on it (unless you’re a Monk), you can take Improved Natural Attack (unarmed strike), and so on.

Three: Humanoids do not automatically get proficiency in their natural weapons

Unlike most creature Types, the Humanoid type does not grant proficiency in its own natural weapons. Compare Humanoid to Animal or Dragon or what have you.

For the record, Fey, Monstrous Humanoid, and Outsider types don’t grant such proficiencies either. However, they all get proficiency in all simple weapons, which leads me to...

Four: The Humanoid type does not grant simple weapon proficiency if you have class levels

The Humanoid type, unlike the other types that lack automatic natural-weapon proficiency, does not get simple weapon proficiency if the creature has class levels.

Five: The Monk class does not grant simple weapon proficiency, or proficiency in unarmed strikes

Neither is listed, and Monks are explicitly one of the few classes that doesn’t get the entire simple weapon proficiency.

Six: Improved Unarmed Strike neither requires nor grants proficiency in unarmed strikes

Nowhere in the feat’s text is proficiency mentioned. The Monk’s better version of the feat does not either. Both deal with unarmed strike damage rolls; proficiency is about attack rolls. There is no inherent contradiction between a Monk taking a penalty to attack rolls (from nonproficiency) and getting a bonus on damage rolls (from the unarmed strike feature); after all, that is how Power Attack is supposed to work. It’s just a matter of it not making much sense for Monks to lack basic proficiency with the weapon they are supposedly masters of.

Conclusion

A Humanoid Monk does not have any feature granting him proficiency in unarmed strikes. As a result, the default case holds true: he’s not proficient.

This is universally agreed to be an oversight. The Monk is a very-weak class; it really does not need to either lose its best class feature or take a −4 penalty for using it. Just proof that Wizards did not have a particularly impressive editing staff for the D&D 3.x project.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Humanoid monks can, of course, take Simple Weapon Proficiency to fix this. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 17, 2015 at 5:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ why did you hyphenate "very weak"? \$\endgroup\$
    – srcs
    Feb 26 at 19:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ @srcs I could not tell you precisely what thoughts crossed my mind over a decade ago when I made that choice. However, the idea would be that “very” modifies “weak” rather than “class,” and so the hyphen disambiguates the association. See here for the first Google result I got for the concept. In this case, though, it’s really unnecessary—and arguably therefore undesirable—since “very class” isn’t a thing outside of memes, and there is therefore no ambiguity. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Feb 26 at 19:27
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Humanoid Monks are not proficient with their Unarmed Strikes.

This is because proficiency with Unarmed Strikes, the ability to use Unarmed Strikes to deal lethal damage and be considered armed while using them, and the Unarmed Strike class feature are all separate things. Monks enjoy the later two, but not the first.

There are a few ways to get proficiency with a given weapon in 3.5.

  1. You can be granted proficiency by your class. Monks have a fixed list of proficiencies, which does not include all Simple Weapons (which an Unarmed Strike is). Thus the Monk does not get proficiency in Unarmed Strikes from their class.
  2. You can be granted proficiency by your creature type. Humanoids are "Proficient with all simple weapons, or by character class", which means humanoids with class levels do not get proficiency with all simple weapons.
  3. You can have explicit special abilities, racial traits, or feats. Monks in general do not.

So, humanoid Monks manage to fall through the cracks on all counts and therefore don't have proficiency. They can acquire proficiency, but the type and class do not provide.

This is one of 3.5's most famously dysfunctional rules.

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    \$\begingroup\$ you can also gain proficiencies via race. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 17, 2015 at 5:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ "Or" is an alternative and not an exclusive alternative therefore it allows both sides to be true simultaneously \$\endgroup\$
    – Drejzer
    Aug 5, 2021 at 13:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Drejzer If that were functionally the case, then all humanoid characters would be proficient in simple weapons, and such a wizard could use any simple weapon without penalty. It's reasonable to rule that Unarmed strike is a natural weapon rather than a simple one, and that all creatures are automatically proficient with any natural weapons they have, but it's not exactly in the rules that way. \$\endgroup\$
    – Chemus
    Jan 30, 2022 at 2:19
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I believe the unarmed strike falls under the Simple weapons, so you are proficient with unarmed if you are proficient with simple weaponry. Monks are not the only proficient characters, but they do get the Improved Unarmed Strike feat, and improved unarmed damage class ability. Also, as BESW mentioned in the comments, unlike nearly any other weapon, you are not "considered armed" with unarmed strike unless you have the Improved Unarmed Strike feat.

