Is it possible for a creature like a bear to make an attack that counts as an unarmed attack, even though it has a claw attack as a Natural Weapon?


3 Answers 3


Yes. A non-monk bear without Improved Unarmed Attack could throw a punch, and that would be an unarmed attack that used the typical unarmed attack values for a creature of the bear’s size, be nonlethal, and provoke attacks of opportunity. Because a punch “uses” the bear’s paw, doing so prevents the bear from using his claw attack. He may still use his bite attack, but at a −5 penalty.

It can reasonably be assumed that a wild bear would never do so, but it could, and more relevantly someone shapeshifted into a bear could and might even want to do so, particularly if that person had Improved Unarmed Strike to eliminate the AoO provoking.

If a bear was also a monk (or, again, more realistically: a monk turned into a bear), the bear’s unarmed strike damage would deal damage as appropriate for a creature of the bear’s size with the given number of monk levels. Moreover, the unarmed strike would not need to be a punch (e.g. a kick), allowing the bear to also use his claws (again, at a −5 penalty).

Some relevant information about monks with natural attacks:

  • \$\begingroup\$ Yay, the same monk bears idea! 8) \$\endgroup\$ Apr 4, 2014 at 18:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ Might be easier to imagine with an elbow, a knee or a head butt :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Wyrmwood
    Apr 4, 2014 at 18:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Wyrmwood Elbow or headbutt could arguably eliminate claw or bite as options. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Apr 4, 2014 at 18:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ Grappling creatures routinely and specifically inflict their unarmed strike damage (not natural weapon damage) when Starting a Grapple during Step 3: Hold ("If you succeed, you and your target are now grappling, and you deal damage to the target as if with an unarmed strike") (PH 156 and here), so it's good to know a bear's unarmed strike damage even if a bear's never going to haul off and sock a dude. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 4, 2014 at 20:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ @thedarkwanderer That Skip Williams felt it was appropriate to stealth-errata the game while his editor wasn’t looking if of no interest to me; the actual, official, published rules do not work that way. Unarmed strikes provoke unless you have Improved Unarmed Strike, period. It doesn’t matter if you are otherwise armed; if you lack IUS, you cannot avoid an AoO by simply having a weapon in the other hand while you punch. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Feb 21, 2015 at 21:38

Basically, claw attacks are, well, attack with claws. Usually, the "unarmed combat" term refers to "punching stuff with your fists", and bear may as well do it, through, it surely does not posess an "Improved Unarmed Fighting", so if you want to optimize it a bit, you may give your bear a 1-level monk dip:

Monks are highly trained in fighting unarmed, giving them considerable advantages when doing so. At 1st level, a monk gains Improved Unarmed Strike as a bonus feat. A monk's attacks may be with either fist interchangeably or even from elbows, knees, and feet. This means that a monk may even make unarmed strikes with her hands full. There is no such thing as an off-hand attack for a monk striking unarmed. A monk may thus apply her full Strength bonus on damage rolls for all her unarmed strikes.

Basically, this text grants us two pieces of knowledge:

  1. Usually, a character may not and can not attack while full-handed (and some may rule that ability to use Natural Attack negates the ability to use that, let's say, arm for unarmed combat)

  2. A monk may do this, even if full-handed, so even if the DM rules that "the bear may not stop using claw attack to just punch stuff", a MONK BEAR can do exactly that. Like, jam some dude in the teeth with its bear elbow. Awesome AND practical.

okay, basically it's just a post about monk bears now XD

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    \$\begingroup\$ Cast Awaken on a Bear, and get it Monk levels. Hilarity ensues. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tridus
    Apr 4, 2014 at 18:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ Or cast Awaken on FOUR bears and one chinchilla, then tell them that evil samurais are bad. Then that would be simply magnificent XD \$\endgroup\$ Apr 4, 2014 at 18:59

While you already accepted an answer, I'd still give another.

It is true no rules as i know directly forbid unarmed strikes on a bear or the like. On the other hand, there is no direct statements to ensure one that animals can fight unarmed (even someone shifted or transmuted into an animal).

I'd personaly rule against unarmed strikes on a bear.
Animals newer use unarmed strike (even for grappling). So I assume they haven't it.

Brief clarifications on my point of view on animals and grapple:

There are two "types" of animals from the viewpoint of grappling: some hasn't Improved Grab and some has. First ones normally will not try to start a grapple and if they are grappled will try to byte or scratch you (i.e. attack with natural weapon with -4 penalty). Those who has Improved Grab use their natural weapon's (which the creature used to establish the hold) damage in place of unarmed strike damage. They also has previous option, of course, but will use it quite seldom, i think.

What about someone who "became" an animal by some means? Most common ways to do so are Alternate Form and Alter Self and their variants.

Alternate Form says:

The creature loses the natural weapons, natural armor, and movement modes of its original form, as well as any extraordinary special attacks of its original form not derived from class levels.
The creature gains the natural weapons, natural armor, movement modes, and extraordinary special attacks of its new form.

Alter Self says:

You acquire the physical qualities of the new form while retaining your own mind. Physical qualities include natural size, mundane movement capabilities, natural armor bonus, natural weapons, racial skill bonuses, racial bonus feats, and any gross physical qualities.

Unarmed strike is a natural weapon (with some special rules, but still it is). So I think you lose it, when you polymorphed/wildshaped into something that hasn't it.

  • \$\begingroup\$ @Matthew The statement you linked is from pathfinder rules. It is slightly different system. Check this two links: d20srd.org/srd/spells/magicWeapon.htm and d20srd.org/srd/spells/magicFang.htm \$\endgroup\$ Apr 5, 2014 at 9:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ Ah, it is 3.5e. I misread the tag, probably still had the one in mind from the previous question i'd just been reading before coming to this one. Yea, 3.5e was somewhat more ambiguous in the actual natural weapon rules, and as you've pointed out, specifies unarmed as natural in a few tangential references. It's one of many ambiguities that PF fixed by providing explicit rules statements. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 5, 2014 at 9:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ This: “there is no direct statements to ensure one that animals can fight unarmed,” is irrelevant: the rules state that everyone has one, and nothing ever makes an exception for animals. “Animals newer use unarmed strike (even for grappling).” What? No one has unarmed strike damage listed as part of their grapple stats, yet everyone uses unarmed strike damage for it. That statement, in particular, seems inaccurate. Also, while various shape changing effects cause you to lose natural weapons, which unarmed strikes are sometimes treated as (but other times not), that doesn’t cover awaken. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Apr 5, 2014 at 12:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan Could you point where rules state that averyone has unarmed strike? I don't say they aren't, just would like to have a link or page number or something like that. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 5, 2014 at 16:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan Since there is no answer for some time, I'll add counter arguments here. I doubt that "everyone has one". It is hard for me to tell what a dog or a snake should do to make an unarmed attack. And more of it there are such creatures as oozes and wisps. Do they have Unarmed Strike too? As for the Awaken, I can't see anything wrong with this spell. To receive it one should be an animal in the first place. And if animals doesn't have Unarmed Strike, the target of Awaken allready doesn't have it (and would not get it by means of this spell). \$\endgroup\$ Apr 9, 2014 at 12:55

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