I'm building a Fighter for shield fighting and tripping attempts. The trip section of the SRD specifically states that you must take an unarmed melee touch attack against your target. If I have both of hands busy (one-hand axe and shield), do I need to put the axe down, or can I trip whilst both hands are full? If I can't act normally, will the Quick Draw Feat resolve the problem?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Hilarious that there is no mention of feet as a tripping means given that most people trip using feet. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 11, 2015 at 1:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ My brain just concatenated the last two words of the title to "friends". I felt bad for the poor fighter. \$\endgroup\$
    – MrLemon
    Mar 14, 2015 at 22:27

2 Answers 2


Yes, you can trip with both hands full.

Rules of the Game: Unarmed Attacks Part 1

Unarmed Attacks...

As far as the rules are concerned, you can use just about any part of your body in an unarmed attack: a head butt, kick, elbow, knee, or forearm. This means you don't need a free hand to make an unarmed attack.

If you're making any unarmed attacks in addition to an attack with your primary hand (for instance, a sword slash and a kick or head butt), consider the unarmed attacks as off-hand attacks even if you aren't making them with a hand. See Part Two for notes about using unarmed strikes as primary and secondary weapons.

Things To Consider Regarding Trip Attacks...

Improved Trip [General]

Prerequisites: Int 13, Combat Expertise.

Benefit: You do not provoke an attack of opportunity when you attempt to trip an opponent while you are unarmed. You also gain a +4 bonus on your Strength check to trip your opponent. If you trip an opponent in melee combat, you immediately get a melee attack against that opponent as if you hadn’t used your attack for the trip attempt.

Normal: Without this feat, you provoke an attack of opportunity when you attempt to trip an opponent while you are unarmed.

Commentary: This only allows you to avoid an attack of opportunity to attempt a trip attack unarmed, and gives you an immediate free attack after successfully tripping them. The main benefit of using a weapon for a trip attack, and this feat, is the free attack with your weapon while the character is prone, and possibly dropping the weapon to avoid being tripped yourself on a failure.


You can try to trip an opponent as an unarmed melee attack. You can only trip an opponent who is one size category larger than you, the same size, or smaller.

Avoiding Attacks of Opportunity: If you have the Improved Trip feat, or if you are tripping with a weapon (see below), you don’t provoke an attack of opportunity for making a trip attack.

Tripping with a Weapon: Some weapons can be used to make trip attacks. In this case, you make a melee touch attack with the weapon instead of an unarmed melee touch attack, and you don’t provoke an attack of opportunity. If you are tripped during your own trip attempt, you can drop the weapon to avoid being tripped.

Making a Trip Attack: Make an unarmed melee touch attack against your target. This provokes an attack of opportunity from your target as normal for unarmed attacks.

Touch Attack: Some attacks disregard armor, including shields and natural armor. In these cases, the attacker makes a touch attack roll (either ranged or melee). When you are the target of a touch attack, your AC doesn’t include any armor bonus, shield bonus, or natural armor bonus. All other modifiers, such as your size modifier, Dexterity modifier, and deflection bonus (if any) apply normally.

Commentary: The benefit of using a weapon, is possibly having reach, and being able to drop it on a failure, and using your weapon for the immediate free attack assuming you have the Improved Trip feat.

Trip Weapon

Flail or Heavy Flail

You can also use this weapon to make trip attacks. If you are tripped during your own trip attempt, you can drop the flail to avoid being tripped.

Commentary: This is an example of a trip weapon, and the special text given for a trip weapon stating it can be used as a trip attack. This is supported by "Rules of the Game: All About Trip Attacks." An excerpt is provided below:

All About Trip Attacks

You can't trip with just any weapon. The weapon has to be flexible enough to wrap around the foe (or part of the foe) or it must have some sort of a hook or projection at the business end that can snag a foe. It would be helpful if Table 7-5 in the Player's Handbook indicated which weapons are useful for trip attacks, but it doesn't. The rules for trip attacks on page 159, however, include a list of weapons that can be used in trip attacks. The detailed weapon descriptions on pages 114-122 in the Player's Handbook also mention if particular weapons are useful for trip attacks. The weapons from the Player's Handbook you can use to trip foes are spiked chain, dire flail, heavy flail, light flail, guisarme, halberd, and whip. The spiked chain, guisarme, halberd, and whip have reach. The spiked chain and whip can be used against foes adjacent to you.

When considering weapons introduced in other books, check the text description included with the weapon. If the weapon can trip a foe, the text describing the weapon will say so.

