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What are the global restrictions of making an unarmed strike ? As it is considered a weapon, I suppose one must have a "hand free" to "punch". However, there are some gray areas I can't find any answers to.

For example, the Monk class allows a player to add an additionnal unarmed strike to his Attack action, as a bonus action. If one is using a Versatile weapon, can he attack using both hands, making the damage 1d8 and still make use of his additionnal unarmed strike(s) ?

Additional remark : The bonus unarmed strike granted by Flurry of Blows have no restrictions regarding the weapon(s) held. Am I missing any implied restrictions here ? Or does a Monk somehow being able to hold a two-handed weapon could still make use of Flurry of Blows ? If that is the case, I am to believe the unarmed strike from FoB would not be considered as weapons. Would that also mean that if a monk is wielding a quarterstaff with two hands, he could open with an attack of [1d8 + Dex] damage, followed by an unarmed strike of [1d6 + Dex] damage with a bonus action (using Martials Arts) ?

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An unarmed strike is a simple melee weapon and deals 1 bludgeoning damage.

Since it has no other entries. That means it's 1 handed, and anyone proficient with simple melee weapons is proficient with that strike.

The monk's unarmed strike bonus action attack is a special form of bonus action attack and can be used as follows:

  • attack with versatile weapon
  • take hand off weapon
  • Attack with unarmed strike

There are 2 attack available to a monk to use their bonus action on.

  • Normal Martial arts attack, this starts as d4+Dex and goes up from there.
  • Flurry of Blows. This is a special attack and is 2 unarmed attacks both at d4+Dex.

Monks cannot use their unarmed attack for TWF (as it's not a light weapon). I think some of your confusion in the addendum comes from the idea that you'd need two hands free in order to make your two unarmed attacks. This is not the case. Its not a TWF attack, they are both with the same hand (think of it as two quick jabs).

One more bit in your addendum is asking about regular two handed weapons. Those are usable, but as they are not Monk weapons, they would be subject to the normal rules around them and use Strength for the attack and damage. Also, the two hander would need to be stowed before FoB can proc.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't know that you'd actually have to take your hand off the weapon. Unarmed strike can encompass kicks, elbows, headbutts, etc. can it not? \$\endgroup\$ – Orvir Sep 8 '14 at 23:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ As it is considered a weapon, making an unarmed strike is equivalent of making a one-handed sword attack. \$\endgroup\$ – Fafoon Sep 8 '14 at 23:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ The monk could still use Dex for unarmed strike - flurry of blows are specifically "unarmed" and Martial Arts allows Dex to be used when "unarmed" \$\endgroup\$ – Dale M Sep 9 '14 at 2:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ To add to the previous comment, that is why the quarterstaff is so popular among Monks; it is a monk weapon that can be used with two hands (making it a d8 attack), plus it allows for the additional Martial Arts' unarmed strike \$\endgroup\$ – Fafoon Sep 10 '14 at 21:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ This answer requires an update due to the changes in the errata which have since clarified that unarmed strikes are not weapons. This negates the need for a "free hand" in order to utilize an unarmed strike. \$\endgroup\$ – Lino Frank Ciaralli Oct 15 '15 at 0:34
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There's basically two interpretations you can go with this, but they both end up reaching the same conclusion. In both of these interpretations you should be able to use the more powerful Versatile attack AND your unarmed attacks as well.

Unarmed strike isn't just a punch

The more broad, common sense interpretation is "hands free" for an unarmed attack means you must be able to move sufficiently to hit a target with some part of your body (not suffering one of the many conditions that leaves you unable to act at all - Incapacitated, Unconscious, etc.). Hand, elbow, knee, kick, headbutt, etc.

In this interpretation, it's an easy jump to say you can hold a two handed weapon and still deliver unarmed strikes. (This is, also a common sort of stunt done in martial arts demonstrations with staves and spears, so it's thematically fitting as well.)

Unarmed strike IS just a punch

The more literal interpretation is that "hands free" means you must literally not have anything in your hand when you attack. That said, this, too, will almost always result in you being able to also use a two handed or versatile weapon AND do an unarmed attack, since you can simply let go with one hand after that attack. (I say almost always, as there might be things like cursed weapons that you can't let go of, or having your hands stuck to a weapon from some kind of monster goo or a web spell or something.)