EDIT: Since the three classes that do not get automatic simple weapon proficiency (druid, monk, wizard) do not seem to mention any Unarmed proficiency, I believe it is safe to assume that every character is automatically proficient with his own unarmed strike (See KRyans more complete answer for information about that). However, extremely RAW, these three classes are not proficient with their own unarmed strikes. Funny for the monk, isn't it?

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Unarmed Strike is not a weapon, thus it does not take a weapon proficiency penalty

There are many flaws with the arguments made for the "Answers" in this thread. With everything I have researched, I have came to the conclusion that Weapon Proficiency is intended for Weapons, and not intended for Unarmed Strikes.

No where in the book does it state that an Unarmed Strike is a Simple Weapon

This is very important because the book references Simple Weapons in several different areas, the only time that Unarmed Strikes are seen together is in the 7-5 Weapons Table on Pg.116. The table is not used solely for weapon proficiencies, it has several purposes:

These categories pertain to what training is needed to become proficient in a weapon’s use (simple, martial, or exotic), the weapon’s usefulness either in close combat (melee) or at a distance (ranged, which includes both thrown and projectile weapons), its relative encumbrance (light, one-handed, or two-handed), and its size (Small, Medium, or Large)

In that very same table there are categories: Unarmed Attacks, Light Melee Weapons, One-Handed Melee Weapons, Two-Handed Melee Weapons, and Ranged Weapons. We know several instances where the book refers to an Unarmed Strike being considered as a "Light Weapon" (Page 113, Page 121 for example) Yet it is not located under "Light Melee Weapons"? Why would this be differentiated? Because we know that it is "Light" and "Melee", but it is not a "Weapon" it is an "Attack".

You are proficient with your natural weapons

There is no example where this is not true. Using the druid as an example. The druid specifically mentions that "They are also proficient with all natural attacks (claw, bite, and so forth) of any form they assume with wild shape ...". This is not an "ability" or "feat" that grants the druid these proficiencies, this is implying that if the druid were to take the form of a wolf or other beast, they would instinctively be proficient with their own body.

I don't consider the Unarmed Strike to be a natural weapon. The book mentions on Page 41 of the Players Guide: "A monk’s unarmed strike is treated both as a manufactured weapon and a natural weapon for the purpose of spells and effects that enhance or improve either manufactured weapons or natural weapons"

Also it mentions right under the monk class that:

Unarmed Strike: Monks are highly trained in fighting unarmed, giving them considerable advantages when doing so.

Examples in the book that differentiate between Unarmed Strikes and Weapons

WEAPON FOCUS [GENERAL] Choose one type of weapon, such as greataxe. You can also choose unarmed strike or grapple (or ray, if you are a spellcaster) as your weapon for purposes of this feat. You are especially good at using this weapon. Prerequisites: Proficiency with selected weapon, base attack bonus +1.

Prerequisites specifically state that you need "Proficiency with selected weapon". It also states that the feat can "also" be applied to: Grapple, Unarmed Strike, and Ray (if you area spell caster). Is Grapple / Ray considered a weapon that you need to select proficiency for?

WEAPON SPECIALIZATION [GENERAL] Choose one type of weapon, such as greataxe, for which you have already selected the Weapon Focus feat. You can also choose unarmed strike or grapple as your weapon for purposes of this feat. You deal extra damage when using this weapon. Prerequisites: Proficiency with selected weapon, Weapon Focus with selected weapon, fighter level 4th.

Same as above, the feat applies to "Weapons" however, an exception is made for Grappling and Unarmed Strikes.

Conclusion

The book only refers to the Unarmed Strike as a Weapon when it is "considered" or "treated" like one. All characters have the ability to make an Unarmed Strikes, it is not a weapon you "Pick up" or "Purchase". Using an Unarmed Strike is described as "Striking for damage with punches, kicks, and head butts is much like attacking with a melee weapon"

The book handles Unarmed Attacks separately from you typical weapon attacks in the same way that it handles trip attempts or grapple attempts. Instead of applying Proficiency Penalties, the Unarmed Attack incurs an "Attack of Opportunity" (Page 139 "Armed" Unarmed Attacks).

To answer your question, You do not need Weapon Proficiency for Unarmed Strikes just like you do not need it for Trip attempts. Instead you will need the Improved Unarmed Strikes feat, just as you would need the Improved Trip feat, to avoid taking the attack of opportunity penalty (which yes, the monk is already proficient with). My apologies for not finding this thread sooner to post the correct answer. Also, the current accepted answer does not site any sources for any of the claims, most of which are unfortunately false (And all debunked because it is not a Simple Weapon, it is only "considered").

If anyone wishes to claim that a monk character incurs a -4 penalty for not being proficient, then please show an example where an official stat block for an npc monk character includes this penalty. You won't find one.

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