Commentary: Use a little DM Discretion, and common sense. Does an axe have a "hook" that could trip or disarm? Yes. As a matter of fact, that was a big tactic during tomahawk (hand axe) battles. Do martial artists trip people with a bo staff? Yes. They hook and twist it around a leg, similarly with spears. Could you trip someone with a long sword? I suppose with some extravagant special special, yes, but you would probably end up just cutting their leg so badly that they would fall anyway. Maneuvers such as that in D&D could be accomplished with the Exotic Weapon Master prestige class:

Exotic Weapon Master

Trip Attack: The character can use a one-handed or twohanded exotic weapon to make a trip attack. If he is tripped during his own trip attempt, he can drop the weapon to avoid being tripped. If the exotic weapon already allows its wielder to make trip attacks, the character instead adds a +2 bonus on any trip attempt.

Unarmed Trip Attack Summary: You could make a trip attack, as an unarmed strike, with both hands full. If you make a trip attack after attacking with your axe you would take a -5 penalty in order to initiate your touch attack to do so (unless you are a monk - and monks can use hand axes). Depending on your DM, he may interpret the off-hand penalty as a part of your strength check for the trip itself as well.

Now, there are a plethora of ways to do your trip attack, without resorting to an unarmed strike (which would cost a feat at the bare minimum), and below are ways that you can accomplish this - all without dropping your axe or shield (okay, maybe throwing the shield).

You Can Trip With Your Shield!

Shield Charge ( Complete Warrior, p. 105)

You deal extra damage if you use your shield as a weapon when charging.

Prerequisite: Improved Shield Bash (PH) , base attack bonus +3

Required for: Shield Slam (CW)

Benefit: If you hit an opponent with your shield as part of a charge action, in addition to dealing damage normally, you may make a trip attack without provoking an attack of opportunity. If you lose, the defender does not get to try to trip you in return.

Special: A fighter may select Shield Charge as one of his fighter bonus feats.

Shield Sling (Player's Handbook II, p. 82)

You can hurl your shield as a deadly missile, turning it from a defensive item to a crushing, thrown weapon.

Prerequisite: Improved Shield Bash (PH) , Shield Specialization (PH2) , base attack bonus +9, Proficiency with shields

Benefit: You can wield your light shield or heavy shield as a thrown weapon with a range increment of 20 feet. The shield deals damage as normal for its size (see Table 7-5, PH 116), and you gain your Strength bonus on damage as normal for a thrown weapon. In addition, you can make a ranged touch attack to initiate a trip attempt. Your target resists the trip attempt as normal. You lose your size bonus (though not a size penalty) on your Strength check. If your foe's check succeeds, he cannot attempt to trip you. You cannot throw a tower shield. You can throw a buckler, but it does no damage, and you cannot use it to trip an opponent.

Special: A fighter can select Shield Sling as one of his fighter bonus feats.

You Can Trip With a Bull Rush!

Shock Trooper ( Complete Warrior, p. 112)

You are adept at breaking up formations of soldiers when you rush into battle.

Prerequisite: Improved Bull Rush (PH) , Power Attack (PH) , base attack bonus +6

Domino Rush: To use this maneuver, you must make a successful bull rush attempt that forces a foe into the same square as another foe. You may make a free trip attempt against both foes at the same time, and neither foe gets a chance to trip you if your attempt fails.

Special: A fighter may select Shock Trooper as one of his fighter bonus feats.

If Your DM's Okay With a 3.0 Feat, Trip With Damage!

Knock-Down (Sword and Fist: A Guidebook to Monks and Fighters, p. 7)

Your mighty blows can knock foes off their feet.

Prerequisite: Improved Trip (PH) , Base attack bonus +2, STR 15+

Benefit: Whenever you deal 10 or more points of damage to your opponent in melee, you make a trip attack as a free action against the same target.

If You Can't Trip, Just Run Right Over Them!

Improved Overrun ( Player's Handbook v.3.5, p. 96)

You are skilled at knocking down opponents.

Prerequisite: Power Attack (PH) , STR 13

Benefit: When you attempt to overrun an opponent, the target may not choose to avoid you. You also gain a +4 bonus on your Strength check to knock down your opponent.

Special: A fighter may select Improved Overrun as one of his fighter bonus feats (see page 38).

Normal: Without this feat, the target of an overrun can choose to avoid you or to block you.