You can see under "Other Activity On Your Turn" and "Interacting with Objects Around You" on pg. 190 several freebie actions are listed which are much more involved than simply letting go or grabbing a weapon that's already in your other hand.

So in this way, you still end up able to use two handed weapons or versatile weapons and use your unarmed attack options as well.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Concerning two-handed weapons, I assume it also means "your two hands are full, if you have it equipped" and would fall into the "draw/sheathe a weapon" restrictions. \$\endgroup\$ – Fafoon Sep 9 '14 at 0:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Fafoon yes, they seem to have ruled this to be the case, that you can't use the other hand at all if you have a two hander equipped. So draw/stow would be in effect. That's not too big of a deal as draw stow is not intended to be a suck on the action economy. \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Sep 9 '14 at 0:47
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I was looking into this while playing around with a build using the new Unearthed Arcana Spear Master feat.

The Monk Martial Arts ability reads "When you use the Attack action with an unarmed strike or monk weapon on your turn, you can make one unarmed strike as a bonus action."

On page 195 of the PHB, it does say "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."

That, to me, makes it sound like you could attack with a two-handed weapon, then make a kick or head butt (or another forceful blow with a part of the body that isn't your hand) as your bonus action.

In the two games I DM, I don't have any Monks, but if I had to make the call, I'd allow it. I just wanted to see if there was any official ruling in case I want to build a character using it and there is DM pushback.

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First, nothing says you need to have a hand free, so we can stop worrying about that. Now, on to things the PHB does say.

The rules for unarmed strikes, by all characters, are on page 195:

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.

It's clear that unarmed strikes can come from multiple parts of the body. Hands aren't needed but can be used. Also, all characters are proficient with unarmed strikes.

Now, for monks. Page 78 details monk-specific differences that overrule the more general rules on page 195.

When you use the Attack action with an unarmed strike or a monk weapon on your turn, you can make one unarmed strike as a bonus action. For example, if you take the Attack action and attack with a quarterstaff, you can also make an unarmed strike as a bonus action, assuming you haven't already taken a bonus action this turn.

Here we see that you can make an unarmed strike as a bonus action after taking an Attack action. No other restriction is given except that you need to take that Attack action with a monk weapon or unarmed strike.

Together, this all means that you can take the Attack action with an unarmed strike or any monk weapon, and follow that attack with one additional unarmed strike, without regard for any other factor.

As for the use of Flurry of Blows with a non-monk weapon: nothing in the text establishes the use of a monk weapon as a requirement for the use of Flurry of Blows. That said, it doesn't make thematic or mathematical sense to avoid monk weapons. If one of my players asked to use any monk ability without maintaining theme and discipline, I would penalize them or halt the action altogether.

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The book specifically references Quarter staffs. A quarter-staff is a monk weapon inasmuch as it is "a melee weapon that does not have the two-handed or heavy property".

With flurry of blows you make the normal attack action with the quarter-staff. You spend a ki, and get to unarmed strikes as bonus action.

Otherwise you can use the normal attack action, and one unarmed attack as a bonus action.

Your "martial arts damage" is always your Unarmed Strike damage because of Martial Arts.

Levels 1-4 (With Quarter Staff)

  • Normal Attack damage with the Quarter Staff is D8(+bonuses)
  • Martial Arts Attack is D8(+bonuses) + bonus attack of D4(+bonuses) as a martial arts attack. Flurry grants one more of the latter if used.
  • Moving on up the only damage that changes is that the martial arts damage increases up to the d10 at level 17.

At 5th level you get the 2 attacks with quarter staff, and your martial arts or flurry attacks.

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In my group, I'm an open hand monk, and this was an issue. I used a staff and wanted to "kick" my opponents after a strike. The DM made a house rule that if you were proficient in unarmed strikes (simple melee wpns) and proficient with whatever one handed wpn you have in your hand(s), then an unarmed strike could be taken as a kick or elbow jab

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