Opinionated Summary

You have the makings of a Sword and Board Dungeoncrasher. Embrace the Power Attack line of feats and utilize your shield in a way that would make Captain America proud. You have the means to trip without needing trip weapons - and can do it all within rules that don't require DM fiat.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is a great answer on what methods you can use to make an armed trip attack (using what's in your hands). However, the OP's question is "can I trip with both hands full?". I think you need "No, here's why... and here's how to get around it" for this to be a complete answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – Wyrmwood
    Mar 14, 2015 at 22:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Wyrmwood I edited the answer to support not having to drop his weapon and still make his trip attack. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ruut
    Mar 15, 2015 at 8:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also Knock-Down was reprinted in the SRD 3.5 as a Divine Feat. The text in Deities and Demigods 3.5 includes language that suggests it is for deities, but that language is not in the SRD. \$\endgroup\$
    – Wyrmwood
    Mar 15, 2015 at 13:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Wyrmwood Big Bold Letters: "If Your DM's Okay With a 3.0 Feat" (Page 7 of Sword and Fist). \$\endgroup\$
    – Ruut
    Mar 15, 2015 at 14:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MaximeCuillerier Yes and no. Yes, because it is considered as a Shield Bash (as you are using your shield as a weapon) which would normally cause you lose your shield AC bonus; no, because that feat requires you to obtain Improved Shield Bash first, which allows you retain your shield AC bonus while doing a Shield Bash. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 12, 2022 at 18:29

The rules are not strictly explicit on this. I have played games where unarmed attacks had to be made with free hands, and others that assume you could kick, use your shoulder, head butt, or even your fist while holding a weapon. Tripping without a trip weapon could conceivably be done by putting your foot in a strategic place and pushing with your shield, but the rules don't explicitly allow or deny this. In the end; ask your DM.

For further clarification as to why I say this isn't explicit.

A trip requires an unarmed attack, unless you are using a trip weapon:

You can try to trip an opponent as an unarmed melee attack.

There is no rule stating that you must have your hands free to make an unarmed attack.

There is mention of "hands full" in the class description for a monk

From the Monk's Flurry of Blows entry:

She may attack with unarmed strikes and special monk weapons interchangeably as desired.

From the Monk's unarmed attack entry:

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.

This is evidently interpreted by some DM's as:

This means that a monk (and only a monk) may even make unarmed strikes with her hands full.

But this text does not exist. For example, in the rogue entry for Trapfinding:

Rogues (and only rogues) can use the Search skill to locate traps when the task has a Difficulty Class higher than 20.

This defines this a rogue-only attribute. No such restriction exists under the Monk's text.

That's why I say, it is not strictly explicit. Some DM's will rule your hands must be free (by inference from the Monk entry) while others will rule the monk entry a further clarification on unarmed attacks. Neither ruling varies from the rules since they aren't strictly explicit, therefore, ask your DM.

Also, bear in mind, if you choose to rule this as a monk-only attribute, you also need to decide if this affects grappling, which oddly, is only listed as a melee touch attack, even though it explicitly requires "grabbing and holding"

Grab. You make a melee touch attack to grab the target.

The rules of the game articles (which I concede are not "rules" per se, but recommendations on how to interpret rules), state that a free hand is not required for an unarmed attack, but that it is required for a grapple attempt.

This is also how the Pathfinder rules are explicitly stated;

Unarmed Strike

Striking for damage with punches, kicks, and head butts is much like attacking with a melee weapon


Humanoid creatures without two free hands attempting to grapple a foe take a –4 penalty on the combat maneuver roll.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Actually imho better answer than @Ruut's. Maybe it's just me and my scepticism to dnd and powergaming, but creativity and using common sense is in my opinion always the best over searching rulebook for specific skill that allows your character to do what we all could do in elementary school to each others. Oh, and (as already pointed by @Wyrmwood) of course talking with DM/GM is important. \$\endgroup\$
    – Forien
    Mar 11, 2015 at 9:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Forien Tripping in D&D 3.5 doesn't mean "Foot Sweep." It means anything that can cause the prone position. A Wolf gets a free "trip attack" after a successful bite. That isn't the wolf embracing his inner Daniel-San and sweeping the person off their feet. That is the wolf yanking the person off their feet with tremendous force of their bite. RPG.SE should be about having the rulebook answers first, and then opinion afterward. It is difficult to come up with houserules, if you don't know what the standard rules are first. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ruut
    Mar 12, 2015 at 0:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Ruut if it means anything that can cause the prone position, then it also means "Foot Sweep". Nuff said for me. \$\endgroup\$
    – Forien
    Mar 12, 2015 at 7:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Wyrmwood There are quite a few rules about trip attacks. There are things monks can do that most others can't involving unarmed strikes - important part is, he doesn't need to put his axe down. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ruut
    Mar 13, 2015 at 16:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ This answer is wrong. As Ruut's answer shows, the official rules ARE explicit on this. \$\endgroup\$
    – Brian
    Mar 14, 2015 at 15:33

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